Claim to Fame: As part of the 227-mile stretch of Northwest
Florida's Gulf Coast known as THE Beach, Cape San Blas is known as one of the top rated beaches in the continental U.S.
Description: Don't go looking for gaudy amusements and high-rise condos here—you won't find
them. What you will find is one of the most pristine white-sand beaches in the country flanked by St. Joseph Peninsula State
Park, which offers kayaking, bird watching and nature trails. Admission is $4 per car.
When to Go: Prepare
for hoards of crowds from mid-May until August, when kids go back to school. If you're crowd phobic, wait until October to
make your pilgrimage. Otherwise, prepare to arrive sometime between 9 and 10am to stake your claim.
Tip: There's a full-facility campground and eight cabins if you decide to stay overnight. The area is great for spotting
bottlenose dolphins, too.
Nauset Beach, Cape Cod
Claim to Fame: Nauset
Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the Lower Cape. As part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, it's well preserved
and revered by locals and tourists alike for being mythically pristine.
Description: The waters
leading up to Nauset are a gorgeous cobalt blue thanks to being seaside, which also means the water can be cold until after
Labor Day when the Gulf Stream kicks in. However, the waves are perfect for body boarding. Parking can be expensive—$15
per car, unless you're renting vacation property, which gives you the option of a one-week or seasonal pass.
to Go: Nauset sees its fair share of tourists, but thankfully doesn't get overrun. You can find optimum beach space
no matter what time of day you go, but post-Labor Day weekend will give you even fewer crowds.
Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for seals.
St. Simon's Island Beach,
Claim to Fame:
The beaches that make up St. Simon's Island attract leisure enthusiasts, golfers, fishers, sailors,
and water activity enthusiasts from all over the nation.
Description: St. Simon's Island beaches
are stunningly natural, measuring hundreds of yards wide during low tide, and the opportunity to body surf during high. The
beaches are flanked by the usual beach town offerings, with casual eateries and options for non-water activities.
When to Go: Despite its popularity, the beaches are large enough that crowds are evenly dispersed. It's
easy to find a stretch of sand if you bunk down before 11am, but if you're looking for near total seclusion, aim to visit
in early spring or late fall. Just know that the second peak season comes with snowbirds, looking to escape from September
Insider Tip: Parking isn't cheap. Rent a summer property to reduce the cost, or
bike your way in.
Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Claim to Fame: Known as the birthplace of mainland surfing and
home to wetsuit pioneer Jack O'Neill, Santa Cruz is home to the 100 year-old Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and was featured in
1,000 Places to See in the U.S. and Canada Before You Die.
Description: Natural Bridges
is a great beach for exploring, with tidepools and a nearby butterfly preserve. A two and a half mile path stretches between
the beach and the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, offering optimum views for joggers, bikers and walkers.
to Go: Hit the beach mid-week to avoid crowds during high season, which runs May through September—and make
sure you get there before noon. Otherwise, save yourself for October, which is what the locals call "secret summer."
The weather is beach perfect, and there's little to no tourists to be found.
Insider Tip: Don?t
miss the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum inside the lighthouse.
Claim to Fame:
Canon Beach got its name courtesy of a small, iron cannon that washed ashore from a shipwrecked U.S.
Navy schooner, and has since turned itself into a popular vacation resort. (And yes, it was featured in the 80s flick, The
Description: Identified by the iconic Haystack Rock, Canon has a reputation for
such breathtaking scenery that many a roadtripper insists on taking the 101 up the coastline seeking proof. What makes it
so wonderful is the government mandate that restricts building on the beach, meaning unless you traipse into town, it's just
you, sand and water for miles and miles.
When to Go: Peak season is a typical June through September,
so make sure you get there early. Spring and fall are perfect for thinner crowds. Try visiting the area during winter for
Insider Tip: Campsites and hotels sell out, so call ahead to reserve.
Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Claim to Fame: As the southernmost barrier island, Bald Head Island houses North Carolina's
oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy, commissioned by Thomas Jefferson. The island is also protected by the Island Conservancy.
Description: Bald Head doesn't allow cars, but there are golf carts. The area has a total of 12,000
acres, but 10,000 of them are untouched marshland, beach and forest property. There's no hotels, high rises or surf shops,
and just two restaurants, one gourmet grocery and one country club.
When to Go: You don't have
to worry about crowding here, as there's a restriction on the number of visitors at any given time—so make sure you
plan accordingly. However, high season hits in summer, so to ensure you can get the most of your Bald Head experience, try
booking in late spring or early fall.
Insider Tip: Get good walking shoes, because you'll surely
wear them out.
South Beach, Miami, Florida
Claim to Fame: Though Miami Vice kicked
South Beach obsession into high gear in the mid-80s, what's kept it there is a never-ending steady stream of international,
A-list visitors eager to become a part of its world-class scene..
Description: South Beach isn't
always for those seeking serenity, but that's part of its charm. The further south you go, the more you'll run into mobs of
people crowding the walkways. If you don't care about The Scene, some of the northern spots offer a quieter atmosphere.
When to Go: High season runs January through April, so if you're looking for optimum umbrella placement,
get there around 9am. Otherwise, June to September is the slow season and while it's crowded, it's not near as bad as the
beginning of the year.
Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Claim to Fame: Sullivan's Island
is the epitome of beach lifestyle with only 2,000 permanent residents and very few options for lodging available. If your
idea of a beach getaway is laid back and low key, this is the spot for you.
Description: The entire
island embodies a small-town feel, while the beach itself looks like a live photograph of times gone by courtesy of miles
of clean sand and large, picturesque beach houses.
When to Go: It doesn't get very crowded, even
during high season. Ensure a choice beach spot by starting first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon. Sullivan's
Island is also great in the off-season, with even fewer crowds and temperatures reaching the 70s in February and March.
Insider Tip: Check out Poe's Tavern, named after Edgar Allen Poe. He was stationed on the island
while in the army and crafted The Goldbug while there (www.poestavern.com).