By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Dec 28, 2004 at 5:13 AM

Even Milwaukeeans who love a winter blanketed in white could use a little break from the harsh winds, ice-capsuled cars and dreadful shoveling. So, if you're looking to leave the state or the States for a little frost-less weather this winter, check out OMC's editors' picks for sunny, beachy and breathtaking getaways.

St. Martin and Anguilla
{image5} It's not a cheap vacation, but it's the closest you can get to France without actually being in Europe (unless one considers Montreal and the rest of Quebec, of course. -ed.). The small island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten is actually split among French and Dutch colonies, though the borders are basically "welcome" signs. The Dutch side is better for nightlife, but the French side is where you want to be. Exquisite cuisine and magnificent beaches dot this tiny paradise. With a lush and hilly terrain, you'll feel like you're in the south of France, and the shopping options in downtown Marigot will reinforce that (all the top designers have set up shop there). It's easy to forget you're in the eastern Caribbean, that is, until you remember that the temperature is breezy and hot all year 'round.

A short ferry ride away is the British colony of Anguilla (yes, they drive on the left). This island is nothing special to look at, with scrubby vegetation throughout the tiny eel shaped landmass. That is, until you see its beaches, considered the finest in the Caribbean -- they're mostly quiet with fine wind sand and turquoise ocean lapping the shores. The other thing Anguilla has going for it is superb cuisine. Believe it or not, some of the best chefs in the world have opened restaurants there. You'd have to try to find a bad (or inexpensive) meal. Anguilla also has a great island reggae feel to it, and it's not nearly as bustling as its neighbor, St. Martin. Ex-patriots who now call Anguilla home consider St. Martin the big city. It's definitely worth a two-day side trip from Marigot.


Isla Mujeres
Shhh, don't tell too many people (or at least the uncool people) about the Island Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun. If Cancun is like a Mexican Las Vegas, Isla is more like Key West. Possibly the cheapest vacation in paradise you'll ever find, it only costs about $300 to get to Cancun from Milwaukee, then about $2.50 to take the short water taxi to Isla. A decent hotel room costs about $35 a night, and dinner shouldn't cost more than $8. Other meals will be much cheaper. You may spend more money on piña coladas than food, though pretty much every beer is $1 (unless it's during the lengthy happy hours). The island vibe is laid back and safe (for Mexico), and your leisure options basically include beach time, snorkeling and scuba diving and shopping. And that's about it. The islanders are friendly and inviting, and there are precious few Americans ruining the island's native charm. You may just never leave.


The Bay of Naples
There's no time like the winter off-season to find great deals on flights to Europe and if good weather is what you're seeking, don't head to northern Sweden! Instead hit the southern half of the Italian boot for some mild Mediterranean temperatures. No area better captures so many sides of Italian life than the Bay of Naples. You can get reinvigorated with the fast-paced, up-tempo life in the city of Naples -- where there is loads to see and lots of great food to eat (it is the birthplace of pizza and sfogliatella, after all). Or see how folks lived in the area thousands of years ago by visiting Pompeii, Ercolano or any of the other ancient sites that sit in the looming shadow of Vesuvius (don't forget to climb Vesuvio for a panoramic view that's to die for). Slow down and head off to the Peninsula Sorrentina, where you can check out resort life at Sorrento, or hit one of the small towns to the south and get back to a simpler way of life. Along the southern stretch of the peninsula is the Amalfi Coast, with touristy but charming Positano, Ravello and Amalfi cascading down the hill to the sea. And, remember, the islands -- Capri, Procida and Ischia -- are just a ferry ride away.


Encinitas, Calif.
Only a Coaster ride away from other beach towns like it -- Carlsbad, Oceanside and Solana Beach, to name a few -- this surfer-smothered, little shop-dotted paradise is the type of place us Milwaukeeans usually only see on "The O.C." and "Sunset Beach." Leave your sneakers at home, because Birkenstocks and flip-flops will do your feet just fine while you stroll the paved path that divides the deep blue and the Pacific Coast Highway. Take one of many winding wooden staircases down to the warm and breezy beach. But keep in mind this is no island neighboring the equator, so the temps won't be sweltering, but closer to numbers where a T-shirt and shorts make the perfect getup for soaking up some West Coast rays. Once down by the crashing waves, take a look at the top of those stairs that brought you to the bottom. Beautiful rugged and rusty sediments cover the rock wall that wraps its way up and down the coast. And speaking of, take a peek both ways on a clear day and you'll see nearby San Diego and some of the major cities paving the way up to Hollywood.

As the sun lowers into the Pacific and puts an end to your beach excursion, take the winding wooden stairs back up and wander past D, E and F Streets and back to the shop and restaurant-laden Coast Highway (First Street) for some dinner. Roxy is overflowing with natural foods and drinks and has velvety ice cream, too. In the mood for Italian? Try Leucadia Pizzeria, Pino's Cucina Italiana or Trattoria I Trulli. Those are just a few of the places on the Encinitas menu to grab some grub or have a sit-down meal. With a satisfied stomach and romantic sandy scenery and clubs nearby, no matter how you'll want to spend it, a West Coast night of fun is just around the corner.


Antigua, Guatemala

Although Americans rarely travel to Latin American countries south of Mexico, Europeans flock to Guatemala for their vacation (or as the British would say, their "holiday"). And it's no wonder -- Guatemala is gorgeous, affordable and safe. (Yes, safe!) Most of the photos displayed in magazines were taken in the small, picturesque city of Antigua, a 40-minute taxi ride from Guatemala City. The ancient, stucco buildings are painted mango orange, sky blue, school bus yellow and blood red. Open markets dominate the beautiful center of town complete with a mammoth fountain and lots of green space. Women and children wearing indigenous, brightly colored Mayan clothing sell handmade goods from atop their heads, marimba players jam on street corners, and temperatures usually hover in the 70s or 80s. The best time to check out Antigua is in April during Holy Week (the week before Easter). Then, the streets are adorned with colorful intricate patterns made entirely from rose petals and every evening there's a parade with hundreds of purple-cloaked marchers and more religious icons than in all of our grandparents' living rooms combined.


Maui, Hawaii
The plane ticket is going to cost you, and the produce prices on the Hawaii islands are out of control now, but if you've never been to Maui, go. Book one of the oceanfront suites at The Westin on the famed Ka'anapali Beach. Why Westin? It's not too expensive and its Heavenly Beds and Heavenly Baths are more than worth it. The pool area is nice, too, if you need a break from the ocean. So, you've made it to Maui. Skip the Luau on the island and ask the locals for the best restaurants, and splurge at Pacific'O one night for sure.

Hit the charming seaside town of Lahaina and do a gallery night there. Watch the sunrise from above the clouds by taking one of the many bike tours. The early morning van ride up to the volcano top is a challenge after a night of Mai Tais. But it's worth the ride down.

Maui has a great blend of built up areas like Ka'anapali Beach and wonderful natural settings like rainforests, valleys, waterfalls and farming villages. The weather is perfect, and even if you skip all the touristy stuff like whale watching, cliff dive watching and helicopter riding, it's a wonderful environment to just watch the sun rise and set and forget about life for a while.