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.
Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...
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Raise a glass with your favorites on a tour of Long Island, New York’s wine country, a compact but fruitful region running from Riverhead to the end of the North Fork at Orient Point (where there’s a ferry that’s convenient for joiners heading down from New England). Most of the 40-odd wineries are located off Route 48 and Route 25, making it easy to do a day of vineyard-hopping to favorites like Martha Clara in Riverhead, Macari in Mattituck, and Pellegrini in Cutchogue. A limo or designated driver is a must, because you’ll want to hang around for evening live music in the tasting rooms. Shinn Estate is a winery and inn powered by alternative energy and sustainable farming where you can sleep alongside the vines after a day of bonding.
There are more than 700 islands in the Bahamas, but the vast majority of travelers never get beyond the mega resorts of New Providence (home to Nassau), Paradise, and Grand Bahama islands. That means there are plenty of lightly trafficked “Out Islands” to choose from for off-the-beaten-path beach vacations. For glassy, gem-colored water, condo-free beaches, affordable accommodations, and some the best sailing grounds in the world, head to Staniel Cay, a two-square-mile island within the Exuma Cays.
The tiny surf town of Cayucos is refreshingly underdeveloped, with vintage shops, a 1,000-foot pier, and longtime institutions like the restored 1867 Cass House. Each room has standout features, whether cast-iron soaking tubs, canopy beds, fireplaces, or a private terrace. The farm-to-table restaurant serves four-course dinners infused with herbs, vegetables, and fruit from the garden.
Arguably the most exotic city Americans can visit without a passport, Miami is home to sun, sand and irrepressible style. The city's 1970s boom has resulted in a flourishing economy. Home to many Cuban-Americans, Miami is a thriving multicultural metropolis that revels in its Latin American roots. Miami Beach's white sands welcome you to a tropical paradise where you can soak up the rays, boat, water ski and windsurf. Attend a music festival, enjoy world-class cuisine, browse in fabulous shops and dance all night to the sizzling Latin beat. Hundreds of restored Art Deco buildings await admiration in South Beach, the first 20th-century district on the National Register of Historic Places. Noteworthy attractions in ethnically diverse downtown Miami include the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, containing the city's main art museum, historical museum and library; the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, a grand movie palace and concert hall; and the Freedom Tower, a key site for Cuban immigrants.
Costa Rica has two seasons: December to April is dry season (high season) and May to November is rainy season (low season). Low season is the cheapest time to visit, when flights can be half off. It's approximately $800 to $1,000 round-trip from major cities like Atlanta and non-direct flights are slightly cheaper, about $500 to $700, from west coast cities like Los Angeles and Seattle. It's not uncommon to call hotels directly and further negotiate nightly rates. Many people prefer rainy season as the rain is short, and rain makes the rain forests and jungles more vibrant and lush. Best of all? Fewer crowds.
Visiting the rustic beach towns in Brazil’s northeastern state of Alagoas feels like uncovering a fantastic secret (most tourists still head south to Bahia). Around São Miguel dos Milagres, the white-sand beaches are dotted with crystalline tide pools. The nearby light-filled Pousada Patacho beckons with five intimate, whitewashed rooms amid coconut palms and vine-draped terraces.
The fishing town of Wells, Maine, is made up of harbors, beaches, and nature reserves. From modest fishing boats to luxurious yachts, boat owners can dock at Wells Harbor. The coastline provides almost 4 miles of beaches. The longest stretch, Wells Beach, is almost a mile long, and here guests can enjoy the view from the sandy dunes and grassy knolls. In the summertime, music concerts in the gazebos are common and always free. The town is also home to an annual chili festival, where chili makers can compete in the World Chili Championship Cook-Offs.
Located along Florida’s Atlantic Coast just north of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach gained its claim to fame as the “Birthplace of Speed,” where Henry Ford first tested his automotive innovations. Today, Ormond Beach hosts annual events with reenactments of its early racing days along sandy speedways. Still, Ormond manages to maintain its small-town tranquility and doesn’t allow vehicles on the northern end of the beach. Vacationers can spend the day swimming and sunbathing or go canoeing and fishing. Ormond Beach accommodates a variety of budgets, with options like upscale vacation rentals and reasonably priced motels.
The National Park Service typically posts lifeguards here from Memorial Day to Labor Day, along with chair and umbrella rentals (you’ll find a restroom and cold-water showers too). The ferry has a snack bar, but most folks bring a small cooler (you must pack out what you bring in). On the island’s west end, explore Fort Massachusetts, which dates to 1866.
If you’re an active traveler who wants the sun and sand but not the sedentary lifestyle, put Virginia Beach on your radar. The city is renowned for its water sports (surfing, fishing, kitesurfing), its three-mile-long boardwalk—which features a separate bike path for rollerblading, biking or surrey rentals—and its sugary 100-yard-wide beach. More of an environmentalist than a beach bum? Venture out to First Landing State Park, where there are nine walking trails totaling 19 miles, and a bike path that winds around lagoons, large cypress trees and rare plants. Or simply stick around your hotel, The Founders Inn and Spa, to indulge in a pampering treatment in the spa and to treat yourself to a reasonably priced prix-fixe dinner with wine pairings at the Swan Terrace restaurant.
Few beach destinations are as quintessentially New England as this hook-shaped island whose scenic sand dunes and shingled cottages have made it an annual summer vacation favorite for generations of Americans. A succession of charming beach towns — including Hyannis to the west, Chatham at the easternmost point and artsy Provincetown at road's end — offer house rentals, B&Bs and hotels or motels with pools and spa facilities. And any Cape Cod beach experience must include lobster roll lunches and sunset clambakes. It's all wicked cool.
They say ’twas a bold man that first ate an oyster, but you don’t have to be an adventurer to enjoy a drive along the Virginia Oyster Trail. Virginia produces more farm-raised oysters than any other U.S. East Coast state, and the Oyster Trail combines a lovely drive on the Eastern Shore with an opportunity to meet local oystermen like those at Topping, Virginia's Rappahannock Oyster Co., who will show you how they bring these magnificent mollusks from water to table (don't miss the company's Merroir Tasting Room, shown here). For oysters fresh off the reef, the Dog and Oyster Vineyard in Irvington is a great choice—after all, this is Virginia wine country, too. After a day of shucking and slurping, the Tides Inn in Irvington keeps you close to the water: the resort is set on a peninsula between Chesapeake Bay and the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers—in other words, oyster central. (In the fall, Tides Inn offers a cool oystering experience package worth returning for.)
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.
Particularly popular with surfers and fitness fans, Dana Point is simply charming. Join a tour to watch whales and dolphins or choose calm Salt Creek Beach, with its sands, grassy recreation areas, and picnic tables pointed right at those fantastic North Pacific views. Head up to higher ground for an even better look at this gorgeous stretch of California.