Winter in the South
Winter in the south has become an idyllic wonderland that is not just for the birds. while the rest of the country scrapes ice from their windshields, the south remains a vision of lush prosperity. here are the places you'll feel warmest with the ones you love most.
Sure, the swarm of people at Jax Beach may have thinned out now that summer is long gone. But if you think that now’s the time to pack your bags and head back home, well, you have no idea what you’re missing. While the rest of the country is buried deep in the throes of winter, everyone here in Jacksonville is seizing the off-season as an opportunity to explore the city and immerse themselves in the local culture—sans the crazy crowds. Here’s where those in the know go to hide out—and hang out—during the chilly season.
Where to Eat
Strap on your winter shoes (lederhosen optional) and stomp on over to the European Street Café for one of Jacksonville’s most authentic German food experiences. With four locations that are easily reached from anywhere in the city, this 30-year culinary institution serves more than 150 unique Euro eats and traditional Deutsche delicacies. One spoonful of the velvety Beer Cheese Soup will thaw you out on even the chilliest of days, while the Knockwurst—served steaming hot with tomato curry sauce, sauerkraut, German potato salad and a pretzel breadstick—will knock your stockings right off. Oh, and of course the beer is free-flowing. In fact, their selection of 200-plus brews has been voted the best in North Florida time and again. europeanstreet.com
Where to Play
In Florida, we don’t get snow, we make it! From late November through early January, Adventure Landing transforms its Shipwreck Island Water Park into a frosty Alpine wonderland for their annual WinterFEST celebration. You and your little ski bunnies will have a wintry blast bouncing from one family activity to another: Skate around the outdoor rink, visit Santa at his workshop, roast S’mores over a crackling fire, decorate your own scrumptious holiday cookies, or swoosh down the 130-foot ice slide. At the end of the day, cozy up together and watch the nightly snowfall and light display as you sip on gourmet coffee, hot chocolate or hot cider from Crystal Creek Lodge. The North Pole doesn’t seem so far away now, does it? adventurelanding.com
Who says Christmas isn’t the same in Florida? It’s not all about sunshine and palm trees in the beautiful beachside town of Amelia Island. The spirit of the season is so alive here that it makes those classic holiday movies look like scrappy school plays. Follow us on a tour of the jolliest old city the South ever did see.
Where to Eat
The light of day may be hiding behind an ugly patch of clouds during the colder months, but it’s never overcast in the quaint Bright Mornings Bistro & Café. Their hearty home-cooked breakfasts—served daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (except Wednesdays)—will certainly turn your smile sunny-side up. Melt away the wintertime blues with their specialty: a fluffy stack of peanut butter, pecan, chocolate chip, blueberry or classic pancakes, drizzled with warm, sugary syrup. In the mood for something savory? Bite into a hot, buttery biscuit sandwich with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese grits or potatoes, and your choice of ham, sausage or bacon. Hit the road, Jack Frost! brightmornings.us
Where to Stay
As if the lavish oversized rooms, the Victorian soaking tubs, and the aroma of cinnamon orange pecan French toast wafting from the kitchen aren’t reason enough for you to drop everything and head to The Fairbanks House right now, their ultra-festive Christmas stay package will definitely seal the deal. From November through January, this 8,000-square-foot mansion magically transforms into a scene straight out of a Dickens novel. All public areas and grounds are dressed in their best holiday apparel, while a fully decorated Christmas tree and treat-filled stockings await guests in every single room. On Christmas Eve, delight in a carriage tour of the Fernandina Beach historic district as well as a dinner at Joe’s Second Street Bistro. Then, get spoiled like a kid on Christmas Day with a special pumpkin pancake breakfast and a dinner at David’s Restaurant. Book your stay early, though: The Christmas package sells out quickly every year—no ifs, ands or buts about it. fairbankshouse.com
Sometimes even Santa needs to trade in his velvety suit for shorts and flip flops. With temps in the mid-60s through February, the Golden Isles are a choice getaway for those who are dreaming of a coastal Christmas. Whether you crave the exclusivity of Sea Island or the coziness of Historic Brunswick, there are plenty of options for having some summer fun here this winter.
Where to Eat
You haven’t really experienced a Golden Isles getaway until you’ve sampled some of Georgia’s world-famous wild shrimp. And this season, no one will be serving hotter or tastier local seafood than Driftwood Bistro on St. Simons Island. To start, take the edge off the wintertime chill with a steaming bowl of crab bisque. For the main event, a steaming platter of their traditional garlic-cheddar grits—sprinkled with white wine sauce, fresh mushrooms, leeks, country ham and roasted red peppers, then topped off with your choice of deep-friend, grilled or blackened shrimp—promises to warm you up from the inside out. driftwoodbistro.com
Where to Play
No place celebrates a nautical-themed Christmas better than the Golden Isles. The annual Christmas Boat Parade at Historic Brunswick kicks off the season with a dazzling display of marine cruisers decked out in holiday lights, inflatable snowmen and other festive ornaments. And for those of you who never thought it would be possible to ice skate on the beach, the Jekyll Island Skating Village—a massive outdoor rink that’s surrounded by palm trees and sits right on the sandy shore of the Atlantic—is nothing short of a holiday miracle. goldenisles.com
Hilton Head, SC
As the rattle and hum of countless motors on an infinite number of minivans fades off into the asphalt ribbons streaming away from 278 to I-95 and all points north, a mild contentment has settled on Hilton Head Island. It’s an annual tradition here, when locals say they are “reclaiming” the island. Funny thing is, each year it seems like more and more of those minivans fail to make their scheduled exit. The result being, each year there seem to be more and more locals reclaiming the island around this time. Which is fine. Because there was a time when you’d have your choice of a mere handful of places to grab a drink or enjoy a night out between October and March. Back in the island’s early days as a tourist town, more than half the restaurants and businesses would be shuttered during the off seasons, leaving locals with not much to do and plenty of time to do it. These days, not so much. If anything, the healthy influx of permanent tourists has made the shoulder season the best time to truly experience Hilton Head Island. It’s the time when those who enjoy it most are given free rein to enjoy it at their own pace. That’s not to say they wouldn’t enjoy some company, if you feel like visiting.
Where to Eat
But if you’re looking for a place where the water views come with a little more laid-back atmosphere, head right out the back gate and pull up to the Marker 13 Bouy Bar at Skull Creek Boathouse. The constant rotation of live musical acts liven up what can be the occasional stiff breeze across the creek, while you enjoy the rare treat of pounding back a few cocktails and oyster platters between a working boathouse and a killer set from a local musician. You’ll get the same water views as Old Fort Pub, but with a decidedly more lively crowd. And even though fall might not be the best time to hop on the boogie board and chase some waves – please, for the love of God trust us on this one – that just makes Hilton Head Island’s beaches all the more enjoyable.
Gone are the masses of sweaty Midwesterners bringing with them everything that blocked your view of the sand and the surf. That said, the serenity of the beaches this time of year is in the viewing, not in the swimming. So you’ll want to take in the sights from the patio of a beach bar with a stiff drink to steel you against the cold. Coco’s On The Beach is not the most famed of the island’s beach bars, but that is why it’s perhaps its greatest.
Where to Play
Across the bridge in Bluffton you’ll find a town that’s as serene and bucolic in fall as it is in spring. The key difference her being the way autumn’s subtle chill produces the wonderful aroma of near-constant oyster roasts and provides the only respite from the no-see-ums that live along the May River. Which is perfect, because it’s here you’ll find a majestic slice of heaven known as Oyster Factory Park. Partially built up from more than a century’s worth of discarded shells from the nearby Bluffton Oyster Factory, this pocket park has in recent years become the town’s unofficial gathering place.