Carmel-by-the-Sea simply sounds like a romantic getaway destination, and this longtime artists’ haven on California’s Monterey Peninsula (chronicled by Jack London, among others) lives up to its name with surfing and snorkeling beaches as well as a downtown chock-a-block with museums, galleries, restaurants, boutique hotels and inns. Among the latter is the new Hotel Carmel, where the 27 guest rooms exude beach-cottage charm with private balconies and en suite fireplaces. Couples can hide out in the private courtyard or step out onto Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main dining and entertainment boulevard. Day trip options include motoring along 17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach, sampling the bounty of the Carmel Valley wine country, or soaking up the beauty of the California coast at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. Book it here: Hotel Carmel.
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This popular vacation destination has nearly 2 miles of inviting sandy beaches along Florida’s Gold Coast. Watersports enthusiasts can rent equipment right on the beach or along Atlantic Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. Everyone from snorkelers to surfers will find a place that caters to them. The city’s parks and recreation department maintains more than 40 public parks and facilities that are open to residents and tourists including pools, sports fields, skate parks, tennis courts, golf courses, dog parks, and playgrounds that offer affordable fun for everyone! Dining options in downtown Delray Beach range from food trucks to four-star restaurants.
Costa Rica has two seasons: December to April is dry season (high season) and May to November is rainy season (low season). Low season is the cheapest time to visit, when flights can be half off. It's approximately $800 to $1,000 round-trip from major cities like Atlanta and non-direct flights are slightly cheaper, about $500 to $700, from west coast cities like Los Angeles and Seattle. It's not uncommon to call hotels directly and further negotiate nightly rates. Many people prefer rainy season as the rain is short, and rain makes the rain forests and jungles more vibrant and lush. Best of all? Fewer crowds.
The South Seas Island Resort occupies the northern end of Florida’s Captiva Island; originally built as a fishing camp in the 1920, the hotel sits amid a 330-acre nature preserve with 2.5 miles of beaches, 20 miles of bike paths, and ample opportunities to meet representatives of the island’s abundant resident wildlife, including sea turtles, ospreys, manatees, and 230 species of birds. Searching for seashells is a major pastime here (shown here), and ecotourism cruises around the island can take you to secret shelling beaches or on a naturalist-led dolphin watching trip. The family-friendly Gulf Coast resort has a wide range of accommodations from hotel rooms to luxury villas, including some with private docks. Book it here: South Seas Island Resort.
Alabama’s Gulf Coast isn’t all about the beaches: the 6,000-acre Gulf State Park between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, for example, has six different ecosystems, including wet pine flatwoods, live oak maritime forests, coastal dunes and swales, longleaf sand ridges, freshwater marshes, and coastal hardwood swamps. You can explore them all by foot or bike on the paved, 15-mile Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, keeping a sharp eye out for white-tailed deer, foxes, and alligators. After a day of pedaling, geocaching, and birding, settle down for the night at one of the park’s new outpost campsites, built on platforms and equipped with bunk beds, grills, and canvas tenting. Not into roughing it? Segway tours of the trail are available, too.
Surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Homestead Resort (shown here) sits in isolated splendor on the shores of Lake Michigan, with miles of beaches for strolling or stargazing. A great destination for active couples, the resort has pools, tennis, golf, a spa and fitness center — even a compact ski area. The ancient and wonderful landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes includes 64 miles of lakefront, a lovely scenic drive, and 400-foot-high sand dunes overlooking the deepest freshwater late in the world. You can visit nearby islands by ferry or explore the restored ghost town of Glen Haven, once a popular steamship stop on Lake Michigan.
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Virginia Beach is another famous U.S. beach area that has a good reputation of being budget friendly. To save some money and enjoy the nature that surrounds you, plan to set up camp in a tent or RV at First Landing State Park. You can walk to the beach from your campsite and avoid many of the crowds that visit the actual Virginia Beach nearby. Of course, Virginia Beach itself is fun too and has a great boardwalk that’s peaceful to stroll along. There are many hotels right along this beach, but if you’re willing to bike or drive a bit further, you can find more affordable accommodations farther away from the prime tourist area. Surfing is popular here, and you might even be able to check out a surfing competition in the summer!
At only seven square miles, the island is easily explored by dune buggy. Pack some snorkel gear and head to beaches like Baia do Sancho and Baia dos Porcos, where you’ll see stingrays, sea turtles, and a wide variety of colorful fish just feet from the shore. Without a doubt, the water surrounding the island—a national marine park—is Fernando de Noronha’s top attraction. Take a snorkeling or diving tour to experience it first-hand. In the evenings, head to Vila dos Remedios, the island’s historic heart, where you’ll dance the night away to traditional Brazilian music at the popular and cheap Bar do Cachorro.
The city of Newport in Oregon has lots to offer at a reasonable price. The rugged seacoast provides the perfect place for exploring tide pools, hunting for fossils, or spotting a grey whale. Guests can drop by the city’s two lighthouses, one of which is the largest in the state. The Oregon Coast Aquarium houses all sorts of sea creatures, from sharks to sea otters. The museum’s Secrets of Shipwrecks exhibit dives into the mysteries of the deep with lots of activities for children. The nearby Hatfield Marine Science Center continues the educational afternoon, letting visitors examine local marine life in touch tanks or gaze at a giant Pacific octopus.
Not all beach trips have to be about bikinis and sunbathing, and Oregon’s stunning beaches prove that beach vacations can go beyond the stereotypes. You’ll only need to drive about an hour and a half from Portland to reach this area, but you’ll feel like you’re a world away. Haystack Rock is the iconic natural landmark here that you’ll see protruding from the ocean a couple hundred feet from the surface. The route to get here highlights stunning views of the coastline, so pull over a couple times to snap photos of the scenery along the way. Ecola State Park nearby is great for hiking, biking, and flying a kite.
The brainchild of American-born Beverly Deikel and her Dominican partner, Patris Oscar, the eco-friendly property is a microcosm of the island—and its first great place to stay. Set on 22 lush acres, its 28 cottages, each with carved mahogany and red-cedar four-poster beds, face onto a rocky beach or the Rosalie River. One of the world’s few carbon-negative resorts, Rosalie Bay not only relies on solar panels but has its own wind turbine, organic gardens, and spring-fed onyx-colored swimming pool.
Named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC's Good Morning America by 100,000 public votes, Sleeping Bear Lakeshore is an outdoor-lover’s dream. During a visit to Sleeping Bear, vacationers can explore the area’s natural wonders, including sandy beaches, deep forests, shimmering lake views, and bluffs jutting 450 feet over Lake Michigan. Sleeping Bear makes the perfect camping destination while also offering a choice of charming inns, bed and breakfasts, resorts, and hotels at affordable rates. Other attractions include an island lighthouse, hiking on the Manitou Islands, or exploring the historical maritime village.
OK, so getting here might be a little trickier than it was a few months ago. But if you can finagle it, a flight to Varadero is about $200 from Miami. Varadero Beach is relatively unspoiled; the diving here makes you feel like you’re the first human who’s ever been underwater. Add in some of the friendliest people in the world working along the sand, and you’ve got the best all-around beach day in the Caribbean.