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South Beach Diet (the Indulgent Version)

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I recently returned from a weeklong trip to Miami Beach with my good friend Peter. He turned out to be the perfect travel buddy because, like me, we had two plans for the trip: lots of beach time and lots of good food.

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We checked into the recently renovated Palms Hotel & Spa on Collins and instantly fell in love. The view from our seventh floor Oceanfront room was amazing; I did not grow the least bit weary of waking up to it. Though if you want to splurge and really get the full Oceanfront experience, I'd suggest booking one of the top-floor suites, which are bigger, with hardwood floors and balconies. Otherwise, the Oceanfront is truly the only choice. How could you be that close and not opt to see the sea at all times??

I'm sure you can find the beach, so let's get to the food part, shall we?

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Waiting for the Wave in Hanalei

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When the tsunami alert was announced for Hawaii on the morning of February 27, keening sirens echoed through the seaside north-Kauai town of Hanalei. Within the hour, everyone in the low-lying community—including me—had evacuated for the higher ground of other neighborhoods.

That’s what I thought, anyway. But once I’d settled myself on a lofty nearby hotel veranda—from which I could safely survey the still-tranquil sweep of Hanalei Bay—I realized some Hanaleians had stayed behind. I could see them, bobbing on the bright slashes of their boards just a few hundred yards from shore: surfers. Scared of the impending tsunami? Hell, no. They were hoping to ride it.

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After the week I’d spent in Hanalei, this made sense. Though the town’s just a speck on the map—and unsung compared to famed Hawaiian surfing meccas like Oahu’s Sunset Beach—it takes its waves very, very seriously. Existence in Hanalei revolves around the area’s handful of shore and reef breaks; every car in town has at least one board strapped to the roof. World-class pros—Laird Hamilton, and Bruce and Andy Irons—are seen frequently; landlubbers and beach bunnies, not so much.

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Just Back: Ambergris Caye, Belize

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On such a wintery day, I can’t help but daydream about my recent whirlwind trip to Ambergris Caye, a small island off the northeastern coast of Belize—a place so consistently warm that residents easily (and even somewhat wistfully) recall in detail the one day of the year they wore a sweater. I was there to check out a hotel for T+L’s “40 Secret Beach Hideaways” (March 2010), and expected to spend most of my time stretched out on a white sand beach, piña colada in hand. The island, after all, is only 25 miles long and one mile wide. And while I did my fair share of reclining, I was surprised—and thrilled—to discover how many activities are available to the traveler. Here’s my short list for how to best explore the island and its surroundings.

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Just Back: St. Bart’s and Anguilla

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I’ve just returned from a blissfully relaxing trip to the deep Caribbean. After the Christmas rush, my family annually escapes to the West Indies for a week of sailing, diving, and, with months-in-advance reservations in place, great food! As French and posh as ever, St. Bart’s seemed virtually unaffected by the unfavorable economic climate—with Microsoft magnate Paul Allen’s 416 foot mega-yacht Octopus in the lead, an unparalleled collection of pristine 150+ footers took up their usual spots on Gustavia’s glitzy dock.

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That is, until a powerful tide and unforeseen surge forced the multimillion dollar vessels to leave their front-row seats on the flashy dock and retreat to the outer harbor (where our relatively diminutive sailboat lay), leaving the high-profile passengers to be shuttled in their heels and tuxes to the mainland in lieu of stepping right off their boat onto dry ground. A nice reminder that being on a boat does, in fact, involve being in contact with water!

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Contest Watch: Holiday Edition

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Tis the season for toys and presents, but what about getting your 2010 travel calendar in line? These three contests might make for one heck of a New Year.

Ultimate Fiji Adventurer
Now – January 1st
Make your New Year’s resolution to be more adventurous. Tourism Fiji has launched a video contest to give away a pair of roundtrip tickets to Fiji on Air Pacific (from Los Angeles) and seven nights—with meals—at Sonaisali Island Resort. Contestants must submit a 2-3 minute video explaining why they are an Ultimate Fiji Adventurer at www.fijime.tv/videocontest. After entries close on January 1st, it’s up to the public to vote on their favorite submission. We could not confirm at publilcation time, but contestants shoudle expect to pay taxes and fees.

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Sale of the Year: 25 Cents a Night for a Caribbean Getaway!

200910-b-avijpgAfter almost a decade as an editor at Travel + Leisure, I’ve developed a sixth sense about offers that seem too good to be true. Which is why I was justifiably skeptical when I ran across the U.S. Virgin Island’s CENTsational sale (while doing research for an appearance on the Today Show; watch the video here).

The cynic in me was tempted to write the deal off a a clever marketing ploy with enough fine print to fill an encyclopedia. However, after examining the details closely, I have to say that I’m sold. Here’s the back story: to celebrate the newly minted U.S.V.I. quarter, a dozen hotels on St. Thomas and St. Croix , including Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort, are offering a 25 cent nightly rate for a three-night stay (plus nominal taxes and fees).

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Go Local: The Broken Egg in Siesta Key, FL

Sure, sure, Siesta Key, Florida, is known for having one of the world’s nicest beaches, but it's also home to some of the world’s best breakfasts. The Broken Egg (140 Avenida Messina) came recommended to my breakfast-deprived boyfriend and me upon our arrival at our Sarasota hotel after taking one of those ridiculously early LGA to TPA flights.

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“It’s where the locals go,” said the hotel manager (and sure enough the BE’s website plays “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”).

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Vintage Summer Getaway: Old Orchard Beach, Maine

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I was pretty sure it was 2009 when I hopped in my friend Lisa’s Volvo in Boston, but when we parked in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, two hours later, I felt like we’d driven back in time into the 1950’s. Our intended beach getaway had magically transported us to the midst of classic Americana in all its kitschy, fun glory—think neon lights, vintage diners, old-school motels, and waterfront amusement park, not to mention the slow-pace of a much simpler era….

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The Gulf Islands National Seashore is Back!

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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

When Travel Plans Change Course—Hang On for the Ride

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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.

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