After I dump my bag at Polly's and go for a swim, the two of us head into Ocean Beach for dinner. On midsummer nights the crowds can be overwhelming, but the rest of the time, Ocean Beach is a sturdy little village, American flag flying on the green. At Matthew's Seafood House (near the entrance to Ocean Beach; 631/583-8016; dinner for two $80) Polly and I laze on the dock overlooking the bay. The tables are covered with flowered oilcloth, Frank Sinatra is playing on the sound system, the steamers are succulent, and the fish is fresh. You can have it cooked any way, deep-fried, sautéed, broiled, or Mediterranean-style, with olives and tomatoes. It's the best place in town for lunch or dinner—you can also dock your boat here. Maguire Bayfront Restaurant (631/583-8800; dinner for two $80), the old standby at the other end of the village, also has a dock. As kids, we were taken there by our parents for lobster; as grown-ups we still come to eat—and reminisce.
For a casual visitor who wants to spend a day on Fire Island, Ocean Beach is a good place to begin; another is the Pines. On my second day I take a water taxi to the Pines, six miles from Ocean Beach. With its roller-coaster walkways, dense woods, tunnels of greenery, and a harbor that could be in the south of France, it's the prettiest village of all. I stop at Marco (36 Fire Island Blvd., Fire Island Pines; 631/597-8888; dinner for two $80), an Italian restaurant near the harbor, for fresh mozzarella-and-tomato salad and snippets of conversation.
That night, back in Seaview, I sit on Polly's deck, listening to the crackle of driftwood under the feet of the deer in the backyard and the tinkle of ice from the house next door. Later, a glass of wine in hand, I walk to the dunes and sit on the wooden steps that lead down to the beach. The moon is up. There's no sound at all—no cars, no voices—except for the surf hitting the sand, and Fire Island seems, to me, dreamlike and wrapped in blissful memory.
THE FACTS GETTING THERE Take the Long Island Rail Road (www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr) from New York City's Penn Station or drive to the ferry station in Bay Shore (for Ocean Beach, Seaview, and Ocean Bay Park) or Sayville (Fire Island Pines, Cherry Grove). Water taxis run regularly from Ocean Beach (near the ferry dock) to various towns, including the Pines, and cost about $12 round-trip. You can also call South Bay Water Taxis (631/665-8885). WHERE TO STAY For rental listings, go to www.fireisland.com. Hotels can be underwhelming (shared baths; no air-conditioning). Recommended: Houser's Hotel (Ocean Beach; 631/583-8900; doubles from $100 weekdays) and the Botel (Fire Island Pines; 631/597-6500; doubles from $90 weekdays).
31 In a natural harbor between Lakes Charlevoix and Michigan, Charlevoix is a surf-and-turf playground for monied Midwesterners. Victorian houses, old-fashioned ice cream parlors, and antiques shops dot the downtown district, which offers concerts, art fairs, and fireworks throughout the summer (peak week: the Venetian Festival, July 20-26). Modern resort living is accented by days spent fishing, sailing, and hitting the links—golf enthusiasts swear by the Belvedere (5731 Marion Center Rd.; 231/547-2611). GETTING THERE Charlevoix is an hour's drive northeast on U.S. 31 from Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City. The trip from Detroit on I-75 takes four hours; the drive from Chicago on I-196 takes 5 1/2. WHERE TO STAY The Edgewater Inn (100 Michigan Ave.; 800/748-0424; www.edgewater-charlevoix.com; doubles from $275) has fantastic views of the harbor. WHERE TO EAT Stafford's Weathervane (106 Pine River Lane; 231/547-4311; dinner for two $66), set in an 1800's flour mill, serves up the town's specialty—whitefish broiled on a seasoned oak plank. DON'T MISS Architect Earl Young's unique, mushroom-like stone buildings, all over town.
—David A. Keeps
32 Worlds away from Waikiki, Haleiwa is a laid-back town on Oahu's bucolic North Shore. Snorkelers and sun-seekers gravitate toward Waimea Bay, where cliff divers hurl themselves into the turquoise waters; neophyte surfers learn to "hang ten" on Alii Beach's placid waves. Board rentals and lessons can be arranged at Surf & Sea (62-595 Kamehameha Hwy.; 808/637-9887). GETTING THERE Haleiwa is 28 miles north of Honolulu International Airport. WHERE TO STAY The surfside Sunset Homes (66-030 Kamehameha Hwy.; 808/637-2400; www.sunsethomes.net) rents beach cottages and airy three- and four-bedroom houses. The renovated cottages at Turtle Bay Resort (57-091 Kamehameha Hwy.; 800/203-3650; www.turtlebayresort.com; doubles from $525) have private lanais overlooking the sea, as well as personal butlers. WHERE TO EAT Hit Matsumoto's (66-087 Kamehameha Hwy.; 808/637-4827) for the quintessential Hawaiian treat: shaved ice in tropical flavors. Haleiwa Joes (66-011 Kamehameha Hwy.; 808/637-8005; dinner for two $50) is the place for seared ahi tuna. DON'T MISS The kite surfers at Mokuleia Beach Park, where adrenaline junkies perform aerial acrobatics.
33 WATER'S EDGE Groove Bag's pleather iPod tote, $145; The Architecture of Leisure, by Susan Braden, the story of Florida's signature beach resorts, $35; Solar Exchange SPF 15 sun spray and SPF 25 sun balm, $32 each, by Erno Laszlo; SunStuff SPF 50+ cotton bucket hat, $50; Shield sunglasses with platinum frames, $250, by Montblanc.
34 Any given afternoon, you can hear a screen door creak from 10 blocks away on Sullivan's Island, a three-mile-long spit of land off Charleston. Palmetto trees shade whitewashed houses built as officers' homes in the 1800's. There isn't much to do besides sip iced tea on high-front porches or relax on the fine blond sand with Travel Scrabble, but that hasn't deterred the generations of Southerners who return year after year. GETTING THERE Sullivan's Island is a 20-minute drive from Charleston International Airport. WHERE TO STAY There are no hotels, but a four-bedroom oceanfront house rents for about $3,500 per week in high season (off the beach, prices drop to about $2,200). Contact Great Beach Vacations (800/344-5105; www.greatbeach.com) or Island Realty (866/843-7909; www.islandrealty.com). WHERE TO EAT Casual restaurants line Middle Street, two blocks from the sea. Order the cornbread-fried oysters at Station 22 (2205 Middle St.; 843/883-3355; dinner for two $60). DON'T MISS Fort Moultrie (1214 Middle St.; 843/883-3123), dating from the Revolutionary War and now an outdoor museum.