Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

America's places in the sun

When the snow blows in, southern beaches and a tan await

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Some moments make you question your parental instincts -- or lack thereof. But is it really so wrong to laugh hysterically as your cocky teenage son gets pummelled by a wave, almost loses his bathing suit and lands face down in the sand before your very eyes?

Whatever our son thought of our reaction to his circumstances, there was no doubt he had been warned about the waves at Sandy Beach on Oahu, Hawaii.

In addition to his parents' advice (which he scoffed at and completely ignored), there were numerous yellow warning signs alerting visitors that this famous body-surfing beach can have strong currents and big waves. Fortunately, he was not injured and had to endure only one "I told you so" from his parents.

When the weather turns chilly and the snow starts to pile up, I often reminisce about my favourite family beach vacations.

When you think of an island beach getaway, it's common to picture a far-flung destination in a foreign locale, but many of my family's favourite winter beach destinations are in the United States.

The close proximity, combined with plenty of great local amenities, make these destinations particularly appealing for families.

There's something almost magical about leaving the frozen north and arriving a few hours later on a sunny beach. Submerging your toes in fine, white sand while relaxing on a comfy beach bed at an ocean-front resort can almost feel as if you are cheating Old Man Winter.

The best part is that a family beach vacation yields memories for years to come -- especially if you're lucky enough to witness your teenager do a face plant.

Marco Island, Florida

MARCO Island is the largest of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands and the only one with serious development. Located in southwest Florida near Naples and the Florida Everglades, this island has white-sand beaches, upscale beach resorts, two golf courses, diverse shopping and good restaurants. It's also a nature-lover's paradise, famous for its birding, fishing and the frolicking dolphins just offshore.

The laid-back lifestyle has resulted in the import of a number of Canadian snowbirds.

www.paradisecoast.com

Hawaiian Islands

THERE is no place on earth like Hawaii, and the hardest part about planning a Hawaiian vacation is choosing the island to visit. Whether you visit Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai or the Big Island, you will find wonderful beaches and distinct travel experiences to discover.

Families with older teens may enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere and attractions of Honolulu on the island of Oahu while checking out some of its famous beaches. A favourite winter beach for local families is Waimanalo Beach Park, which is in the centre of a 30-hectare recreation area and has gently sloping white, sandy beaches ideal for swimming.

www.gohawaii.com

Key West, Florida

HOME to the southernmost point in the continental United States, Key West has attracted a host of colourful characters over the years, including the likes of Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway.

Exploring Old Town, celebrating African heritage at Bahama Village, enjoying great seafood at Key West Bight and toasting the sunset at Mallory Square are all must-do experiences.

Popular beaches include Fort Zachary Taylor Beach Park, Higg's Beach and Smathers Beach. Higg's Beach is popular with younger families because it has a playground, covered picnic tables, chair rentals, water-sport rentals and a full-service restaurant. Families with older teens will enjoy the man-made Smathers Beach, because of its volleyball nets, bike paths, picnic tables and concession stands.

www.fla-keys.com

Mustang Island, Port Aransas, Texas

Once inhabited by grazing herds of wild horses that were originally introduced by Spanish settlers, Mustang Island is the world's longest barrier island. Mustang Island State Park encompasses the entire southern third of the island.

The island has 29 kilometres of beaches ideal for swimming and is famous for its sand-sculpture festival, held at the end of April each year and is the largest sand-sculpting contest in America. It's also famous for excellent birding and unrivalled fishing. (www.portaransas.org)

Sanibel Island, Florida

Considered by many experts to have the best shelling beaches in North America, tiny Sanibel Island on Florida's Gulf Coast is a favourite beach destination for families. Sanibel and its neighbour, Captiva Island, are connected to each other and the mainland by a causeway, and visitors can enjoy activities on both islands.

A sea-kayak tour of J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife refuge, a ferry ride to Cabbage Key or dinner at the funky, family-friendly restaurant known as the Bubble Room are must-do experiences for visitors. (www.fortmyers-sanibel.com)

-- Postmedia News

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 5, 2013 D4

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