Surf City is the cultural center of Topsail Island, a long barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. For visitors looking to surf in the aptly named city, there are plenty of sporting goods stores to suit your needs. The larger area is known for its organic blueberry farms, with some farms allowing guests to come out and pick their own fresh pesticide-free blueberries. Guests can unwind in Surf City’s cozy bed and breakfast spot overlooking the ocean waves. For the outdoorsy types, the area has an array of campgrounds where visitors can pitch a tent or park their RV.
For a consummate grown-up summer beach getaway near New York City, Cape May, New Jersey, is a fabled resort town known for its magnificent Victorian architecture and time-warp fabulousness. A 2½-hour drive from Manhattan, Cape May is the ideal destination for design lovers who enjoy exhilarating but non-strenuous outdoor activities, plus cocktailing and watching the colorful non-stop action on gingko-lined Jackson Street. Tuck in at The Virginia Hotel, which strikes the ideal balance between old-school, clublike charms and of-the-moment perks like private beach cabanas, and park on the veranda (shown here) for drinks. Spend a lazy afternoon beneath the striped awnings of The Virginia's stylish beach cabanas and a day riding buttercup yellow cruiser bicycles around town. Reenergize with classic American comfort food at Congress Hall's The Blue Pig Tavern, get your farm-to-table fix at hip café Louisa's, grab an old-school dog at Hot Dog Tommy's, and drink the night away at The Rusty Nail. Book it here: The Virginia Hotel.
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.
The value along the northern part of America’s Gulf Coast (don’t you dare call it the Redneck Riviera!) is easily the best in the country. The cheapest beach destination in the US, according to TravelBird, is Gulf Shores, where the beaches rock all the white sand and calm Gulf water of places further south in Florida, for a fraction the price. The quiet, funky beach town filled with pastel houses and legit-good food doesn’t gouge tourists, and is also home to a surprisingly diverse zoo. On Sunday, head a piece down the road to the (in)famous Flora-Bama bar.
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
This new gay-friendly hotel stands out among the South Beach crowd for its cheeky, fun design sense—a giant polar bear holding a beach ball greets guests in the lobby. Rooms may be modest in size, but they make a big splash with yellow striped upholstery and large silkscreen prints of Cleopatra. It’s a quick stroll to the beach, and even quicker to access the hotels’ trio of pools on a semi-secluded patio.
The beautiful island of Molokai is where you’ll find an authentic Hawaiian welcome without the crowds or modern interruptions you get on some of the more popular neighboring islands. This is a place where you’ll have certain beaches to yourself and where the scenery is nothing short of breathtaking. Seek out the black sands of Awahua Beach (you may need a guide to help you find it). The water’s a bit choppy so be careful swimming, but the peace and quiet is unbeatable. You could explore the Pali coast on a leisurely sea kayaking trip or head up, up and away, sweeping over the area in a helicopter. With beachfront bungalows or tropical rainforest cabins for rent, Molokai is truly one of the best beach vacations to explore your inner zen.