Who says you need a passport to escape to an island in wintertime? As the countdown to warmer weather begins, now is the perfect time to escape to any number of American islands that will banish your cold-weather woes. Besides being conveniently located, these islands are often budget-friendly, too. Read on to discover 10 destinations that are guaranteed to put some spring in your winter step.
In summertime, California's rocky Catalina Island is teeming with tourists who’ve taken the 25-mile ferry ride from Los Angeles, but in winter (with comfortable average temperatures in the mid-60s) you’ll feel like you have it to yourself. Catalina severely restricts cars; you can rent golf carts, but walking is the best way to discover Avalon—the little town that chewing gum built. William Wrigley’s circular, art deco Catalina Casino is a good first stop, housing the first theater built specifically for “talking” movies in 1929. From the center of town, head a mile inland on Avalon Canyon Road to begin climbing the Hermit Gulch Trail—you'll be rewarded with expansive views of the town below and the Pacific Ocean on both sides of you.
Insider Tip: The Catalina Conservancy, which owns nearly 90 percent of the island, requires hikers to get a (free) permit before going out on any of the trails.
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Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head in South Carolina claims its fair share of outdoor activities (most notably golf), but this island has more going for it than most when it comes to cultural opportunities and upscale restaurants. After a day of beach-biking, tennis, or kayaking, catch a performance by the Hilton Head Choral Society, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, dance, or theater at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
Insider Tip: For great views of the island, visit the red-striped Harbour Town Lighthouse, in the south-side enclave of Sea Pines. Photographs and relics line the walls, stitching together the history of the area as you climb the tower’s 114 steps. For $3.75, step out onto the 90-foot-high observation deck and take in a breathtaking panorama of ocean, harbor, and fairway green.
South Padre Island
Thanks to Texas' typically warm winter temperatures and Gulf waters, beach activities like kite-surfing and jet-skiing are almost never out of the question on South Padre Island. Even the water park at the Schlitterbahn Beach Resort keeps weekend hours! For quieter pursuits, take a dolphin-watching cruise or head to the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center for world-class bird-watching. South Padre isn’t lacking for nightlife — there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from as the sun begins to set.
Insider Tip: South Padre is an extremely popular spring break destination, with thousands of Texas students jamming the causeway from Port Isabel. Plan your visit accordingly if you want to avoid the "Girls Gone Wild" crowd.
Favored by U.S. presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Carter) and writers (most famously Ernest Hemingway), Key West today is a colorful jumble of art galleries, colorful conch-colored cottages, booze emporiums and all variety of restaurants. Locals embody the island’s bohemian identity, so the street theater here is non-stop. There are plenty of funky boutiques and purveyors of upscale goods (mod-print pioneer Lily Pulitzer got her start here)—but you’ll want to steer clear of Duval Street for shopping, unless tacky T-shirts are your thing.
Insider Tip: Driving in Key West is a futile endeavor: The streets are crammed to capacity with cars, and parking spots are nearly non-existent. Get to your destination quicker and easier by riding a bike, just like the locals do. There are several reputable rental companies, many of which will drop your bike off at your hotel.
Once the playground of wealthy captains of industry like Carnegie, Vanderbilt and DuPont, Florida's Ameila Island has become known for it’s first-rate golf resorts. Nonetheless, the island has managed to preserve a good chunk of its Southern charm and 19th-century history, with Fernandina's 50 blocks of late-Victorian architecture deemed a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. Wander the streets at your leisure, join a guided tour, or take a horse-and-buggy ride, then grab a picnic lunch and head to the beach.
Insider Tip: Civil War-era Fort Clinch never saw battle, so the intact brick building is one of the best-preserved forts of the era. On the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, reenactors portray life inside the fort as it was in 1864.
For the rest of the 10 U.S. islands where you can beat the winter blues, including following the coral reef trail on St. John in the Virgin Islands, visit Fodor's.