Beaches + Islands
The Gulf Islands—a string of seven scenic barrier isles with white sand beaches, nature trails, and historic fortifications that stretch from the southwest corner of Mississippi to the east end of Florida—have finally reopened after suffering severe damage in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, and are ready for visitors. About $42 million in all—$23 million for facility and infrastructure
repairs (trails, buildings, campground, cleanup, etc.) and $19.1
million for all the roads—was spent on clean-up and repair efforts.
While each island has something to offer, our favorite is quiet Santa Rosa Island. Start your trip on U.S. 98 and take it to the new Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center (850/934-2600) in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where you can peruse books about local natural history. After crossing a three-mile bridge, head west on Fort Pickens Road for seven miles until you reach the 1829 stronghold; after, you can spend the afternoon on the snow-white beach, or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, snorkel off the pier to spot seahorses, pinfish, and the remains of the USS Massachusetts, a 1920s battleship. From there, pick up J. Earle Bowden Way, a winding road along the Gulf of Mexico with views of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the distance.
Bree Sposato is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.
Photo courtesy of National Parks Service
Back in May, my fiancé and I were all geared up for a trip to St. Martin—until, 24 hours before our flight—Dan realized his passport had expired. After spending a good hour researching expedited passport fees, and realizing there was no way we were leaving the country, I called Jet Blue and priced out fares for all of its beachy destinations—from Long Beach to Fort Lauderdale. Turns out sunny Orlando was the cheapest to fly to (by hundreds of dollars). We reserved a rental car, and the next morning we were off—with no hotel rooms reserved, much less an idea of where we’d end up.
Block Island? Isn’t that somewhere off the coast of Canada? Or one of the Thousand Islands? Nobody knows The Block. And that’s precisely what makes it so special (and what makes me hesitant to post this). Just off the coast of Rhode Island, this secret gem is a throwback to the mid-1800s: antique-filled Victorian inns, miles of pristine rolling hills, and towering cliffs with stunning views of the Atlantic.
On a recent trip to St. Bart's, I spotted the owner of the Revlon empire, Ron Perelman, on his yacht in Gustavia Harbor, a Rockefeller or two shopping in the village of St. Jean, and Jon Bon Jovi having dinner at Eden Rock. Sure, they can afford the prices here—it's the winter getaway of the rich and famous, after all. But what about we normal, not-so-recession-proof folk?Here's my short list for how to do the island affordably:
STAY: The Hôtel Baie des Anges, on the northwest corner of the island, is on one of the prettiest beaches around—it also shares its sands with the tony Hotel Isle de France. The people watching here is great. The really good news?Rates here dropped significantly on Apr. 1 (from $415 to $230 for a double room). (Flamands; 590/27-63-61; doubles from $230)
EAT: The year-old beach-front shack O'Corail is run by a local sister/brother team. He's a fisherman. She runs the restaurant. They serve the freshest-caught fish, straight from his boat. (This is big for St. Barts: seasonality and eating local is just catching on here; neighboring Le Sereno hotel brags about its Madagascar prawns, to illustrate my point.) O'Corail does lunch all week and dinner only on weekends. At lunch, order a rum punch and the spiny lobster salad and watch the dozens of kite surfers fly across the Grand Cul de Sac. (Grand Cul de Sac; 590/29-33-27; lunch for two $60)
DO: Rent snorkle gear at Marine Service and head to Gouverneur Beach. It's secluded, with crystal blue water and the some of the best snorkling on the island: My boyfriend and I spotted French anglefish, sargeant majors, sea turtles, rays, and a nurse shark. (Quai du Yacht Club, Gustavia; 590/590-27-70-34; daily gear rentals, from $20)
Clark Mitchell is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.