Big Sur, California
Great For: Nature. Windblown Pfeiffer beats out considerable coastal competition in California, thanks to stunning granite outcrops offshore—one with a tunnel worn through it. Walk on the sand 10 minutes north to Deer Canyon (there’s no sign, but it’s the only canyon you’ll see). A rugged trail angles up and left before ending on the bluffs.
Where To Stay: Post Ranch Inn has added 10 redwood rooms, but the “tree houses,” on nine-foot stilts, are still the best place to channel your inner child.
Pack a Snack: Pick up coffee and freshly made jelly doughnuts three miles away at Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant.
Courtesy of David Heise
Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin
Great For: Families. A five-minute drive through a forest of birch and beech trees brings you to a wide strip of white sand and dunes fringed with high grass on turquoise Lake Michigan.
T+L Tip: At the Big Red Tent pavilion, naturalists answer questions about native flora and fauna.
Where To Stay: Relax on a hammock at Blacksmith Inn.
Beach Eats: Head to Door County’s The White Gull Inn for a classic fish boil: freshly caught whitefish cooked outdoors in a big black cauldron.
Courtesy of Veronica Domingo
Long Branch, New Jersey
Great For: Swimming. Long Branch’s wide sands are lapped by sometimes-sizeable waves (you’ll see surfers doing their thing on windy days). But on calm summer afternoons, they roll in gently enough that kids can play without fear.
Where To Stay: Escape the crowds at Victorian B&B Cedars & Beeches.
Beach Eats: South Beach chic has come to the Jersey Shore, with the opening of the David Collins-designed Avenue brasserie.
Courtesy of Hawaiian Style Organization, LLC
Great For: Seclusion. On Honokalani Road, just off the Hana Highway, is Waianapanapa, a black-sand cove set between cliffs. Watch daredevils paddle their boards beyond the weathered rock arches and lava tubes jutting from the shore.
Shopping Detour: At the Hasegawa General Store, load up on bargain surf shorts and folding beach chairs.
Where To Stay: Book one of the Sea Ranch Cottages facing the Pacific Ocean at Hotel Hana-Maui.
Beach Eats: The half-pound burgers at Hana Ranch Restaurant are both substantial and delicious.
Great For: People-watching. A short drive from downtown, you’ll see everyone from lobster-red Ditka fans to bronzed, buff young professionals swimming, sunning, and spiking volleyballs.
T+L Tip: Rent bikes and all types of sports equipment at the North Avenue Beach House.
Where To Stay: At day’s end, beachgoers clean up for the J Bar at The James Chicago.
Beach Eats: Try the meaty, charred burgers at R. J. Grunts, a restaurant with a 1970’s hippie shtick. (It’s where über-chef Grant Achatz takes his kids when he’s not at his restaurant Alinea.)
Great For: Swimming. Over 40 miles of coast hug the base of the Santa Monica Mountains, but natives know to take the Pacific Coast Highway straight to Zuma for mellow swells and two miles of sizzling sand.
T+L Tip: The area has 2,025 parking spaces, but be sure to arrive by 10:30 a.m.—come noon, the lots are full.
Check-In: Media mogul David Geffen revamped a faded 18-year-old hotel to open Malibu Beach Inn on Carbon Beach. All 47 wood-and-stone rooms have fireplaces and oceanfront balconies.
Beach Eats: Sit down to a plate of grilled salmon and sourdough bread at the casual, terraced Malibu Seafood.
Michael Vitti / Alamy
Long Island, New York
Great For: Seclusion. Ask any surfer or fisherman, and he’ll extol the virtues of Montauk’s shoreline. Not as well known, however, is Napeague, between Montauk and Amagansett.
T+L Tip: The only way to reach the beach is via a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it right turn off Route 27 East.
Shopping Detour: For fashionable swimwear, head to Tracy Feith’s summer-only shop.
Where To Stay: There’s no need for a permit at Napeague, but guests at gray-shingled Gansett Green Manor receive free parking permits for other Hamptons beaches.
Beach Eats: Lobster rolls are a local favorite at the roadside Lobster Roll Restaurant, a.k.a. Lunch.
Santa Barbara, California
Great For: People-watching. This golden half-mile sliver, in the tony Montecito neighborhood, has head-on views of Santa Cruz Island and almost-as-reliable sightings of local celebs like Kevin Costner.
T+L Tip: The patio scene at Cava almost upstages the rock-shrimp tacos.
Where To Stay: Ask for the complimentary Beach Butler services (chair setup, two-way cordless phones) at the Four Seasons Biltmore.
Cool Down: Sip a chilled local white wine at the Montecito Inn’s quaint Montecito Cafe.
Courtesy of The Sanctuary
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Great For: Families. South of Charleston, starfish and conch shells dot Kiawah Island’s expansive 10-mile crescent.
T+L Tip: For privacy, head to the two easternmost miles of the beach.
Where To Stay: From its PGA-worthy golf courses to tie-dyeing sessions at the kids’ camp, the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island has everyone covered.
Pack a Lunch: Specializing in creamy she-crab soup (lump crabmeat, crab roe, and mirepoix), The Market at Town Center, prepares everything to go.
Courtesy of Preston Manning
Great For: Nature. Two miles into the 11-mile-long Kalalau Trail on Kauai’s Napali coast, Hanakapiai is a welcome pitstop. Tucked between two narrow cliffs, the beach is framed by a deposit of boulders.
T+L Tip: The beach is a bit of a tease: swimming is strongly discouraged, because of the violent surf.
Where To Stay: Plan ahead to book the one-room Jungle Cabana, if only for the outdoor, torch-lit bathtub shielded by a bamboo fence.
Beach Eats: One of the last stops on the way to the trailhead, the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant and Fish Market has just the perfect fish dish: ahi poke, a yellowfin tuna salad with wasabi and pickled ginger.