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8 U.S. islands where summer lasts all year long

The mercury is dropping and now all you want to do is hit the beach for a warm day in the sun. These islands offer all your favorite warm weather activities—365 days a year.

You don't need to splurge on a trip to the Caribbean to spend time on the beach this winter. These eight U.S. islands have the sandy shores, seafood shacks, and sunny skies that will have you thinking it's summer—even when there's snow on the ground back home.

 

TAKE A TOUR OF THE ISLANDS

About as far north as you can go and still be in the Sunshine State, Amelia Island's 13 miles of beaches are mostly deserted until March—so it's easy to find a spot where there are no other people in sight. Horseback riding along the sand is one of the most popular off-season activities. Kids have a blast exploring the nooks and crannies of Fort Clinch, one of the country's best-preserved 19th-century fortifications. It was also one of the last of its kind, as new weapons made brick forts obsolete during the Civil War. Boutiques and lovingly restored Victorian mansions make up the historic district.
Sleep The Seaside Amelia Inn is steps from the beach and has a rooftop terrace perfect for taking in the sunset. Rooms start at just $69 a night.
Refuel Grab one of the umbrella-shaded tables in the courtyard of Joe's 2nd Street Bistro, where the menu leans, naturally, toward seafood.
Easy Escape From Jacksonville (33 miles), Gainesville (101 miles).

AVERY ISLAND, LA
Average highs of 65/72 in February/March

Things get hot here, and not just because of the steamy weather. It's home to the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory, where you can taste the fiery mixture during the free daily tours. (If you come on a Friday, you won't see the sauce being made, however.) E.A. McIlhenny, son of the company's founder, converted his private estate into a bird sanctuary, which he opened in 1935 as Jungle Gardens. McIlhenny was intent on saving snowy egrets, then endangered because their plumage was popular for ladies' hats. You can still see the brilliantly white birds inside the sanctuary and out. Surrounded by bayous, the mostly undeveloped island is also a great place to spot alligators, deer, and raccoons. You'll want to base yourself in one of the nearby communities; New Iberia, a half-hour drive north, has a good selection of restaurants and gracious homes transformed into B&Bs.
Sleep A bungalow dating from the early 1900s, the Estorge-Norton House in New Iberia is chock-full of antiques. Rates start at $85.
Refuel Landry's Cajun Restaurant specializes in Cajun camp cooking with a menu offering all the classics like gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and oyster po'boys.
Easy Escape From Baton Rouge (85 miles), New Orleans (140 miles).

CALADESI ISLAND, FL
Average highs of 73/77 in February/March

The three miles of white-sand beaches on this pristine barrier island offer some of the best shelling on the Gulf of Mexico. And because it's a state park, you won't search for sand dollars in the shadow of high-rise hotels. In fact, there's not a single place to stay on the island, unless you count the 108-slip marina. There are no cars, either. Once you disembark the ferry ($14 roundtrip from Honeymoon Island, a short drive from Dunedin), the only way to get around is with your own two feet. Not a bad way, actually, as the boardwalk nature trail passes through stands of mangroves and around sand dunes. As you stroll, you may spot one of the rare gopher tortoises. Kayaking around the bay side of the island is a popular pastime, as the sea-grass flats are populated with ospreys, herons, and other birds. Pack a picnic lunch because there's just one small concession stand on the island.
Sleep You can fish from the dock at the Sea Captain Resort on the Bay in nearby Clearwater, a small city popular with water sports enthusiasts. Winter rates start at $101 through the end of January and at $122 for February through April.
Refuel: On the mainland, very close to Caladesi Island, Dunedin's kitsch-filled Casa Tina serves surprisingly authentic Mexican fare. A local favorite is the Veracruz-style fish, sautéed with tomatoes and onions.
Easy Escape From St. Petersburg (20 miles), Tampa (24 miles), Orlando (103 miles).

CATALINA ISLAND, CA
Average highs of 64/65 in February/March

You won't entirely escape the state's notorious traffic on this island 22 miles off the southern California coast. But since golf carts are just about the biggest things on the road, you probably won't mind. You can get your own cart through Island Rentals ($40 for an hour rental plus a $40 deposit), but to explore the island's rugged interior, you'll need to rent a two-wheeler from Brown's Bikes ($20 per day) or enlist the help of an outfitter like Discovery Tours. Spotting one of the island's bald eagles, which were almost entirely wiped out by chemical contamination a few decades ago, will put a feather in your cap. The island is an hour and a half from Dana Point on the Catalina Express ferry ($74.50 round-trip), which drops you off at the town of Avalon, a pleasant place for window-shopping. That cylindrical building on the edge of the harbor is the Casino, an art deco movie house that still screens the latest releases.
Sleep On Avalon's main drag, the Hermosa Hotel welcomed its first guests in 1896. Standard rooms start at $75 per night from December through February and $100 March through November. Cottages with their own kitchens start at $100 from December through February and $150 March through November.
Refuel This is California, so the home cooking at Original Jack's Country Kitchen includes free-range chicken, and beef and pork raised without antibiotics or hormones. Sound too wholesome? Try one of the gooey doughnuts from its adjoining bakery.
Easy Escape From Los Angeles (60 miles), San Diego (66 miles).

DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, SC
Average highs of 61/67 in February/March

Still weaving baskets from the sweetgrass that grows wild along the coast, Daufuskie Island's tiny Gullah population—descended from slaves—carefully tends to its traditions. You can take a peek into local life at landmarks like the white clapboard First Union African Baptist Church, built in the 1880s and still in use today. Less than a quarter of this 5,000-acre island has been developed, leaving plenty of open spaces to explore. (And we mean exploring by foot or by golf cart, as no cars are allowed.) One especially nice excursion point is the Haig Point Lighthouse, which has a tower extending from the roof of an antebellum-style house.
Sleep As you might guess, Daufuskie isn't an all-inclusive-resort kind of place. A good option is the two-bedroom Daufuskie Island Cottage, a vacation-rental property that's on a quiet dirt lane in the historic district. In January and February, the rate drops to $115 (two-night minimum), including use of a golf cart.
Refuel There's nightly live music at Marshside Mama's, which one local calls a "put-your-feet-up place." The ladies in the kitchen ladle out a tasty low-country gumbo.
Easy Escape From Savannah (44 miles), Charleston (116 miles).

MOLOKAI, HI
Average highs of 76/77 in February/March

When Hawaiians talk about Molokai, they often say it's "how the islands used to be." It's true that there are no traffic lights or sprawling hotels. The least visited of the major Hawaiian islands has a rugged northern coast with the world's highest sea cliffs, a southern coast that gently wades into the sea, and a rocky interior punctuated by three extinct volcanoes. The biggest town, Kaunakakai, has barely 7,000 people, along with a three-block-long main street and a tiny airport. The top tourist attraction is the former leper colony in what is now Kalaupapa National Historic Park, a peaceful place reachable only on foot or by mule. The scenery is exhilarating, and the remaining buildings, such as the pair of squat churches, are thought-provoking. There's also a nearly endless string of beaches, including the lovely Papohaku, a three-mile-long stretch of glimmering gold sand.
Sleep Lodgings are limited and can be expensive. Try Kaunakakai's Hotel Molokai, a cluster of A-frame buildings set in a tropical garden. Winter rates start at $159 if you book online.
Refuel A local favorite is the Paddlers Inn in downtown Kaunakakai. Enjoy island specialties like mahi-mahi on a breeze-cooled patio.
Easy Escape From Honolulu (50 miles).

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, TX
Average highs of 70/75 in February/March

Here's one place where the building industry is in full swing—if you count building sand castles, that is. Professional teachers have specialties ranging from one-on-one instruction to creating huge sculptures for weddings and other special events. Sons of the Beach, which has been around for more than 20 years, charges $25 for private lessons. This barrier island off the southern coast of Texas also attracts kids with rowdier activities in mind—spring breakers. Don't worry, though. Get there before the college crowd, and it's still a sleepy beach town. Among the dive bars are boutiques selling goods like rustic pottery and silver jewelry, much of it from Mexico.
Sleep The Palms Resort is a hipped-up beach motel with an oceanfront café and a heated pool. Off-season rates start at $75 a night.
Refuel The menu at Cap'n Roy's is exactly what you would expect from a pirate-inspired restaurant on a barrier island. Try the famous Camaronitas Diablitos—shrimp wrapped in bacon with cream cheese, jalepeño, and pineapple.
Easy Escape From Brownsville (26 miles), Corpus Christi (179 miles).

TYBEE ISLAND, GA
Average highs of 61/67 in February/March

Unlike many nearby islands with higher profiles (and higher prices), Tybee Island isn't out to impress anyone. It's more akin to Coney Island than Jekyll Island, and therein lies its nostalgic charm—imagine boardwalks, food vendors, and stalls selling beach-themed kitsch. This is the kind of place where the restaurants have place-mat menus and the lodgings are of the park-at-your-door variety. There's a wooden pier where you can stroll and five miles of sugary beaches fringed by sea oats. The Tybee Island lighthouse was picture-perfect enough to make it onto a postage stamp. On nearby Cockspur Island is Fort Pulaski National Monument, where you'll find a magisterial brick fort used during the Civil War.
Sleep The Ocean Plaza Beach Resort has been thoroughly updated, but it still reminds many people of beach hotels from when they were kids. Even the rates are retro, starting at $69 in low season.
Refuel The Crab Shack is a local institution that's all it's cracked up to be, serving you-shuck-'em steamed oysters. One favorite is the seafood low-country boil, filled with shrimp, sausage, and potatoes.
Easy Escape From Savannah (17 miles), Richmond Hill (34 miles), Charleston (124 miles).

 

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  • The sexual assault and murder of an 11-year-old girl near Shiprock, New Mexico, has reignited the debate. Ashlynne Mike's mother is urging the Navajo Nation to opt in to the death penalty, particularly for crimes that involve children. Southwestern tribe has long objected to putting people to death. The culture teaches that all life is precious. Tribes have been able to opt into the death penalty for certain federal crimes on tribal land for decades, but nearly all reject it. Legal experts say the decision goes back to culture and tradition, past treatment of American Indians and fairness in the justice system. One federally recognized tribe, the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, has opted in.  
  • Civilian researchers say they have located the wreck of the USS Indianapolis, the World War II heavy cruiser that played a critical role in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima before being struck by Japanese torpedoes.  The sinking of the Indianapolis remains the Navy's single worst loss at sea. The fate of its crew - nearly 900 were killed, many by sharks, and just 316 survived - was one of the Pacific war's more horrible and fascinating tales.  The expedition crew of Research Vessel Petrel, which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says it located the wreckage of the Indianapolis on the floor of the North Pacific Ocean, more than 18,000 feet (5,500 meters) below the surface, the U.S. Navy said in a news release Saturday. 'To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,' Allen said in the news release. The Indianapolis, with 1,196 sailors and Marines on board, was sailing the Philippine Sea between Guam and Leyte Gulf when two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine struck just after midnight on July 30, 1945.  It sank in 12 minutes, killing about 300. Survivors were left in the water, most of them with only life jackets.  There was no time to send a distress signal, and four days passed before a bomber on routine patrol happened to spot the survivors in the water.  By the time rescuers arrived, a combination of exposure, dehydration, drowning and constant shark attacks had left only one-fourth of the ship's original number alive.
  • Monday marks the first time in nearly 100 years that a total solar eclipse will be visible from the continental U.S.  >> Read more trending news The 10 best locations to watch the eclipse across the country can be found here, but if getting to one of those cities isn’t possible, NASA is hosting two four-hour live-streams covering the event. NASA’s live coverage will begin at 11:45 a.m. ET.  Watch NASA’s live streams below. >> Solar eclipse 2017: What time does it start; how long does it last; glasses; how to view it Debbie Lord contributed to this report.
  • The August 21 Great American Solar Eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse to stretch coast to coast in the continental United States in 99 years. Humans are expected to react with amazement when the thin path of totality, or total eclipse, passes through portions of 14 states, but what about their pets? RELATED: The ultimate guide to the once-in-a-lifetime total solar eclipse this August Dogs and cats will be affected by the eclipse much less than wildlife, according to Russell McLendon, science editor for Mother Nature Network. But there are still important things to know about how the solar eclipse could affect dogs and cats, including safety measures responsible owners should take.  Here are five of the most important things to know about how the solar eclipse could affect your pet: Cats and dogs may not notice the solar eclipse much.  Many wild animals may mistake solar eclipses for twilight, McLendon wrote in MNN. Crickets and frogs may jump start their evening chorus, diurnal animals might quiet down and even nocturnal animals like bats and owls might be lured into activity in the eclipse's totality.  While they can't anticipate the eclipse phenomena like humans who read about it ahead of time, family pets are unlikely to have a primeval reaction to the eclipse like their wild animal relatives. They react differently, because their daily routines are influenced by human schedules as well as sunlight levels, McLendon reported. RELATED: Can’t find eclipse glasses anywhere? Make these DIY pinhole cameras, projectors instead Pets may still become fearful during the eclipse.  More than the darkness of the solar eclipse, pets may be apprehensive about the crowds that gather to view it, according to Lloyd Nelson, an Illinois animal-control officer interviewed by the Southern Illinoisan. Be aware that your dog or cat could get spooked by solar eclipse-inspired events that involve crowds of people, whether you take a pet with you to a viewing spot or it's near your home.  'It's sort of like the Fourth of July, but tripled,' said Nelson. 'We are going to have concerts, people shooting off fireworks in the dark of the midday sun, loud noises and strangers.'  Just as you do during firework holidays, make sure your pet is either safe inside for the eclipse or on a leash and under careful watch. Pets can suffer 'eclipse blindness.' One thing we do have in common with our pets is that human, canine and feline eyes can all suffer from 'eclipse blindness' when safe precautions are not taken during the eclipse viewing. During the eclipse, as the moon's shadow starts to block the sun's light, some of the sun's fiery disk will still be visible, according to LiveScience.com . A view of that light can literally burn any eyes, human or cat or dog, that look up at it.  RELATED: A solar eclipse can blind you — here’s how to stay safe during August’s Great American Eclipse The condition, commonly called 'eclipse blindness,' happens when the sun's powerful rays burn sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina. It usually results in blurred vision and other vision loss instead of complete blindness, since humans and animals ordinarily turn away before complete blindness occurs. Pet's don't necessarily need glasses, but it wouldn't hurt. Space.com's safe viewing recommendations for humans include proper eye protection from NASA-approved eclipse glasses, along with strict warnings against trying to view the partial eclipse with a camera or telescope. Whether your dog or cat also needs the glasses is up for debate in the scientific community. Mike Reynolds, an astronomy professor at Floriday State College in Jacksonville, Florida, told LiveScience.com that it's best to outfit pets who will be out during the eclipse with protective glasses. Another expert quoted in the article wasn't as concerned. 'On a normal day, your pets don't try to look at the sun, and therefore don't damage their eyes,' said Angela Speck, director of astronomy and a professor of astrophysics at the University of Missouri. 'And on this day, they're not going to do it, either,' Animal lovers can help with worldwide research. While it's unlikely that your dog or cat will have a remarkable reaction to the Great American Eclipse, pet lovers might enjoy observing how animals in the wild or even the neighborhood do unusual things. Previous eclipses worldwide have involved reports of night birds singing, bats flying, spiders tearing down webs or owls calling, according to a report in the Southern Illinoisan. But because total solar eclipses are so infrequent, scientists have little beyond anecdotal evidence of animal behavior, Rebecca Johnson, citizen science research coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, told the paper. To remedy the dearth of research, the academy created a 'Life Responds' project where citizens all over the world download the iNaturalist app from Apple or Android platforms and document the plant and animal reactions they see during the eclipse. To join in the fun, download the iNaturalist app, make an account and practice making observations before the eclipse using the project 'Getting Started' guide.
  • The Great American Eclipse on Monday is expected to draw millions of Americans to cities along the centerline path of totality, where the moon completely blocks the sun, the earth goes dark and the sun’s corona shimmers in the blackened sky. And with all the hype surrounding the total eclipse, you’re probably wondering if you can sneak a selfie in during the mega celestial event. While we (along with most professional experts) recommend you put your phones down and enjoy the brief, once-in-a-lifetime experience sans technology, wanting to capture the moment digitally is certainly tempting. >> How to photograph the solar eclipse  If you’re planning to take a selfie (or use your smartphone camera at all), Nathan Yanasak and Jeri Ann Beckworth, both in the Department of Radiology and Imaging at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, have some advice. Eclipse selfie precautions and tips: Lower your expectations. The eclipse will look very small in your selfie. Focus on getting the wide views of the sky and atmosphere, along with the eclipse. >> Solar eclipse 2017: Your eyes will fry under normal sunglasses during 2017 eclipse, here’s why Keep your solar eclipse glasses on. Safety is paramount during an eclipse, especially during its partial phases. Don’t look directly at the sun and keep your safety equipment on just in case the sunlight begins to creep in again after totality. Limit your photos to the totality period. Yanasak and Beckworth recommend limiting selfies to the brief totality period, when your eyes will be safer and your camera settings will be easier to navigate. >> Solar eclipse 2017: Make your own 'pinhole projector' Be quick. Again, totality is brief — approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds (or less). Snap your photos quickly, with enough time left over to breathe it all in.  Practice adjusting your camera’s control exposure settings. This is the most difficult part (aside from assuring safety) of capturing the eclipse in your selfie. Familiarize yourself with your phone’s camera settings and practice adjusting them during one of these two scenarios from Yanasak and Beckworth: >> On AJC.com: Complete coverage of the solar eclipse 1. Practice during a nearly full moon. Try to snap a picture where a nearly full moon fills half of the view and is not overexposed—it should appear as a grey disk with clear features. 2. Use two dark rooms with a 25W incandescent light bulb in a clip-on lamp. Set up the lamp in one room, wrapped in a single paper towel. Stand in the other room about 30 feet from the bulb to practice your picture. Practice in the evening, and close your curtains to avoid stray light from outside. >> Read more trending news Consider downloading an advanced phone app, such as ProCamera. Even with all the practice, your smartphone camera might not be as sophisticated or sufficient for exposure control. Download advanced camera apps that give you more exposure settings and features. Don’t zoom. Experts recommend using a wide-angle view and not the digital zoom on your phone while taking a selfie. Do you need a solar filter for your phone? According to NASA, solar filters must be attached to the front of any optics, including camera lenses. But that’s not the case for most GoPro and smartphone shots, because the shots will be wide-angle views. >> Solar eclipse 2017: What time does it start; how long does it last; glasses; how to view it Apple told USA Today the iPhone camera sensor and lens would not be damaged during the solar eclipse, just as they wouldn’t be damaged if you pointed the camera toward the sun at any other time. This is because the iPhone camera (and that of other similar smartphones) have a 28mm wide angle, whereas larger Canon or Nikon DSLR cameras have large zooms with high multiplication. The GoPro lens is even wider at around 14mm. “Apple and others suggest shooting wide shots of the scene, capturing not only the eclipse, but also the atmosphere...and the amazing shadows that are naturally cast,” USA Today reported. >> What not to do the day of and during the total solar eclipse Because you won’t see as much of the sun in a still photo, consider taking a time lapse or video instead. How to actually take an eclipse selfie, according to Yanasak and Beckworth: Switch your flash from “Auto” to “On.” Turn on your front-facing camera so that you see yourself on the screen. Move around so that you position the moon over your shoulder. Use your right hand to adjust the exposure to the moon and hold. Use your left hand to take the photo. Now, put your phone away and enjoy the moment, whether you got the photo you wanted or not. Plan to photograph the eclipse? Here are general eclipse photography tips from NASA.