Beach Access Boardwalk Over Sand Dunes Amelia Island Florida

White-sand beaches, peaceful natural habitats and few crowds lure travelers to these picturesque locales. (Getty Images)

With winter ushering in severe storms, long dreary days and temperatures dropping down into the single digits across much of the country, there's no better time to escape the frigid tundra and take a break in a warm locale. While top coastal retreats across America have varied temperatures in the wintertime, ranging from the 50s to the high 80s, they afford a few key advantages: convenience, few crowds and shoulder-season rates. So, if you're inclined to spend your days exploring natural and unspoiled habitats by kayak or bike, playing a round of golf, reading a book by a fire pit on the beach or enjoying time in a luxurious spa, then look no further than these coastal destinations.

[Read: 9 Underrated Winter Vacation Ideas Under $1,000.]

Amelia Island, Florida

This quiet little barrier island located in the northeast corner of Florida at the Florida-Georgia border is one of more than 100 islands in the Sea Island chain along the Atlantic Coast. Just a 40-minute drive from the Jacksonville airport, the 13 miles of beautiful white-sand beaches of Amelia Island have been recognized as one of the top beach destinations in Florida. And the unique upscale amenities of the island combined with its relaxed, unpretentious beach vibes, makes Amelia a memorable vacation choice.

Amelia's pristine marshlands, protected sand dunes and rare maritime forest ecosystem afford opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching. Plus, Amelia River Cruises offers boat tours to Cumberland Island, where you can watch the wild horses that roam the island and learn about the history of the region. In December and January, look for right whales as they migrate through the waters off the coast.

Wander the quaint streets of the historic downtown Fernandina Beach where you'll find unique boutiques (without the usual touristy t-shirt and souvenir shops) and a surprising number of impressive restaurants for a small town, offering everything from freshly prepared Mediterranean street food to fine dining.

Amelia Island is also home to a number of festivals throughout the year. The largest is the Annual Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival from May 5-7, 2017. And during the second week of March, Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance takes place at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and the Amelia Island Golf Club and is one of the top automotive events in the country. However, March is a busy time of year on the island, so it's best to plan a visit in January or February for lower crowds – and prices.

Where to Stay

The town of Fernandina Beach is known for its historic bed-and-breakfasts. If you prefer the intimate feel of a small boutique property and want to stay on the beach, Elizabeth Pointe Lodge offers 24 rooms and suites in its upscale New England-style inn. Watch the stunning sunrise over the coastline while sipping coffee in the morning on the wraparound porch or enjoy a glass of wine in the evening as you listen to the waves crash upon the shore and watch the colors change in the sky as the sun begins to set on the island.

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, is the most luxurious resort on the island and all of its rooms and suites have either partial or full views of the ocean and stretch of pristine beach along the coast. Exuding gracious southern hospitality, the property caters to couples as well as families wanting a classic beach vacation. Plus, for those who prefer to travel with Fluffy and Fido in tow, the resort is pet-friendly, as is the beach. For golfers, the property has an 18-hole course overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. If your vacation goal is total relaxation, visit their newly renovated spa and salt water pool and experience the healing benefits of zero gravity with a Heaven in Hammock massage. The serenity continues at the newly reopened Lobby Lounge, which features handcrafted cocktails and a sushi and bourbon bar. Try their signature Smoked Old Fashioned, served under glass and smoked with a hint of hickory wood. The resort offers several dining options, but for a special evening, book a table at the award-winning Salt restaurant. The menu features excellent steaks and seafood dishes, and as the name implies, a wide selection of unique salts to explore with your meal.

[Read: How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Amelia Island.]

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Located just 40 minutes by car from Charleston, The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort is situated on a barrier island in coastal South Carolina, also in the Sea Island chain of islands. This resort boasts one of America's top beaches with 10 miles of pristine coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. The property owners and developers have worked hard to preserve the natural habitat, ecosystem and beautiful beaches on this 10,000-acre island, which is home to indigenous wildlife such as egrets, alligators, loggerhead turtles and a multitude of bird species. Dolphins swim along the coastline and you may even catch a glimpse of them strand feeding, where they corral small fish and drive them to the shoreline and then thrust themselves up on the shore to feed.

With these spectacular natural areas to explore, Kiawah is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors and bike along the trails, go fly-fishing or deep-sea fishing, kayak or paddleboat on the ocean or marshes or head out on the trails by foot for a nature walk or photography lesson. Plus, Kiawah offers many programs and activities for children and pets are welcome in some of the villa rentals and on certain sections of the beach.

Kiawah is also a golfer's paradise with five championship courses. Home to the Ocean Course, designed by the renowned Pete Dye, the course was host to the 1991 Ryder Cup and the 2012 PGA Championship. After a round of golf, enjoy cocktails on the sweeping porch outside the Ryder Cup Bar at the clubhouse and take in one of the most spectacular sunsets on the East Coast. It's so unique that it was featured in the film "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

[See: The 15 Best Places to Go This Winter.]

Where to Stay

The Sanctuary Hotel, the resort's award-winning luxury oceanfront property, is a stunning Southern gem with sweeping staircases, a grand foyer and public rooms that are reminiscent of an elegant bygone era. The fine dining and highly acclaimed steakhouse restaurant, The Ocean Room, offers views overlooking the water and features locally sourced ingredients perfectly executed and paired with a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list. For a classic shrimp and grits dish and inspired low country fare, visit their Jasmine Porch restaurant.

Tags: travel, vacations


Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

Recommended Articles

10 Excellent Educational Vacations for Families

March 14, 2019

Make sure your next getaway is both enjoyable and informative.

15 Adventures to Enjoy Across America

March 12, 2019

Plan an unforgettable trip in your own backyard or on the opposite coast.

The 30 Most Famous Landmarks in the World

March 11, 2019

Explore the globe in search of these intriguing historic sights.

30 Hot New Hotels to Check Out in 2019

Feb. 5, 2019

See which new properties offer surprising and fun features.

The 50 Best Hotels in the USA 2019

Feb. 5, 2019

U.S. News ranked 3,877 top properties for 2019. Check out the 50 best.

17 Amazing Kid-Friendly Hotels

Feb. 5, 2019

Discover which properties offer ample amenities for children.

New & Revamped Caribbean Hotels to Visit

Feb. 5, 2019

These island properties are sure to impress travelers.

10 Top All-Inclusive Resorts in the USA

Feb. 5, 2019

Go all-in for these luxe resorts flush with amenities.

AAA Announces 2019 Diamond Award Winners

Zach Watson | Jan. 31, 2019

Of the more than 27,000 properties evaluated, 1,843 hotels earned Four and Five Diamond awards.

30 Cheap Beach Vacations for Travelers on a Budget

Jan. 24, 2019

See which waterfront escapes won't burn a hole in your wallet.