The 10 Best U.S. Beach Towns to Visit for Some Warm Weather This Winter
A getaway in these sunny destinations is just what the doctor ordered.
They don't call it the "winter doldrums" for nothing—as the temperatures start plummeting, the snow starts falling, and the days get shorter and shorter, many travelers are eager to ditch their hometowns for somewhere a bit sunnier. Fortunately, there's a wealth of beautiful beach towns right here in the U.S. that can help chase away those winter blues. Because is there anything that feeling the sand between your toes, hearing the relaxing sound of the waves, and sipping a fruity cocktail can't fix?
Pro tip: If you're willing to wait until after the holiday chaos dies down, you may be able to score a stellar deal on airfare and hotels for a January or February getaway. Best of all, traveling to these oceanside destinations during the off season can be even more fun, because you can dodge the crowds that tend to flock to the beaches during summer.
Whether you're itching for a quick weekend getaway with your SO or a long, luxurious trip with the whole fam, here are the best U.S. beach towns from coast to coast for a wonderful wintertime escape—no passport required.
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The Best U.S. Beach Towns to Visit During Winter
1. Avila Beach, California
If you're looking for a quintessential California surf town, you can stop searching—Avila Beach fits the bill in every regard, from its gorgeous beaches and piers to its laidback lifestyle and charming boutique shops.
Located just four hours north of Los Angeles or three hours south of the Bay Area, it's the perfect weekend winter getaway for west coasters or those already exploring California, says Laura Cox, founder of Travel 80 by 80.
"The boardwalk offers a variety of dining options, from lovely seafood restaurants to grab-and-go options of pizza and Hawaiian shaved ice," she adds. "Expect the weather to top out in the mid-60s—crisp and cool but sunny, so you can still get outside and explore."
Kid-friendly activities abound here—but a highlight is definitely the Central Coast Aquarium, where you can learn all about sea creatures and even touch some baby sharks and other fish. Adults will certainly never run out of things to do, either—just a few options include coastal hiking, bike riding, kayaking, beach volleyball, or wine-tasting.
2. Boca Raton, Florida
"There's a reason why this beach town continues to grow in popularity and is a vacation destination for celebs like Rod Stewart and Adam Sandler," says Bryan Mullennix, owner of FeelingVegas. "It's serene, has tons to offer, and looks like it's right out of a movie."
Indeed, Boca has it all. Not only is this seaside city known for its spectacular beaches, parks, and golf courses, but also its vibrant nightlife, luxurious spas, and awe-inspiring museums.
"What really impressed me was how clean and well-maintained this town was," Mullennix says.
Check out the world-class Boca Raton Museum of Art, attend an open-air concert or food festival at the Mizner Park Amphitheater, and peruse the high-end stores in the town center and designer labels at Mizner Park. And of course, be sure to spend some time on the two-mile stretch of pristine beaches.
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3. Mendocino, California
You're bound to be instantly enamored with this breathtaking northern California town as soon as you lay eyes on its dramatic coastline, cliffside trails, and historic attractions.
"Mendocino is surrounded by tons of natural beauty all year round," says Nina Ragusa, cofounder of the blog California is for Adventure. "It's a stunning coastal getaway with trails to wander, redwoods to explore, and beaches to surf."
During wintertime, you can expect to catch a glimpse of breaching whales just offshore as they migrate across the water from November through February. And while the area's redwood trails are perfect any time of year, winter means far fewer crowds and a much more comfortable climate for hiking.
Mendocino also happens to be the only town on the California Coast that is designated as a historical landmark—many of the buildings date back to the 1850s, and the grand Victorian architecture and saltbox cottages have a certain old New England charm. Consider staying in one of the many quaint local bed and breakfasts, which are walkable to most of the best restaurants, boutiques, and galleries in town.
"The whole town is picturesque," adds Ragusa. "Head to Point Cabrillo Lighthouse for views of the crashing sea below and a dash of history. When the evening rolls around, be sure to take in the vivid sunsets that grace the horizon off the Mendocino coast."
4. South Padre Island, Texas
You might not think of Texas when you're searching for a beach getaway, but don't sleep on this subtropical secret gem. Laura Elm, the travel blogger behind The Traveling Elms, calls South Padre Island her favorite winter getaway spot, thanks to the plentiful activities and the ideal temps this time of year, which hover around the mid to upper 60s.
Whether you go snorkeling or scuba diving at Laguna Madre, bring a bucket of bait to Queen Isabella State Fishing pier, or rent some jet skis, you're definitely in for an adventure-packed trip here, according to Elm.
As for the kiddos, they'll have a blast splashing around at the indoor water park—Beach Park at Isla Blanca—ziplining or horseback riding at South Padre Island Adventure Park, and go-karting and mini-golfing at Gravity Park.
Be sure to grab your binoculars and stop by South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary to look at tropical birds, reptiles, and other fascinating critters—or swing by the South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center for an educational boat tour or to take advantage of the interactive touch tanks.
5. La Jolla, California
"Famous for its surf, white sands, and La Jolla tide pools during low tides, La Jolla is a fantastic destination to avoid the cold in winter," says Owen Redford, Founder of the Things To Do travel blog. "The area south of the village is ideal for sunbathing and swimming, while the north-facing part is perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and scuba diving."
La Jolla is considered a neighborhood of San Diego—and a chic one at that, filled with posh boutiques and elegant waterfront eateries. The beach here, which is tucked between stunning sandstone cliffs, is without a doubt one of the most photographed locales in all of Southern California.
Each year, many families flock to this chic seaside neighborhood to catch the seals and sea lions that call La Jolla Cove their home. But aside from the pelicans, cormorants, and other wildlife to see there, there's also a lot to do. Learn to surf, take a kayak tour through the sea caves, rent some stand-up paddleboards, or go paragliding—these are just a few of the many outdoor adventures awaiting you in La Jolla.
6. Cayucos, California
When Pafoua Pistoresi, creator of Her Wanderful World, moved to California, she instantly fell in love with this Central California beach town.
"This small but idyllic beach town will capture the heart of everyone who visits," she says. "Of course, the Pacific Ocean is way too cold to swim in—but surfers could certainly catch waves with a wet suit on Cayucos Beach, and visitors can also fish from Cayucos Pier, which is part of the whale trail in California."
Hikers will be in heaven amongst the rocky cliffs, dunes, and jaw-dropping shipwreck at the dog-friendly Estero Bluffs State Park, while history buffs will delight in a tour of the Piedras Blancas Light Station—a national monument in continuous use since 1875.
Pistoresi recommends exploring the tidepools at Estero Bluffs or strolling around downtown to find a handful of locally painted murals. She also recommends sifting through the unique trinkets and souvenirs at the antique shops right across the street from Cayucos Beach—and stopping by the legendary Brown Butter Cookie Company for some memorable treats.
7. Destin, Florida
Travel blogger Jennifer Jay, calls this city, which is located right in the Florida Pandandle on the Gulf of Mexico, "the perfect beach town to slip away to for a much-needed winter getaway."
Destin boasts white sand beaches and emerald-hued waters, but it's also famous for its golf courses and fishing opportunities. "With its world-class beaches, exquisite dining, and a plethora of attractions, you won't know where to start when planning your vacation," says Jay. "There are plenty of unique attractions here for the entire family—from dolphin-watching cruises, and deep-sea fishing on a fishing charter, to self-led kayaking trips, you definitely won't be bored."
Wayne Kask, owner of Always on the Shore, also calls Destin his favorite beach town to visit during the colder months—in part because of the wide variety of activities, like arcades, waterparks, race tracks, and shopping in HarborWalk Village.
"If you love seafood, you have to try the Back Porch," recommends Steve Morrow, a travel blogger and founder of Paddle About.
This seafood and oyster joint has been a local favorite for decades now—and thanks to its beachfront location, it's the perfect place to watch the sun set over the water while you feast.
8. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
"Bay St. Louis is a hidden gem along the 'Secret Coast' of Mississippi that few people consider when talking about beach vacations," says Josh Eachus, a travel expert and chief meteorologist at YourCast. "Other than in some parts of Florida, you cannot find statistically better weather in December, January, and February in the eastern United States. While average highs and lows are in the 60s, it's also not uncommon to get a mild and breezy day in the upper 70s or lower 80s."
While the Gulf of Mexico water may be a tad too cold for swimming in the wintertime, Eachus says you can certainly pack a cooler, set up a few chairs, and hang out on one of the many picturesque, pet-friendly beaches.
Eachus says Bay St. Louis provides the perfect compromise: You can avoid the hustle and bustle and traffic of cities like Biloxi and Gulfport, but easily access the incredible shopping outlets, casinos, and other attractions that are less than an hour away.
"While there are plenty of sightseeing opportunities for a family looking to explore a new part of the country, the area is best suited for a couple or group of friends on a weekend getaway," he adds.
Although there are plenty of hotel options in Bay St. Louis, Eachus recommends scoping out one of the many impressive Airbnb and VRBO options.
"Most of the eateries have water views and will offer a good sampling of Gulf Coast fare, including fresh seafood," he says. "Plus, if you visit in January, or especially February, crawfish season is just getting started."
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9. Morro Bay, California
This seaside town—which conveniently lies smack in the middle of San Francisco and Los Angeles—is well suited to a romantic couple's getaway, says Ciara Turner-Ewert, author of Wellness Travel Diaries.
"It has a small downtown that dishes out some tasty fresh fish and saltwater taffy," she explains. "But the real reason you should visit in winter is that this town is near private hot springs, which are perfect for soaking, relaxing, and connecting with your partner before or after the busy holiday season."
While Morro Bay may be small—don't let its size fool you. It's brimming with miles of unspoiled sandy beaches and nature trails, and crave-worthy seafood restaurants.
After a day of beachcombing, kayaking, sailing, or surfing, sample some of the town's famous barrel-aged sour beers, or distinctive local wines. Or, take a guided harbor cruise of beautiful Morro Bay at sunset to soak up the scenery.
Before you head home, though, make sure to scope out Morro Rock—an iconic landmark that now serves as a sanctuary for many species of birds. While you're there, you may even encounter some otters, seals, and dolphins frolicking in the bay. And for a memorable souvenir, you'll want to hit the eclectic dockside shops and art galleries for some one-of-a-kind artwork, jewelry, and other items made by local craftsmen.
10. Tybee Island, Georgia
This barrier island, located just off Savannah, is a perfect blend of old and new—equal parts rich history and modern amenities. Did we mention the delightfully relaxed pace of life and undeniable Southern hospitality?
"Tybee Island is known for its long, sandy beaches, including South Beach, with a pier and pavilion," says Luke Xavier, travel expert and founder of USA Rover. "In the island's north, Fort Screven has 19th-century concrete gun batteries and the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. The still-functioning 18th-century lighthouse has been rebuilt many times and the museum, in Battery Garland, focuses on local history."
It's no surprise that this city is such a popular family vacation destination—you can't beat the colorful sunsets here, the mouthwatering comfort food, and the endless shops and galleries along the shoreline and marshes. But rather than driving to explore these island attractions, consider hopping on an open-air Tybee Cruiser—a unique and eco-friendly mode of transportation.
Couples may want to take a boat tour at sunset for breathtaking views of the Cockspur Lighthouse and Fort Pulaski—while families may want to stop by the Marine Science Center to learn about native sea life. However you spend your time here—if you're lucky—you may just spot some dolphins from the shoreline.