By Alison Fox
October 03, 2019
Vicki Jauron/Getty Images

When you imagine a beach resort, images of warm sand beneath your toes and cool dips in the gentle waves likely come to mind. But a beach can be a year-round destination, calming and relaxing even when the weather turns cool and it may be too chilly to take a dip in the ocean.

Strolling along sandy shores is always a great activity, even if you have to wrap up in a jacket and scarf to do it. And hearing the waves crash from your bedroom window — such a calming sound it’s often included in sleep sound machines — can be even more comforting if you’re wrapped up in a big fluffy comforter to keep warm and cozy.

And the best part of a fall or winter beach vacation is that you’re less likely to run into hordes of summer travelers.

Take advantage of those thinning crowds to explore the grass-covered dunes at Cooper’s Beach in Southampton, one of the top 10 best beaches in America. Or head to Bar Harbor, Maine to go whale watching or watch the leaves change colors (it’s one of the best places to see fall foliage in the U.S.).

Below are eight beach resorts that are even better in the fall and winter months.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Go for a brisk hike along the shoreline at this New England beach getaway, or dress warm and head out to the Race Point Light Station, which is open for tours through the beginning of October. Afterward, grab a bite to eat at the countless crab shacks or pop over to the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, which is open year round and features intimate, behind-the-scenes photos of JFK and his family taken by his personal photographer.

Ocean City, Maryland

Take a stroll along the boardwalk in search of Maryland crab cakes then take a ride on the carousel at Trimper's Rides — the oldest continuously operating carousel dating from 1902 and installed in Maryland in 1912, according to the park’s website. (Trimper's is open on weekends through September.)

In the evening, celebrate the beginning of fall with the 45th annual Sunfest at the end of September, featuring music, hayrides, and fun things for kids — all by the beach.

Bar Harbor, Maine

While you won’t be heading out to sit on the beach when the weather turns cold in this New England coastal town, there is plenty to do in the fall and winter months. Spot fall foliage before channeling your inner astronomer at the 11th annual Acadia Night Sky Festival at the end of September.

In winter, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce suggests trying your hand at cross-country skiing or snowshoeing inside Acadia National Park.

Cape May, New Jersey

At this southernmost New Jersey beach resort, the entire town is an official National Historic District that contains nearly 600 preserved Victorian buildings, according to the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism.

Climb 199 steps up the spiral staircase of the Cape May Lighthouse built in 1859, then relax with a wine flight and snack on lobster sliders or brie and blackberry jam at the Cape May Winery & Vineyard.

Nantucket, Connecticut

During the summer, the population of Nantucket hits about 50,000 people. But if you head there during the off-season, you’re more likely to find a small fraction of that. And while many restaurants do close during those cooler months, the fall and winter offer great festivals.

In October, tour cranberry bogs at the annual Cranberry Festival and in November, test your limits with the Cold Turkey Plunge (you might want to bring a few towels to warm up after).

 

Southampton, New York

When the weather starts to get colder, Southampton tends to get quiet, making it the perfect place for a relaxing getaway from New York City. Walk on the sand at Cooper’s Beach and watch the waves crash in the breeze, then head into town for some luxury shopping before settling in for a pint of award-winning beer at the Southampton Publick House.

Hilton Head, South Carolina

With mild fall and winter weather and plenty to see and do (there’s 24 golf courses and many highly-praised restaurants), it’s no wonder Hilton Head was ranked Travel + Leisure’s No. 1 island in the Continental U.S.

Go on a Beach Discovery Tour with the Coastal Discovery Museum to learn about when sea turtles nest on the island, or bundle up and go on a dolphin tour to spot bottlenose dolphins.

Newport, Rhode Island

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This tiny summer destination has plenty to offer shoulder-season visitors: go sailing, pick pumpkins and apples at local farms, and take a classic trolley tour around the picturesque New England coastal town. And when the temperature drops, eat your way through a chili cook-off and Mac & Cheese Smackdown at the Newport Winter Festival in February.

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