The beach holiday is the platonic ideal of vacations: what nearly every traveler, whether active or armchair, dreams of. Soft sand, shady palms, a cold drink, a warm surf—what more could you want? It’s no wonder so many ad campaigns hang their hook (and their products) on this seaside ideal: brands of beer, lines of clothes, models of cars. Travel + Leisure writers and editors are no strangers to the allure of the shore, and so search the world for the best beach vacations it can offer.
Alys Beach--one of several gorgeous enclaves strung on Florida's route 30A along the shimmering Gulf coast--is a sophisticated base camp for an upscale girlfriend getaway that features white-sand beaches, great restaurants, shopping, cocktailing, and chic villas that your gang may never want to leave. If you do leave, you can bike to neighboring Rosemary Beach and sip excellent cocktails at The Pearl Hotel's new rooftop bar and then linger over small plates at La Crema Tapas & Chocolate. Make one day a beach day, and don't miss beach dive favorites at Hurricane Oyster Bar in South Walton. Learn to cook with chef Nikhil Abuvala at Roux 30A, and then shop for beautifully curated spirits, wine, beer, and barware at NEAT Bottle Shop right in Alys Beach (and then amble into the tasting room for one of four featured craft cocktails). For a bit more activity, salute the sea in private or group beach yoga with Angela Ragsdale and go paddleboarding with YOLO Board.
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.
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.
Families should look for family-friendly resorts which offer facilities such as kids’ clubs, protected beaches with calm water, pools, kid-friendly restaurants and connecting rooms. During the summer holiday season (May, June, July and August), many resorts offer extra activities for family travelers which are typically not available during other times of the year. If you plan your family getaway on the fringe of the busy and off-season, you can find great packages and deals.
Although it’s situated in a gated luxury community of golf courses and vacation homes, there’s an untouched beauty to the surrounding nature trails and mangrove forests. That means guests at Magdalena Grand Beach Resort enjoy the thrills of back-to-nature adventure combined with the perks of a large resort development. All 178 rooms have marble baths, high-def flat screens, and ocean-view balconies.
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.
Choose the rustic beauty of a Cancun eco-resort, the amenities of a high-rise hotel on the beach, or the convenience of one of the area's plentiful all-inclusive resorts. No matter where you choose to stay, you'll be close to some of Mexico's most glorious beaches, archaeological sites, and natural preserves. Catch a tan at famous beaches like Playa Chacmool and Delifines. And don't miss out on a chance to see Cancun's abundant sea life. Snorkeling offers an easy, inexpensive way to swim through the turquoise waters and float among bright-colored tropical fish. Visit Yamil Lu'um, a Mayan temple dating back to the 14th century. Golfers can hit the links at a number of beautiful and challenging courses. After dark, head to a cantina or one of dozens of nightclubs to dance the night away.
Set among the cranberry bogs it’s well known for, Harwich delivers an authentic Cape Cod experience with bonfires on the beach, boating, and baseball. The village has six fresh water beaches and 17 saltwater beaches along Nantucket Sound. Permits for bonfires are issued by the Recreation and Youth Commission. Boats can be rented with or without a captain at NautiJane’s in East Harwich for a relaxing day at sea. Sports fans can spend an afternoon watching the Harwich Mariners take on another team from the Cape Cod Baseball League followed by a casual dinner of local favorites at Brax Landing in Harwich Port.
We know what you’re thinking: a beach in the middle of America? While the Show Me State is technically landlocked, the city of Osage Beach—located a stone’s throw away from Lake of the Ozarks State Park—is such an affordable destination that we couldn’t leave it out of this round-up. The park itself has miles of shoreline (plus two beaches designated for swimming), which means you’ll still catch plenty of rays.