biking: all that's required for a joy ride down a trademark east coast boardwalk is warm layers and a beach cruiser. mikes bikes (410-289-5404) will equip you in ocean city, maryland, while 12th street bicycles (609-399-2814) can outfit you in ocean city, new jersey. note: in summer, you're kicked off the boardwalks by 10 a.m., but in winter you can ride anytime you please. - k.m.

east coast beach basics

when to go: december afternoons on north carolina's outer banks can easily reach into the mid-50s, and nights rarely drop below freezing. as you move north, those figures change.

where to stay: hotels that require summer bookings two years in advance have plenty of rooms in the winter - usually at a substantial discount. in duck, north carolina, try the posh sanderling inn resort (800-701-4111; $159-$400). for simpler but comfortable accommodations, there's the cypress house bed and breakfast (800-554-2764; $75) in kill devil hills. in ocean city, new jersey, the serendipity bed & breakfast (800-842-8544; $79-$119) is warm and homey.

where to eat: plenty of restaurants close down in the winter, but the really good ones - the ones patronized by the locals - are still open. in duck, you'll find great seafood at the roadside bar and grill (252-261-5729) and steaming chowder at the channel bass (252-986-2250) in hatteras. other tasty treats include the wood-smoked pizza at mancini's brick oven pizzeria (302-537-4224) in fenwick island, delaware; high spirits and good chowder at the ugly mug bar (609-884-3450) in cape may, new jersey; and hungry-man portions at the crab trap (609-927-7377) in somers point, new jersey. - k.m.

top winter spots

almost any u.s. beach in winter is a fine place to be, but here are a few especially special stretches of sand.