The Road Less Travelled: 3 Off-the-Beaten-Path Coastal Winter Escapes
Coxen Hole Cruise Port, Roatán, Honduras. Photo: Alberto Palacio/Getty Images
From an obscure Bahamian island to California’s coastal wine region and a hip Airstream trailer in a Caribbean dive paradise, we’ve got you covered for a unique seaside holiday this winter.
Remote & Rustic: Cat Island, Bahamas
The birthplace of Sidney Poitier, whose parents were local tomato farmers, this lesser-known Bahamian island southeast of Eleuthera is quiet and unassuming. A slip of white sand — 77 kilometres long but just 1.6 to 4.6 kilometres wide — that’s home to 1,600 residents, Cat Island is perfect for travellers more interested in an untouched landscape and deserted beaches than a selection of luxury hotels. Its pleasures include a 12-kilometre pink sand beach, lush and rolling green hills and excellent diving, snorkelling, kiteboarding and fishing. Atop Mount Alvernia, known locally as Como Hill, sits a small monastery, The Hermitage, erected in the 1930s by an architect turned Catholic priest. Sixty-three meters above sea level, it’s the highest peak in the Bahamian islands. A gently ascending three kilometre-hike from the coast (or a quick drive up an inland road), you’re rewarded by sweeping 360-degree views over the Caribbean that are especially beautiful at sunrise and sunset.
Once known for its colonial-era cotton plantations — ruins are scattered across the island — today the main crop is aromatic Cascarilla bark, a key ingredient in Italian vermouth, Campari and fragrances. But Cat’s most famous export is Rake ‘n’ Scrape, the original music of the Bahamas, which you can enjoy with yummy rummy cocktails at beachfront food and drink shacks that feature live music. What you won’t find are grand hotels, lavish spas or manicured golf courses. Just some small, simple guesthouses, a few Airbnbs and a handful of super-casual bars and restaurants, all wrapped in endless stretches of a white sand beach and clear turquoise water. Which is why you came.
Wine & Wildlife: Pismo Beach, California
Halfway on the road between Los Angeles and San Francisco, one of the world’s most scenic drives, this laidback beach town on the central Californian coast is home to 8,000 residents and famed for the grand Oceano Dunes (also known as the Pismo Beach Dunes) that border its shore – they’re so vast you’ll think you’re in the Sahara. In the adjacent Pismo State Beach park, you’ll find endless walking and hiking trails, lagoons and coastal wildlife. The region is scattered with hot springs and rife with picturesque day trips, from the Old-West heritage of Los Alamos, a 30-minute drive inland, to the celebrity enclave of Santa Barbara, with its world-class restaurants, galleries and boutiques an hour down the coast. In the heart of California wine country with numerous vineyards to explore by bike or car, Pismo is also known for the monarch butterflies that migrate here from November through February. Just like the Canadian snowbird.
Check into the Sea Venture Beach Hotel — the town’s first oceanfront lodging built in the mid-1980s, with a quirky facade mere steps from the boardwalk right on the white sand shore. With 50 bright and beachy rooms outfitted with balconies and fireplaces (some with outdoor hot tubs), the hotel offers sweeping views, a seaside dining room and an extensive list of local (and international) wines. Book directly through the hotel’s site for the best rates. From C$230 for off-peak dates (like mid-January), spring and fall are the most popular times to visit.
Diving & Dining: Roatán, Honduras
This Central American island floating in the Caribbean Sea is trailed by a trio of smaller ones, Saint Helene, Morat and Barbareta, which are great for day trips. Ringed in white sand beaches, and just off the Mesoamerican Reef (second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in scope and size), Roatán is renowned for its marine life, snorkelling and world-class dive sites. Nourishing the thriving coral reef, the water has Blue Flag status (which signifies that it’s managed sustainably) thanks to a decade-long clean-water initiative spearheaded by The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). Roatán is equally teeming with bars, beach clubs and restaurants, from fresh local seafood, ceviche and jerk chicken to the fine dining rooms of high-end hotels. You can even shop for diamonds while drinking free rum punch.
On the island’s West End resort shore, between West Bay and Half Moon Bay, the Ibaragi Boutique Hotel is the luxe design stay, with rooms from C$575/night. Ten kilometres up the coast, on the edge of the ex-pat enclave of Sandy Bay, you’ll find the beachfront Puerta Azul is well designed, half the cost and swimming distance from the reef. On the island’s east coast, The Resort at Marble Hill provides complete isolation on a private beach from C$420 a night. But if you’re up for something really unique, this beachfront Airstream trailer is nestled in its own palm-shaded, white sand campground. A short stroll to the bars and restaurants of West End town, it sleeps four and is equipped with hot water, kitchen and wifi; from C$150/night.