VACATION IDEAS

Endless Summer: 8 American Islands That Are Warm NOW

The snow is piling up and all you want to do is escape to a warm island? These gems are perfect for a winter vacation—and closer than you think!

The blue waters off the coast of California's Catalina Island.

(Courtesy mrkahtika/flickr)

You don't need to splurge on a trip to the Caribbean to spend time on the beach this winter. These eight U.S. islands have the sandy shores, seafood shacks, and sunny skies that will have you thinking it's summer—even when there's snow on the ground back home.

TAKE A TOUR OF THE ISLANDS

AMELIA ISLAND, FL
Average highs of 65/71 in February/March

About as far north as you can go and still be in the Sunshine State, Amelia Island's 13 miles of beaches are mostly deserted until March—so it's easy to find a spot where there are no other people in sight. Horseback riding along the sand is one of the most popular off-season activities. Kids have a blast exploring the nooks and crannies of Fort Clinch, one of the country's best-preserved 19th-century fortifications. It was also one of the last of its kind, as new weapons made brick forts obsolete during the Civil War. Boutiques and lovingly restored Victorian mansions make up the historic district.
Sleep The Seaside Amelia Inn is steps from the beach and has a rooftop terrace perfect for taking in the sunset. Rooms start at just $69 a night.
Refuel Grab one of the umbrella-shaded tables in the courtyard of Joe's 2nd Street Bistro, where the menu leans, naturally, toward seafood.
Easy Escape From Jacksonville (33 miles), Gainesville (101 miles).

AVERY ISLAND, LA
Average highs of 65/72 in February/March

Things get hot here, and not just because of the steamy weather. It's home to the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory, where you can taste the fiery mixture during the free daily tours. (If you come on a Friday, you won't see the sauce being made, however.) E.A. McIlhenny, son of the company's founder, converted his private estate into a bird sanctuary, which he opened in 1935 as Jungle Gardens. McIlhenny was intent on saving snowy egrets, then endangered because their plumage was popular for ladies' hats. You can still see the brilliantly white birds inside the sanctuary and out. Surrounded by bayous, the mostly undeveloped island is also a great place to spot alligators, deer, and raccoons. You'll want to base yourself in one of the nearby communities; New Iberia, a half-hour drive north, has a good selection of restaurants and gracious homes transformed into B&Bs.
Sleep A bungalow dating from the early 1900s, the Estorge-Norton House in New Iberia is chock-full of antiques. Rates start at $85.
Refuel Landry's Cajun Restaurant specializes in Cajun camp cooking with a menu offering all the classics like gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and oyster po'boys.
Easy Escape From Baton Rouge (85 miles), New Orleans (140 miles).

CALADESI ISLAND, FL
Average highs of 73/77 in February/March

The three miles of white-sand beaches on this pristine barrier island offer some of the best shelling on the Gulf of Mexico. And because it's a state park, you won't search for sand dollars in the shadow of high-rise hotels. In fact, there's not a single place to stay on the island, unless you count the 108-slip marina. There are no cars, either. Once you disembark the ferry ($14 roundtrip from Honeymoon Island, a short drive from Dunedin), the only way to get around is with your own two feet. Not a bad way, actually, as the boardwalk nature trail passes through stands of mangroves and around sand dunes. As you stroll, you may spot one of the rare gopher tortoises. Kayaking around the bay side of the island is a popular pastime, as the sea-grass flats are populated with ospreys, herons, and other birds. Pack a picnic lunch because there's just one small concession stand on the island.
Sleep You can fish from the dock at the Sea Captain Resort on the Bay in nearby Clearwater, a small city popular with water sports enthusiasts. Winter rates start at $101 through the end of January and at $122 for February through April.
Refuel: On the mainland, very close to Caladesi Island, Dunedin's kitsch-filled Casa Tina serves surprisingly authentic Mexican fare. A local favorite is the Veracruz-style fish, sautéed with tomatoes and onions.
Easy Escape From St. Petersburg (20 miles), Tampa (24 miles), Orlando (103 miles).

SEE THE ISLANDS!

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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