Be they a short drive away, or on the other side of the globe, summer's approach has us dreaming about our favorite beaches. While some of us prefer city action on our beaches, others prefer wind-swept solitude. Still others prefer meandering through seaside Roman ruins. Whatever your beach preference may be, we're sure that at least one of our picks will strike your fancy.
Aqueduct Beach, Caesarea, Israel
As a person who burns but never tans, sitting out on a sandy beach while the sun bakes me to a crisp has never appealed much. I like my beaches to be more than just a place to hide under an umbrella while thoroughly coated in sunscreen. They've got to have atmosphere. You don't get much more atmospheric than a beach right off the Mediterranean that's surrounded by Roman ruins. Aqueduct Beach, just north of Israel's Caesarea National Park has plenty of white sand for sun-worshipers and generally warm water (watch out for undertows!) for swimmers, but also has the romantic ruins, including the namesake aqueduct built during the Roman occupation in the First Century A.D. You won't find too many amenities here, but you won't find crowds either. So if you'd like to do a little historical exploring in between tanning sessions, this one's a good choice. For more info on Caesarea National Park and directions, check out (www.parks.org.il). - Naomi Kraus
Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I'm generally the sort of traveler who prefers hiking in a rainforest to lounging on the sand, but all that changed the second I set foot on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach. Here, the allure of sandy shores was simply too great to resist -- I soon learned that beaches in Rio aren't merely for swimming and sunning, but represent a way of life. Copacabana was the first of the city's beaches to be developed in the 1920s, and today it serves as a sort of backyard for locals. At any time of day, you'll find the 4km-long beach crowded with folks eating, playing sports, and, of course, people watching. That's because inhibition is not the operative word when it comes to Rio beach attire. If the parade of flesh starts to tire, know that the beach is spotted with tons of miniature outdoor cafes. There you can munch on an empanada or sip sweet coconut water, or simply admire the gorgeous ocean view. - Jennifer Reilly
Holland State Park, Michigan
Not a Beach Town, but a Fantastic Beach. Early September is the best time of year to visit my favorite beach, which runs along the southwest coast of Michigan. After Labor Day, the light is sharp and autumnal, but the temperatures are balmy. And with the summer tourists gone, you'll almost have the shoreline to yourself: for walking, boating, swimming, or just listening to the staccato sound of waves lapping at the sand. Consider a stay in Holland (www.holland.org), a town located 146 miles northeast of Chicago. Founded by a Dutch minister in 1847, Holland maintains a visible link to the Netherlands. Among its principal attractions are Windmill Island (tel. 616/355-1030) and Dutch Village (tel. 616/396-1475). Indeed, Holland doesn't feel at all like a typical beach town, which is usually marked with chintzy fudge and T-shirt shops. And yet, though Holland isn't really a beach town, its beach is definitely the area's primary attraction. The 142-acre Holland State Park (www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails) abuts the channel where Lake Macatawa meets Lake Michigan. It's an ideal spot from which to watch the flow of sailboats and freighters, jet skis and trawlers (though by September, this flow is often a trickle). Huge poplars sway in the afternoon thermals, and the dunes loom above the lake. Make sure you stay for the sunset -- it's as remarkable here as anywhere in California or Florida, maybe more so. - Matthew Brown
Navio, Vieques, Puerto Rico
For primordial drama, I love Navio, on the Caribbean side of Vieques, off the Puerto Rico mainland. Volcanic outcroppings define a crescent of fine, bright white sand fronting turquoise waters that deepen into ultramarine. The surf churns and sprays from rough trade winds, the wildness heightened by the cliffs and rock caves in the water just off the sand.
Navio was deserted when my friend and I arrived, early on a weekday afternoon, and it was easy to feel like the explorers who'd first discovered it. Until a band of seven surfers showed up, that is, and proceeded to set up camp within feet of our blanket, on the otherwise empty beach. They were kicking up sand and blaring Wu Tang Clan, their message clear: You're on our turf. I sympathized; if I lived on Vieques, I'd want this beach to myself too, especially if I surfed. But I wasn't leaving; I'd already sacrificed a pair of contact lenses to stay. I didn't have a container, and the wind was whirling so strong I had to lose the lenses or go home, so I wasn't going to let obnoxious surfers scare me off. It didn't help remembering, though, that Peter Brook shot Lord of the Flies here in 1963, seeing in Navio a suitably wild setting for William Golding's tale of shipwrecked choir boys gone violently savage.
We moved to the other side of the beach but still fought a sense of intimidation until a few other couples showed up. But it was worth a slight fright to experience Navio's raw power; actually, it intensified the experience. I'd return without hesitation. Local residents told me the crowd is usually friendlier, though Navio's relative inaccessibility does make it less populated than nearby Media Luna or Sombe beaches. Navio draws snorkelers, boogie boarders, and body surfers, despite the fact that it's unguarded, with no amenities -- even within short walking distance. Bring water, food, sunscreen, and Skin So Soft, to ward off sand fleas. It's a hike from Esperanza, the main town on the south coast. The Sun Bay Access Road -- more of a scrubby dirt path, lined with sea grapes and coconut palms -- runs east out of town, connecting a string of beaches. Westernmost Sombe is a 2 mile-long public beach with facilities (bathroom, showers, and a cafeteria near the parking lot), then Media Luna, then Navio. Navio is bordered by one of Vieques's notorious U.S. military facilities to the east, Bioluminescent Bay to the north, and a nature preserve to the northwest.
If you tire of choppy water, wind, isolation, and/or rowdy surfers, retreat to Media Luna, next door. Protected inside a deep inlet, the sea there is preternaturally warm and calm, like bathwater, and it's popular among families. In fact, the two beaches together make for a well-rounded day in the sun. - Maureen Clarke
North Beach, Fort DeSoto Park, St. Petersburg, Florida
Shhh! The secret is starting to get out about this fabulous beach, so keep this tip to yourself. Fifteen minutes from downtown St. Petersburg or 45 minutes from Tampa or Sarasota, Fort DeSoto Park (www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_Ft_DeSoto.htm) is easily accessible to millions of people, yet its bike and nature trails are often deserted, the secluded stretches of gorgeous North Beach populated more by gulls and terns than people. Located at the mouth of Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, Fort DeSoto Park is home to its namesake fort from the Spanish American War. Visitors can amble about the ruins and see the rare 12-inch mortar guns which once protected the bay. An on-site museum explains the fort's history. For more active travelers (or those with a short attention span), the park boasts a network of hiking and biking trails, as well as a 2.5 mile canoe trail that visitors can explore by rented canoe or kayak. The park also has ample facilities for camping, fishing, or launching boats. My favorite part of this park, however, is taking the winding coastal road all the way to its terminus at North Beach. Here, you can stake out a covered picnic area and grill a fantastic lunch by the water. Later, the kids can swim in the sheltered swimming area while the more adventurous can wade through the lagoon and hike to the sugary sand fronting the Gulf of Mexico. Here, you can look for shells or fossilized shark's teeth and enjoy a rare slice of an undeveloped barrier island, the wind rustling through sea oats and sabal palms as the sun sets into the aquamarine waters of the Gulf. - Marc Nadeau
Reid State Park, Maine
I've been to beaches all over the world, in Hawaii, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, India and Europe, but my favorite one of all is Reid State Park (www.maine.gov/doc/parks/index.html), on the rocky coast of Maine, where I grew up. The park is open year-round and is on Seguinland Road in Georgetown, 13 miles from Route 1 in Woolwich via Route 127 south. The sand isn't golden or powdery soft. It's a perfectly average beige-y white mixed with scraps of seaweed. The horizon doesn't stretch as far as the eye can see, but is severed abruptly by jagged hunks of rocks and dotted with pine trees. And the water certainly isn't bathtub warm; even in midsummer your feet get numb quickly in waves that barely make it to the mid 60s. Yet I'd choose this challenging shoreline over a tropical paradise in a heartbeat. The air is clean and bracing, the parking lot is never crowded, and you can always find a spot to be alone. In summer families unload coolers of hotdogs and burgers and barbecue on the charcoal grills. Other facilities include bathrooms, showers, and a snack bar. And for kids who prefer getting wet to tide-pooling or exploring, the relatively balmy salt-water pond is the answer. But I prefer visiting in the fall or spring, bundling up warmly, and strolling along the desolate beach, listening to the melancholy cries of seagulls and the powerful crash of the waves. This is home. - Margot Weiss
Sunset Beach, Cape May Point, New Jersey
Sunset Beach, at Cape May Point, New Jersey (www.sunsetbeachnj.com), has the distinction of being one of the few East Coast beaches where you can watch the sun set over the ocean. As a native East Coaster, I've always thought of the ocean as on my right when I'm heading north, and on my left as I'm heading south, and the sun sets behind you when you're looking at the water. But at the very tip of sticking-out points of land here on the Atlantic (like Provincetown, MA, in addition to Cape May), you can find yourself facing west with several miles of ocean between you and the rest of the continental U.S.
At the tip of South Jersey (Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway), is the Victorian town of Cape May (a National Landmark); and just to the West is the even smaller settlement of Cape May Point, where generations of vacationers, mostly from Pennsylvania, have gone for their week or two or summer "down the shore." When I was a child summering at Cape May, watching the sun set was an event...and it still is. Over the years, the beach's natural attractions (the quartz "Cape May Diamonds" and a sunken WWI-era concrete ship) have developed a ritual and aura that draws people back year after year. There is a cluster of shops and a snack bar (the shops offer the usual tchotchkes and beachwear, along with a delightful shop that sells items that the owners have combed from beaches all over).
One recent spring weekend, we headed down the Garden State, and joined the small but enthusiastic crowd at the shore of the inlet with the Cape May Point lighthouse to our left and the Cape May-Lewes Ferry crossing the horizon. The Concrete Ship is a bit closer to water level, but the diamonds shine bright (after a few weeks in the tumbler) and sun still dips into the ocean. - Kathleen Warnock
Turner Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
I dive and love the far-afield places that scuba takes me, but I recently went to Sanibel and Captiva islands, on the Gulf coast of Florida, and I was instantly taken. I'd read about the islands, knew it was almost impossible to book a vacation unless you plan months in advance, and really thought it would be an overrun tourist mecca. Which it is. And it isn't. It's a thriving town that has a lot of die-hard locals who love the place (read Randy Wayne White for a fictional take). It's also got its fair share of T-shirt and shell emporiums.
Sanibel, an east-west oriented barrier island, hooks around in the Gulf in such a peculiar way that it acts like a giant net, catching thousands upon thousands of shells blown in by the surf. After a storm, when the tide is high, life-long shellers know exactly when to go to get the best pickings. Lowly tourists follow in their estimable footsteps. I went out one morning to Turner Beach, the beach by Blind Pass Bridge that connects Sanibel to Captiva. Rumor had it that you could find shells stacked 4 feet high there. I hadn't noticed it when we drove past, but I abandoned my family early one morning to check it out. I didn't find 4 feet, but I did find an encrusted shelf of thousands of shells. It seemed meager at first, but then I and my new-found mates kept digging at this 2-square-foot area. It just kept going and going, revealing more and more shells, tiny ones, most no bigger than my thumbnail. To see for yourself, start at the www.sanibel-captiva.org website, which features great descriptions of the beaches, an online shelling guide, a daily vacancy list, and links to other sites. - Naomi Black
Wineglass Bay, Tasmania, Australia
While living in Sydney several years ago, four girlfriends and I took off for a week to explore the wilds of Tasmania's east coast. Somewhere between discovering Tas's beautifully gnarled trees, overflowing waterfalls, and rocky mountains; its koalas, kangaroos, and Tassie Devils; its historic Port Arthur and capital city Hobart; I fell in love with a beach: Wineglass Bay (www.tasmanianphotography.com.au/library/thumbnails.php?album=16). After hiking for less than a half hour through Freycinet National Park (www.touringtasmania.info/wine_glass_bay.htm), we came to a wooden ledge overlooking the most spectacular sight I had ever laid eyes on. I nearly ran the rest of the hike to plunk down on those smooth sands. What I remember most are the moments I spent just sitting there, as a gentle breeze blew and waves lapped at my toes, staring in amazement at this endless pool of clear blue water spilling over a shore that was literally as perfectly circular as a wine glass's rim. A wild wallaby strolled past me back toward the trees, and when I looked around, I was the only one who had seen him. For beautiful, eco-friendly accommodations in this sanctuary, check out the Freycinet Lodge (www.freycinetlodge.com.au). For more information on how to plan your trip to Wineglass Bay, visit Frommer's destination guide to Tasmania (www.frommers.com/destinations) or go to Tourism Australia's website at www.australia.com. (Incidentally, we at Frommer's recently named Tasmania one of the "Top 10 Up and Coming Destinations for 2006". - Jennifer Anmuth
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