No summer is complete without a trip to the beach. But instead of the typical best-of roundup, we decided to do something a little different: We had the ShermansTravel staff share their favorite off-beat alternatives to the hotspots that everyone flocks to in drove. We won’t go as far as to call these spots “secret,” but we will promise that you’ll find a relatively intimate excursion with lots of character at any one of them. Ready to feel like a beach insider and stretch out?
Huntington State Park, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach buzzes with life in summer. With an iconic boardwalk, miles of sand, and access to some of the nation’s best golf courses, it’s no wonder that warmer weather means swarms of visitors. If you’re craving some quiet, head to the part of Myrtle Beach that’s officially a protected state park. Instead of beach houses and resorts, this part of the shoreline abuts nothing but sand dunes and sea grass. Named after the sculptor and philanthropist Anna Hyatt Huntington, Huntington State Park is a haven for birdwatchers, but even amateurs won’t mind sharing the waves with the pelicans who call the area home. After you’ve stretched out on her namesake beach, pick a cloudy day and head to Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden where you can see Huntington’s work.
El Matador, Malibu, California
If you’re looking for big waves to surf or miles upon miles of sand to jog in Southern California, large expanses like L.A.’s Santa Monica Beach or Venice Beach are your best bet. But if it’s personal space and breath-taking scenery that you seek, head over about 25 miles west to El Matador State Beach in Malibu. Craggy rock formations are scattered throughout this modestly sized beach, both serving as fantastically scenic photo backdrops and providing little nooks that you can claim as your own. While it’s far, far from crowded here, you likely won’t find yourself completely alone. Thanks to the its beauty, El Matador is a choice destination for photo shoots of all sorts — but watching the varied productions are part of the fun. When you’re ready to change it up, keep going west and explore the adjacent La Piedrra and El Pescador State Beaches (about a 20-minute walk).
Surfside Beach, Nantucket, MassachusettsIt’s not called Surfside for nothing: The waves at this south shore Nantucket beach can be challenging for inexperienced surfers and swimmers. The clean sand is so inviting, however, that you may never feel the need to venture too far into the water. Surfside is one of the island’s most popular beaches and does tend to get a little crowded in the summer, but the lack of heavy commercial development gives, at least, the illusion of remoteness. You can get there by shuttle bus or, the best way we think, by cycling the three mile-long Surfside Bike Path.
Weirs Beach, New HampshireWedged between the North Shore of Massachusetts and Maine, the state of New Hampshire has just a scant 18 miles of ocean shoreline. That’s why locals — and people from all over New England — head to the state’s 994 lakes to supplement their sun-worshipping needs every summer. The state’s largest lake, the sprawling Lake Winnipesaukee, gives visitors Weirs Beach. The area’s vintage-inspired charms include a drive-in movie theater, scenic rides on the snail’s paced MS Mount Washington, mini golf and go-karts, and lobster rolls at roadside clam shacks. Sleepy throughout most of the year, the area hosts a rollicking motorcycle weekend each June that floods the area with leather- and bikini-clad revelers. If mountain scenery and shopping are more your speed, the nearby lake towns of Meredith and Wolfboro should more than suffice.
Sand Beach, MaineMaine’s stunning Acadia National Park has many must-see attractions. With its mostly rocky shoreline, picturesque Sand Beach is definitely one of them. It’s relatively small and certainly less famous than others in southern Maine, but this stretch of white sand is unbelievably pretty, framed by forest-covered cliffs on either side. Though the water is pretty frosty throughout the year, it’s a welcome relief on a hot summer day — or after completing the nearby Beehive ladder trail, whose challenging course finishes just a short walk away from the beach. The beach is also accessible from Bar Harbor by car or shuttle bus, which is free during the summer months.
Siesta Key, FloridaWhile there are more famous Keys, it is little Siesta Key, in Sarasota County, that is consistently rated as having some of the best sand in Florida. The dazzling grains are 99 percent quartz, which means that they keep cool underfoot, even on the hottest of days. That, and its shallow waters, makes the beach highly popular with families with small children, so it’s not always the quietest of escapes. Still, you won’t want for space, and we’d happily accept an invite there any day.
Hanalei Bay, HawaiiOn Kauai’s north shore, half moon-shaped Hanalei Bay has two miles of beaches backed by dramatic volcanic ridged mountains rising up to 4,000 feet and laced with waterfalls. This part of Kauai has escaped the level of development that has afflicted other scenic spots around the Hawaiian islands and so retains a relaxed, uncrowded, charm. Calm waters mean that swimming and stand-up paddle boarding are good here all year round, but there are enough waves (big and small) to keep all levels of surfer happy. When you’re done with the beach, the town of Hanelei offers unique shops, restaurants, and art galleries, and you can cool off with a shave ice from Wishing Well Shave Ice, behind the beach.
South Haven, MichiganSouth Haven sits at the mouth of Lake Michigan, achieving the perfect beach town balance between vibrant and laid-back. There are seven public beaches along the lakefront here, not to mention the sandy stretch in the 400-acre Van Buren State Park. All in all, it’s about six miles of swimming, surging, kite boarding, volleyball, and myriad other water and boardwalk fun. And while the lake can be cold, given its very northern location, the water is refreshing during scorching summer months. Perhaps the best part of this beach destination, however, is its proximity to forest-y campgrounds, fishing and hiking spots, and even nearby wineries, giving travelers who like to mix it up plenty of diversions.
Bonus: Rogers Beach, Westhampton, New YorkWe have a lot of love for this private Long Island beach…when we can get in. During the summer, Rogers Beach is typically reserved for Westhampton Beach residents (who can bring two guests on their passes). If you’re renting in the area, you can also apply for a season pass that covers four people and one vehicle, for $425 if you’re within the incorporated region and $725 in qualifying surrounding neighborhoods. But because of its exclusivity, all areas of the beach are extremely clean, from its sparkling shore to to changing and shower areas to boardwalk restaurant.