Home of the 2021 PGA Championship, Kiawah Island, South Carolina, (306 miles southeast of Atlanta) is renowned for its golf. But it also makes an ideal romantic beach destination for couples looking to pamper themselves and relax in luxurious, uncrowded comfort by the sea. The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort ($545 and up, Sanctuary Beach Drive, 800-654-2924, kiawahresort.com) offers the Kiawah Spa Romance Package, a couples-oriented coastal escape that includes rose petal turndown service, a couples massage at the spa, dinner at The Ocean Room, and breakfast each morning, among other romantic perks. For couples who like golfing together, the His and Hers Package includes many of the same features plus rounds of play. Stop by The Market at Town Center (5480 Sea Forest Drive, 843-768-2775) to pick up provisions for a picnic on the beach.
A historic lighthouse rises above the trees of the maritime forest at Hunting Island State Park offering panoramic views of this unspoiled coast.
Courtesy of DiscoverSouthCarolina.com
Wild at heart
Natural beauty abounds on Hunting Island, South Carolina, (282 miles southeast of Atlanta). Hunting Island State Park ($8 entrance fee, 2555 Sea Island Parkway, 843-838-2011, southcarolinaparks.com/hunting-island) features nearly five miles of pristine beach, a maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, 3,000 acres of salt marsh and 10 miles of trails. Climb the steps of the historic lighthouse for a panoramic view of the coast from on-high. Stay in a tent or an RV at the campground ($30 and up) at the north end of the island. The closest restaurant is Johnson Creek Tavern ($9 and up, 2141 Sea Island Parkway, Harbor Island, South Carolina, 843-838-4166, www.johnsoncreektavern.com), a classic beach bar serving burgers and seafood fare. It’s tradition to write a note on a dollar bill and pin it to the wall with the thousands of other bills. Hunting Island is also the ferry embarkation point to nearby St. Phillips Island, the former private retreat of Ted Turner, now under state park control.
The Digital Graffiti Festival in Alys Beach features artwork projected onto the sides of buildings after dark. This year it will be a drive-thru event.
Courtesy of Visit South Walton
Lap of luxury
Stylish Alys Beach, Florida, (300 miles south of Atlanta) is a luxurious, Mediterranean-inspired master-planned community along the Panhandle’s Scenic Highway 30A. Everything about Alys (pronounced Alice) is finely curated, from the exquisite poolside cabana-dining experience at Caliza Restaurant ($32 and up, 3 Nonesuch Way, 850-213-5700, alysbeach.com/caliza-restaurant) to the designer brands and high-end beachwear at Alys Shoppe (30 Mark Twain Lane, 850-213-5550, www.alysshoppe.com). There aren’t any hotels in the village, but The Pearl ($638 and up, 63 Main St., 850-588-2881, www.thepearlrb.com), is a chic beachside boutique hotel one mile away. The white masonry walls of Alys village become a canvas for artists from around the globe each spring during the Digital Graffiti Festival (May 12-15). This unique after-dark art-meets-architecture event uses the latest digital technology to project moving, changing works of art onto the sides of buildings around town. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle of artwork and light that will be a drive-thru festival experience this year due to the pandemic. (Alys Beach Guest Services, 9581 FL 30A E, 850-213-5555, alysbeach.com)
The beaches on St. Simons Island are that rare breed that allow you to have your dog off-leash at certain times.
Courtesy of Explore Georgia
Most beaches that allow dogs have a strict leash policy, but St. Simons Island (311 miles southeast of Atlanta) has a rare off-leash policy, with a summertime caveat. Here, your dog can enjoy the beach and the surf without being on a leash as long as your fur-baby is under your immediate control. But between Memorial Day and Labor Day, dogs are only allowed on the beach from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. Beachfront resort The King and Prince ($197 and up, 201 Arnold Road, 912-638-3631, www.kingandprince.com) provides dog-friendly accommodations. Many restaurants offer alfresco dog-friendly dining areas, including Southern Soul Barbeque ($11 and up, 2020 Demere Road, 912-638-7685, www.southernsoulbbq.com). Massengale Park (1350 Ocean Blvd., 912-554-7780) is a seaside picnic spot shaded by live oaks with beach access. (Golden Isles Welcome Center, 529 Beachview Drive, 912-638-9014, www.goldenisles.com)
The Interstate Mullet Toss is a huge annual springtime party/competition on the beach at the Flora-Bama Lounge to see who can toss a fish the farthest across the state line.
Courtesy of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism
Perdido Key (365 miles southwest of Atlanta), which straddles the Florida-Alabama state line, is famous for Flora-Bama Lounge, Package & Oyster Bar ($5 and up, 17401 Perdido Key Drive, Pensacola, Florida, 251-980-5118, www.florabama.com), one of the world’s best bars celebrated in song by the likes of Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney. A timeworn patchwork of sprawling bars and stages on the sand overlooking the ocean, it’s the type of place where you’ll find millionaires and bikers hanging out together and brassieres hanging from the rafters. The signature drink is the Bushwhacker, a frozen and creamy chocolatey-boozy concoction, and a popular annual event is the Interstate Mullet Toss (April 23-25), a competition to see who can throw a mullet — the common local fish, not the bad hairstyle — the farthest over the state line. Book a condo next door at Phoenix X ($225 and up, 29576 Perdido Beach Blvd., Orange Beach, 800-211-7892, www.brett-robinson.com/beach-condo/phoenix-x) so you can walk to and from the action without getting in a car.
Some of the best surf spots in the Southeast are found at Sebastian Inlet State Park.
Courtesy of Visit Indian River County for VISIT FLORIDA
Some of the best surfing in the Southeast can be found in Melbourne Beach, Florida, (526 miles south of Atlanta) at Sebastian Inlet State Park ($8 entrance fee, 9700 S. FL A1A, 321-984-4852, www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/sebastian-inlet-state-park) along Florida’s Treasure Coast. Due to an uprise of the ocean floor just offshore from the state park’s three-mile stretch of beach, surfers come here from around the country to catch the waves. One popular spot is off the north jetty of the inlet, a ride called “First Peak,” known for its consistent breaks and long runs. South of the inlet is another hot surf spot farther offshore called “Monster Hole” providing similar breaks. The closest hotel to the park is the Seashell Suites Resort ($245 and up, 8795 S FL A1A, 321-409-0500, www.seashellsuites.com) on the beach one mile north of the park entrance. The jetties off the inlet are also good saltwater fishing spots, as are the catwalks underneath the A1A bridge. Other activities include swimming and snorkeling in a dedicated swimming cove, and kayaking and standup paddle boarding on the Indian River Lagoon across the inlet from the beach. Rentals and gear are available inside the park from Surfside Grill and Adventures ($20 and up per hour, 321-724-5424, surfsidegrillandadventures.com), which also has a casual restaurant, the only eatery in the state park.
The Kindred Spirit Mailbox is a solitary oasis for writing notes and reading those left by others in the dunes of North Carolina's remote Bird Island Coastal Reserve."
Courtesy of North Carolina's Brunswick Islands
Peace and quiet
Sunset Beach, North Carolina, (386 miles east of Atlanta) is like Mayberry by the sea with an oceanfront blissfully free of commercialism and overdevelopment — no resorts, no chains, no high-rises, no amusement parks — only beach houses, a fishing pier and places like the Sunset Inn ($159 and up, 9 North Shore Drive E., 888-575-1001, www.thesunsetinn.net). The 14-room inn overlooks a salt marsh a five-minute-walk from the beach. The town is adjacent to the 1,481-acre Bird Island Coastal Reserve (8468 Bay St., 877-623-6748, deq.nc.gov) boasting 1.5 miles of undeveloped beach, so seclusion is easy to find. Walk a mile south from the pier to leave a message for fellow wanderers in one of the notebooks at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, a remote postbox in the dunes containing notes from those who’ve made the trek to this solitary spot inside the reserve. (Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority, 800-795-7263, www.ncbrunswick.com)