Winter beach vacations in the USA
August 14, 2009 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Closer USA beach destinations for a winter getaway. Desires: nature, water, good food, kid friendly.

I'm looking over the many beach vacation and traveling with children questions of the past, but I haven't seen quite this angle.

My wife and I are pining for fondly remembered beach vacations of our past (particularly to Mexico and Hawaii). But we're thinking about a shorter (and less expensive) flight from our home base in Minnesota and generally easier destination for our first major vacation with our child (will be 5 by that time).

We are looking at sometime in January/February. Things we'd like to have: in the continental USA, close to a decent beach and water, natural features (nature hiking, national park, or the like), good food (a few options for higher end restaurant cuisine would be nice), and generally a good destination for a family vacation with a young child.

I realize there is an inherent conflict between "beach destination" and "shorter flight," (Key West and San Diego aren't all that much closer than Cancun, for example) so I'm trying to figure out the best compromise. I don't know if we need to actually lie on a beach in bathing suits but being able to wear shorts and be in the water would be nice. The only coastal area I have much direct experience with is Los Angeles to San Diego. I know very little about but am intrigued by the Gulf of Mexico and the East coast (I'm leery of the overly touristy destinations in Florida however). Direct personal experiences preferred. Thank you!
posted by nanojath to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
In January / February most (if not all) of the east coast USA beaches will be too cold for shorts or swimming.

But then again you are from Minnesota...
posted by WeekendJen at 9:54 AM on August 14, 2009


Check out the SW coast of Florida. The Naples area is very family friendly... on the sleepy side actually. Sanibel and Marco Island areas have protected nature areas and are nearby. A short drive will take you to Everglades national park, which is really cool, and has alligators obviously.

The Gulf waters will be warm down there, though the high temps will only be in the 70s.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:07 AM on August 14, 2009


FYI, Key West has no real beaches to speak of. The Keys are rocky mangrove islands, and really don't have many great beaches.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2009


We just got back from a week in St. Augustine, FL. Its a nice little town, a little touristy but in a good historical sense, from the old fort to the town itself. Lots of great food. The Alligator Farm is fun for kids but a bit pricey ($22 for adults). The beach there isn't going to be warm enough in January for swimming but like weekendjen said, that's going to be tough anywhere on the East Coast.

Have you looked into places like Washington? Anywhere on the Olympic peninsula, the beaches are stunning and you've got gorgeous forests and mountains. Its definitely accessible from Seattle and is temperate year round.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 10:10 AM on August 14, 2009


We just got back from a beach vacation in Hollywood, FL. We traveled with our 9-month-old and had a really easy time with her. I'm not sure about national parks or hiking in that area, but the beach was incredible, the Hollywood Beach Marriott was kid friendly and had decent-enough food. You'd probably have to go into Miami for finer dining, but it's not that far. In winter it's 75-80 degrees during the day and I assume the water would still be warm. It certainly satisfied my craving for a beach getaway!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 10:11 AM on August 14, 2009


Hmm Ft lauderdale/hollywood beach will be boring for the kids. Its a big adult touristy area.

Key west is also mainly bars so another place not to bring kids (my fiance has best friends who live IN key west)

The problem is that a lot of beach places have a lot of bars and not alot of kids places. So you might have a hard time finding a beach destination that a 5 year old wont be incredibly bbored at.
posted by majortom1981 at 10:43 AM on August 14, 2009


If you were looking for a summer time vacation, then the New England beaches are really great for families. Everything from Old Orchard in Maine out to Cape Cod in Mass has something for families.

But since you're looking for winter time, New England won't cut it --- though the beaches can be gorgeous in the winter.

I don't any experience whatsoever with and really don't know too much about the climate except when I was in Raleigh-Durham for a weekend in February, I was wearing short sleeves and no jacket with pants, but maybe the North Carolina Outer Banks and beaches would be okay that time of year? If not for swimming and lounging, it might be good enough for other things.
posted by zizzle at 11:02 AM on August 14, 2009


Contra IFB, you don't want to go to the beach in the Pacific Northwest in January. The beaches are gorgeous, but it'll be cold and the weather will be beastly.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:14 AM on August 14, 2009


I will put in my standard plug for Chincoteague Island, VA. I don't know if you'd really want to go on the beach in the winter (not as cold as MN, obviously, but probably not suitable for swimming), but in the off-season it's a really nice, relaxing place. Cute little town with shops, tons of horse-related stuff, if your kids are into that, year-round. There is a beautiful, fairly new nature center, and lots of trails around for hiking and nature walks. There are some good restaurants on the island, though none that are really "fine dining."

Feel free to message me if you want more info on Chincoteague, I have lots!
posted by LolaGeek at 11:28 AM on August 14, 2009


Can I suggest San Juan, Puerto Rico? Not that far off Florida and you can do both beach and the El Yunque rainforest (which is a national park) and Old City San Juan for history and street performers and stuff (not to mention good food.) I would also suggest you try a nighttime kayak tour to see the bioluminescence in the water.
posted by lpsguy at 11:42 AM on August 14, 2009


When traveling with children, "shorter flight" matters nowhere near as much as "single flight." This is especially true in winter, when stacking delays across the country could mean an overnight stay in an airport due to a missed connection.

I'd vote for Southern California -- flights aren't too expensive because the destinations are so common; the beaches are close to the airports, so you won't have a long drive right after your long flight; the weather is reliable (even where it's warm on the East Coast, you're likely to get rain, and possibly rain every day of your entire vacation).
posted by palliser at 11:43 AM on August 14, 2009


Galveston is pretty family friendly, and the kids would enjoy the beach. (Tt's certainly not the most beautiful stretch of coastline in the US, but the kids wouldn't know that.) You'd fly to Houston. It's about an hour's drive from there.

Someone else might want to weigh in on how recovered it is from the last hurricane, though.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:45 AM on August 14, 2009


Can I suggest San Juan, Puerto Rico?

Actually, yeah, if anyone thinks the perfect near-US international destinations really fit the bill I've described otherwise, I'll definitely take the advice. Thanks for all the good responses so far.
posted by nanojath at 12:19 PM on August 14, 2009


I just spent four years living in St. Petersburg, FL, and did swim in January, the water was fine. The Gulf stays warm longer than the Atlantic. There are lots of beautiful large parks, nature trails, museums, etc. and it's less expensive than somewhere like Sarasota or Sanibel. Also cheaper in terms of flights, Tampa is the main airport and is much busier than the others on the FL Gulf coast. Feel free to email me for more details.

St. Augustine is also very interesting, albeit a bit too touristy. I've camped at Anastasia State Park in December and the water is definitely too cold for swimming.
posted by mareli at 2:36 PM on August 14, 2009


near-US international destinations

Just a quick note that as PR is part of the US, you won't need a passport to get there, which can save you some cash if you haven't got them for the whole family. Same goes for the US Virgin Islands.
posted by mdonley at 4:37 AM on August 15, 2009


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