By Devin Pratt
Tired of vacationing at crowded beaches or overpriced resort communities? We searched high and low for the best warm-weather spots in the country. From New York to Hawaii, these beach destinations will leave you relaxed and refreshed — and seriously contemplating an early retirement.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida
Located: Approximately 30 minutes south of Miami, on the southern end of Key Biscayne Island.
This state park is home to the historic Cape Florida Lighthouse, which is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. In addition to some of the best shoreline fishing in the region, you’ll find over a mile of beautiful beachfront that’s open to the public. There aren’t many restaurant options within the park, but Boater’s Grill offers fresh seafood and Cuban-inspired dishes-and a great view of the waterfront.
Fit Factor: Cape Florida State Park offers swimming, skin-diving, sailboating, kayaking, canoeing, and miles of paved roads that are closed to automobile traffic, so you’ll have plenty of space to roller blade or cycle through the park.
Zuma Beach, Malibu, California
Located: Approximately 30 miles west of Los Angeles, right off the famed Pacific Coast Highway
One of California’s most popular state beaches, it’s no wonder Zuma has appeared in many Hollywood productions, including Baywatch and Planet of the Apes. Long, wide shorelines and clean, white sand are characteristic of this laid-back Malibu hot spot. Want to add a little adventure to the mix? We recommend hiking to the top of nearby Point Dume – the view of Santa Monica Bay and Catalina Island is amazing.
Fit Factor: Aside from the beach’s excellent surfing conditions, Zuma also offers great diving, fishing and, of course, swimming – just be mindful of the particularly strong rip currents in the area.
Sailors Haven/Sunken Forest, Fire Island National Seashore, New York
Located: Approximately 55 miles east of New York City, across the Great South Bay from Sayville, NY
One of the best-kept secrets on the east coast, Sailors Haven/Sunken Forest is a perfect escape from the fast-paced New York City lifestyle. With clean, lifeguard-protected beaches that are never crowded, Sailors Haven offers what most other New York beaches can’t – peace and quiet. In fact, it’s not unusual to walk 5 or 10 minutes down the beach and not see another person. Just don’t forget to pack a lunch because the beach’s small concession stand is the only place you’ll find for miles.
Fit Factor: In addition to being a great swimming and surfing spot, you’ll also find a one-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk nature trail that runs through the island’s famed Sunken Forest.
South Padre Island, Texas
Location: Approximately 300 miles southeast of San Antonio, two miles off the southern tip of Texas
A longtime hot spot for spring breakers, South Padre Island offers warm, turquoise waters and waves that are perfect for bodyboarding. As a vacation destination, South Padre is affordable and the people there are amazingly hospitable. And don’t worry about getting around – the island is about six blocks wide, making access to stores and restaurants a breeze.
Fit Factor: Laguna Madre Bay, between South Padre Island and the Texas mainland, is home to some of the best windsurfing in the world.
Island Beach State Park, New Jersey
Located: Approximately 55 miles south of New York City and 55 miles east of Philadelphia
Island Beach State Park is a preserved barrier island, which means you’ll find close to 10 miles of beautiful shoreline, dense maritime forests, rolling sand dunes, tidal marshes, and an abundance of wildlife. Another unique aspect of Island Beach is that it’s one of the few areas in the region where you can drive a 4X4 on the beach (with a permit). The further south you drive on the island, the less crowded it becomes.
Fit Factor: Island Beach’s maritime forests are ideal for hikers and nature fanatics alike. Ride your bike or walk through the various trails and discover everything from foxes and ospreys to more than 400 species of plants.
Venice Beach, California
Located: Approximately 20 miles west of Los Angeles
If you’ve ever been to Venice Beach, you’ll know it’s not your typical family vacation destination. Instead of saltwater taffy and sandcastles, you’re more likely to find roller-bladers, street performers, and Bohemian artists congregating on the boardwalk. After you’ve had your fill of the carnival atmosphere, walk a short distance down to the actual beach – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the soft sand and beautiful palm trees.
Fitness Factor: Want to get in a quick workout under the warm California sun? You’re in luck. Venice is home to the legendary Muscle Beach Venice, made famous by such big name bodybuilders as Dave “The Blond Bomber” Draper, Larry “The Legend” Scott, and Arnold “The Austrian Oak” Schwarzenegger.
Siesta Key Beach, Florida
Located: Approximately 67 miles south of Tampa, FL, just outside of Sarasota
With a name like Siesta Key, you know you can’t go wrong. This Florida mainstay is defined by clear Gulf waters, amazing white sand, calm waves, and some of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see. If you need a break from the sun, take a short walk over to the many unique shops and restaurants in nearby Siesta Village.
Fit Factor: In addition to public tennis and volleyball courts, Siesta Key offers three miles of flat, wide beaches for the avid walkers and joggers.
Hilton Head Island, SC
Located: Approximately 105 miles south of Charleston, SC – just north of Savannah, GA
If you’re into luxury condos and upscale restaurants then Hilton Head Island is the place for you. There are plenty of things to do on the island, including horseback riding, dolphin cruises, endless bike paths, and golfing on some of the most pristine courses in the country. Cap the day with a mouthwatering steak or seafood meal at the Old Fort Pub and watch the sunset over Skull Creek.
Fit Factor: With hundreds of courts all over the island, including all three Grand Slam playing surfaces, Hilton Head is a tennis player’s paradise.
Ocracoke Beach, North Carolina
Located: Approximately five hours east of Raleigh, on Ocracoke Island (one of the most remote islands in the Outer Banks)
Looking for a beach where you can get away from the rat race? With accessibility limited to ferry, private boat, or plane, a visit to Ocracoke Island is like traveling back in time. As part of the Hatteras Island National Seashore, Ocracoke boasts 16 miles of undisturbed barrier beach – perfect for clearing your mind and getting in tune with nature.
Fit Factor: You won’t find golf courses or tennis courts on Ocracoke Island. Instead, burn calories the way nature intended with runs on the beach, long bike rides around the island, and kayaking on one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world.
Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Located: On the eastern shore of the island of Oahu, approximately 30 minutes northeast of Honolulu
With pristine crystal waters and soft golden sand, many Oahu residents consider Lanikai to be the best swimming beach in the state – and one of the most beautiful. The water is fairly calm at Lanikai, so don’t plan on surfing here. Instead, park yourself in the silky sand and enjoy one of the most breathtaking beaches you’ll ever set foot on.
Fit Factor: Lanikai’s calm waters are ideal for snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, and canoeing. We recommend paddling out to the two tiny offshore Mokulua islands to check out the seabird sanctuaries.