The beach is a welcome reprieve at any time, but it can be even more special during the holiday season. Maybe you’re seeking sunshine, warmth, and the comfort of the sand in between your toes. You don’t have to be a heat worshipper though, because even if the beach is in a chilly clime, for sure it can still have a certain magic, especially if the crowds are elsewhere.
Quite frankly, it’s hard to go wrong with a beach holiday. For you, it could be a bonus if the beach town is big on holiday festivities, and you can also get your fill of merriment. However, you might just want sun, beach, and quiet; that’s okay too. If you’re wondering where to go for that year-end beach vacay, start here.
1. Flamenco Beach, Puerto Rico
This is one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Talk about still turquoise waters. At Flamenco Beach in Culebra, there are barely any waves. You know what that means — great snorkeling, swimming, and a very calm respite ideal for reclining in a lounger. You’ll love the authentic Puerto Rican food at the kiosks, and as for the holiday spirit, it’s contagious here. Puerto Rico has the longest holiday season in the world. Hey, it lasts 45 days. It starts the day after Thanksgiving and goes until mid-January with the San Sebastián Street Festival (Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián), known locally as “Sanse.” Puerto Rican locals love any excuse to celebrate with music and food, to share the holiday spirit with a traditional “coquito” in hand, and you will too.
2. Stuart Beach, Florida
Stuart Beach just got a $2.7 million makeover of its facilities. There are covered picnic areas, beach volleyball courts, basketball courts, snorkeling, kayaking, and the new Seaside Cafe. The “Sailfish Capital of the World” is famous for the fishing off its coast. The waterfront restaurants and bars get much buzz, especially Stuart Boathouse and Riverwalk Café and Oyster Bar. Ride the free trolley to get a taste of the city’s fascinating history. Holidays are a big deal with Christmas on Main Street Tree Lighting Festival, which has live music, face painting, balloon art, and more. Then there’s the Stuart Christmas Parade and the Stuart Christmas Boat Parade, which typically begins at the Jensen Beach Causeway and floats by Sandsprit Park and Twisted Tuna in Port Salerno.
3. Jekyll Island, Georgia
Throughout the holiday season, there’s much to do on Jekyll Island. Enjoy Holly Jolly Light Tours, via a ride on Jekyll’s jolliest trolley, to see more than half a million lights around the island. Chill and view the lights from Beach Village to the Historic District. Feel the spirit with holiday beverages and music to sing along to. Don’t deny yourself silly fun. Then there’s the Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade, fireworks on December 11 and 18, and the opportunity to have breakfast with Santa — something that your kids won’t want to miss.
4. Espadilla Beach, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
If you’re looking for something unique, spend your holiday at the Igloo Beach Lodge. Not only is it just a stone’s throw from Espadilla Beach, it is but steps from Manuel Antonio National Park. Make like an eskimo with these igloo-style accommodations. Nearby, there’s hiking and whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and wildlife tours. Igloo Beach Lodge offers beach bonfires and picnics for an added fee in addition to having a full-service restaurant called Casa Planta from celebrity chef Matthew Kenney.
5. Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine
This is Kennebunkport’s largest and most scenic beach. When it comes to merrymaking, locals say few towns in America can hold a candle to Kennebunkport. The coastal town is famous for its annual Christmas Prelude — an 11-day bash that’s as New England as it gets. Highlights include the Dock Square Tree Lighting, Cape Porpoise Lobster Trap Tree Lighting, hat parades, outdoor Christmas markets, caroling, costume contests, Santa arriving by a lobster boat, and more. They’ve been rated the #2 Christmas Town in America by HGTV. For a home away from home, try the new Tides Luxury Beach Residences across from Goose Rocks Beach.
6. Miami, Florida
You need no convincing about hitting the road to Miami with its 20 miles of Atlantic coastline. You can do Christmas-y things but in the sunshine. Visit Santa at Zoo Miami and take in the Zoo Lights show and 26-foot-tall Christmas tree. Gawk at the holiday lights at Pinecrest Gardens and enjoy holiday concerts on the Banyan Bowl Stage. Art Basel Miami Beach, North America’s most comprehensive international contemporary art fair, is a must. For a bit of history, there’s Holiday Décor at Deering Estate. Top designers create a feeling of nostalgia inspired by Florida’s pioneer days and each building has its own theme to explore and appreciate.
7. Ocean City, Maryland
There’s plenty of holiday cheer at this beach escape, from the Ocean City Christmas Parade to the Pizza Party with Santa. Northside Park comes alive with the Winterfest of Lights, thousands of holiday lights, exhibits, 50-foot Christmas tree, and more. On New Year’s Eve, there is a fireworks display at Northside Park. If you’re looking for a cool spot to stay, the Carousel Oceanfront Hotel has an indoor ice rink.
8. West Beach, Santa Barbara
You know how beautiful Santa Barbara is. West Beach will surely bring holiday smiles. Along with water time, you can enjoy the Santa Barbara Trolley of Lights tour, watch the Nutcracker Ballet at the Granada Theater, and the annual Santa Barbara Parade of Lights. Hotel Milo is at the doorstep of West Beach with views of the Pacific and Santa Barbara coastline. The setting is serene at the boutique hotel with its Spanish-style courtyard, garden, and pool.
9. Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola Beach is so pretty you might think you’re in the Caribbean. The holidays are special there. It “snows” every night in Pensacola during Winterfest outside the Plaza Wonderland on Palafox Place. Get in the holiday spirit with hot chocolate and Christmas lights hugging the palm trees. There are several trolley tours and memorable experiences like the Polar Express tour where tap dancing servers lead you through the classic Christmas story. Another one is the Cajun Christmas Experience where you’ll get history along with Christmas cookies. During this open trolley ride, a guide tells stories of how Christmas is celebrated in the bayou as you take a short ride to the Historic Village. Of course, there are IG moments with Santa or the Grinch.
10. Playa Kenepa, Curaçao
Perhaps what’s most important to you is how much sunshine you can soak up. Consider the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao. It’s home to some of the world’s best diving and more than 30 beaches. With so much choice, there’s plenty for all, so no worries about crowds. If you want to live like a local, you definitely want to make Sunday a beach day, that’s what they do. Head to Playa Kenepa, which consists of two beaches, Kenepa Grandi (the bigger beach) and Kenepa Chiki (the smaller, more intimate beach). Both are pretty isolated and there is only one road that leads to both beaches. Kepena Chiki is beloved for its snorkeling hotspots along the coastline and Kenepa Grandi is known for its pristine white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters, as well as a vista overlooking the stunning landscape. Play as many water sports as you like or lounge on the beach, it’s your call.
11. Galveston Island, Texas
Galveston Island is a historic beach town located on the Gulf of Mexico, 50 miles from Houston. As for the beach, is 32 miles enough? That’s what you’ll find here. When you’ve had your fill of water fun, continue to enjoy yourself in what’s known as the Winter Wonder Island of Texas. The holiday season is full of traditions like Moody Gardens’ Festival of Lights, the Victorian festival Dickens on The Strand, and The Polar Express Train Ride at the Galveston Railroad Museum. In addition, The Grand 1894 Opera House will begin its holiday lineup of performances in mid-November.
12. Cape May, New Jersey
The beaches at Cape May are legendary. Discover them during the holidays. There’s Congress Hall’s Christmas Tree Lighting. It’s all about the igloos and tents on the Grand Lawn where you’ll be served creative cocktails and light bites. Kids will look forward to Breakfast with Santa at Congress Hall. Word is that the place to be on Wednesday is the dinner and bingo with Blue the pig and the Clauses. Do make your way to the West End Garage that transforms into a holiday shopping mecca. Visit the Beach Plum Farm for Holiday farm-to-table dinners on weekends, wreath making, and more. The season kicks off with the West Cape May Community Christmas Parade the first Saturday of December. Throughout the season, there are candlelight house tours and Santa Trolley rides.
13. Dana Point, California
This seaside town is halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. There are nearly 7 miles of beach for getting your surf on, paddle boarding, or simply chilling and catching a sunset. For sure, a highlight will be the chance to see dolphins and whales. Dana Point’s Winter Festival & Tree Lighting includes an artisan craft fair, carnival games, rides, cookie decorating, and more. Consider going during the annual Dana Fiesta Boat Parade of Lights, December 10–12. Take a boat ride with Santa and his holiday helpers. Keep the good vibes flowing with holiday movie nights and gingerbread-making sessions to Hanukkah candle lightings and the Surfing Santa and Stand-Up Paddle Board Contest.