With pristine, white-sand beaches and a heavy dose of Southern charm, Pensacola is your quintessential all-American beach escape. It’s also wildly affordable, thanks to the many direct flights from major cities and its wide range of budget-minded hotels and restaurants. We love the Margaretville Beach Hotel, a sprawling beach resort done up in coastal hues of whites and blues, and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There are plenty of freebies—including WiFi and beer coupons—and the rooms are bright and breezy, with expansive balconies and sweeping ocean views. After you’ve hit the beach, stroll through the city’s historic downtown, where you’ll find restored Colonial-and Victorian-era buildings and an array of cool restaurants—like Al Fresco, a unique outdoor dining experience comprised of five food trucks serving everything from ice cold oysters to mahi mahi tacos.
Built in 1932 to connect remote fishing villages, Nova Scotia's 185-mile Cabot Trail also offers a connection to the past. Cape Breton Highlands National Park provides the scenery; the French Acadian, Scottish, Irish, and First Nations people who live in the towns and own the restaurants and shops provide the traditions and conversation. While the scenery will astonish you all along this route, don't rush. Consider pulling over in Cape Breton for a for a whale watching tour with Oshan Whale Watch (the tours are equipped with a hydrophone so you can actually hear those magnificent sea mammals below you). Or stretch your legs on the 2½-mile Middle Head Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which leads to the end of a long peninsula and offers sweeping views. Bed down at Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, where the cozy cottages have their own fireplaces; 902-285-2880 or kelticlodge.ca. Book it here: Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa.
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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.
You will find beach deals in the US, including popular destinations like Florida, California, Virginia, Miami Beach, Kaanapali beach in Maui, Georgia and Huntington Beach. Other great beach vacation ideas include Key West, South Carolina, Michigan, San Diego, Oregon, Texas, East Coast spots and West Coast getaways. International destinations include Caribbean packages, Thailand, Mexico, Bali, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, cheap deals in Puerto Rico and more. Look for seasonal specials in the early fall and late spring.
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
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.
If you’re a fisherman, birdwatcher or stargazer at heart, Chincoteague should be at the top of your vacation bucket list. This barrier island off the coast of Virginia doesn’t have the bars, restaurants or commercial development that many coastal destinations attract, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be bored. Take advantage of the area’s hidden fishing spots, winding bike paths and sunrise kayak tours to immerse yourself in an untouched piece of natural paradise.
Need a break from the real world? There’s no better place to relax than on a warm, sunny beach—but for most travelers, it’s not relaxing to spend a fortune on your getaway. Luckily, there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path beach vacations that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Check out these lesser-known beach destinations that go easy on your wallet.
On the far reaches of Florida’s westernmost coast sits Pensacola, an ideal place for travelers looking to avoid the megaresort and theme park atmosphere found in other parts of the state. This seaport city makes a great vacation destination for relaxing by the beach. Visitors can explore art galleries, dine on delicious food, and learn a bit about history in its colonial downtown district dating back to the 16th century. As the home of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola has fantastic fishing and boating. Inland watersports include canoeing along the Blackwater River. The city also boasts a proud military heritage, as showcased in its National Museum of Naval Aviation and Pensacola Naval Air Station. Things to Do in Pensacola
Set next to the blue waters of the Grand Traverse Bay is Traverse City, known for its Cherry Festival, scenic driving territory, and quiet cycle and hiking trails with unspoiled views. You’ll want to make a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to discover its beaches (North Bar Lake Beach is particularly stunning), sand dunes, and forests. If you’re more of a lakeside cabin person than sandy beach house, Spider Lake is the perfect spot for kayaking, canoeing, or lounging on the dock.