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Here are 7 tips to enjoying a Florida beach in cold weather

By Joshua Gillin
Published: January 2, 2018
Lisa Yore, a visitor from Naperville, Ill., wanted to get some sun with her family on her last day of vacation on Treasure Island's Sunset Beach, Treasure Island back in January 2014. She wanted to work on her tan, even if it was just on her face. Her words to live by: "It's still better weather then home." [Tampa Bay Times file photo]

NEWS FLASH! It's cold in Florida! Like, for real, you guys.

This time of year, plenty of folks come from northern climes to enjoy what they thought would be warmer temps. And while that's technically true if you're coming from anywhere above the Florida-Georgia line, it's still a bummer to hit the beach when temps dip into the 40s.

Or is it?

Beyond the fact that flirting with frost is NBD to people who are coming from single-digit highs, a trip to a Florida beach in the winter can be just as fun-filled as a summer vacation. It's a lot less crowded, and the scenery is just as nice. It's just a bit more bracing, is all, and the prep is a little different.

To wit, here are some tips to get the most out of a frigid foray onto the Sunshine State strand.

1. Dress appropriately. The Floridian winter uniform — shorts and a parka — isn't really the best way to dress on the beach in January. Don't be afraid of your tracksuits and beanies, because beaches are usually wet and breezy places. I'd recommend synthetic fibers as much as possible, with nylons or fleeces the best wind-blockers and water-shedders. Hoodies are goodies, but when cotton gets wet, it's going to hold seawater that will make you colder and take forever to dry. Dress in layers, so you can add or remove as needed. Swimsuits are fine underneath it all, but unless you're down with the polar bear plunge, forget about enjoying the surf. And try some slip-on shoes, so you can walk in the waves if you really want (just keep your socks dry).

2. Bring the toys. This is nominally for the kiddos, since all they really care about is being on the sand, whether there's a noticeable wind chill or not. But that goes for the adults, too. When you pack the bucket and shovel, bring along a football or a Frisbee. Binoculars are good for watching the snowbirds, of both the ornithological and the human variety. Keep moving and you won't notice how brisk it actually is out there.

3. Have a seat. Here's something to keep in mind about the beach: It can get really cold on the sand. Anyone who has walked on the hot sand on a sunny August day can attest to this. When the mercury dips below 60 or so, the sand can get a little too cool for bare-footed (or swimsuit-bottomed) comfort. To that end, skip sitting on a beach towel and bring a chair. Those folding camp seats made of canvas are a good, lightweight option, but be sure to add …

4. Beach blanket? Bingo. There is no shame in bundling up on the sand. While most beachgoers are used to laying out a towel to serve as a seating area, forgo the terry cloth and choose a nice, warm blanket instead. Heck, even that towel can serve as an extra layer if the chill just gets to be too much. Bring a big one so you can share.

5. Savor the sunshine. Be sure to go out to the shoreline on a sunny day, because there's a big difference in the beach experience in the sunlight versus an afternoon with cloudy skies, regardless of the air temperature. Save the shopping trips and indoor excursions for overcast days. Those UV rays just make it feel more like a vacation, and make the entire trip that much brighter, quite literally. With that in mind …

6. Slather on the sunscreen. Just because it's cooler than normal doesn't mean the sun is necessarily any safer. Sunburn is a real thing year-'round here, so be sure to pack a high SPF, especially if you burn easily. And if you're not used to Florida's sun, anyone can potentially burn easily.

7. Get inside at night. Look, I know I'm saying this as a Floridian, but: Get off the beach after dark. It can be plain cold and unpleasant, with that damp wind blowing down your collar and into your ear canals. I just don't recommend it. The one caveat is if you're in an area that allows beach bonfires, which are NOT NECESSARILY LEGAL EVERYWHERE, mmk? Check your local ordinances to see if it's cool to keep warm. Volusia County is pretty forgiving about bonfires, for example, and Walton County allows fires with a permit. Many resorts also allow it on their private beaches. Otherwise, make sure your romantic strolls are over by sunset, or else you may be packing a case of the sniffles when it's time to head home.