Fave beach getaways
Virginia Beach: Fort Story, with the old (left) and new Cape Henry lighthouses. Photo courtesy Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
March can be one cruel stretch of days—oppressive gray skies, blustery winds and frigid temps that linger. And linger. There’s less excitement and more weariness in the voices of our weather experts as they warn of yet another light snowfall. One more slippery crawl on the morning commute. One more chilly night by the fire. Had enough?
Think beach! Smooth white sand underfoot, crystal blue sky overhead, the lull of the surf, the sun’s warming rays—ahhh, that’s more like it. Whether you’re heading out tomorrow or later this summer, now is a good time to set some plans in motion. So we chose six beach destinations, based in part on travel information tracked by AAA Ohio Auto Club, that top the list of favorites for Central Ohioans. They are, in no particular order, Virginia Beach, Virginia; Outer Banks, North Carolina; Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and Naples and Miami Beach in Florida.
We tapped locals from these seaside towns and longtime vacationers to share their perspectives. We picked a seven-day getaway in June for pricing, but, of course, the tab will vary depending on location and amenities, among other things. And, for fun, we’ve included glam oceanfront hotels, condos where appropriate and roomy beach houses meant to be shared with several of your closest friends. But most budgets can be accommodated with a little web searching.
As for the fly-or-drive debate, factor in the cost of a rental car once you’re there if you choose to fly. All drive times are approximate and do not include bathroom breaks, scenic overlooks or toddler meltdowns.
“We throw off our shoes and don’t put them back on until we absolutely have to,” says Jeffrey Lyttle of his family’s time spent on the Outer Banks each summer. Lyttle, regional VP for communications at JPMorgan Chase, has been making the trip to the northernmost part of the barrier islands—Duck, Corolla and points beyond—for more than 20 years.
“It’s a family-centric vacation,” he says. “We go with two other couples and their kids, cook nice meals together, enjoy cocktails, read books. No scheduled anything.”
They’ve even booked into the secluded Carova Beach, accessible only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The 11-mile swath of beach extends north of Corolla to the Virginia border, and it is the designated sanctuary for the wild Spanish mustangs that have inhabited the island for centuries. Just rolling dunes and patches of sea oats and breakers; no supermarkets or 7-Elevens. “You have to be strategic about groceries and trips into town,” Lyttle says.
Don’t picture a pup tent existence, though. “They have huge 10-bedroom oceanfront mansions up there,” Lyttle says with a laugh. “But, overall, it’s less expensive to rent in Carova because of the hassle. Plus, the homes tend to be newer.”
Most vacationers opt for a beach house rental since hotels are scarce on the Outer Banks. Lyttle recommends two websites—twiddy.com and carolinadesigns.com—for rentals, area information and attractions.
While Lyttle and crew enjoy cooking, there are several dining hot spots in nearby towns worth noting. Jackie and Stephen Maltby, beach house owners in Corolla, find the Lifesaving Station (thesanderling.com/dining) in Duck to be consistently good. Much of the menu is locally sourced, with specialties such as roasted Carolina sunburst trout and grilled North Carolina shrimp and grits. “Great food and it’s low-key, casual,” says Jackie.
If there’s a meat lover in the group, Jackie suggests the hardwood-grilled steaks at Mike Dianna’s Grill Room (grillroomobx.com). It is part of TimBuck II, an enclave of shops in Corolla that’s fun for post-dinner browsing, from hand-woven hammocks to chunky gemstone jewelry.
Two caveats, however, from anyone who’s ever vacationed here: Beware of going to the Food Lion and crossing the bridge on Saturdays.
The Wright Memorial Bridge connects the mainland to the northern Outer Banks. And most vacationers have Saturday-to-Saturday rentals. Avoid using the bridge on Saturdays from noon until 5 pm or you’ll sit there for hours. Food Lion used to be the only grocery store in Corolla—a free-for-all on Saturdays as renters piled their carts high with provisions for the week. “There’s a Harris Teeter now, too,” says Jackie, “but Saturdays are still nuts.”
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 12 hours. Norfolk International Airport (85 miles to Duck), from $203.
GENERAL INFO: outerbanks.org.
FOR THRILL SEEKERS: Dive: Explore underwater shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic. outerbanksdiving.com. Soar: Hang glide off the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Kitty Hawk Kites. kittyhawk.com. Splash: Jet skiing, kite boarding, parasailing, Kitty Hawk Kites.
PLAY A ROUND: Currituck Club. currituckclubobx.org.
DISCOVER: Wright Brothers National Memorial, site of first sustained powered flights, Kill Devil Hills. nps.gov/wrbr.
As the centerpiece of the Grand Strand’s 60-mile stretch of shoreline, Myrtle Beach is a wild medley of upscale gated communities, mammoth beachfront hotels and older seaside cottages. Some vacationers come for the watersports and fishing rodeos, while others seek out the stock car racing, outlet malls or Ripley’s Aquarium (myrtlebeach.ripleyaquariums.com).
But Myrtle Beach also is getting to be known as a major golf capital. “Over the last 10 years, it’s become a mecca for golf. Number one for highest density of courses, over 100,” says Blacklick’s Tom McFadden, partner in Columbus Consulting International, who, with his golf buddies, is playing the top 100 courses in the world. “All the great course designers have weighed in. And it’s one of the most affordable places.”
His top two picks: Davis Love III’s course at Barefoot Resort & Golf (barefootgolf.com), and the Robert Trent Jones layout at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club (thedunesclub.net ). “Myrtle Beach has such a variety in terrain that we can do two courses each day, for two days, and get something that mimics Scotland, then a southeastern coastal garden,” he says. “Next day, hills and moguls and huge sand bunkers.”
Myrtle Beach shifts gears easily, though, for those not interested in hitting the links. Imagine what the perfect beach vacation would be for a 12-year-old named Olivia and her very best friend. Hint: Think really big waterslides. Last summer, Becky Collins, Olivia’s mom and park ranger for Columbus Metro Parks, booked them all into the Oceanfront Dunes Village Resort (dunesvillage.com), which sports a giant indoor water park.
In downtown Myrtle Beach, they also explored the boardwalk, which had just been renovated, and watched fireworks explode in dazzling colors over the ocean. Since Olivia adores horses, they took in Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction. “We can’t wait to go again this year,” Collins says.
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 10 hours 30 minutes. Myrtle Beach International Airport, from $360.
GENERAL INFO: visitmyrtlebeach.com.
STAY: Hotel: Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, from $190 per night. marinainnatgrandedunes.com. Condo: North Beach Plantation, glitzy oceanfront, four bedrooms, four baths, $5,235 per week. northbeachrentals.com. House: Surfside Beach oceanfront, four bedrooms, four baths, sleeps 12, $3,920 per week. seasiderentalsonline.com.
EAT: Greg Norman’s Australian Grille at Barefoot Landing. gregnormansaustraliangrille.com.
GO: Marsh Walk at Murrells Inlet (shops, restaurants, watersports rentals). murrellsinletmarshwalk.com.
STROLL: Brookgreen Gardens (National Historic Landmark, gardens and statuary). brookgreen.org.
If you don’t vacation in this Gulf Coast town, you probably know somebody who does. It’s like our unofficial home away from home.
And there are plenty of good reasons: shell-filled beaches (a collector’s jackpot in the early morning), upscale hotels and restaurants, the Naples Museum of Art (thephil.org/museum/museum.html ), an Everglades excursion just 45 minutes away (southwestfloridaecotours.com) and the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens (caribbeangardens.com).
Julie French, former fashion director for Gulfshore Life magazine, would add Clam Pass Beach Park (explorenaples.com/clam_pass_beach_park.phtml ) to the list. “It’s beautiful,” she says. “You hike a three-quarter-mile boardwalk through a forest of mangroves and the dunes to the beach. They also have a free tram.” There are public restrooms, a concession stand and an $8 parking fee for nonresidents.
Once you’ve cleaned up from your day at the beach, what’s for dinner finds its best answer at Sea Salt (seasaltnaples.com). “Fabrizio Aielli and his wife, Ingrid, the owners, are so welcoming and gracious,” says French of the many evenings she and her husband, Christopher Schulz, former president and publisher of Gulfshore Media, have dined there. Hailed by Esquire in 2009 as one of the nation’s best new restaurants, Sea Salt’s menu reflects Aielli’s Venetian roots: carpaccio, raw oysters, pasta and daily fish that you can personally select from the display case.
When that pesky urge to shop takes over, Naples has several options. For upscale designerwear, French suggests the high-end Marissa Collections (marissacollections.com) on Third Street South.
And then there’s Best of Everything Naples (bestofeverythingnaples.com). Former New Albany real estate agent Suzanne Goeren, who moved to Naples three years ago with her husband, Neil, a consultant, hesitates before describing her favorite find. “People here don’t want everyone to know about this boutique, but it’s got great stuff. Jewelry, fabulous bracelets for $5, purses, scarves, and it’s all so reasonably priced.”
And if you can’t head back home without a ceramic fish platter to remember your time on the Gulf, stop in at Jim Rice’s store, the Clay Place (naplesclayplace.com). “It’s a little gem,” Goeren says. “He makes serving bowls, pool tiles, mugs. But he’s famous for his fish platters. You can tour his warehouse, where he works. There’s music on the patio. Sit and have a lemonade.”
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 19 hours 30 minutes. Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers (42 miles from Naples), from $183.
GENERAL INFO: napleschamber.org.
STAY: Condo: Naples Cay high-rise, two bedrooms from $1,200 per week. premier-properties.com. Hotels: The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, from $249 or the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, from $129. ritzcarlton.com/naples. Naples Grande Beach Resort, from $149. naplesgranderesort.com.
WALK: Docent-led tours through the back alleys of old Naples begin at the Palm Cottage, built in 1895. napleshistoricalsociety.org.
The boardwalk stretches three miles along the heart of Virginia Beach and teems with midday crowds of in-line skaters, laughing teenage girls in bikini tops and cutoffs emerging from the arcade and dads and their small sons walking to the 15th Street Amusement Park to ride the Ferris wheel.
Virginia Beach made its historical mark way back in 1607: The first English colonists landed here, named it Cape Henry and then headed upriver to settle in Jamestown. Tidewater sanctuaries and sandy shores still beckon, but now draw hordes, such as the 10,000 players and 950 teams converging this June to compete in the North American Sand Soccer Championships (sandsoccer.com).
In addition, there are the huge crowds that come for the East Coast Surfing Championship (surfecsc.com) in August. “It’s a big deal,” says Ted Crockin, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student who grew up here catching the waves. The best spots for surfers? “Croatan, next to Camp Pendleton,” Crockin says, “and the First Street Jetty.” For surf cam updates, check surfline.com. If you’ve always wanted to shred the waves, but lacked technique (or nerve), here’s your chance. The Titus International Surf School (titus-international.com) offers private clinics and weeklong camps.
For the skittish landlubber who suddenly spots something—fins?—on the horizon and has visions of Jaws, get a grip. It’s most likely a friendly school of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. They can be seen up close on sea kayak tours, such as the ones Crockin used to give the summer he was a guide with Chesapean Outdoors (chesapean.com). “It’s really cool,” he says. “We’d also see jumping fish, rays, sea turtles.”
If you need a tranquil alternative to the pounding breakers of the Atlantic, Chesapeake Beach, known locally as Chick’s Beach (chicks-beach.com), is bayside. It’s easy going for swimmers or little ones splashing about.
End the day at Lynnhaven Pier, suggests Laura Wood Habr, a Virginia Beach resident and owner of the popular Croc’s 19th Street Bistro (crocsecobistro.com). Habr, her husband and their two young girls consider the pier a favorite spot. “We fish or watch the sun go down. You can grab a bite right there at the Pier Cafe. Simple menu, and they have a good happy hour.”
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 10 hours 30 minutes. Norfolk International Airport (18 miles to Virginia Beach), flights from $203.
GENERAL INFO: vbfun.com.
STAY: Beach house rentals: Croatan oceanfront, four bedrooms, four baths, sleeps 10, private pool, $7,400 per week. atkinsonrealty.com.
Camp: Beachside tent camping sites at False Cape State Park, $11 per night, hike-, bike- or boat-in only. dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks.
DON’T MISS: Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. virginiaaquarium.com.
Hilton Head Island
When Charles Fraser began to imagine the development possibilities for what was, back in 1956, a scruffy outback island used for timber harvesting, he pictured an eco-friendly resort, one that preserved the sensitive tidewater marshes and stately moss-draped live oaks.
Sea Pines was his first in a long series of Hilton Head communities for upscale residents and well-heeled tourists. Fraser envisioned world-class golf, which he got in spades. Today, there are 24 golf courses, including Harbour Town Golf Links, home
of the PGA Heritage Classic, on an island that’s no more than 12 miles long and five miles wide. Even the pristine white beaches have been preserved: Expensive refurbishing projects are undertaken every decade or so to combat beach erosion.
From the outset, good food has been important here, too. “Fraser built the opportunity for fine dining, and European chefs had a huge role,” says Ann-Marie Adams, writer and former executive director of the Hilton Head Hospitality Association. “And even though we’ve seen ebb and flow with restaurants, there are wonderful dining opportunities.”
Adams has a range of ideas for those who come here to eat well, from Food Network star Robert Irvine’s own restaurant, eat! (eathhi.com) to Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana (michael-anthonys.com), where, she says, chef Michael Cirafesi makes “the best gnocchi on the island.”
The area’s Gullah community, with roots reaching back to west and central Africa, retains a rich cultural heritage. Chef David Vincent Young, who grew up on the island when cornfields, not golf courses, greeted the eye, learned to cook in his great-grandmother’s kitchen. “He’s got such a native appreciation of the Low Country,” says Adams. Young hits all the high notes of Gullah specialties in his Roastfish and Cornbread restaurant (roastfishandcornbread.com), from shrimp burgers to sweet potato cornbread. One appetizer is listed simply as “alligator.”
There’s also the nationally recognized Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival; now in its 26th year, it runs for two full weeks in March and incorporates dinners, tastings, wine competitions and auctions, with a spotlight on the great chefs of the South. And a hopping nightspot, the Jazz Corner (thejazzcorner.com), combines an innovative menu with a primary focus on pure jazz. Have a Cal Tjader cocktail—midori, blue curaçao, champagne and a dash of bitters—and sit back for some sweet sounds.
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 11 hours 35 minutes. Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (20 miles to Hilton Head), from $334, or Hilton Head Island Airport, from $424.
GENERAL INFO: hiltonheadisland.org.
STAY: Hotel: Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, from $324 per night. hiltonheadmarriott.com. Villa: The Inn at Harbour Town, two bedrooms, oceanfront villas, $2,359 per week. seapines.com. Beach home rental: Palmetto Dunes, near ocean, six bedrooms, seven baths, occupancy 16, private pool, $6,950 per week. goodvacationrentals.com.
SAIL: Pau Hana & Flying Circus catamaran charters. hiltonheadisland.com/sailing.
AHOY (LITTLE) MATEY: Board the pirate ship at Harbour Town Yacht Basin. seapines.com.
A trip to Miami Beach often includes an excursion. Coconut Grove to search for remnants of a hippie vibe. Key Biscayne to sun at Crandon Park, one of the nation’s best beaches. Little Havana to lunch on ropa vieja.
But nothing tops Miami Beach’s southernmost neighborhood, the famous, slightly louche South Beach, for insight into high-octane living. Glitz, bare skin (lots of it), high-maintenance/low-calorie hotties, aggressive abs and penthouse owners jetting in from Europe and Latin America for the weekend. Clubbing at Mokai, shopping at Tomas Maier. It’s an intoxicating sizzle at the intersection of money and la vida loca.
Sane, reasonably conservative people also can have fun here. For instance, there’s Laura Spedick, a senior financial analyst with Johnson & Johnson, who lives close by. “There’s nothing like popping in for an espresso and a light snack at Segafredo [segafredosouthmiami.com]—very chic and European, good for people watching. Or going for Cuban food at Puerto Sagua. They make the best fish in green sauce, with black beans and rice, and it’s not expensive.”
Although the shopping on South Beach’s Lincoln Road tends to be pricey, Spedick says there’s an amazing collection of designer boutiques and art galleries. “Romero Britto is Miami’s big-name artist, and he has a gallery [britto.com] here. Pop art, bright colors—fun stuff.”
Best beach vantage point? If you’re going solely to gawk, start anywhere on South Beach’s sands and take a walk. If you’re talking a hangout spot, for Spedick it’s South Pointe Park. “It’s got a big grassy area, a pier at the end, water on all sides of you,” she says. “You can watch the cruise ships leave on Friday afternoons. And at night, the South Beach skyline is all lit up.”
The hard-driving party scene in South Beach lights up, too, around midnight, and Prat Patel, investment analyst at GFG Capital in Miami, knows all the best places. At Wall Lounge (wallmiami.com) in the W Hotel, he says, “You’ll see $200,000 cars parked outside. It’s nice, upscale. And the Clevelander’s [clevelander.com] got something different going on every night.” What he means is everything from samba dancers and fire priests to reggae music and even lap dance contests.
Celebrities and late-night revelers slip into the Delano (delano-hotel.com), a swank Art Deco hotel reinterpreted by hotelier Ian Schrager and designer Philippe Starck, who put an imaginative spin on the pool, the Water Salon. “They have a deejay with great music,” Patel says. “It’s quite a social scene.” And one more thing. “Don’t be afraid to dance in the pool. Even if no one else is. . . ,” Patel says knowingly.
GETTING THERE: Drive time, 20 hours. Miami International Airport, from $342 (11 miles to Miami Beach).
GENERAL INFO: miamiandbeaches.com.
STAY: Hotel: Fontainebleau Miami Beach, from $331 per night. fontainebleau.com. The Raleigh, from $242 per night. raleighhotel.com. Doubletree Surfcomber Hotel Miami-South Beach, from $188 per night. surfcomber.com.
GET ART DECO-ED: Take the $20 guided tour through the Art Deco District, largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. mdpl.org.
EXPLORE: Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, historical turn-of-the-century Italian Renaissance-style mansion. vizcayamuseum.org.
SAIL AWAY: Sailboat rentals. arcmiami.com.
Rhonda Koulermos is a freelance writer.