Sand, sun and swimsuits may not jump to mind in the middle of winter,
but perhaps they should. Seaside cities are getting ready
for the waves of beach-lovers that will soon reach their shores. Some deliver shimmering nightlife and trendy beaches, while others
offer a secluded getaway. Here's a sampling:
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Myrtle Beach has a natural beauty, a thriving nightlife and a
satisfying restaurant selection. Try Hurricane Cruises for a night of
dinner, dancing and star gazing, or check out Atlantis Nightlife for
a taste of three clubs: one with live entertainment, one with a 5,000
gallon aquarium on the dance floor and one with a patio cabana. The
Carolina Opry, Dixie Jubilee and Gold Rush Saloon offer country
music, rock and roll and comedy.
Mexico Beach, Fla.
A well-kept local secret in earlier years, this 7-mile crescent beach
is now blossoming into a popular vacation spot. It's sheltered by St.
Joseph Peninsula, which makes the waters safe from undertows.
Charters, piers and the new dock at Canal Park have drawn fishing
buffs from across the country. Marquardt's Marina is a great place to
drop anchor for those sailing to Mexico Beach, and it rents boats by
the day or week.
Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Destin offers some of the cleanest beaches. Humans aren't the only
ones who think so -- dolphins can be seen daily in the shallow waters
of the Santa Rosa Sound and Destin Harbor. Visitors are enchanted by
the city's "flip-flop" museums, aerial tours and water activities.
Its clear, calm waters are suitable for snorkeling and diving.
The Everglades, Fla.
The Everglades is a slow-paced river that twists along the
sub-tropical tip of Florida. The river runs into Florida Bay and the
Gulf of Mexico, combining salt and fresh water. Mangrove trees mark
spots where the waters collide. Visitors can embark on canoeing or
camping adventures and observe an eclectic mix of plants and animals.
Hiking, fishing and biking are also popular. The Everglades was the
first national park created to preserve an ecological system.
St. Augustine, Fla.
St. Augustine is argued to be the nation's oldest city. Spanish
influence abounds, from the city's architecture to its building
names. Visit the Spanish Quarter Village, the Government House Museum
and the Spanish Military Hospital. The Village is a 9-building living
history museum where people work as they would have in the 1800s.
Cooks, blacksmiths and woodworkers fill the town. San Sebastian
Winery is an excellent evening stop. Beautiful beaches lie right
outside the historical establishments.
Pensacola is one of the largest cities in North Florida. Many
professionals make the city their home and vacation spot. Shopping
and restaurants abound, and Eglin Air Force Base houses the Air Force
Armament Museum. The beaches provide fun during daylight hours, and
the Gulfarium, Indian Temple Mounds Museum, Sasquatch Zoo and
Northwest Florida Ballet are great venues for afternoons and evenings.
Panama City Beach, Fla.
Panama City is heralded as a trendy beach town with tons of
nightlife. Club La Vela, featured on MTV, is one of the hottest
nightspots. Many popular acts play at the beachside clubs surrounding
La Vela. During high school and college spring breaks, Panama City's
strip is packed from mid-afternoon until the wee morning hours.
Sports enthusiast of all ages will find an abundance of jet ski
rentals, parasailing, fishing and speedboat rides. Dr. Stephen
Leathermen , a coastal geologist at the University of Maryland,
ranked Panama's St. Andrews State Recreation Area as the best beach
Gulf Shores, Ala.
Gulf Shores is nestled between Biloxi's glitz and Florida's grandeur.
Fishing is one of the city's largest attractions. Charters offer half
day, full day and weekly rates. Fishing licenses are provided by the
charter services. For relaxed entertainment and grub, check out the
Pink Pony Pub or Wannabees Pub.
Dauphin Island, Ala.
Dauphin Island is a gem in the rough because commercialized resorts
have yet to discover it. Its beaches are frequented by sea-lovers who
want to escape tourists, spring breakers and the usual beach glitz.
The laid back island is dotted with private beach homes in bright
pinks, blues, greens and yellows. Fishermen and shrimpers cruise
along the shores and the island's dock is a hotspot for moonlight
fishing. One must-see attraction is Fort Gaines, the site of the
Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay. The Fort, built in 1821, is open
year-round and often holds battle re-enactments.
The Eastern Shore of Alabama
Alabama's Eastern Shore has earned a reputation for quiet, upscale
beaches. Fairhope is a picturesque town lined with café, art
galleries and specialty shops. The Grand Hotel sprawls along the
water and has become a coveted honeymoon destination. Daphne, another
beach town, offers white sand and blue water without throngs of
tourists. Both towns are decorated with delicate azaleas and dogwoods
It can take less that 5 minutes to drive through these towns at 30
m.p.h. Visit Loxley for strawberries and other fruits, Foley for Arts
in the Park or Point Clear's pier for amazing sunsets.
Mississippi's beach scene is quickly earning a reputation as a
coastal Las Vegas. Twelve casinos adorn Biloxi's white sands,
including Beau Rivage - the home of Cirque de Soliel, Harrah's and
Jack's. Gulf Coast guests can stay in the luxurious gambling houses
or just pop over for the evening to enjoy the entertainment.
South Padre Island, Texas
This island, known as the Tropical Tip of Texas, attracts spring
breakers and sun lovers by the thousands. It's only 30 miles from
Mexico's border and offers visitors a plethora of water activities,
shopping, sports and culture. The horseback rides on the beach,
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge and Port Isabel Lighthouse
garner attention and accolades every season. The Camille Lightner
Playhouse offers a unique respite from outdoor activities.
Mexico may be a little farther than Florida, but many folks say it's
worth the trip. Mexico offers more than 6,000 miles of beaches
touching the Mexican Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean and Sea
of Cortes. Choose from high-class luxury resorts like Acapulco,
Puerto Vallarta and Loreto, or find a hidden spot to call your own.
The Bays of Huatulco are regarded for their peace and quiet. Puerto
Escondido visitors will encounter little more than colored hammocks,
mangrove lagoons and the occasional surfer. Ixpata is just a wave's
ride away from Acapulco.
Mendocino Beach, Calif.
Mendocino's coastline, California's second longest, is decorated with
quiet coves, sunny beaches, mysterious bluffs and peaceful inlets. If
beach combing is your forte, hit the beaches at MacKerricher and
Westport-Union Landing at low tide. The smaller shorelines that rest
at the foot of the bluffs offer a serene place to stroll among
driftwood, seashells, crabs and seabirds. Some visitors have spotted
whales, especially during the spring and fall migration periods.
Carlsbad attracts crowds with its combination of beaches, upscale
resorts, gourmet restaurants and shopping venues. The city's beaches
and lagoons are a magnet for surfers, swimmers, sunbathers and
fishermen, while culture-loving guests can explore Legoland and
Flower Fields. The Carlsbad Seawall, located along the city's seven
miles of coastland, attracts joggers who take in its scenery and
ocean views. Sports-enthusiasts enjoy Carlsbad's two world class golf
resorts, 30 golf industry businesses and La Costa Resort, which hosts
the annual Acura Classic tennis competition.
Venice Beach is like no other beach. It's not exactly a kick-back-and
relax-in-the-sand kind of place. Street performers, vendors and
artists spill over the beach's tree-lined boardwalk. Muscle beach,
where body builders spend the day pumping iron, is a quick stroll
away and roller bladers are plentiful. Between the chainsaw jugglers
and the beach's professional bum, there is never a dull moment.
Birthplace of the musical group the Doors, Venice was rated one of
the nation's funkiest towns by author Mark Cramer.
Santa Cruz County, Calif.
Located along California's central coastline, Santa Cruz County
encompasses the beach towns of Santa Cruz, Pajaro Valley, Aptos, San
Lorenzo Valley and Capitola. The area's 29 miles of beaches attract
surfers, swimmers, families and adventurers. The famous California
redwoods flourish here. The area's wineries, festivals and art
displays earned it the title of "Best Beach Town in Northern
California" by Sunset Magazine.