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Beach Towns

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, Fla.
    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 in America.

  • 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.

  • Biloxi, Miss.
    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.

  • Mexican Beaches
    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, Calif.
    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, Calif.
    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.




   --- J.H.

 
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