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East Coast Beaches 101

By: Amanda Pressner

Things are heating up on the Eastern seaboard – and not just because summer’s finally here. In beach towns spanning Maine to Florida, a wave of new hotels and offerings is coaxing sun-seekers to plant their beach umbrellas. We’ve whittled the field down to our top dozen destinations.


Classic Boardwalks

Only a few of these Victorian-era esplanades still exist in the U.S., but upgrades to existing arcades – plus one newly built wooden walkway – means you can get your cotton candy fix for many summers to come.

Atlantic City, New Jersey
Why Go Now Even before HBO’s hit series Boardwalk Empire gave this Jersey town its retro-chic appeal, Atlantic City had been attracting a hip new crowd of visitors, thanks to the opening of the Vegas-inspired Water Club hotel (thewaterclubhotel.com) and the launch of ACES, an express train that departs from Penn Station in New York City. This year, it’s all about the Boardwalk: The city recently launched a series of tours that spotlight landmarks depicted in the show.
Where to Stay Hotels like Bally’s (ballysac.com) and Harrah’s (harrahsresort.com) have rolled out Roaring Twenties-themed packages for the summer, and the entire Resorts Atlantic City hotel has been retro-fitted in 1920s style – everyone from craps dealers to cocktail servers sport period costumes, and Jazz Age tunes play in the background. www.resortsac.com

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Why Go Now Myrtle Beach just completed its new 1.2-mile boardwalk and promenade, a traditional plank-built strip lined with beach shops, cafés, and an oceanfront park. For a bird’s-eye view of the entire beach, board the new 187-foot Sky Wheel, the tallest Ferris wheel east of the Mississippi.
Where to Stay Myrtle’s coveted attraction is the beach, of course, so it pays to slumber nearby. The 405-room Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grande Dunes is part of a plantation-style residential community – with a 370-foot stretch of private oceanfront – so you’ll always find a place for your beach chair. www.marriott.com

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Why Go Now Situated at the tip of the state’s southern coast, Rehoboth Beach has managed to ward off the behemoth condos and raucous outdoor bars that plague its flashier cousin, Ocean City, Md. And that’s just fine with the couples and families who return here every year for a low-key, summer-by-the-sea experience. Although there is one development that’s drawing universal support: Last summer, Rehoboth reopened its rehabbed 138-year-old boardwalk, featuring refurbished pavilions and wooden planks in place of crumbling concrete.
Where to Stay Whether it’s the in-room fireplaces, the spacious balconies and terraces, or the wine and cheese hour offered après beach, the 52-room Hotel Rehoboth, the area’s only boutique property, clearly has romantic appeal. The hotel’s downtown locale also gives you direct access to more than 200 boutiques, art galleries and day spas – and it’s just a quick open-air shuttle ride to the beach. Free Wi-Fi will keep you anchored if work insists on intruding. www.hotelrehoboth.com

Chic Retreats

Going coastal doesn’t mean you have to forgo life’s little luxuries. At these stylish spots, you’ll have access to some of the Atlantic’s best-maintained beaches.

Kennebunkport, Maine
Why Go Now In the 1600s, this shipbuilding village in the southern part of Maine was populated with sea captains who built massive homes on its sloping shores – many of which have since been re-imagined as inns. Although people traditionally shop and stroll through the galleries along Dock Square, several enterprising retailers have recently turned the town’s previously “undiscovered” Lower Village into a new hub.
Where to Stay The 21-room Tides Beach Club, housed in a 100-year-old Victorian on Goose Rocks Beach, opens its doors this summer. Famed designer Jonathan Adler decorated two of the suites, so expect a whimsical mix of understated – Adler’s bright white lamps make an appearance – and downright wild touches, like zebra-styled rugs. Meanwhile sister property, Hidden Pond,
unveils a new tree house spa and a restaurant helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Ken Oringer. www.tidesbeachclubmaine.com

Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Why Go Now Watch Hill’s placement on a peninsula jutting into Block Island Sound has allowed it to remain a relatively under-the-radar retreat for everyone from Clark Gable to Mary Tyler Moore. Today, parking spots and hotels rooms are still at a premium, so you won’t have to battle crowds to take a spin on the circa 1883 carousel, or wait in line to sit in a wooden booth at the Olympia Tea Room, a turn-of-the-century restaurant.
Where to Stay One of the last original Victorian-era luxury hotels in the area, Ocean House, started taking reservations again last summer following an epic, five-year restoration project. The resort has its own stretch of beach, making it the only New England resort that can host private parties on the water’s edge. www.oceanhouseri.com

South Beach, Florida
Why Go Now There’s never been a time when SoBe wasn’t the “it” destination for club-hoppers, but thanks to some high-profile hotel openings and new restaurant launches in the last year, the Miami strip has also emerged as a style and culinary destination. When you’re not noshing – or secretly scoping out fellow sun-seekers – tour the historic Art Deco District, packed with buildings from the ’20s through the ’40s.
Where to Stay Dream South Beach, the newest jewel to join Vikram Chatwal’s luxury boutique empire, merges two art-deco buildings into a single spread. The 1970s-inspired hotel, located right next door to Casa Casuarina (aka the Versace Mansion), features 108 guest rooms equipped with pre-loaded iPods and beds backlit in frosty blue light – and an infinity pool that overlooks the Atlantic. Pet lovers take note: Haute dogs are welcome. www.dreamsouthbeach.com

Secluded Sands

If a trendy beach scene isn’t really, well, your kind of scene – and you relish the thought of watching a sunrise solo – bypass popular beach meccas in favor of these out-of-the-way locales. Getting there may take longer, but you’ll have plenty of space once you do.

Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Why Go Now Nag’s Head, located on one of the Outer Banks’ northernmost barrier islands, is leading the charge to turn the region into the state’s most eco-friendly destination. The town’s mayor just cut the ribbon on Jennette’s Pier, a LEED-certified walkway that includes a 16,000-foot visitor center with fish tanks and live animal exhibits. Another pro-planet highlight: Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern U.S., where you can hike, hang-glide, and even sand board down the dunes.
Where to Stay The Sanderling – the Outer Banks’ only resort – may be a couple miles up the coast from Nag’s Head in the village of Duck, but it’s worth the drive. With private porches facing the Atlantic and Currituck Sound, and easy access to the newly expanded Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary, you’ll be surrounded by nature – and plenty of creature comforts. www.thesanderling.com

Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Why Go Now Of the Vineyard’s six towns, Chilmark is the sleepiest. The trip out there takes some effort, which is why the winding roads, quiet beaches, and rustic cafes aren’t overrun by tourists – unless you count the Obamas, who’ve made it their retreat the last two summers. Locals swear that Menemsha Beach has the best sunsets on the East coast.
Where to Stay Spread across 14 acres of gardens and green fields, the Menemsha Inn strikes a balance between quaint – cookies and lemonade are served every afternoon – and rustic, evidenced by the ponies and alpacas that graze in the pastures adjacent to the property. A smattering of free-standing cottages have screened-in porches, barbeque grills, and outdoor showers – the idea being that once you’re in Chilmark, you won’t want to leave. www.menemshainn.com

Montauk, Long Island, New York
Why Go Now For years, the surfing village of Montauk fiercely maintained its low-key, anti-Hamptons sensibility, eschewing the pomp, partying, and paparazzi that its flashier cousins are known for. The anti-establishment tide began to turn a bit in 2008, after a couple of fashionable hoteliers set up shop in town, but you can still experience the “real” Montauk – as long as you schedule your visit this season, before more big names move in.
Where to Stay You can get a chic boutique experience – sans pretension – at Solé East, a 67-room hotel with bungalow-style rooms and cabana suites equipped with pillow-top beds, sisal carpets, and flat-screen TVs. Wander out to the backyard garden in the evening, where you warm up by the wood-burning fire pits. A fleet of bikes is available for rent when you want to escape the hotel’s weekend pool parties. www.soleeast.com

Island Idylls

There’s no faster way to disconnect (and de-stress) than to ditch the mainland and beach yourself a few miles offshore. While not exactly “deserted,” these isles offer plenty of peace and quiet – along with some unique distractions.

Jekyll Island, Georgia
Why Go Now It’s rare for an entire destination – particularly one that is a state park and a nature reserve – to undergo a complete renovation, but that’s exactly what is happening with this isle located between Jacksonville and Savannah. The eco-friendly refresh kicked off with the opening of the first eight acres of beachfront Great Dunes Park, a 20-acre spread dotted with shaded pavilions. Wildlife-friendly Jekyll is part of the Georgia state birding trail, but don’t be surprised if you also spot rabbits, nesting turtles, and the occasional gator.
Where to Stay At the turn of the last century, the island doubled as a private winter haven for tycoons, politicians, and socialites – and the Jekyll Island Club was their posh stomping grounds. But the once ultra-inaccessible hangout for the likes of J.P. Morgan is now a luxury resort. You no longer need to be a member to cross its threshold, but if you want to vacation here during high season, book in advance. www.jekyllclub.com

Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Why Go Now The state’s only car-free destination lures visitors determined to unplug. While its 14 miles of beaches, marshland, and maritime forest are perennial draws – just 2,000 of the isle’s 12,000 acres are developed – Bald Head also offers a slice of Americana this May with a new music festival headlined by bluegrass, folk, and jazz greats, including the Tony Award-winning Red Clay Ramblers.
Where to Stay The island also happens to be hotel-free, but sites like VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) and BaldHeadIslandRentals.com list homes, condos, and cottages across the island. For a more full-service experience, visitors can pick up a temporary membership to the Bald Head Island Club to play golf, tennis, croquet, and use the pool and fitness center. The Club Grille serves regional seafood dishes like Atlantic sea bass and grouper. www.bhiclub.net

Amelia Island, Florida
Why Go Now The last isle in a chain of more than 100 barrier islands that run along the coast from South Carolina to Florida, Amelia is best known for its 13 miles of white sand and calm surf. Starting this summer, you can sign up for the island’s latest adventure offering: A 14,000-foot jump from a plane through Skydive Amelia Island. Less intrepid souls can always golf.
Where to Stay In December, the 16-room Florida House Inn, an antebellum-era B&B said to be the oldest operating hotel in the state, reopened for business following a top-to-bottom renovation. Don’t miss a nightcap at the English-style Mermaid Bar. www.floridahouseinn.com

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