In my part of the country, the beach empties out in winter. Coastal weather is windy, rainy, and just cold enough to be clammy and damp, but not cold enough to be crisp and clear. Restaurants close. Eveyone goes up to the mountains to ski.
But they’ve got it wrong. Winter is often best time to be at the coast. Here’s why.
1. Big Birds…Eating Other Big Birds
For many birds, the coasts of North America are their version of south—their north is their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Coastal bays fill with big rafts of sea ducks and geese. And bald eagles feed on the ducks. When salmon runs end in the fall, eagles migrate to the coast to feed on ducks. The winged action peaks in winter.
There’s another winter spectacle that happens mostly below the surface of the sea. Over 20,000 enormous Pacific Gray Whales migrate south, from their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to the warm waters of Baja to give birth. Find a headland, dress warm, and scan the sea with your binoculars to catch the 30-ton whales cruising south.
3. Storm Watching
Forget long walks on the beach and basking in warm sunsets. Embrace the power and drama of raw nature: powerful winds, big crashing waves, sheets of sleet and rain. Put on warm fleece, encase yourself in raingear and rubber boots, and brave the storm. Climb a coastal headland and feel the wind and rain. Like Lord Byron, you can find inspiration in the energy of storms.
But the best thing about winter on the beach is that nobody’s there. You won’t be sharing the coast with golden retrievers and kite flyers—you’ll have a vast expanse of sand and headlands to yourself. Solitude is the prime element for thinking, reading and writing. Rent a place at the beach…preferably with a window and a woodstove and a lot of time.
5. Really Local Food
The ocean is a giant seafood grocery store for clams, fish, crabs and more. But for much of summer, the harvest is closed due to red tide and demoic acid. Winter’s a better time to go crabbing, harvest mussels and clams, and fix yourself a feast that’s as local as it gets.
6. Bay Paddling
And don’t forget that winter can be a great time to adventures. The ocean swell will often be huge … but don’t let that stop you from getting in a canoe or kayak and exploring the protected bays. That’s often where the waterfowl and eagle drama unfolds, not to mention seals. Dress warm, pay attention to the tides, and explore the watery world of river mouths and salt marshes.