Travel during peak season is the worst. You know the drill: temperatures peak, prices surge, and it’s a reality check.
Whether you don’t have the dough to spend on expensive trips across state borders, or you’d simply rather avoid congested beaches, journeying off-season is the answer. Even seasoned travelers sometimes miss out on the joys of hitting certain US tourist towns during the winter hustle. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the top ten spots that won’t put you in the way of screaming children, nor will they put a strain on your wallet. Take a look.
10 Matagorda, Texas
Cue miles of beaches, saltwater, and fresh fishing, plus laid-back locals. If you don’t mind sharing the beach with khaki-clad strangers and binoculars pointing to the skies because of the migrating birds, this spot is for you.
Check out the swampy terrain on the eastern side, close to the Colorado River, which boasts of wetlands and tidal marshes. Visiting off-season means the sea is your oyster (think excellent snorkeling). It’s a land animal haven too, so you’ll be able to spot Texas horned lizards, Bobcats, river otters, and gators, even without the binoculars.
9 Blue Hill, Maine
Blue Hill is out of the way but not out of touch, with its lush blueberry barrens, lobster bisque and sweeping vistas of the sea. It’s a magnet for creatives, artists and writers alike, and has been for generations past, thanks to its sprawling landscapes and an eerie sense of isolation.
It might be the go-to spot for holiday-goers during the summer, but visit in the winter and the landscapes are still unspoiled, pace unhurried and local fare exquisite. Plus, you won’t have to rub elbows with other tourists, so those long stretches of white sands are yours for the taking.
8 Weeki Wachee, FL
This is an idyllic summer retreat, as it has the deepest natural springs in the US, a winding river (replete with grazing sea cows), and a peculiar mermaid show at Buccaneer Park. Yes, even though only 12 people live there, there’s a park. This spot is even more appealing during the long winter months.
Basically, if you fancy a holiday gazing into the doe-eyed face of a manatee, with a gentle winter breeze rustling your hair, this spot’s for you.
7 Sitka, Alaska
Beautiful snow-capped mountains, island-studded waters, and dense greenery, Alaska’s an epic expanse of land, home to fresh Salmon and the Grizzly bear (though of course those two go hand in hand).
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Now step into the extraordinary town of Sitka, Alaska. Though previously part of Russia until 1867, it’s now all-American. So whether you’re an outdoorsy fan or crazy into chasing thrills, Sitka’s small town is the perfect retreat. Sitka’s the perfect place to visit off-season. Sure, it’s colder and darker, but you have a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights then too. Plus, there’s also snowmobile tours, skiing and whale watching, making for an action-packed, if-chilly trip. Just dress warmly like you’re about to embark on a long journey into the Arctic.
6 Crystal River
Crystal River takes what Florida does best then also serves it up with fresh crab. Besides the hip dining, Crystal River is laid back, funky, and full of charming locals. It’s definitely an idyllic summer retreat, thanks to its natural springs which crank up to a solid 70 degrees, but you can’t fault it during the off-season, either.
That’s because native manatees flock here during the cooler months (no one will stop you from respectfully swimming alongside them), you can kayak the Chassahowitzka River (Chazz to locals) without bumping into people and Charlie’s Fish House Restaurant stays satisfyingly queue-free throughout.
5 Haleiwa, Oahu
No tourist town list would be complete without a mention of Hawaii – the closest we’ve yet come to paradise. Haleiwa is a small tourist town in Oahu, famous for its surfing competitions (as Hawaii is the birthplace of such sports). This town is bohemian thanks to its mixture of artistic and surfer residents.
Even if you’re not an avid surfer, there’s plenty to see and do off-season. Take Wyland Galleries for example, which features tsunami glass sculptures and murals, or Waimea Valley, which boasts of waterfalls and gorgeous botanical gardens. There is, without a doubt, no place quite like Haleiwa. And unlike most places, it’s well worth the hours and hours of flying to get there.
4 Dodge City, Kansas
Dodge City is one of the only spots that preserves the country’s Old West history in its entirety. To put it simply, Wild West fans, this is cowboy country.
A wicked town in the old west, it used to be home to Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Clay Allison. Now, of course, there aren’t any cowboys left, but that’s not to say the town has forgotten about its past. On any given day you can visit Longhorn Park to see longhorn cattle, Fort Dodge, a historic site that used to house Kansas soldiers, or Boot Hill Museum, which features over 200 cowboy guns. Yee-haw. So why visit in the off-season? Well, for one thing, you won’t have hordes of tourists blocking your view.
3 Big Sur, California
Picture windswept cliffs, tempestuous waters of the Pacific Ocean and a sun that won’t stop shining (even in the winter), Big Sur in California can only be described as dreamy. Literary fans can revel in the fact that Kerouac, Hunter S.Thompson and Henry Miller are all connected in some way – evidenced in the museum they left behind filled with Beat-era memorabilia.
But that’s not the only reason to visit Big Sur in the off-season. Several of its beaches along the coast boast of some truly magnificent waves – all year round. Sand Dollar Beach is one such spot: it has little swell too, so you can ride gentle waves if you’re a novice, or wait for the big breaks if you’re more hardcore.
2 Southport, North Carolina
Voted America’s Happiest Seaside Town in 2015, this little gem, which lies at the intersection of the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, isn’t ideal for swimming in its wintertime offseason – but it’s excellent for kayaking and exploring year-round.
Meander through its rambling waterways and salt marshes or, if you’re feeling ambitious, paddle out to Bald Head Island, a pristine spit of land two miles offshore.
1 Vail, Colorado
The main draw in Vail is its slopes. Those with deep pockets ski, shop and mingle here every winter in increasingly larger numbers. But during the summer, Colorado is still beautiful. And it’s around 22 degrees and sunny throughout the season.
Slide across a zip line instead of carving through mountainside powder. Or go whitewater rafting (the snowmelt translates into world-class rapids). Or go mountain biking. There’s plenty to do – even a yoga class taught on paddle boards.