Want a winter vacation without the crowds? Venture up the East Coast's beaches, where tourists are scarce, locals are friendly, and outdoor opportunities abound?
Let me take you to a place where the roads are empty and ripe for exploring. A place where you can turn up unannounced at the nicest B & B in town and the proprietor will tell you that not only does he have rooms, but you can have one for half the normal price, allowing you to gaze from the window across a moonlit beach, then close your eyes to the warmth of the fire and the crack of breaking waves.
Sure, summer's shoreline has its charms, which is precisely why millions of Americans wedge coolers, beach towels, and memories into three brief sun-splashed months. The numbers are astonishing.

For example, from June through August, roughly 200,000 visitors descend on North Carolina's Outer Banks each week - though that's probably not surprising to anyone who has tried to find a place to park, eat, or picnic in July. Contrast that to winter, when this string of barrier islands elbowing out into the Atlantic plays host to one-tenth the visitors.

So, next time you're contemplating a winter retreat, consider the scenic yet serene Eastern seashore. I did, and loved every minute of it.

THE FIRST FROST
Outer Banks, North Carolina
My plan was simple. Wait until the first frost. Then, when America turned its collective backs on the Eastern shoreline, or fled south to Florida's prissy climes, I would journey north along the ocean's edge, sampling the joys of winter's beaches.

Not everyone thought this plan wise.

"You're an idiot,'' said a friend. "It will be cold, damp, and empty.''

It was that, with lots of other charming niceties.