If your idea of a beach retreat prioritizes café culture and fab design over fish shacks and jungle, look to the fortified harbor city of Valletta—and this historic town house. Maison La Vallette combines baroque flourishes like brocade upholstery and gilded chandeliers with Alessi furnishings and original wood beams. Guests have the run of the place, which includes a living room and a kitchen. It’s a few blocks from the rocky seashore, where ferries depart for neighboring islands.
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
Hobe Sound may not be an obvious choice for best beach vacations in America, but it’s truly an unspoiled paradise—just what you want when you need to escape the daily grind. Don’t miss Blowing Rocks Preserve, where at high tide you might get to see sea water spraying up through holes in the limestone that’s embedded in the sands here. Running right alongside Hobe Sound is the long, narrow stretch of Jupiter Island, where you can bike your way along the beach or join a tour and watch baby turtles hatching.
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.
“Nature has sculpted eastern PEI’s coastline with an abundance of points of land that frame the bays and shelter the beaches,” says Joan Perrin, owner of Moonlight Cottage By-the-Sea, a vacation rental near the town of Montague. “Going for a drive along the coastal touring route is the best activity. Each day, one can head out for an excursion in a different direction—go to a beach or two, stop at a craft shop, buy an ice cream, walk around a few wharves, talk to the fishermen, visit a lighthouse.”
Located on the barrier island of Topsail, North Topsail Beach has a reputation for attracting a wide variety of coastal wildlife. Instead of high-rise buildings and towering condos, you’ll find exceptional fishing, unobstructed birdwatching and sea turtle nests on the beach. Book a jet ski tour to see striking views of the whole island from the water.
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.
Although every mile of California's historic, narrow, twisting, and epic-view-blessed Highway 1 is an adventure, this 280-mile stretch from San Francisco to the Lost Coast region is marked by a remarkable string of near-empty beaches. Take as many days as possible to allow for stops for long walks and beachcombing, not to mention enjoying the inns, restaurants, markets, wineries, and breweries that line the route. For places to lay your head down, don't miss Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay (shown here) with 12 vintage cottages, including a string right on the water, plus an old-school bar and charming restaurant. The Sea Ranch Lodge has maintained its modern aesthetic, a perfect match for killer views over bluffs to the Pacific. Point Arena's restored Coast Guard House overlooks a glistening narrow cove and puts out a memorable full breakfast. Shelter Cove's Inn of the Lost Coast is a low-key hideaway with sweeping ocean vistas. Book it here: Nick's Cove, Sea Ranch Lodge, and Coast Guard House.
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.
When planning your dream beach vacation, be sure you know what you want and what you are getting. This may seem obvious, but during our travels we’ve talked to enough disappointed vacationers to say that this is the most important point when choosing the best beach vacation for you. While a resort on the beach in Thailand may sound fun and exotic compared to Southern California, be sure to consider everything that the trip entails: the cost, long airplane flight, recommended vaccinations, etc.