The 31 Best Beach Vacations
Whether you want to stroll for seashells, ride waves, or build sand castles, our list of amazing beaches will guide you to your new favorite coastal playground.
See & Be Seen
Miami Beach, Florida
South Beach remains “the hottest in the country,” says Dr. Beach. But the billion-dollar renovation of the Fontainebleau hotel has drawn the pretty party people to the less-frenetic charms of Miami Beach’s midtown.
Stay: You’ll feel like a billion bucks at the 1954-vintage Fontainebleau (305/538-2000 or fontainebleau.com)—now so 21st-century it has an iMac in every room. Standard rooms start at $323. For beach houses and longer stays, try vacationrentals.com.
Eat: For fabulous Asian-inspired cuisine in a romantic outdoor setting, stop at Wish (305/674-9474 or wishrestaurant.com). Snack time? Check out Solo (305/674-4740), the Fontainebleau’s patisserie.
Shop: Trends spring from the local boutiques on Washington Avenue in South Beach.
Local secret: Española Way (305/531-0038 or miamiandbeaches.com/espanola_way.asp), tucked away in South Beach, feels like a Mediterranean village, with outdoor cafés and weekend street markets.
More Beaches With High Style
■ Alys Beach, Florida: This luxe, European-feel New Urbanist town takes full advantage of its gorgeous setting along white sands and emerald Gulf water (866/732-1760 or alysbeach.com). The new airport at nearby Panama City should boost its jet-set appeal.
■ Gold Coast, Barbados: So many celebrities now decorate the west coast beaches of graciously British Barbados that the nickname has inflated; it’s now usually the “Platinum Coast.” Whatever you call it, you can enjoy white sand, people-watching, and such beyond-lavish resorts as Sandy Lane (866/444-4080 or sandylane.com).
■ Main Beach, East Hampton, New York: It’s relatively uncrowded—because parking is a challenge—and surprisingly rustic, but with a high celeb quotient (631/324-0362 or
■ Zuma Beach, Malibu, California: Call this much-filmed beach (310/456-2489 or malibu.org) just “Zuma,” like the locals do. Watch or join the pickup volleyball games and beautiful people.
Perdido Key State Park, Pensacola, Florida
Perdido Key (850/492-1595 or floridastateparks.org/perdidokey) has “some of the finest, whitest sand in the world and emerald-green water,” says Dr. Beach. Aside from picnic tables and outdoor showers, that’s all you get here. But it’s plenty.
Eat: Locals love the royal red shrimp, gumbo, and weekend bluegrass at the ramshackle Original Point Restaurant (850/492-3577 or point-restaurant.com). The proudly ungenteel Flora-Bama Lounge (850/492-0611 or florabama.com), which straddles the Florida-Alabama line, serves good oysters.
Shop: Tallulah’s Treasures (251/981-6003) in nearby Orange Beach, Alabama, stocks local and regional arts and crafts—what the owner calls “girlfriend gifts.”
Local secret: Still-warm weather and water make the uncrowded months of September and October the best time to visit.
More Beaches To Go For A Swim
■ Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida: Emerald water, gentle surf, white coral sand, palm trees, and a climbable lighthouse (305/361-5811 or florida stateparks.org/capeflorida)
■ Carpinteria, California: Mild waves and no rip currents make it one of two claimants to the title of “world’s safest beach.” Great tide pooling, too (805/968-1033 or parks.ca.gov/?page_id=599).
■ Fort Myers Beach, Florida: Also promoted as “world’s safest” because it lacks rip currents, this white-sand beach slopes very gradually; you can walk a long way out into the warm, green-blue Gulf of Mexico (800/237-6444 or fortmyerssanibel.com).
■ Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina: The Charleston area’s best beach, with dressing areas, showers, and seasonal lifeguards (843/768-9166 or kiawahisland.org)
■ Saona Island, Dominican Republic: Swim with the sea stars—hundreds of them—at this nature reserve off the southeastern Dominican mainland. You’ll share the shallow water with exotic wildlife and day-tripping tourists. Catalonia Gran Dominicus (888/774-0040 or cataloniagrandominicus.com) arranges excursions from nearby Bayahibe.