The 25 Best Summer Beach Vacations
Road Trip: San Francisco to the Lost Coast on California's Highway 1
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.
Girlfriend Getaway: Florida's 30A
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.
Multigenerational: Mackinac Island, Michigan
Long a refuge for vacationing Midwesterners, Mackinac Island is a classic summer destination for families. Called "fudgies," after the island's famous treats, tourists come to Mackinac to embrace a nostalgia that warms and unites generations that seem increasingly disparate. From Michigan's Mackinaw City you arrive by pedestrian ferry—cars were banned on the island in the 1890s—and climb aboard a horse-drawn carriage to the Grand Hotel, one of North America's last great Victorian-era hotels, complete with stunning vistas, period flourishes, and history to match—five U.S. presidents have stayed here. Take a dip in the Esther Williams pool or sip a cocktail while watching the sunset in the Cupola Bar. For more nostalgic fun, take a horse-drawn carriage to the island's interior and dine at Woods Restaurant. Before your venison medallions arrive, try your hand at duckpin bowling at America's oldest operating alley (located in the buildling). Bicycle to Mission Point Resort for a seasonal drink from its cocktail garden, and paddle a kayak to the western side of the island to watch a sunset with the guides from Great Turtle Kayak Tours.
Couple Getaway: Cape May, New Jersey
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.
Nature Adventure: Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
With no cars allowed on the island (minus a few beach trucks with benches in the back), a vacation on Little St. Simons Island, a private island resort off the Georgia coast, is an escape that Mark Twain himself might have invented. Life here revolves around biking and beachcombing, hiking and fishing, boating and kayaking—guided by a khaki-clad team of naturalists. At day's end, the resort's 32 (maximum) guests gather at dinner served family-style in a rustic, circa-1917 lodge to compare adventures and indulge in the garden's fresh vegetables and fruit, then head off to sleep in blissfully tech-free cottages among the palms. Nightly rates include lodging; boat transfers to and from the island; three full meals daily; beverages including soft drinks, beer, and wine; and all island activities including use of recreation gear (and easy access to plenty of bug spray), naturalist-led expeditions and talks, plus a fantastic curation of books, historic photographs, and beachcombed collections in the cozy lodge.
Road Trip: Savannah, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina
Avoid the interstate and take the slow road to the Lowcountry with a history-soaked drive between Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, two of the Old South’s most beautiful port cities. Follow highways 17, 21, and 170 for a coastal road trip that includes a stop in Beaufort, with its lovingly preserved antebellum downtown (shown here), and can be extended with side jaunts to a pair of national wildlife refuges, the beaches of Hilton Head Island, or the exclusive resort enclave of Kiawah Island. Lay your head at Savannah’s Mansion on Forsyth Park, a bona-fide Southern mansion, and Charleston’s Market Pavilion Hotel, where an awesome rooftop bar peers over the city’s historic market and harbor. Book it here: Mansion on Forsyth Park and Market Pavilion Hotel.
Girlfriend Getaway: Del Mar, California
Girls who grew up loving horses will be in heaven in Del Mar, California, a San Diego suburb that’s home to the exquisitely beautiful Del Mar Race Track, the Del Mar Horse Park (a mecca for riding events), and the Fairmont Grand Del Mar resort, which has its own equestrian center and stable of horses reserved for guests. Racing and riding stays can be built around golf outings, spa treatments, surf lessons, dining at the hotel’s Relais & Chateaux Addison restaurant, and late-night dancing at Club M. The Del Mar racing season only runs a few precious weeks each year, but visit anytime to enjoy miles of riding and hiking in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, located just outside the windows of your luxury Fairmont suite. Book it here: Fairmont Grand Del Mar.
Multigenerational: Hawks Cay, Florida
Other than maybe golf (that’s a little hard to find in the Florida Keys) Hawks Cay, located about halfway between Key Largo and Key West, has all the ingredients for a multigenerational getaway: two- and three-bedroom waterfront villas, a Cliff Drysdale tennis program, myriad watersports, fishing, diving, and a spa.
Book it here: Hawks Cay Resort.
Unique touches like Segway tours and an on-property Dolphin Connection program are added insurance that family members of all ages will stay entertained, and it’s a smart move to enroll the kids in the Camp Hawk Environmental Education Program—a curriculum-based half- or full-day program for kids ages 5-12 that focuses on the Keys ecosystem with a mix of hands-on learning and fun activities.
Couple Getaway: Mendocino, California
Mendocino is a fun and funky destination for a drive north of San Francisco that takes in the majesty of the redwoods and the magic of the Pacific Coast Highway. Perched on scenic headlands overlooking the ocean and the Big River, this laid-back town is full of quirky shops and surrounded by parkland where you can hike, bike, and camp in splendid settings from old-growth forests to driftwood-covered beaches. The exclusive, 48-room Heritage House Resort sits on 37 acres of unspoiled Mendocino coastline, offering couples the option of unwinding on a private beach, cuddling on Duxiana beds in oceanview rooms, or drifting away at the resort’s soon-to-open spa. Book it here: Heritage House Resort.
Nature Adventure: Captiva Island, Florida
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.
Road Trip: Washington's Olympic Peninsula in a Classic Van
Channel your outdoorsy soul (or your inner hippie) by renting a restored VW Westfalia camper van for a Northwest road trip on Washington's spectacular Olympic Peninsula. Peace Vans Rentals will hook you up with a fully stocked and versatile ride that smartly converts into a pop-up camper sleeping four. Hit the road in Olympia, near the southern tip of Puget Sound, and start by exploring Tolmie State Park, which has 105 acres of hiking trails, campsites, and beaches where you can try clamming or oyster harvesting. The South Sound region has both wine and craft beer trails, and when you’re ready to really get back to nature turn your wheels onto Highway 101, the gateway to the Olympia Peninsula, where you can camp in Olympic National Park and spend days exploring the rugged coasts and primordial forests.
Girlfriend Getaway: Long Island's North Fork Wineries
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.
Multigenerational: Lodge at Kukui'ula, Kauai
One-size-fits-all isn’t usually a winning strategy for planning an multigenerational getaway, so the Lodge at Kukui’ula on Kauai has transformed the typical resort tour desk into a personal island concierge to customize activities that meet the needs of every family. Start by booking one of the resort’s cottages, bungalows or villas, all standalone accommodations where you can have your whole group under one roof. Resort highlights include a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, a spa, and farm-to-table dining; when you’re ready to explore the Garden Island of Hawaii your built-to-order tour options range from hiking to hidden waterfalls and on the Kalalau Trail, to sailing a traditional Hawaiian canoe.
Couple Getaway: Palm Island Resort, Florida
You don’t have to go to the Caribbean or Fiji to get a taste of private-island romance: Palm Island, located on Florida’s Gulf Coast between Sarasota and Fort Myers, is only reachable by boat and seems much farther away than the six minutes it takes to cross the Intracoastal Waterway from the mainland. The Palm Island Resort has about 100 villas in five clusters around the island, each centered on public areas that include pools, hot tubs, a clubhouse, and other amenities. The island also has a full-service marina (so boating and fishing are never far away), and the tennis center offers lessons and equipment rentals. A one-bedroom beach villa would be perfect for a couples getaway just steps from the sand, and one of Florida’s best seafood restaurants, Leverock’s, is just a short water-taxi ride away.
Nature Adventure: Copalis Beach, Washington
Iron Springs Resort can put you in touch with the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest whether your heart is drawn toward the deep woods or the sea. Clifftop cabins look out onto the wide sands of Copalis Beach, Washington, where you can fish, dig for razor clams (shown here), or walk for miles. Hop in a canoe or kayak for a paddle up the Copalis River to see a haunting “ghost forest” created by earthquakes, hike the 100-acre oceanfront resort’s groomed trails, or get a little wild and venture into the peaceful, ancient Hoh Rain Forest within nearby Olympic National Park.
Road Trip: Virginia's Oyster Trail
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.)
Girlfriend Getaway: Newport, Rhode Island
Sail (metaphorically or literally) into beautiful Newport, Rhode Island, for a summer girlfriend getaway at the timeless Hotel Viking, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a makeover that has brightened up the lobby and restaurant but keeps intact the history and charm that makes this a great Newport address. The hotel’s central location at the head of Bellevue Avenue is convenient to the shops and restaurants there and Thames Street, as well as the city’s fabled mansions and Cliff Walk (shown here). Packages include discounts at the hotel’s SpaFjor, and the rooftop Top of Newport Bar is the best place in town for sunset cocktails with friends. Book it here: Hotel Viking.
Multigenerational: Casco Bay, Maine
Maine’s Sebasco Harbor Resort is an old-school New England family vacation destination, but it’s not all croquet lawns and canoeing on the pond (though the resort does offer both of these, of course). A spa, morning yoga, and cooking classes are also in the mix, and guests of all ages can enjoy a guided fishing tour or hiking up gentle Merritt Mountain. Grown-ups can tee off on a resort golf course laid out along the shores of Casco Bay—the course finishes with a 510-yard, par 5 monster—but there’s also a three-hole family course where grandma and grandpa can teach the youngsters how to play. On a rainy day, there’s no better place for the whole family to gather than at the resort’s classic Quarterdeck recreation center for some candlepin bowling (shown here). Book it here: Sebasco Harbor Resort.
Couple Getaway: Homestead Resort, Glen Arbor, Michigan
Surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Homestead Resort (shown here) sits in isolated splendor on the shores of Lake Michigan, with miles of beaches for strolling or stargazing. A great destination for active couples, the resort has pools, tennis, golf, a spa and fitness center — even a compact ski area. The ancient and wonderful landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes includes 64 miles of lakefront, a lovely scenic drive, and 400-foot-high sand dunes overlooking the deepest freshwater late in the world. You can visit nearby islands by ferry or explore the restored ghost town of Glen Haven, once a popular steamship stop on Lake Michigan.
Nature Adventure: Ventana Big Sur, California
Big Sur is California’s most beautiful and unspoiled stretch of coastline, with the legendary Highway One running between the central coast’s dramatic cliffs and the vast, protected swath of Los Padres National Forest. The 59-room Ventana Big Sur resort blends effortlessly into the rolling coastal hills, bluffs, and redwood groves, channeling New Age spirituality with luxury amenities like outdoor Japanese hot baths, daily guided walks of the 243-acre property, and programs that focus on HoloSync, Quartz Bowl, and Drum Circle music therapy. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, diving, and windsurfing are among the many options when you’re ready to explore. Book it here: Ventana Big Sur.
Road Trip: Cabot Trail, Nova Scotia
Built in 1932 to connect remote fishing villages, Nova Scotia's 185-mile Cabot Trail also offers a connection to the past. Cape Breton Highlands National Park provides the scenery; the French Acadian, Scottish, Irish, and First Nations people who live in the towns and own the restaurants and shops provide the traditions and conversation. While the scenery will astonish you all along this route, don't rush. Consider pulling over in Cape Breton for a for a whale watching tour with Oshan Whale Watch (the tours are equipped with a hydrophone so you can actually hear those magnificent sea mammals below you). Or stretch your legs on the 2½-mile Middle Head Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which leads to the end of a long peninsula and offers sweeping views. Bed down at Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, where the cozy cottages have their own fireplaces; 902-285-2880 or kelticlodge.ca. Book it here: Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa.
Girlfriend Getaway: Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Hang 10 with your finest friends in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, which hosts surfing camps and lessons year-round in one of the best watersports destinations on the East Coast (and is a short drive from Wilmington). Combine mind, body and spirit at the Women’s Surf, SUP, & Yoga Retreat in August, where you’ll learn to surf and standup paddleboard, or just sign up for a lesson while you’re in town: they’re offered daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The waters off the laid-back village of Wrightsville Beach are also a great place to kayak or sail; fuel up for your next activity with coffee and acai bowls at the newly opened Sun Days Cafe; get an afternoon espresso and shop for gorgeous shark teeth jewelry at The Workshop, and then settle in for outrageously delicious, Panamanian-inspired cuisine (and cocktails) at Ceviche's.The perfect stay on Wrightsville Beach is the Blockade Runner Beach Resort, a classic 60s beach hotel redone in great boutique style (and the new culinary home of star chef Jessica Cabo).
Multigenerational: Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, South Carolina
Pickleball proves that active sports and competition don’t have to end when you get older: this mix of badminton, tennis, and ping-pong has exploded in popularity in recent years, and seniors comprise the majority of competitors. The well-regarded tennis center at the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, has eight pickleball courts as well as five POP Tennis courts (the latter appeal to young and beginner players, since it uses a bigger ball eliminates the challenging overhead serve); pickleball packages include instruction, villa stays, bike rentals, and daily court time. The resort also has a trio of 18-hole golf courses, kayaking on an 11-mile inland lagoon, surfing, and other water sports.
Couple Getaway: Carmel-By-The-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea simply sounds like a romantic getaway destination, and this longtime artists’ haven on California’s Monterey Peninsula (chronicled by Jack London, among others) lives up to its name with surfing and snorkeling beaches as well as a downtown chock-a-block with museums, galleries, restaurants, boutique hotels and inns. Among the latter is the new Hotel Carmel, where the 27 guest rooms exude beach-cottage charm with private balconies and en suite fireplaces. Couples can hide out in the private courtyard or step out onto Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main dining and entertainment boulevard. Day trip options include motoring along 17 Mile Drive to Pebble Beach, sampling the bounty of the Carmel Valley wine country, or soaking up the beauty of the California coast at Point Lobos State Nature Reserve. Book it here: Hotel Carmel.
Nature Adventure: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama
Alabama’s Gulf Coast isn’t all about the beaches: the 6,000-acre Gulf State Park between Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, for example, has six different ecosystems, including wet pine flatwoods, live oak maritime forests, coastal dunes and swales, longleaf sand ridges, freshwater marshes, and coastal hardwood swamps. You can explore them all by foot or bike on the paved, 15-mile Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, keeping a sharp eye out for white-tailed deer, foxes, and alligators. After a day of pedaling, geocaching, and birding, settle down for the night at one of the park’s new outpost campsites, built on platforms and equipped with bunk beds, grills, and canvas tenting. Not into roughing it? Segway tours of the trail are available, too.