On the mainland, check out the newly opened 21st Amendment Distillery (2055 13th Ave., 772-404-7660, 21st-distillery.com), making a variety of craft spirits and serving an extensive Bloody Mary menu along with cocktails, coffee drinks and small bites. Tours are offered on Wednesdays and weekends. A highlight of the holiday season is the Festival of Lights that illuminates the McKee Botanical Garden ($10-$15, 350 U.S. Hwy. 1, 772-794-0601, mckeegarden.org) with thousands of colorful displays and decorations.
Vero Beach, Florida. verobeach.com
Few names are as synonymous with sand and surf as Waikiki, a stretch of beach on the southeast side of Oahu. Olympian Duke Kahanamoku put it on the map in the early 20th century as a major surfing destination, and it was the setting for the 1961 Elvis Presley film “Blue Hawaii.” The towering national monument Diamond Head crater ($5, Diamond Head Road, 808-587-0300, dlnr.hawaii.gov) provides a dramatic backdrop and a favorite perch for hikers to pose for selfies that capture the scenery below.
After a trek around the volcano, cool off with a swim in the clear blue Pacific waters in several calm tide pools created by jetties to battle beach erosion. Or grab a surfboard and head out beyond the barriers to catch a wave. All beaches are public, so rent umbrellas and chairs from a plethora of vendors and enjoy your own patch of paradise.
Across the street from the beach, the recently remodeled Twin Fin Hotel ($195-$1,050, 2570 Kalakaua Ave., 808-922-2511, twinfinwaikiki.com) provides guests with surfboards, tubes, sand toys, umbrellas and chairs at no charge. One of the most elegant hotels with direct beachfront access is the 1901 Moana Surfrider ($410-$2,350, 2365 Kalakua Ave., 888-236-2427, marriott.com), a National Register property boasting a rocking chair porch, a beach bar, a lobby wine bar and a veranda dining room where afternoon tea is served.
Start the day with a lavish buffet breakfast at Duke’s in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort (2335 Kalakaua Ave., 808-922-2268, dukeswaikiki.com), named for the surfing champ, and end it at Olili (2380 Kuhio Ave., 808-923-2095, oliliwaikikihawaii.com), a new addition to the Waikiki scene serving Hawaiian-inspired cuisine.
Waikiki Beach. hawaiitourismauthority.org
Dauphin Island, Alabama
The island 36 miles south of Mobile was originally named Isle Dauphine by the French after their word for “dolphin,” which is how many English speakers pronounce it today. However it’s dubbed, Dauphin has kept the charm of an unspoiled fishing community. It’s noted for two major historical attractions: Shell Mound Park, a preserved archeological site with shell mounds dating back to 1100 A.D., and Fort Gaines, built over the course of four decades beginning in 1821 to guard Mobile Bay.
The island attracts nature lovers who like to wander the 3-mile Audubon Bird Sanctuary trail (free, 213 Bienville Blvd., 251-861-3607, alabamabirdingtrails.com), bring their dogs to run on the beach or visit the recently reopened Alabama Aquarium that’s part of Dauphin Island Sea Lab ($14, 102 Bienville Blvd., 251-861-7500, disl.edu/aquarium).
Along with a small selection of hotels and motels, accommodations featureinclude a wealth of cottages, townhouses and condos to rent. The newly renovated Dauphin Island Harbor House ($150-$190, 730 Cadillac Ave., 251-861-2119, diharborhouse.com) is a bed and breakfast with a waterside dock where you can moor your boat overnight before heading out to fish at first light. The innkeepers will see you off with breakfast and ice for your fish box. Return in time for dinner at the Pirate’s Bar and Grill (100 Orleans Drive, 251-861-2969, piratesbarandgrill.com) where local seafood is served with a Southern flair.
Dauphin Island, Alabama. townofdauphinisland.org
In 1996, two of the world’s most glamorous people escaped the public’s prying eyes by holding their wedding on this island 7 miles east of St. Marys. Others looking to escape the crowds the way John Kennedy Jr. and his bride, Carolyn Bessette, did can leave their cars behind and hop on a private boat or the National Park Service ferry ($20 one way, no service Tuesdays and Wednesdays Dec. 1-Feb. 28, cumberlandislandferry.com) and settle in for a scenic, 45-minute voyage that ends at one of the most remote islands off the Georgia coast.
Along with unspoiled, undeveloped beaches, Cumberland’s attractions include the ruins of the 1884 Dungeness mansion that burned in 1959, the 1898 Plum Orchard mansion and the First African Baptist Church where the Kennedy wedding took place (all free, 912-882-4336, nps.gov/cuis). Cars are not permitted, so explore the island by biking or hiking its unpaved trails, or sign up for a motorized Lands and Legacies Tour ($65, 113 St. Marys St., St. Marys, 877-860-6787, cumberlandislandferry.com).
Leaving the world behind is Cumberland’s charm, but that also means overnight accommodations are limited. Options include tent camping ($9-$22 per day, $40 for groups, recreation.gov) or the elegant Greyfield Inn ($745-$995, 4 N. 2nd St., 904-261-6408, greyfieldinn.com). Lodging includes meals — a good thing since there are no restaurants on the island. Day trippers may chose to stay on the mainland at the Riverview Hotel ($175-$224, 105 Osborne St., St. Marys, 912-882-3242, riverviewhotelstmarys.com) and dine at the Locals Dockside (307 Saint Marys St., St. Marys, 912-510-8577, localsdocksidestmarysga.com).
Cumberland Island. $15 seven-day entrance pass, $45 annual pass. 912-882-4335, nps.gov/cuis
Credit: Nigel Lord Photography
Credit: Nigel Lord Photography
The southwest coast of Jamaica is home to Negril, noted for its Seven Mile Beach overlooking Long Bay, where the lagoon and coral reefs make it a top snorkeling and scuba diving attraction. The area is a hub for restaurants and an array of all-inclusive resorts, many offering jaw-dropping ocean views from their perches on the rocky cliffs over the water. One of the island’s top resorts sits right on the sand: Sunset at the Palms is an adults-only retreat with 85 treehouse-inspired rooms and suites ($354-$860, Norman Manley Blvd., 876-957-5350, thepalmsjamaica.com).
Beyond the pristine beaches are other water-centric attractions. Don’t miss Mayfield Falls (Flowerhill Road, Petersfield, 876-792-2074, visitjamaica.com), a series of 21 small waterfalls where swimmers can frolic in the crystal-clear water. At the edge of the ocean, Rick’s Cafe (One Love/West End Road, 876-957-0380, rickscafejamaica.com) is a prime viewing spot to watch cliff divers show off their style. (Movie buffs might recognize the cliffs from several scenes in the James Bond film “Dr. No.”) Visitors are invited to take the plunge, too, from cliffs 10- to 35-feet high, or to cool off in the less dramatic swimming pool while sipping from Rick’s extensive cocktail menu. Dine on island-inspired jerk chicken, rum barbecued spare ribs and sweet potato pudding.
Negril, Jamaica. negril.com
Credit: Oriana Photography
Credit: Oriana Photography
Folly Beach, South Carolina
A 30-minute drive south of Charleston, Folly Island and the beach of the same name attract visitors looking for sandy beaches, water sports, fishing and a laid-back lifestyle. Earlier this year the city re-opened the 25-foot-wide Folly Beach Fishing Pier ($5-$10, 101 E. Artic Ave., 843-762-9516, ccprc.com). The 1,049-foot-long local landmark was under reconstruction for two years and is now welcoming those who want to fish, take in the sunset or grab a bite at the restaurant Pier 101 (843-633-0246, pier101folly.com), where the menu is heavy on seafood favorites.
Other dining options include the recent addition of Coconut Joe’s (11 Center St., 843-970-3934, coconutjoesbeachgrill.com), famous for shrimp prepared a variety of ways including fried, grilled, with grits, in tacos and coated with coconut.
Stroll the beach along Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve ($1, 1750 E. Ashley Ave., 843-795-4386, ccprc.com) on the northeastern edge of the island and admire the views of the Morris Island lighthouse. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as loggerhead turtles and the endangered Wilson Plover shorebirds. Sleep tight in one of the cozy bedrooms or individual cottages at the Beachside Boutique Inn ($195-$260, 110 E. Cooper Ave., 843-708-9144, beachsideboutiqueinn.com).
City of Folly Beach, South Carolina. cityoffollybeach.com.
Credit: Benedict Kim, Photographer
Credit: Benedict Kim, Photographer
Ambergris Caye, Belize Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, is a mere 1 mile wide and 25 miles long, and the beach is the main attraction. The western Caribbean location is also a prime destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing and other ocean-related adventures, particularly along the barrier reef a mile offshore.
Take in the stunning tropical views from the rooftop pool and lounge at the Alaia Belize ($289-$1450, Seagrape Drive, 866-352-1163, alaiabelize.com), the first Marriott property on the island, offering accommodations in suites, studios and villas. Amenities include six restaurants, a chef’s table, four bars and a spa.
The island’s main town, San Pedro, is home to an array of restaurants such as the Blue Water Grill (7 Coconut Drive, 501-226-2191, bluewatergrillbelize.com) that sits right on the beach and serves a menu heavy on local seafood. While in town, Immerse yourself in the art of making chocolate at the Belize Chocolate Company ($50, Barrier Reef Drive, 501-613-4828, belizechocolatecompany.com) where you can learn all about Belizean cacao and related products.
Ambergris Caye, Belize. ambergriscaye.com