Can’t Take an International Beach Vacation? Here’s Where to Go in the U.S. Instead

These domestic beach escapes are as lovely as their overseas counterparts

Theresa Boehl
Theresa Boehl
Posted on: April 19, 2017

Though it seems there’s no end to fantasies of far-flung beach getaways, there are plenty of reasons to take vacation closer to home, whether it’s to save travel time or money. But don’t think staying in the U.S. means you have to forgo an authentic beach experience.

Here we reveal our top picks for domestic alternatives to international beach destinations, whose amenities and attributes are comparable to their overseas counterparts.

Instead of San Juan, Puerto Rico, go to Chicago

San Juan’s coast is lined with luxury high-rise hotels overlooking the ocean, especially in places like Condado Beach and Isla Verde. Chicago, too, offers amazing skyline views right from the beachfront, and Lake Michigan’s vastness and enchanting blue hues are more impressive in the summer than neophytes may realize.

Weekends are loud and rowdy at North Avenue Beach, the most popular sandy stretch in the city, complete with food vendors, parking and a beach house with restrooms. Make the trek up to scenic Loyola Beach in the Roger’s Park neighborhood for a more quiet, family-friendly experience.

Chicago’s nightlife kicks into high gear after sundown, just as it does in San Juan. Get stunning bird’s-eye views of the twinkling city lights and the lakefront while dining at the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower. Later, hop on the Blue Line “L” train to Wicker Park for speakeasy-style surroundings and high-end pre-prohibition cocktails at the Violet Hour.

And if you don’t want to miss Latin culture, rest assured there’s no shortage in the Windy City. Head to Humboldt Park, home to the city’s large Puerto Rican community, to try a cafe con leche or a jibarito sandwich, a local treat of steak, garlic mayonnaise, cheese, lettuce and tomato squeezed between two slices of fried plantains. Don’t miss Saturday nights at Nacional 27, an upscale club and the best place to dance salsa, bachata and merengue until 3 a.m.

Instead of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, go to Catalina Island

Charlotte Amalie’s lush, tropical hillsides are dotted with colorful dwellings overlooking the bay in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. In Avalon, on California’s Catalina Island, the mountainous landscape and picturesque bay filled with boats make it similar in appearance to this Caribbean escape, but Avalon has one huge advantage: easy access to several nearby beach areas, some rocky and some with soft sands.

After you’ve strolled through the quaint streets of Avalon and sampled fresh catches at one of the town’s seafood restaurants, take a Jeep eco-tour offered by the Catalina Island Conservancy to see the lesser-known undeveloped parts of the island.

Instead of Punta Cana, go to Siesta Key, Florida

What travelers love most about Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic are its marvelous blue waters, it’s sugary sands and its carefree island vibe. You’ll find these things aplenty in Siesta Key, Florida, which has been winning accolades in recent years for its underrated beauty. In fact, in 2016 Dr. Beach named it second in his annual list of the beach beaches in the United States.

Unlike Florida’s Atlantic beach towns, Siesta Key gives access to the calmer blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, making it perfect for blissful morning dips and easy offshore snorkeling. If palm trees are a must-have in your beach vacation photos, head a bit further south to Naples or Ft. Myers Beach for more tropical foliage.

Instead of the Bahamas, go to the Florida Keys

The string of Bahamas islands includes a smattering of skinny land masses surrounded by aquamarine waters. Eleuthera is a growing hotspot home to white sands, coral reefs, palm trees and panoramic ocean views — not unlike the Florida Keys.

To find your perfect low-key Keys beach escape, drive from Miami down to Key West and stop along the way at breathtaking beaches like Sombrero Beach in Marathon and Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key, both located along the Overseas Highway, the main thoroughfare connecting the Keys’ string of islets.

There’s a surplus of quirky bars, seafood restaurants and cigar shops to explore in Key West’s Old Town, but to reach the most remote island in the Keys, book an excursion to Dry Tortugas National Park, site of a 19th century fort and a handful of tiny, secluded white-sand beaches. You’ll be surrounded on all sides by water, and there’s no better place for an offshore snorkeling session.

Instead of Los Cabos, go to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a beach-lover’s best kept secret. Some of the nation’s most stunning, cleanest and least crowded beaches can be found up here. But the state’s crown jewel of natural paradise can be found near Munising at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, whose aquamarine waters and towering rock formations bear a striking resemblance to the southern tip of Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas, famous for its Arch.

After a boat tour near the forested lakeshore, drive to nearby Grand Marais for a quick bite at the West Bay Diner and Delicatessen, a vintage-style greasy spoon serving breakfast and lunch. Then plan to relax on the town’s crescent-shaped golden-sand beach, or head to beautiful Sable Falls, located just a short drive from downtown.

Instead of the Mediterranean, go to California’s Southern Coast

Pick a town on the Southern California coast — Pismo Beach, Laguna Beach, San Clemente or La Jolla for example — and you’ll find a similar climate and vegetation as you’d find in Mediterranean towns in Spain or France, as well as craggy coastlines with rocky promontories and long wooden piers jutting out into the sea.

San Clemente has been dubbed the “Spanish Village by the Sea,” and charms visitors with its elegant Spanish Colonial architecture — the hillside Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens might be the town’s best example.


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