Winter on Virginia and South Carolinaís Beaches
By Candyce H. Stapen
Winter is a special time for us to visit the beach. With no crowds, itís easy to enjoy the peacefulness of a stroll along the sand accompanied by the sounds of surf. Virginia and South Carolina lure work weary urbanites like us with shore solitude, civilized accommodations and low winter rates.
Virginia Beach offers both developed and undeveloped sands. We like the resort areaís three-mile long boardwalk (a paved stretch along the beach) best without the summer crowds. Bundled up on sunny day, we walk at a good pace, appreciating the breaking surf and the fresh sea air.
For a more natural beach, thereís Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a managed area of 9,000 acres that serves as a waterfowl refuge where 300 species of birds have been observed. In winter, more than 10,000 snow geese and a large variety of ducks fly by on their seasonal migration.
Their calls echo through the nine miles of dikes built to separate the man-made freshwater impoundments from the salt water of Chesapeake Bay. For a quick tour, we walk the one-mile boardwalk beach loop past dune barriers to the Atlantic Ocean or we hike the four mile dike loop through marshlands. Brochures are available at the Visitor Contact Station.
For even more of a secluded winter experience, take a day trip to False Cape State Park. In southern Virginia Beach, False Cape is a gift for the eye: thousands of acres of marshlands and woods plus six miles of beautiful shoreline graced by dunes, gulls, and sandpipers but few visitors, especially in winter.
To reach False Cape, you must hike or mountain bike the five miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, something we donít recommend in winter. Instead, book a seat on False Capeís Terra Gator, a big wheeled vehicle that operates on weekends from November through March. The Terra Gator gives you two hours of exploring before bringing you back in the afternoon.
Where to stay? Thatís a nice dilemma since rates in winter are the lowest of the year. Both the Cavalier Hotel and the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront have indoor pools.
Bustling in summer, South Carolinaís Kiawah Island is a great winter find. The low-country scenery and the ten miles of wide, dune bordered sands win our hearts. The 10,000-acre barrier island 21 miles from Charleston still offers golf and tennis as well as guided nature walks where we find alligators peering back at us. We also enjoy pedaling part of the islandís 30-miles of trails.
After a walk or a biking workout, we especially appreciate a pampering massage at the spa at the Sanctuary, Kiawahís casually elegant resort, a place thatís more easily affordable at winterís low rates.