Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Sunny Skies in Sunny Isles - Florida's Underrated Gem
Nestled along Florida's Atlantic coast just north of the glitz and glam of Miami sits the laidback beach town of Sunny Isles. While it lacks the name recognition of Miami Beach or the Keys, Sunny Isles has steadily built a reputation as an under-the-radar destination for sun-seekers looking to soak up the Florida rays without the crowds.
Sunny Isles' 2.5 miles of soft golden sand and gentle surf make it a favorite for families and those seeking a more relaxed beach vacation. The shoreline here is much wider than nearby Miami Beach, with plenty of room to spread out. Beachgoers can comfortably plop down a towel or set up an umbrella without having to rub elbows with hordes of other tourists.
The town itself exudes a peaceful, residential vibe. Instead of towering high-rises, Sunny Isles is known for its mid-rise Art Deco architecture that meshes beautifully with the natural landscape. Spend an afternoon meandering down Collins Avenue, the main strip running parallel to the beach, popping in and out of local shops and cafes. Be sure to grab an acai bowl at Fresh Kitchen or indulge in stone crab claws at the legendary Joe's Stone Crab, opened in 1913 and still serving up the freshest seafood around.
Nature lovers can explore the Oleta River State Park situated on Biscayne Bay. Walk along the river trail, go kayaking through the mangrove forest, or try your hand at fishing. There's also a mountain bike trail offering panoramic views across the bay. And bird watching enthusiasts will delight at spotting white ibis, brown pelicans, egrets and other species that call this coastal habitat home.
As the sun begins to set, head to Pelican Community Park to join locals playing volleyball, tossing a frisbee and strolling the boardwalk. Stop by Azul Beach Grill for delicious tacos and margaritas on the sand. Or post up at World Famous Parrot Lounge, a legendary dive bar known for its strong drinks and lively atmosphere.
Sunny Isles punches above its weight when it comes to luxury lodging options as well. Brands like Trump, Acqualina and JW Marriott have swanky high-rise hotels here, catering to those seeking upscale amenities and endless ocean views. There are also more budget-friendly motel and condo options for the cost-conscious.
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- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Sunny Skies in Sunny Isles - Florida's Underrated Gem
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Charleston Charm - South Carolina's Historic Coastal City
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Sleepy Surf Towns - Ventura and Santa Barbara's laidback vibes
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Upscale and Ultra-Luxe - High-end Havens in Southern California
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Cape Cod Classics - New England's Picturesque Peninsulas
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Off the Beaten Path - Secret Spots in the Florida Panhandle
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Island Life in Hawaii - Tropical Treasures Across the Aloha State
- Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Wild, Wonderful Oregon - Cannon Beach and Beyond
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Charleston Charm - South Carolina's Historic Coastal City
Brimming with antebellum architecture, cobblestone streets, and sprawling oak trees draped in Spanish moss, Charleston exudes old world charm unlike any other city in America. As the oldest and largest city in South Carolina, Charleston wears its history on its sleeve. Exploring this port city feels akin to stepping back in time.
Magnolia-lined streets with brightly colored historic homes, many pre-dating the Revolutionary War, transport you to a bygone era of plantations and southern gentility. For architecture buffs, there's no shortage of noteworthy mansions and iron-gated gardens to admire here. Make sure to see the Calhoun Mansion, the Nathaniel Russell House, and the Edmondston-Alston House to marvel at their preserved antebellum splendor.
Of course, Charleston's history and culture extend far beyond the antebellum period. In the French Quarter and Harleston Village, you'll find art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants housed within historic buildings. Stop for a scoop of silky gelato at Gelateria Uli or browse African art and kitschy souvenirs at MODA African Arts.
For an immersive glimpse into the lives of Charleston's prominent free and enslaved African Americans during the 1800s, visit the thoughtfully curated exhibits at the Old Slave Mart Museum. You can also tour the Aiken-Rhett House to see preserved slave quarters and gain perspective into the complex social dynamics that shaped Charleston society.
Charleston's culinary scene wonderfully blends old and new Southern sensibilities. Try Sean Brock's elevated take on Lowcountry cooking at Husk or the impeccably sourced seafood at FIG. For a more casual vibe, join the locals sucking down oysters on the half shell and devouring shrimp and grits at the bustling Tattooed Moose.
Of course, you can't visit Charleston without spending time on the beach. Head to nearby Folly Beach to bike along the boardwalk, search for seashells, or try your hand at surfing. Sullivan's Island is also popular for its family-friendly shoreline and breathtaking sunsets.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Sleepy Surf Towns - Ventura and Santa Barbara's laidback vibes
Tucked between the bustling metropolises of Los Angeles and San Francisco lie the sleepy surf towns of Ventura and Santa Barbara. These laidback beach havens offer a tranquil alternative for those seeking to truly unplug and soak up the quintessential California beach lifestyle.
Ventura has managed to retain its small town charm despite its prime coastal real estate. Main Street is dotted with antique stores, second-hand bookshops, cozy cafes and old-school dive bars. Surfers flock to Ventura’s two most popular breaks – Surfer’s Point and the Pier – to catch waves before heading to Miramar Beach for an epic sunset over the Pacific.
The Central Coast’s temperate climate means you can comfortably surf Ventura’s breaks year-round without the threat of shivering. The chill scene attracts wave riders seeking a more lowkey vibe compared to crowded spots down south. Rent a longboard and wetsuit from one of the local surf shops and paddle out to get a feel for Ventura’s mellow surf culture.
An hour up the coast you’ll find the American Riviera city of Santa Barbara, long considered a hideaway for celebrities and the wealthy. But make no mistake, this laidback beach town offers plenty for the non-famous visitor too.
Yes, Santa Barbara has its fair share of high-end boutiques and restaurants, but it also boasts plenty of affordable taco joints, thrift shops, bookstores and dive bars frequented by college kids and surfers. The Funk Zone neighborhood is ground zero for the city’s trendy art galleries, tasting rooms and eateries.
Santa Barbara’s stretch of coastline caters to every type of beachgoer - surfers flock to Leadbetter Beach while families stake out spots at Arroyo Burro Beach. If you’re seeking solitude, wander east toward the more remote Cojo and Refugio State Beaches. You may even spot migrating whales offshore during the winter months. Hiking trails snake along the seaside cliffs and canyons for incredible coastal views.
At the end of the day, grab fish tacos and a marg at The Hideaway down by the harbor as the sky ignites in brilliant hues of orange and purple. Santa Barbara sunsets are simply spectacular.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Upscale and Ultra-Luxe - High-end Havens in Southern California
While much of coastal California embodies a laidback, chill vibe, the Golden State also offers luxurious enclaves catering to the ultimate indulgence-seeker. Wealthy jetsetters flock to these high-end havens to relax in unparalleled opulence along California’s spectacular coastline.
Montecito, located just south of Santa Barbara, has attracted celebrities and moguls for generations drawn to its stunning natural beauty and seclusion. Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and the ever-eccentric Dennis Miller all call this ritzy community home. Picture perfectly manicured estates nestled amid lush gardens, jogging paths that wind through redwood groves, and a pristine coastline devoid of overcrowding.
Besides glitterati-spotting, visitors can browse the chic boutiques along Coast Village Road, indulge in farm-to-table cuisine at Lucky’s steakhouse, or relax poolside at the ultra-luxurious San Ysidro Ranch. Want to sleep where Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy did? Book the Kennedy Cottage with its four-poster bed and private garden patio. A few nights here may cost you a couple grand, but the pampering is unparalleled.
Just north lies the aptly named Riviera, hugging the coastline between Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Like Montecito, seclusion and privacy reign supreme, thanks to strict rules prohibiting overdevelopment. Privacy-obsessed celebs like Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson favor this stretch of shore.
Splurge on an architectural marvel at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica with jaw-dropping ocean views from every vantage point. Take a private sommelier-guided wine tasting through their 30,000 bottle cellar followed by dinner at the in-house One Pico restaurant. Then burn off the decadence with private beach yoga or a massage at the spa.
Further south, Newport Coast exudes indulgence with multi-million dollar California dream homes dotting the rugged bluffs. Feast on premium sushi and sip rare Japanese whiskies at celebrity chef Helene An’s 15-course omakase experience. Or charter a mega-yacht and cruise down to Catalina Island for champagne brunch followed by snorkeling in the pacific.
For over-the-top extravagance, look no further than Carbon Beach in Malibu, known as "Billionaire’s Beach" for its celebrity residents like Larry Ellison and Haim Saban. No mega-mansions or prying eyes here, just simple beach cottages housing the world’s elite behind closed gates. Hundreds of thousands gets you a plot of sand for the day where attendants cater to your every whim.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Cape Cod Classics - New England's Picturesque Peninsulas
Jutting out into the Atlantic, Cape Cod epitomizes the rocky, windswept beauty of the New England coastline. This hook-shaped peninsula stretches some 70 miles from the southeastern corner of Massachusetts, enticing beachgoers, artists, and nature lovers drawn to its quaint seaside villages, iconic lighthouses, and stunning scenery.
The iconic candy-striped Bass River Light has kept watch over the cape's eastern shore since 1854, standing sentinel amid the marshlands and cranberry bogs. Meander down Beach Point to stand beneath the white tower with its distinctive red horizontal stripe, imagining the solitary life of generations of lighthouse keepers. Then pop into Sundae School Ice Cream for a refreshing scoop or two - the Sea Salt Caramel is a favorite.
On the bay side, Chatham's sweeping shoreline beckons you to spread out a blanket and marvel at the fishing boats bobbing on the horizon. Pick up fresh-caught lobster and steamers at Aunt Lainey's Hole in the Wall takeout counter, then enjoy an impromptu beach picnic while the waves lap at your toes. As the day draws to a close, stroll down to Lighthouse Beach where you can capture the last golden rays setting over Chatham Lighthouse, a quintessential cape vista.
Ambling down Commercial Street in Provincetown, you'll find delightful art galleries, charming eateries, and quirky shops befitting any good coastal town. The eclectic vibe here stands out for its funky creativity and strong LGBTQ+ presence. Try Turkish coffee and nibbles at Karoo Kafe, browse vintage treasures and kitschy souvenirs at Marine Specialties, then catch a provocative exhibit at Berta Walker Gallery. Cap off the day by joining locals for "Tea Dance" revelry at the Boatslip as DJs spin dance beats on the resort's beachside deck.
Nearby, Race Point Beach offers an escape from Provincetown's liveliness. Stretching six miles out to Race Point Lighthouse, this protected stretch of coastline dazzles with its sugar-soft sand giving way to rippling aquamarine shallows. Bundle up on cooler days and take an invigorating stroll, breathing in the crisp ocean air. Come summer, bask in the sunshine while enjoying prime Cape views and relative solitude compared to busier beaches.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Off the Beaten Path - Secret Spots in the Florida Panhandle
Stretching along the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Panhandle offers a tranquil alternative to the chaotic party scenes of South Florida. Here you'll find powder-white sand, translucent emerald waters, and a laidback, unpretentious vibe. While places like Destin and Panama City Beach attract droves of college kids on spring break, the Panhandle has its fair share of secluded escapes if you know where to look.
My favorite secret spot is St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, an undeveloped barrier island near Port St. Joe. From the trailhead, it's a three-mile hike across undulating sand dunes and sea oats before breaking out onto a beach so pristine you'll swear you're the first to discover it. Without condos hovering nearby, the shoreline extends uninterrupted as far as the eye can see. Wade out into the calm turquoise waters or stroll for hours without dodging beach balls and blaring boomboxes. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy complete solitude - just you and the soothing sounds of the surf.
Another prime pick is Cape San Blas near Mexico Beach. You’ll quickly realize why the cape's Scallop Cove consistently lands on “Best Beaches in America” lists. This is primitive Florida Panhandle beauty at its finest. Follow the sandy path out to the secluded cove where shorebirds dart along the tide line as gentle waves lap the shore. At low tide, you can walk way out and experience the surreal sensation of standing alone in the middle of the Gulf.
Don’t skip unassuming Beacon Hill Park right outside Panama City, either. Though it sits in the shadow of commercialized Panama City Beach, few out-of-towners venture to this tranquil hideaway bordering the Grand Lagoon. Spanish moss-draped oaks shade a rustic playground and picnic area. But the real draw? An undeveloped stretch of pearl-hued sand devoid of high-rise hotels and chain restaurants marring the view. Wade out into the calm lagoon or toss a line in hopes of reeling in speckled trout and flounder.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Island Life in Hawaii - Tropical Treasures Across the Aloha State
The Aloha State’s natural splendor spans well beyond Waikiki’s tourist traps and Oahu’s crowded shores. Venture to Hawaii’s outer islands to immerse in the unspoiled beauty defining quintessential island life.
On the “Garden Island” of Kauai, outdoor enthusiasts roam wild and rugged Na Pali Coast, marveling at sharp cliffs towering above secluded beaches reachable only by sea. Backpack the 11-mile Kalalau Trail through hanging valleys, waterfalls and lush jungle to famously photogenic Hanakapi’ai Beach tucked beneath imposing sea cliffs.
Just offshore, snorkel or scuba dive at Ke’e Beach to spy on sea turtles cruising through coral reef cityscapes bursting with triggerfish, angelfish and wrasses painted every hue of the rainbow. Charter a catamaran to watch humpback whales breach offshore. Then unwind poolside at an oceanfront resort like the St. Regis Princeville with sweeping views of Hanalei Bay’s aquamarine waters.
On Maui, challenge yourself to sunrise hikes up the twisting trail to Haleakala’s summit. Watch in awe as sunlight slowly illuminates the massive crater’s alien-like landscape 10,000 feet below. Then cruise the legendary Road to Hana, pulling over to plunge beneath waterfalls, stroll black sand beaches and wander through rainforests teeming with ginger blossoms.
Cap off long days adventuring with beachfront sunsets at Wailea. Sip mai tais at luxury hotels like the Four Seasons or Grand Wailea with its elaborate pool complex and spectacular Maui views.
For a taste of “old Hawaii”, the Big Island seduces. Laze in natural geothermal pools amid Volcanoes National Park’s rugged lava fields. Watch molten magma flow at sunset from Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive volcano. Saddle up to explore the Kohala Coast’s rolling pastures on horseback.
Then return to turquoise waters for world-class snorkeling and diving. Cruise alongside manta rays drawn to plankton-rich waters when the sun goes down. Hike through thick ferns to secluded swimming holes like Akaka Falls. And stargaze from black sand beaches far from city lights.
On lesser-visited Lana’i, guests at luxury resorts like Four Seasons Lana’i can sometimes feel they’ve got the whole island to themselves. Tee off on world-class golf courses before catching a catamaran to snorkel lesser-known reefs. Then beach hop to find your own private slice of sand without another soul in sight.
Quiet Molokai offers perhaps Hawaii’s purest refuge from modern distractions through outdoor escapes, fishing villages straight out of the 1950s and the world’s highest ocean cliffs on windswept northern shores.
Making Waves: 12 Spectacular Beach Destinations across the USA for 2024 - Wild, Wonderful Oregon - Cannon Beach and Beyond
Wide sandy beaches give way to soaring sea stacks and stony headlands along Oregon's rugged yet breathtaking coastline. And no destination better encapsulates the state's windswept beauty than the quaint town of Cannon Beach.
This artsy community snuggled against sloping evergreen forests charms visitors seeking both outdoor adventure and cozy respite. Mornings start strong at Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters, fueling up on espresso drinks and homemade pastries. Fortified with caffeine, embark on the 2.4-mile hike up Neahkahnie Mountain for panoramic views across the Pacific.
The real showstopper lies just offshore though. Haystack Rock rises 235 feet from the tideline, one of the largest intertidal monoliths on the continent. When the tide goes out, you can meander around its base spying starfish, sea anemones, and other colorful intertidal life clinging to the basalt. Birdwatchers delight at spotting puffins and cormorants nesting on rocky ledges through spring and summer.
After working up an appetite hiking, head to the Wayfarer Restaurant for heaping plates of NW comfort food - think wild salmon chowder, Dungeness crab cakes, and hazelnut crusted halibut. Everything is sourced locally, from the fish to vegetables and berries. Then browse the galleries and shops downtown, like Jeffrey Vance Pottery and Cannon Beach Book Company, strolling beneath towering Sitka spruce trees draped in moss.
Nearby Oswald West State Park promises prime opportunities to hit the trails through old-growth forest leading down to secluded pocket beaches. Hardy adventurers embark on the challenging Cape Falcon hike, scrambling over headlands for a front-row seat when roaring Pacific waves collide with sheer cliffsides. Visit during spring and you may catch glimpses of gray whale moms and calves migrating north to Alaska.
For more beachcombing opportunities, head south to Manzanita, just 30 minutes down the coast. Here you'll find seven miles of quiet, crowd-free beach flanked by dunes and grassy bluffs. Nehalem Spit stretches nearly five miles into the sea, providing unobstructed views up and down the shoreline.
Kayak along the calm Nehalem River spotting herons, cormorants, seals, and even river otters. Then sample creative small plates and Oregon pinot noirs at San Dune Pub, housed in a charming Craftsman bungalow. Nearby Nehalem Bay Winery pours crisp, minerally pinot gris and pinot noirs in their tasting room set amid pastoral vineyards.