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Most of the action on Staniel Cay centers around the friendly Staniel Cay Yacht Club, where yachters and landlubbers alike stay, dine, and congregate. Here you can rent 13- and 17-foot boats that will allow you to cruise to some of the uninhabited islets nearby, see marine life like nurse sharks, and visit with the famous swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, which paddle out to sea in hopes of getting a handout from sailors. You can also rent snorkel gear to use at Thunderball Grotto, a natural fishbowl featured in the James Bond film Thunderball. Diving, kayaking, and fishing are other options.
We’ve never found a beach we didn’t love, so to help us narrow down the list, we asked Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, to lend us his expertise. Every year, he picks America’s top 10 beaches after considering factors such as sand softness, water temperature, pollution, and views. Dr. Beach is currently the director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, but when he isn’t working, he retreats to his favorite seashore, Cape Florida State Park.
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.
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.
One-size-fits-all isn’t usually a winning strategy for planning an multigenerational getaway, so the Lodge at Kukui’ula on Kauai has transformed the typical resort tour desk into a personal island concierge to customize activities that meet the needs of every family. Start by booking one of the resort’s cottages, bungalows or villas, all standalone accommodations where you can have your whole group under one roof. Resort highlights include a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, a spa, and farm-to-table dining; when you’re ready to explore the Garden Island of Hawaii your built-to-order tour options range from hiking to hidden waterfalls and on the Kalalau Trail, to sailing a traditional Hawaiian canoe.
Located just several miles up the coast from Ormond, Flagler Beach boasts excellent fishing and equally beautiful views of the Atlantic. It’s the perfect place to send a kite soaring or take an early-morning bike ride at low tide. Trek through beautiful natural terrain at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, where you might spot some wildlife as you kayak through the mangroves.
It’s also perfectly possible to splash out in a trendy destination like Panama, and still come in within budget. Donald Trump’s curving skyscraper in Panama City should do the trick—with a deep-soak tub and high thread count included. Pair that urban beach experience with a stay along the Pacific coast beaches—fantastic for surfing—at the rustic-but-stylish El Sitio (from $99 per night).
The reefs surrounding the islands are among the most biodiverse in the Caribbean, including dozens of species of coral and hundreds of types of fish. Above water, the islands shelter numerous bird species (such as red-footed boobies and pink flamingos) and also host nesting sea turtles. Los Roques’ reliable trade winds also make it a good spot for sailing and kitesurfing. As for deserted-island dreams, many posadas can arrange for a day trip or picnic lunch to one of Los Roques’ uninhabited islands.
Budget for the trip: TAP is doing its part to pump up Portuguese tourism, and round-trip flights to Lisbon are regularly $600 or less from the East Coast. For about $50, two trains take you from Lisbon to Algarve. Once you’re there, the famous cheap food, wine, and beer of Portugal are at your disposal, and your costs will be minimal. Hotels aren’t bad, either -- as little as $40 a night.
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach,” recommended this island just north of Clearwater Beach five years in a row, and it was the national winner in 2008. It’s an all-natural beach, ideal for swimming, sunning, and shelling. Take a private boat or the Caladesi Connection ferry to stroll the 3-mile beach, kayak its mangrove trails, or hike under live oaks. floridastateparks.org/caladesiisland
Few beach destinations are as quintessentially New England as this hook-shaped island whose scenic sand dunes and shingled cottages have made it an annual summer vacation favorite for generations of Americans. A succession of charming beach towns — including Hyannis to the west, Chatham at the easternmost point and artsy Provincetown at road's end — offer house rentals, B&Bs and hotels or motels with pools and spa facilities. And any Cape Cod beach experience must include lobster roll lunches and sunset clambakes. It's all wicked cool.
Tamarindo Beach is along the green, mountainous northwest coast of Costa Rica. Not only does it offer the remote, relaxing views of the Pacific the country is known for, it’s also a hub for sea turtles, and several companies offer tours to watch the nightly ritual of turtle nesting. It’s also bordered by the largest mangrove estuary in Central America at Estero de Tamarindo.
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There’s a gentle elegance to Akaryn Samui’s villas. Four-poster beds with 400-thread-count linens rest beneath whirring vintage-style fans. Sea breezes drift off of Hanuman Bay to your private garden and plunge pool. If you can rouse yourself from your outdoor daybed, there are sunrise and sunset yoga classes, a holistic spa, a boutique, and a tea salon.
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Sail (metaphorically or literally) into beautiful Newport, Rhode Island, for a summer girlfriend getaway at the timeless Hotel Viking, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a makeover that has brightened up the lobby and restaurant but keeps intact the history and charm that makes this a great Newport address. The hotel’s central location at the head of Bellevue Avenue is convenient to the shops and restaurants there and Thames Street, as well as the city’s fabled mansions and Cliff Walk (shown here). Packages include discounts at the hotel’s SpaFjor, and the rooftop Top of Newport Bar is the best place in town for sunset cocktails with friends. Book it here: Hotel Viking.
Just 10 minutes from Punta Cana airport on the new 33,000-acre Cap Cana development, this hotel is the ideal family getaway. You can swim right out of many of the 299 Mediterranean-style villas, which all have kitchens, sofa beds, and either a balcony or patio. Horseback riding, paintball, sailing, fishing, and the Jack Nicklaus–designed Punta Espada Golf Course are in easy reach.
Sunshine and cool breezes slowly turn to sultry, starry nights. This is the beach vacation of your dreams, where you’ll reach that blissful state of ‘ahh’. Your stress-free, no-itinerary days may include lounging at Myrtle Beach resorts or swimming with dolphins on your Hawaii vacations. But whether your trip is romantic or rooted in family fun, we’ve got the perfect beach resorts for you.
Historic lighthouses, wild horses and scenic flights in open-cockpit biplanes above the spot where the Wright Brothers first flew — a vacation in the Outer Banks can include all this, and more. With a large inventory of beach house rentals (and quite a few resorts and inns, too) towns such as Duck, Corolla, Hatteras, Nags Head and Kitty Hawk are scattered along this series of sand-dune-studded barrier islands, making it a top spot for leisurely getaways with friends and multi-generational family vacations. Fresh seafood is plentiful and activities include hang gliding, bike riding and deep-sea fishing.