A few good reasons to visit New England beaches in winter

February 29, 2016

A snow-capped picnic table sits on the beach during sunset at Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, Mass., in a 2005 file image. While it's technically not legal, and probably not well advised during winter months, Herring Cove Beach is well known as a clothing optional beach.

I love Cape Cod, Mass. Hardly a summer goes by that I don’t brave the traffic backed up at the bridges at least once to visit the beaches, eat fried clams and explore the shops lining Provincetown’s Commercial Street.

But one of my favorite visits was a weekend I spent at the Cape in January. Crowds and traffic were gone, beaches were empty, restaurants were filled with locals, not jammed with tourists, and a snowstorm over the ocean was a spectacular sight.

Oh, and, prices were about half of in-season rates.

"There’s plenty of good reasons to go to New England coastal destinations in winter," says Kim Knox Beckius, New England travel expert for About.com. "Not only are you going to save money, but you’re going to be able to experience your favorite summer spots in a whole different way."

Like driving some of New England’s most beautiful shore routes at your own speed. Route 6A on Cape Cod, which winds through Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth and other picturesque towns, offers views of Cape Cod bay on one side and charming villages and greens on the other. Spot a beautiful vista or overlook and you can pull over to appreciate it without invoking the wrath of harried motorists behind you.

Historic Route 1, with its views of Maine’s rocky coast, is another great off-season drive. Pack your binoculars for up-close views of seals and other marine life, and your camera, for shots of lighthouses and breathtaking scenery.

While some summer spots still roll up the sidewalks in off-season, more and more inns, restaurants and shops in places such as Newport, R.I.; Kennebunkport, Maine; and Cape Cod are open year-round.

"Newport, for example, is really an all-season destination," says Beckius. "Three of the mansions are open, and Cliff Walk in winter, with its beautiful views, is amazing."

Visit Newport before the summer crowds arrive and you won’t have to crop all those tourists in Hawaiian shirts from your vacation pictures. You’ll also get first shot at some great inside photos as well.

Earlier this month, Newport’s Preservation Society announced that, for the first time, it will allow interior photos to be taken at The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House. (Photos can be taken with smartphones only; no flash, tripods or selfie sticks allowed.)

When it comes to dining, the bad news is that your favorite clam shack may be closed. The good news is that a lobster dinner might not break the bank, since upscale restaurants often offer off-season specials that are far more affordable than summer menus.

On the plus side, parking is likely to be free, shops will be discounting last season’s merchandise and you’re less likely to get a sunburn.

Some shoreline destinations offer special winter deals to draw visitors off season.

Kennebunkport holds a "Paint the Town Red" promotion during February with dining, shopping and accommodation discounts throughout the month. (Information: destinationkennebunkport.com/love.)

If you are heading to a coastal destination in winter, you’ll need to do some research. Some tourist attractions may be closed or have limited hours in the off-season, so call ahead or check websites before you go. Ferry schedules are limited as well, so be sure to confirm times.

Be sure to keep an eye on the weather. Driving unfamiliar back roads in a storm can take the fun out of travel. Pack wisely. As the saying goes, "There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing." Bring plenty of warm clothing, including gloves, scarves and hats and boots. Unless you’re heading to an inn with a hot tub or indoor pool (or doing a polar bear plunge), leave swimwear at home.

"Winter is a great time to go to a New England beach," says Beckius. "Just not in your bathing suit."

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