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Florida is not called the Sunshine State for nothing … this long, narrow state is surrounded by water on three sides, and you could be on the florida beaches of the Atlantic in the morning and on the Gulf of Mexico in the afternoon of a single day, if you wanted. Not only does it offer miles of some of the best beaches in the world, its sandy stretches range from the understated getaway to ritzy pied-de-terre to party central.
Here are some highlights:
Palm Beach is the ultimate Floridian center of wealth and extravagance. On the Gulf Stream, its waters are warm and blue, and the island is wafted by warm breezes all year long – making it a quintessential beach resort. The atmosphere in Palm Beach is defined by luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants, and expensive boutiques.
While Palm Beach lives up to its reputation, Panama City may surprise you: sure, it's a spring break mecca, but it has so much more than that to offer. This Gulf city has warm, gentle water and breezes, and is home to excellent seafood restaurants. Nightlife is hopping, and includes live local bands and many nightclubs; for families, there are many amusement parks and maritime attractions. Nevertheless, you can have a quiet vacation in Panama City: dolphin excursions, sunset cruises and golf and tennis facilities will appeal to travelers seeking a laidback beach vacation.
South Beach in Miami is an adult getaway, known for its nightclubs, exoticism, and appeal to people with alternative lifestyles. Below the art deco architecture of the main strip, the beach is wide and white, and the water is among the cleanest and clearest in the United States.
Australia has too many stunning beaches to list, and you are assured of finding some of the best surfing, SCUBA diving, snorkelling, and beach lounging conditions in the world.
Bell's Beach in Victoria promises excellent surfing, but bring a wetsuit – it's chilly.
Bondi Beach in Sydney is well-known for its fun social scene and attractive bathers.
Beaches on and off the Queensland Coast tend to be tropical, and include Fraser Island and the Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays, Noosa Main Beach and the Daintree Rainforest Beaches. All of these feature amazing wildlife and adventure travel opportunities, as well as some fairly luxurious resorts.
In addition to its abundance of natural beauty and kinds of beaches, Australia and its surrounding waters are also home to some dangerous creatures that travelers should be conscious of to ensure a safe and enjoyable vacation. Box jellyfish, saltwater crocodiles, sharks, and the small, pretty and deadly blue-ring octopus are native to Australian waters. Pay attention to postings on the beach, and stay within the marked safe swimming areas.
Also, consider wearing a wet suit or other protective swimwear to guard yourself against stings and other more common and less dangerous beach hazards. Finally, the sun in Australia is extremely strong owing to the country's location, and to a hole in the ozone layer over Australia. Be sure to wear a high SPF to protect your skin from burning and to guard against skin cancers, such as melanoma.
Each nation has a government department or office whose job it is to advertise that nation's areas of interest and to provide encouragement and support to potential visitors. When you are researching your beach vacation, visit these offices' web sites or contact them to get fairly comprehensive lists of beaches, accommodations, restaurants, shopping, and other local attractions. National tourism offices will also provide helpful information such as local weather, exchange rates, numbers for local government and law enforcement, and any medical, political or other alerts that travelers should consider. National tourism offices can also be a great resource once you have arrived, usually offering brochures, tour recommendations, and even coupons and other discounts. Do remember, though, that tourism offices exist to market their country, so while their information can be helpful, it is not necessarily objective.
It is unfortunately all too easy for marketers and salespeople to make any warm, seaside destination sound like paradise. While there are many, many reputable beach resorts and all-inclusive vacation packages that provide excellent value and a wonderful experience, there are also plenty of small shops out there hoping to make a buck off a naïve traveler.
A few ways to help ensure that you get the vacation you are looking for are to ask a lot of questions about the location, amenities, what is included in the charges and what isn't.
Ask for current photos of accommodations and the area, so that you are not making your decisions based on pictures from years ago. Ask about cancellation policies and natural disaster policies. Most reputable establishments will let you reschedule your visit within a reasonable amount of time should your destination be affected by a hurricane, for example. Ask for references so that you can get a first-hand report from a fellow traveler.
Also, ratings by well-known, independent agencies, such as a travel guide, travel magazine or AAA, will indicate the legitimacy of an establishment and provide a measurable review of their services. Finally, remember that – in general – you get what you pay for: either be willing to pay a little more of the peace of mind of knowing you are getting everything you want, or be willing to be flexible and potentially “rough” it if you want to stick to a smaller budget. Usually, though, you can find a middle ground and have a great time for a reasonable price.
The southern coast of the United States is home to several idyllic beach getaways. North Carolina's Outer Banks are often referred to as a “best kept secret,” and the towns themselves want to stay that way. These sandy barrier islands with their high dunes and exposure to both the ocean and the bay offer a quiet spot for summer fun. While tourism is increasing exponentially, there remain some secluded spots, such as Duck, a primarily residential beach that caters to families. While Duck and the Outer Banks are quiet, the islands off of South Carolina offer activities to appeal to even the most active beachgoer. Hilton Head is a large beach resort area that is renowned for its golfing, tennis and family-friendly beaches. It can get crowded, but you certainly will not be bored! Myrtle Beach is another crowded tourist hub in South Carolina, and its beaches are lined with amusement parks, entertainment venues, and restaurants that make it a lively southern sister to the more gentrified Hilton Head – though you can certainly get in some excellent rounds of golf in Myrtle Beach, too! Finally, Kiawah Island is a designed beach resort geared toward families. It has more than 10 miles of beaches, much of which is reserved for resort guests. Kiawah also offers professional golf courses and thousands of acres of woodlands.
Choosing the best beach for your vacation is a very personal decision, and should be informed by what you like to do, who is joining you, and when you can go. When deciding the timing of your vacation, it is important to find out about and keep in mind geographic and seasonal weather patters. For example, May through October is the Caribbean hurricane season, and even though hurricanes are rare, there can be a lot of rain and oppressive humidity during these months. July and August in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Pacific are usually characterized by monsoons – a combination of heat, wind and rains that can put a damper on your beach vacation. Also remember that the seasons are opposite of one another in the northern and southern hemispheres, so that winter in New York is summer in Sydney, and vice versa. Also, while you might enjoy being seaside during the off-season, many local businesses shut down during their off months, and it can be challenging to find lodging, restaurants and other conveniences if you choose to visit then.
The well-known travel guide, Frommer's, created a list of the best beaches in California for 2005. Frommer's recommends Drake's Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore. This sandy beach is great for sunbathers, but winds and choppy seas can make it challenging for swimmers. Better for water sports enthusiasts are any of Santa Cruz's 29 miles of beach. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk leads to the Main Beach, which has lifeguards and piped-in golden-oldie tunes during the summer. Santa Barbara's East Beach is wide and white, and family-friendly. Malibu's Zuma and Surfrider beaches inspired such 1960s icons as the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, offering excellent surf conditions, plenty of beachside snack stands and amenities, and plenty of sunshine for sunbathers. Finally, in La Jolla, Windansea Beach has great waves for surfing; harbor seals swim at Children's Pool, while people swim and sunbathe at La Jolla Shores, and snorkelers should head for The Cove.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman is known as Dr. Beach. Each year, he lists his picks for the best beaches in America based on 50 metrics of quality, including beach width, sand softness, midday air temperature, tides and currents, wildlife and vegetation, pests and dangers, and safety features. An ideal beach, using these metrics, would have a wide beach with soft sand, warm air and water temperatures, gentle tides, plentiful wildlife and natural vegetation (but few pests), lifeguards, and a good safety record. In 2004, the top ten beaches in the United States based on these metrics were Oahu Beach in Hawaii, Fort De Soto Park in Florida, Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, Caladesi Island State Park in Florida, Main Beach on Long Island (New York), Hanalei Bay in Kauai (Hawaii), Crescent Beach in Siesta Key (Florida), Coast Guard Beach at the Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts), Cape Florida State Park, and Coronado Beach in California.
Many beach vacations involve going to parts of the world that pose health challenges that travelers from industrial nations might not anticipate. Many tropical destinations are plagued by mosquitoes and carry the risk of malaria or dengue fever. Some parts of the world have water that is not as safe to drink as in other parts of the world – or just foods with which your system might have trouble - and stomach distress can be a common complaint. In many places, doctors are some distance away, and your health insurance might not cover medical care out of your home country. Before traveling, meet with your family physician or with a travel doctor who can tell you what inoculations you need, what preventative and palliative medications you should bring, and what other precautions you should take based on your destination. You can also visit the Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization web sites to learn more about the area you will be visiting, and you should check guidebooks or the national tourism offices of your destination to see whether there are laws governing what substances you can bring to your destination.
Even the best beaches in the world might have a less than savory aspect to them. Many tourist areas can be attractive targets for petty and not-so-petty criminals because there are so many people coming in and out all the time, usually carry cash and other valuable or fungible items. Refer to guide books for information on whether crime is a problem in the area you want to visit, and what kinds of crimes are prevalent. Another good resource is the US State Department; their web site features up-to-date warnings by country. This web site will also alert you to any special medical or political considerations that might factor into your selection of a vacation destination. Once you have the information, you can decide for yourself what risks you are willing to take, and you can make plans that help you to minimize those risks.
Finding the best beach vacation is a very personal choice, and may be influenced by what you want to do, what you can afford, where you have been before, and with whom you are traveling. Once you have an idea of the part of the world you might like to visit, or even what activities you are most interested in, use the Internet to learn more about what these places have to offer. Once you narrow it down even more, get a guidebook that provides more in-depth information on the location, lodging, activities, and other practicalities. Ask your friends and colleagues, and visit travel review sites, to get first-hand information on what different beaches, hotels, towns, and beach resorts are like. Finally, use the power of the web to compare the amenities, locations, and rates of different beach resorts and vacation packages. Doing this homework will help you make the choice that is right for you, and will hopefully help safeguard you against investing in a trip that does not meet your needs or expectations.
Beaches catering to tourists line both coasts of Mexico, and its proximity to the southern United States and its unique blend of Spanish and indigenous culture attract the young and old alike. The Yucatan peninsula is home to two of Some of Mexico's best beaches – Cancun, which is a famous and very developed beach resort destination with lots of nightlife, and Maroma Beach, a secluded and quiet home to a resort targeted toward eco-tourists. On the Pacific coast of Mexico, Puerto Escondido features several sandy beaches as well as Zicatela – also known as the Mexican Pipeline- which is a major surfing destination. Also on the Pacific coast, Puerto Angel is a very tranquil and not very developed spot, and its Zipolite Beach is popular with backpackers.
The Caribbean brings to mind crystal clear waters, easy living, and romantic thoughts of pirates hiding their treasures during the discovery of the New World. A Caribbean beach vacation promises rum punch, hibiscus in the hair, and relaxing on some of the best beaches around. Add to that most Caribbean islands' proximity to the United States, and it is easy to understand why it is such a popular destination. This popularity makes it all the more difficult and important to find pieces of this paradise that are unmarred by overdevelopment. Look around, though, there are plenty such gems left. In the British Virgin Islands (BVI, to those “in the know”) The Baths at Virgin Gorda offer silky, deep pinkish gray sands, and water that no words or photos can quite capture. The Baths can get crowded, but for good reason: swimming and snorkeling are excellent all year, and locals on Virgin Gorda are among the Caribbean's friendliest. In Puerto Rico, Culebra Island and its beach, Playa Flamenco, offers sand, sun, and serenity. Culebra is an island located halfway between Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and it has been a nature reserve for years, leaving its natural habitat and beaches in excellent condition for snorkelers, divers and birdwatchers. A hideaway of the rich and famous – or at least the chic – is Englishman's Bay on the island of Tobago. Stylish boutique hotels don't mar the escapist effect of Englishman's Bay's white sand beach that is surrounded by a palm tree jungle. Like many of the best beaches in the Caribbean, this beach is secluded and good for year-round swimming and snorkeling.
The beaches along the Mediterranean Sea all have their unique personalities, but can be great places to visit if you want to combine a beach vacation with a European vacation. One thing to remember about Europe's best beaches, in general, is that they are very developed, so don't expect to be alone!
Remember the old suntan lotion whose slogan touted a St. Tropez tan? Well, St. Tropez – in the south of France – has been a beach resort catering to the European and Hollywood elite since the early 20th century. St. Tropez is a lively town in the summertime, and it offers several beaches as well as French culture, food and nightlife.
The Plage Port Grimaud is the probably the best beach for celebrity sightings, or to show off your own designer swimsuit.
Plage de Tahiti is famous for its clothing-optional policy, while families might be more comfortable at the Plage de la Bouillabaisse, Plage des Graniers and Plage des Jumeaux, which has a beachside playground.
Crete, one of Greece's many beautiful islands, boasts almost 100 miles of beaches. Beaches along the northern coast are sandy and pretty developed; beaches along the southern coast are pebbly, but quieter and less touristy. In addition to Crete's long stretches of beach, the water is a deep, clean blue that beckons even the most tentative swimmer. Crete is also home to many small, quaint villages that will transport you to classical times. Note that because Greece is home to so many ruins and antiquities, there are strict guidelines for diving and beachcombing.
Ibiza is one of the hottest destinations these days. Located in Spain's Costa del Sol, Ibiza offers 56 beaches surrounded with lush vegetation and turquoise waters – as well as many, many jumping nightclubs. Popular with revelers, it is possible to find more tranquil areas where you can relax and recover from this city's wild nights. Water sports are very popular at Ibiza's beaches, so you might want to bring your board or diving gear.
Beach resorts tend to be in areas with a warm climate all year round, have on-site restaurants, pools, and organized activities and entertainment. Often, a beach resort will be located at the best beaches in a given area. At an all-inclusive resort, you pay a package price that covers all of these things. Because there is so little for you as a vacationer to worry about once you reach your destination, beach resorts have become very popular, and there are now many different kinds, each catering to specific audiences. Some resorts cater to singles and host a lot of activities that encourage mingling. Other resorts cater to couples looking for privacy, while others have many family-friendly features and services. Still others appeal to older guests. It is important to know what specific resorts offer so that you get the vacation that suits your specific needs. Luckily, most beach resorts are very clear on what is included in a package price, what activities and entertainment are featured, and whether children are accommodated.
Thailand has some of the world's best beaches, but just following the throngs of tourists won't necessarily lead you to them. Thailand offers a mix of very developed areas with many beach resorts and pristine beaches that can make you feel like you are in uncharted territory. Khao Lak edges up against the Andaman Sea and has not yet been very developed, and features yellow sand and clear water. It features waves that could be a problem for small children. To the south of Khao Lak is Phuket Island with its famous resorts. It is the largest, most developed and most expensive of Thailand's islands. Avoid the popular and overcrowded Patong Beach, and seek out the less densely populated beaches on the northwest and southwest sides of Phuket, such as Nai Harn, Nai Thon and Mai Khao, which is so isolated that it is a safe turtle hatching area. Newly popular is Ko Phi Phi, with its turquoise waters, fine white sands and palm trees. Bypass the busy center and find more pristine and private conditions in Loh Dulum Bay. Refer to local guides for more ideas.
The Pacific Ocean is obviously enormous, and thousands of miles of water can separate the small island paradises that dot its expanse. The South Pacific has been the archetype of the exotic and tropical paradise from the days of the Bounty through Gaugin's time spent painting Tahitian beauties and landscapes, and people's fascination with these islands continues today. While there are many potential destinations, two of the most famous and most likely to offer vacationers a balance of exoticism and civilization are Bora Bora (in French Polynesia) and Palau. Matira Beach on Bora Bora is widely renowned, and is home to major beach resorts, including the Hotel Bora Bora and Club Med. Many resorts feature guest rooms that are huts on stilts over the calm, deep turquoise lagoon. Bora Bora is an atoll, meaning that the island is surrounded by a lagoon that is separated from the open ocean by a coral reef, creating calm, warm water for swimming, and also protecting many species that will delight snorkelers and SCUBA divers. The Rock Islands of Palau are famous for their unique coral and great beaches. Water around the Rock Islands is warm year-round, and the islands are surrounded by bountiful underwater wildlife that makes Palau a mecca for divers. Other unique features of Palau include Jellyfish Lake, an inland sea filled with jellyfish that have lost their need and ability to sting over hundreds of years, and World War II remnants, such as tanks and artillery, that have become foundations for tropical vegetation.
The northeastern coast of the United States is home to the beaches upon which the pilgrims landed, near which the barons of the industrial age built their manorial summer “cottages,” and these beaches still attract elite visitors seeking out a sliver of idyllic summer fun. While northeastern beaches are really only suitable for swimming and sunning in the high summer season, their natural beauty and rich history have plenty to offer year round. Moshup Beach on Martha's Vineyard one of New England's beat beaches. It is a slightly-hard-to-reach sandy stretch with a backdrop of red clay cliffs and the Gay Head lighthouse. Unlike many of the other beaches on this island, Moshup faces the open ocean, and the waves roll in over some smooth boulders that create a lovely vista. Main Beach in East Hampton (Long Island), New York, attracts artists, family and New York's elite with its white sand, delicious lobster rolls, white pine forests nearby, and a town filled with posh boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Cape May, New Jersey, seems to stand still in the best of the American Victorian age: a National Historic Landmark, Cape May has a lot of history, in addition to very family-friendly beaches that tout some of the cleanest water and best-maintained stretches of sand on the East Coast.
Hawaii's islands offer many exotic and beautiful beaches – some sand, some coral, some black from the volcanic eruptions that formed these paradises. Each island has innumerable hidden gems, but there are several that are agreed to be some of Hawaii's - and the world's – best beaches.
On Maui, Wailea Beach is one of Hawaii's best family beaches. Wide and well-shaded, it offers good snorkeling and swimming. Go early in the days, since parking is difficult and offshore currents can be strong in the afternoon. Also on Maui, Palauea Beach is undeveloped and secluded. Palauea is idea for families with young children because its water is shallow and the beach is sheltered from winds. Underwater rock formations make it an attractive destination for divers and snorkelers, though you'll need to bring your own food and drinks, as its seclusion means there are no snack stands or restaurants nearby. Likewise, this beach is not patrolled by lifeguards.
On the island of Oahu, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is situated in the crater of a volcano, and offers world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. This conservation area has strict rules to protect its environment, including no smoking, no food consumption, and the Preserve allows only 2000 visitors each day. Go early and follow the rules, and you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On the island of Kuai, Poipu Beach Park is one of the best beaches in Hawaii for swimming, and its surroundings are unique. Lava flows have created borders of hardened lava that create sheltered pools that are ideal for children, and while other areas of the beach can have vigorous surf.
Because a beach is simply where the ocean (or other body of water) meets the land, their features and your experience of them will widely vary. Some beaches are rocky and cold, while others have powder soft sand and warm water – or any combination you can think of. Beaches exist in the arctic and in the tropics, on desert isles and in cities. When you are deciding what type is the best beach for you, think about what your ideal beach experience will be. If you like to lie on the sand in hot sun and swim in warm water, you should look to tropical climates. If you like to comb the beach for treasures and watch seals playing offshore, the northern New England coast might be right for you. If you are into adventure travel and want to experience exotic species, then a tropical island or relatively undeveloped place might be a fun destination. If you are interested in a beach that doubles as a social scene, you might want to try some of the more developed beaches, such as those in southern Europe, Florida and other destinations famous for their beach resorts.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|