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Where can I go in the U.S. that's warm, charming and artistic?

Fairhope Pier in Fairhope, Alabama.

Susan Stein

The Question: It's February again and when the need for sun outweighs my dislike of high-rises and highways, my willpower wanes and I book a flight to Boca Raton, Fla. Can you suggest anywhere in the warm zones of the U.S. that offers charm, winding paths, sea breezes, nature and, might one dream, theatre or a music scene?

Escaping winter, dear reader, does not mean you have to exchange wind chill and snow shovel for concrete and golf courses. Even in Florida.

Travel writer Laszlo Buhasz, who has paddled and tramped through many offbeat corners of the southern States, says there are a number of inviting destinations in the Sunshine State. These include Seaside ( seasidefl.com), situated near the Wakula Springs and Suwannee River state parks, and Cedar Key ( cedarkey.org), an island community known for its seafood and sunsets.

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But why not explore beyond Florida this year?

If you don't mind packing a sweater, Buhasz suggests the artsy town of Fairhope in southern Alabama ( cofairhope.com, fairhopemerchants.com), where daytime highs in March average around 21 C and lows 9 C. It does, however, take a little more effort to get here. One of the most direct is to fly to Mobile, Ala., then rent a car for the half-hour drive to Fairhope.

The trade-off? A holiday in an independent and sophisticated town where galleries sometimes display their wares among the moss-covered oaks and you can stroll the Fairhope Pier along Mobile Bay.

"The two main shopping streets there are lined with small antique stores, art galleries, specialty food stores, wonderful restaurants, upscale clothing boutiques and independent booksellers," Buhasz says. "Not a chain store in sight."

Send your travel questions to concierge@globeandmail.com.

Karan Smith is a former Globe Travel editor.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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