Affordable American Winter Beach Escapes

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A beautiful beach at sunset on Tybee Island, Georgia.A view of the entrance to a beach at sunset on Tybee Island, Georgia.
Jesse Kunerth/Dreamstime

The beaches on Tybee Island, Georgia, are warm 365/24/7.

From Georgia’s warm, welcoming Atlantic coast to the Pacific, we’ve got the top places to run away to when you’re craving a beach getaway.

When the mercury drops a little too much and the snow piles up a little too high, it’s time for a winter escape. We’ve rounded up some of America’s finest winter beaches, each with its own distinct flavor at a price that’s right.

THE GEORGIA COAST

When it comes to warm beaches, great price, and convenience, Georgia should spring to mind this time of year. The barrier islands of the state’s southern coast offer some of the best stretches of sand, great weather, and the welcoming vibe every vacationer craves.

We love St. Simons Island for its incredible white-sand beaches, history, and ample golf courses, but we also love that the best way to get around the island may be on a rented beach cruiser bike, giving you the opportunity to leave your car behind and truly disconnect from all the stuff you went on vacation to escape. Points of interest on the island include a charming lighthouse, a 19th-century church, and ancient oak trees with their distinctive moss drapery. Grab a plate of shrimp and grits at Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill and grab an affordable room (well under $150/night) at the Village Inn & Pub and other hotels on the island. To learn more about St. Simons Island, visit exploregeorgia.org.

An easy day trip from St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island is relatively wild (more than 60 percent of its land is protected from development) and home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Georgia. Just drive back to the mainland from St. Simons and over the bridge to Jekyll, where you’ll find 10 miles of beach (including favorites Driftwood and Glory), the 250-acre Historic Landmark District, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a water park, and four golf courses. To learn more about Jekyll Island, visit exploregeorgia.org.

Tybee Island is a 20-minute drive from Savannah, making it one of the most convenient winter escapes in the U.S., not to mention one of the most affordable. Here, you’ll find classic beach activities like a boardwalk, pier, and souvenir shops, low-key restaurants like the Crab Shack (yu must try the steamed oysters and Low Country boil with shrimp, sausage, and potatoes), and comfy motels, the beachfront Hotel Tybee (well under $150/night) and others. What’s not to love? Don’t miss the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, a 270-year-old site with historic buildings that visitors can tour and the Civil War-era Fort Pulaski National Monument on nearby Cockspur Island. To learn more about Tybee Island, visit exploregeorgia.org.  

MOLOKAI, HAWAII

No traffic lights. No resorts. The world’s highest sea cliffs. Volcanoes (don’t worry they’re extinct). If you can’t relax on Molokai, the least-visited of the major Hawaiian islands, it’s possible you’re just not trying hard enough. Seek out the gold sand of Papohaku beach, visit the island’s biggest town (a whopping 7,000 people live there), and head to downtown Kaunakakai for local Hawaiian favorites such as mahi-mahi.

CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA

For anyone who has visited Los Angeles and complained about the traffic (aka, everyone): We love the fact that cars aren’t allowed on Catalina, just 22 miles off the Southern California coast, unless you count golf carts, which you can rent if you really need to. Yes, this is a place to really get away from it all. After the 90-minute ferry ride, you’ll enter another world, where bicycles are the best way to get around, and exploring the island’s interior in search of birds (you may even see a bald eagle), is one of the prime activities. The town of Avalon is where you’ll find charming shops, restaurants, and affordable lodging.

PUERTO RICO

Besides being a quick flight from many U.S. cities, no passport required, Puerto Rico can also use your help: Tourism dollars help fund the island’s recovery from hurricane damage sustained in 2017. You’ll love the beaches, great food, and natural beauty, typified by El Yunque National Forest, a rainforest (bring a poncho!), perfect for a half- or full-day guided tour of sites such as La Coca Falls and the Yokahu Lookout Tower. Feast on traditional local fare such as arepas and plantains, washed down with a pina colada (the drink was invented in Puerto Rico in the 1950s), and tour charming Old San Juan, one of the oldest and most historic city centers in the U.S. For great views, visit El Morro National Monument, a 16th-century Spanish colonial fort that offers some of the most Instagrammable moments in the Caribbean.

ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS

The easternmost point in the United States is in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands: St. Croix may be small as far as islands go, but when it comes to winter getaways, it sure reminds you that good things come in small packages, with great opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, eating Caribbean favorites such as conch and snapper, and acres of golf for those who define “vacation” as time on the links. We love historic Christiansted, where you’ll find reliable hotels and restaurants at good prices.

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