A half-hour drive from Myrtle Beach’s high rises brings you to a little beach town full of rambling rental houses. Sunset Beach proudly preserves its undeveloped beachfront with wide setbacks―that means a spacious beach. Lofty sand dunes stretch 3 miles south to the inlet connecting the Carolinas on Bird Island state nature preserve. sunsetbeachnc.gov
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.
A private, pristine shore located a few miles outside Saint Augustine, Crescent Beach is known for its soft, sugar-fine sand and tranquil atmosphere. Walk the beach early in the morning to spot natural treasures like whole seashells, sand dollars and starfish. Drive into Saint Augustine for a day of mini-golf and shopping before retreating to this quiet haven for another day of savoring the sun.
There’s a reason San Diego consistently ranks as one of the most family-friendly beach destinations in the States: it’s beautiful, it’s affordable, and you’ll never run out of things to do—especially if you bed down at the funky Hotel La Jolla. The high-rise hotel sports a retro coastal design (think: wood paneling, '70s beach photography, and mid-century furniture), and features an outdoor pool, spa services, a poolside bar, and a bike and hula hoop-borrowing program. A popular place to start the weekend is The Cottage—a sunny eatery known for its lively atmosphere and mouth-watering lemon ricotta pancakes. Grab your camera and continue on to La Jolla Cove to watch sea lions bathe on sandstone rock formations, or check out the latest exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Deep in the heart of the Caribbean, the island nation of Jamaica has miles of unspoiled beaches, lush rain forests, and green mountains — it's been called "the biggest little island in the world" for good reason. The edges of the island are lined with resorts, while the interior is verdant and blossoming with all manner of flora and fauna. Laze on the sugar-soft sands of any one of Jamaica's many beaches or take an invigorating hike through the lush Blue Mountains. On the west end of Jamaica, Negril boasts seven miles of beaches and serene waters to go swimming, snorkeling, or jet skiing in. At night, the discos are packed in Negril. You can also swim, play golf and tennis, and go to the spa at most of the island's resorts, and explore Jamaican culture in the city centers. In Kingston, Jamaica's capital, reggae fans can take a tour of the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road. In town, don't miss your chance to taste authentic Jamaican street food — try some spicy jerk chicken and wash it down with a Red Stripe.
For travelers looking for a vacation without breaking the budget, Nags Head, North Carolina, provides the ideal family holiday. Single family cottages are plentiful in this historical Outer Banks beach town just south of Kitty Hawk. Nags Head boasts 11 miles of sandy shoreline and has much to offer in terms of watersports. During a trip to Nags Head, visitors can go fishing off two public piers, sailing or kayaking along the coast, snorkeling past sunken shipwrecks, or hang gliding above the sandy dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This destination works for couples, solo travelers, or families.
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The small country of Belize is one of the most affordable destinations in Central America, and it has some beautiful beaches just waiting to be explored. Ambergris Caye is the largest island that’s part of Belize and a favorite destination among divers. One of the largest coral reef systems is located near the island, which is a huge selling point for divers and snorkelers. The vibe here is very relaxing and laid back in the town of San Pedro, and there are many budget-friendly hotels and restaurants here to indulge a bit without going broke.
Further afield, you, too, can find your bliss among the beaches of Goa, India, which have welcomed bohemian types since the ’60s. Amarya Shamiyana, a collection of four Moghul-inspired tents in a palm-shaded oasis—just down the beach from Jade Jagger’s boutique—channels that carefree, chic spirit. The hotel bursts with color, from playful hand-painted damask murals to metallic beanbag chairs, and puts you within walking distance of the beautiful party people (from $110 per night).
Roatan, a minnow-shaped island within Honduras’ Bay Islands, attracts divers who come to experience the world’s second-largest barrier reef and those looking for a cheap, off-the-beaten-path beach vacation in the Caribbean. The island is one of Central America’s once-hidden, now-on-the-rise beach destinations, but thankfully it still lacks big chain resorts and some of the other trappings of mass tourism.
Everyone in central Florida who wants to have an epic beach day makes their way here on the weekend. What results is one of the best beach parties in America, a sand-borne tailgate party where instead of playing football, people play in the ocean. If you find yourself on a landlocked Florida vacation to theme parks or otherwise, spending a day here is affordable and a whole lot of fun.
Key West, FL: There is so much history in Key West, you feel like you’ve stepped into one of the Hemingway’s stories. Get into the spirit of the place by staying at the charming, luxurious Curry Mansion Inn, where time has stopped and where you will be treated like royalty. Join the crowds at Mallory Square in Key West’s charming historic Old Town and watch the street performers’ show. Sunset-watching is a daily pastime in Key West, from Mallory Square or from the colorful Sunset Pier. Visit Ernest Hemingway’s beautiful Victorian house in the Old Town. Stroll through the Historic Seaport at Key West Bight to watch the boats and old fishermen. While here, make sure you grab a fresh fish lunch, or book a dolphin watching boat tour. For a respite from the crowds and relentless sun, sit for a while on a bench in the shady, fragrant Key West Garden Club.
When you dream of an island getaway — the kind that comes complete with glittering hotels along a white-sand beach — you've got Honolulu in mind. Oahu's largest city and the state capital, Honolulu is home to many top attractions: sample a great dim-sum lunch in vibrant Chinatown or check out Aloha Tower, the city's landmark harbor-side clocktower surrounded by a marketplace brimming with shops and popular restaurants. Honolulu is also home to famed Waikiki Beach, located between the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and Diamond Head. Just as you've seen in countless postcards, Waikiki's Beach's white sand runs along a 2-mile stretch of coast, flanked by dozens of high-rise hotels. The area is popular for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, body-boarding, picnicking, and outrigger canoeing. At the end of the beach is Diamond Head, one of the world's most famous volcanic rings. Although no diamonds were ever found here, the calcite crystals in the lava rock sparkle in the bright Hawaiian sunshine.