After all, travel is food for the soul. At times, we crave the rich history of a European city. Sometimes, we want a taste of the adventure that comes with a mountain landscape. Simple pleasures are part of life as well, though, and life doesn’t get simpler than sunbathing to the sounds of the ocean. While not everyone is a beachfront resort type of person, and not every vacation should be, sometimes all people want or need out of a trip is to get away and relax.
A beachfront vacation doesn’t need to be all about sunbathing and relaxation though. The seaside destination vacation has been a staple of American life for over a century. Sometimes it takes the form of loading the family into to car for a road trip, or college students taking a much-needed break from studies, or even a quiet solo trip to catch up with oneself. A trip to the beach wouldn’t be complete without a walk on a boardwalk, time exploring a downtown area filled with small shops, saltwater taffy or an ice cream, and some great seafood for dinner.
For those more adventurous travelers, luckily many beach towns also have great opportunities for deep-sea fishing, snorkeling, scuba, and almost any other watersport you can think of.
The U.S. is full of beach destinations, and there is something special about being near the water anywhere. It’s very hard for any of them to rival Florida’s white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico though, and Sanibel Island may be the best way to take one in. There is a strong spirit of conservationism and stewardship in the local population, making many parts of Sanibel and Captiva Island to the north seem untouched. We actually live right around the corner from Sanibel and love to visit or fish off of the island.
The 15 miles of beaches on Sanibel are well known for the 250 different types of shells that wash up, the pristine sands, and incredible gulf sunsets. On boating tours, visitors can often see dolphins and other wildlife. Additionally, people can enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of Sanibel Island through biking or paddling on a kayak or paddleboard.
Even though there isn’t an accessible coral reef near Sanibel, various shipwrecks and artificial reefs make diving an option as well, and finding diving tours in the area should be incredibly easy.
The island is easily accessible and located in Southwest Florida, near Fort Myers. In addition to having 15 miles of some of the most popular and spoken-of beaches in Florida as a whole, Sanibel Island has a huge amount of other pastimes, like golf, nature tours, and world-renowned fishing.
On the other side of the country, Cannon Beach, Oregon, is about as far from South Beach as someone can get without leaving the U.S., and in more ways than one. This quiet, picturesque landscape on the pacific is famed for its small-town charm and natural beauty. While Oregon beaches may not be the best for laying out and working through a paperback, Cannon is still well worth the visit, as the Oregon Coast is famed for its natural beauty.
Cannon Beach’s most recognizable landmark is certainly Haystack Rock. The 235-foot landmark juts out into the Pacific Ocean and adds even more charm to the incredible scenery of the Oregon Coast. Anyone who has seen The Goonies is sure to get some déjà vu visiting this seaside destination, as it was a major location for the film.
We love Key West and have enjoyed its eclectic ambiance many times. We have driven our motorcycles down and camped along the ocean. Though it is somewhat overly touristy these days, Key West is still someplace special. If someone is looking for a tropical getaway without leaving the continental U.S., the first place they should check out is Key West. This small island, located in the Straits of Florida is famous as the Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S. The small island community is renowned for its relaxed vibe, and eccentric downtown area.
In addition to the oceanfront location, visiting Key West offers a unique destination in itself. Visitors can imbibe at a famous Duval Street Bar, visit the Ernest Hemingway house, or shop in Mallory Square. It’s recommended that visitors throw their itinerary out the window when visiting Key West, though, as this puts you more in the local mindset of island living. Going for a stroll, having a drink, and seeing where the day takes you may be the best way to enjoy Key West.
Ocean City, Maryland
A favorite high school location to travel from Pennsylvania, a trip to Ocean City may exemplify the East Coast beach town destination. Between the three-mile-long boardwalk, ten long miles of beach, an amusement park, and even some famous salt-water taffy, Ocean City has the beach-town vibe that many families look for when planning their next getaway.
Ocean City is even more than the classic, East Coast Ocean Destination vibe, and offers truly world-class fishing. The area is acclaimed as the “white marlin capital of the world.” In addition to white marlin, it’s common to catch flounder, trout, yellowfin tuna, sea bass, and blue marlin when chartering a fishing boat offshore. Moreover, there are over 15 championship-level courses in the area, and Ocean City’s municipal course, Eagle’s Landing, is certified as an Audubon sanctuary.
Destin, which is located in the Florida panhandle along the Gulf of Mexico, is nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” It was founded in the 1850s and over time has become a popular vacation spot for people from around the U.S. Visitors can golf, snorkel, scuba dive, and, ideally, charter a boat and try some deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Due to Destin’s unique location on the Gulf, just 25 miles out from a 200-ft drop-off, the fishing industry has thrived there. While other spots require at least a 60-mile boat ride to encounter the same deep-sea fishing, Destin has the advantage. As a result, Destin is now able to boast North America’s largest charter fishing fleet, with over 150 boats available for charter in the harbor.
The sand on Destin’s beaches is fairly significant and unique. It’s made up of pure Appalachian quartz. This has the effect of both keeping the sand cool even in the bright summer sun, and of giving the water a notable emerald tint.
While in the area, visitors can also explore the Destin Harbor Boardwalk, sand suns, and visit Big Kahuna’s water park.
The Outer Banks is a location I used to go with my friend’s family every year while at University. Back then it was a sleepy little string of villages. Kati and I were there last year and it was incredible how much it has changed and grown over the years The Outer Banks of North Carolina is worth more than a second glance when scoping out beach destinations in the U.S. These barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina offers over 200 miles of coastline, and around 100 miles of beaches in all.
Over the long expanse of islands and peninsulas, travelers will find that each area has something different to offer. Some areas have small-town charm and beaches great for fishing and sailing. In other spots, where the surf is stronger, surfing and boogie boarding are more popular. Overall though, the Outer Banks, or OBX, is a family-friendly beach destination that offers a wide variety of views and activities well away from city life.
OBX is a popular family destination for its large number of historical sites as well. The Wright Brother’s first flight took place on the Outer Banks in 1903, near the seaside town of Kitty Hawk. Additionally, the first English settlement in the New World was the Roanoke Colony in 1585. The colony was at first a failure and was reformed in 1587 a short distance away from the original site. However, today Roanoke is commonly known as “The Lost Colony” due to the disappearance of its population, which remains a mystery today.
Monterey, located on the rugged coast of Central California, is about 100 miles south of San Francisco, and the Bay Area, inside of Monterey County. Monterey itself is certainly worth a stop. Tourists can see famous destinations like the Monterey Aquarium, Cannery Row, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf.
If a visit to the beach is the goal, Del Monte Beach is said to be the spot to go among local, as it doesn’t attract as many crowds as the other stretches of beach in the area. Although it’s slightly off the beaten path, and not evident immediately, this so-called local secret is great for surfing or simply taking in the sea-side views.
It’s worth it, however, to explore the entire coast of Monterey County, and take in all it has to offer. Driving a short distance along the coast, visitors can take in the ubiquitous Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, and Pebble Beach. The Monterey Bay area truly deserves an article of its own. The county has incredible hiking trails, the opportunity to explore small and historic communities, and some beautiful wildlife like otters, sea birds, and seals.
Saugatuck is the only freshwater destination on this list, but ocean lovers won’t be disappointed. Saugatuck is situated on Lake Michigan, on the West side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The small resort town is a popular destination for Midwest travelers looking for a quick and quiet getaway. Today, visitors enjoy relaxing on Oval Beach, exploring the sand dunes, and browsing shops in Saugatuck’s downtown area.
Historically, Saugatuck became an art colony and tourist destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still today, Saugatuck is well known for its colorful downtown area filled with unique art galleries and craft shops.
Coronado Beach, California
Coronado Beach is located just across the bay from San Diego. This Southern California hot spot is more popular with families and couples, while San Diego’s Mission Beach and Pacific Beach are filled with surfers and bikini-clad sunbathers – both are still worth checking out to experience that side of the So-Cal lifestyle.
In contrast to the livelier beaches, Coronado Beach offers miles of clean shoreline and a peaceful atmosphere. At Coronado Beach, visitors will find a shoreline of impressive mansions and the historic Hotel del Coronado, which is a National Historic Landmark.
For a unique experience, the Hotel Del in Coronado offers “Ice Skating by the Sea” from November 22 to January 5, where they construct a real ice rink with views of both the Pacific and the shoreline of Coronado Beach.
Another great beach option that is close to our home is in Sarasota. Closing out the list, it’s clear that Gulf Coast beaches truly reign supreme for oceanfront destinations in the continental U.S. Sarasota is located just south of Tampa Bay and is well known to Floridians for hosting some of the most beautiful beaches and oceanfront towns in the state. The communities, which are consistently filled with both tourists and residents, boast diverse dining, fine arts, world-class shopping, and a culture that is all their own.
Gulf side, Sarasota boasts six islands, all with an abundance of white sand, sun, and ocean views. Siesta Key is frequently voted as the number one beach in the U.S. and is wonderful. The island oasis is certainly unique, even though the beach may look nearly identical to others on the Gulf. It’s nearly 100-percent quartz sand, meaning that it will stay cool on even the hottest of days and coat your feet and body like a powdered donut.
Every Sunday, locals will organize an evening drum circle on the beach, and people young and old will let loose to the beat while enjoying ribbons, hula-hoops, and tribal-style dancing.
This list helps with winter daydreaming or a possible winter travel destination and travel planning. When needed, there’s really nothing that can replace the immediate relaxation that comes with a beachfront vacation. Maybe it’s the magnitude of the ocean, and witnessing one of nature’s greatest marvels; something so large and powerful reminds us how small our problems can be. There is much more to life than work, and lying on the beach is a great way to wipe the slate clean and reassess our priorities.
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