The secret to enjoying a beach town is knowing when to go. While the longer days, warmer waters, and ample sunshine of July and August are most definitely appealing, you shouldn’t discount a winter beach trip. From walking along an empty shoreline to cozying up in a restaurant without a wait, a beach town in winter has several perks. Just as beautiful, but without all the crowds, here are five U.S. beach towns that are better in the winter.
Bar Harbor, Maine
No trip to Maine is complete without a visit to Bar Harbor, the state’s quintessential seaside town on Mount Desert Island. But a visit to Bar Harbor during the summer or even its foliage-filled fall means loads of tourists, packed restaurants, and pricey hotel rooms. We much prefer the town’s serenity after it empties out in November. Under a layer of fresh snow, the deep stillness and stark beauty of Acadia National Park is truly unparalleled. In lieu of a summer hike, rent nordic skis at Cadillac Mountain Sports and hit up the park’s cross-country trails, which cover 47 miles of coastal wilderness. Then stop by The Barnacle Pub to treat yourself to a dozen Maine oysters served at peak freshness in their icy winter glory.
There’s no denying that the raw beauty of the Pacific Northwest is undiminished during winter months. In fact, if you enjoy moody fog, hypnotic waves, and the quietude of a forest trail, then Yachats (pronounced YAH-hots) should be your next winter destination. Located along Route 101, Yachats is much quieter in the wintertime, allowing you to explore the Oregon coast without the throngs of summertime visitors. Put on your raincoat to hike the Saint Perpetua Trail to Cape Perpetua. It's a moderate, 1.7-mile hike through the Siuslaw National Forest. The views of the dramatic coastline and turbulent waves of Thor’s Well and Devil’s Churn are sure to be worth the walk. If you visit in January, make plans to stop at the Agate Festival, a three-day event that focuses on the region’s prized gemstone.
Cape May, New Jersey
Every summer, thousands of people flock to Cape May, New Jersey with high hopes of escaping the heat with some perfect beach weather. The end result is a beach town that is so crowded it’s almost hard to enjoy. Cape May in the winter months bears a much stronger resemblance to the historic town that put it on the map. As the first seaside resort established in the U.S., Cape May is famous for its beautiful collection of Victorian homes. Take a trolley tour around the historic district before being led through a Victorian mansion on foot. Even better, visit around the holidays to see the Christmas lights adorning the historic mansions. For an expansive view of the Delaware Bay, climb the 199 steps to the top of the Cape May lighthouse, which is open on the weekends during the off-season.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
If you prefer a sunny beach without the sweltering heat, Hilton Head Island is just what the doctor ordered. The South Carolina Lowcountry provides mild temps all winter long with an average high in the low 60s Fahrenheit from December through February. That’s an ideal temperature to stroll along the beach with your dog, paddle through the peaceful lagoon, or go bird watching at Pinckney Island. Since Hilton Head is quieter in the winter, you’ll also be able to navigate the streets easier on your bicycle and you’ll find the golf courses and tennis courts to be much less crowded. The area picks up a bit around mid-March when the island hosts a Wine and Food Festival, a weeklong event featuring tasty bites, tempting libations, and live entertainment.
The northern beaches of the Great Lakes are often overlooked by beachgoers in the summer months and even more so in the winter. But if a winter wonderland is what you’re after, look no further than Marquette, a remote town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Perched on the shores of Lake Superior, the town’s nearby Presque Isle Park is the perfect place for exploration along the coast. Depending on the snowpack, winter hikers may walk or snowshoe along the park’s trails to witness Superior’s infamous cliffs and icy vistas. Winter enthusiasts can also choose between the region’s abundant snow activities from snowmobiling, single-trail fat biking, and downhill skiing. After the sun sets, keep your eyes peeled for the Northern Lights, which are known to be seen on refreshingly cold evenings up north.