If you’re looking for ideas on where to make your summer vacation memories this year, these five Florida beach destinations should fit the bill.
Located a 5 1/2-hour drive from Atlanta, the coastal city of St. Augustine is the oldest city in the United States. Quaint corner cafes, trolley tours, museums and a burgeoning culinary scene make this dreamy city an ideal getaway for history buffs and couples looking for a little romance.
Make your base camp the Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens (149 Cordova St., St. Augustine. 904-209-5800, thecollectorinn.com), comprising an entire block on the edge of Old Town, with 30 rooms dispersed through nine repurposed historic homes dating to 1790. From there, you’ll be walking distance to explore the city’s shopping, dining and sightseeing. You can also view the sites from the Old Town Trolley tour (trolleytours.com/st-augustine).
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Besides famed sites like the Castillo de San Marcos fort (nps.gov/casa), the Lightner Museum (lightnermuseum.org) and the Fountain of Youth (fountainofyouthflorida.com), don’t miss the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum (staugustinelighthouse.org), which anchors Anastasia Island, an emerging shopping and dining area. Or take in a concert at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre (staugamphitheatre.com).
If you’re looking for a little adventure, the St. Augustine Aquarium, Snorkel Adventure & Zipline (saaquarium.com) consists of an 80,000-gallon Snorkel Adventure, an interactive Shark & Stingray Cove, seahorse and hands-on habitats. The Castaway Canopy Adventure by Zipstream opened about a year ago, with a fully guided eco-tour with seven zip lines over the St. Augustine Aquarium and natural wooded areas (oldcityzip.com).
For some beach time, options abound. From bustling St. Augustine Beach and St. Johns County Ocean Pier to quieter Crescent Beach (with its wildlife refuge) and beautiful Anastasia State Park, there’s a little something for every mood. For more info, visit floridashistoriccoast.com.
Shelling is the name of the game at Sanibel Island and Captiva, located just off the coast of Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Fla. With more than 250 kinds of seashells to explore on their shores of the Gulf of Mexico, these laid-back, family-friendly islands offer 15 miles of beaches, 50 kinds of fish, 25 miles of bike paths and not a single traffic light. Casual shops, restaurants and galleries are scattered throughout the island. Sanibel’s sister island, Captiva, is even sleepier. If you want a peaceful, no-frills beach where you can destress, rent a cottage here for the family and blissfully unwind. Full-service hotel options are another route, including Sanibel’s Sundial Beach Resort & Spa (1451 Middle Gulf Drive, Sanibel Island. 239-472-4151, sundialresort.com), with four restaurants, a beachfront spa, multiple heated swimming pools and other amenities — it also hosts Sanibel Sea School, a facility for teaching both children and adults about the area’s diverse marine ecosystems. There’s also Captiva’s South Seas Island Resort (5400 Plantation Road, Captiva Island. 239-472-5111, southseas.com), which offers a cool “Learn to Sail” package if you’re feeling so inclined. For more info on accommodation options, visit sanibel-captiva.org.
The Palm Beaches
Along South Florida’s Atlantic coastline, the Palm Beaches consist of 39 cities and towns with offerings ranging from shopping and dining to arts to eco-adventures.
In Jupiter, MLB fans can catch a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium, home to the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. The once-sleepy retiree community of Delray Beach is now designed as a “village by the sea,” featuring the longest main street in the state, called Atlantic Avenue, with charming brick sidewalks and gaslight-style street lamps. The walkable town is right on the Atlantic Ocean and offers 2 miles of beaches for snorkeling, surfing, kayaking and sailing.
If luxury and spa treatments are what you have in mind, check in to the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa (100 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan. 561-533-6000, eaupalmbeach.com) on Palm Beach Island. The property offers easy access to the glamour of Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue boutiques. The 42,000-square-foot, five-star Eau Spa is equal parts pampering, rejuvenation and indulgence.
Foodies can try out one of four tours, like the West Palm Beach Food Tour (westpalmbeachfoodtour.com) that takes you off the beaten path or the Damn Good Beer Bus tour (damngoodbeerbus.com), which includes more than a dozen breweries. For more info, visit thepalmbeaches.com.
This section of Miami Beach, which spans north of 23rd Street to 63rd Street, was relatively quiet for many years, favored mostly by locals looking for uncrowded shoreline to spread out their beach mats and umbrellas for a lazy beach day. A neighborhood revitalization rooted in art and culture has taken place recently, in large part thanks to the Faena District, which includes the Faena Forum (an art and entertainment space), Bazaar (a retail component featuring a curated mix of brands) and Park. At the center of the district, the striking Faena Hotel Miami Beach (3201 Collins Ave., Faena District, Miami Beach. 305-534-8800, faena.com/miami-beach) is an unabashedly glamorous and fantastical creation. Take, for example, the shining, gilded mastodon sculpture (by Damien Hirst) set against a backdrop of the sea. Other popular hotels in the Mid-Beach area now include the Confidante Miami Beach (theconfidantehotel.com) and the Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club (cadillachotelmiamibeach.com), which recently completed a renovation.
Scenic Highway 30-A/South Walton
Brilliant emerald green waters and extra fine white sand await visitors to the 26-mile stretch of coastline that’s known as South Walton in the Florida Panhandle. Cruising down the 19-mile-long paved bike path to grab a bite from Charlie’s Donut Truck in Alys Beach, horseback riding through an untouched state park or paddleboarding on one of the rare coastal dune lakes are just some of the ways you can enjoy some adventure on 30-A. But whiling away the day on the beach — maybe with a little game of beachfront bocce ball and an ice-cold brew thrown in — is still one of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of this popular vacation spot.
This summer, South Walton will officially celebrate the debut of the nation’s first permanent underwater sculpture exhibit, the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA). The museum will be comprised of seven original sculptures, which will be deployed with SWARA’s existing artificial reef project. UMA will rest in about 50 to 60 feet of water on a 1-acre patch of seabed 0.71 miles off Grayton Beach State Park.
Frequent visitors will be happy to see a handful of new restaurants and boutiques have opened this spring, including Pescado Seafood Grill & Rooftop Bar (74 Town Hall Road, Rosemary Beach. 850-213-4600, rooftop30a.com) — a kid-free place to grab dinner and drinks while taking in the Gulf views. Traveling with the whole family? Visit Seaside’s beloved Bud & Alley’s Rooftop Bar & Grill (2236 E. County Road 30-A, Seaside. 850-231-5900, budandalleys.com) for a meal overlooking the ocean.
In terms of lodging, there are a few resorts in the area to choose from, as well as plenty of vacation rental homes and condos, but they book up fast! Check out discover30a.com or visitsouthwalton.com.
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