It doesn’t really matter what time of year it is, or what’s happening in the world — there are certain beaches that are just always overrun. Yes, many of them are popular for a reason: weather, ease of access, proximity to shopping and restaurants... you get the picture. Yet what many aren’t aware of is that there are so many other under-the-radar U.S. beaches that are arguably just as good as their more-known counterparts, just without the crowds and chaos.
Granted, it can be difficult to find those, given that fewer people are singing their praises. Fortunately, though, knowing those insider locales is the job of travel experts — which is why TZR reached out to a few to get the scoop.
Before they spilled their secrets, though, they shared some advice on traveling during the current climate. While some things have returned to “normal,” COVID-19 is still affecting many aspects of life (and changing each day) and needs to be taken into consideration.
For Dr. Terika L. Haynes, founder of Dynamite Travel, this starts with research. “The restrictions and requirements are still varying across the board for vacation destinations,” she tells TZR in an email. “It is best that travelers spend some time researching their destination numerous times before traveling to check for policies and any possible changes as some may require COVID tests prior to arrival, insurance coverage amounts, etc.”
Dr. Haynes also says that, because more people are traveling now, there will be longer lines and more crowds. Because of this, you may want to stock up on safety items such as masks and hand sanitizer, and plan ahead to avoid the rush. “We recommend investing in a lounge pass as it is great for reducing your exposure to other travelers at the airport,” she notes. “TSA PreCheck and Global Entry will be especially valuable for post-pandemic travel to reduce exposure as well.”
Thinking of adding any activities to your trip? Dr. Haynes also suggests booking private or small-group tours to avoid being in big groups for extended periods of time — and reserving them well in advance, “as many options are selling out fast due to lower occupancy rates imposed by tour companies and theme parks.”
And if all of this overwhelms you but you still want to travel, Angela Adto Tepper, founder of AZA Luxury Travel, advises finding a good travel advisor to help guide you. “Everything from flights to government policies and openings and closing of borders change constantly, making travel confusing and more complex,” she tells TZR. “The service of a travel advisor is valuable more now than ever.”
There may be more to consider when planning a trip these days — but there’s still plenty of opportunity to enjoy some fun in the sun and relaxation without the crowds. Ahead, six expert-recommended under-the-radar beaches in the U.S. to provide inspiration and kickstart your planning.
New Smyrna Beach, FL
Dr. Haynes describes New Smyrna Beach as a “cute little beach town,” where, if you stay at the right property (such as Springhill Suites), you can walk to nearly everything. If you visit, she continues, “Don't leave without having ice cream at Treats on the Beach and people watching while dining at Ocean Breeze Tiki Bar.”
Amelia Island & Fernandina Beach, FL
This location may require more driving, but Dr. Haynes says it’s “still a small beach town that is perfect for low-key vacations.” As for where to stay, she suggests either the Omni Resort or the Ritz Carlton; then, try Amelia Beach Access #28 for “more of a serene beach area with added seclusion and less crowds.” Finally, says Dr. Haynes, make sure you don’t leave unless you’ve experienced a sunset cruise with Amelia River Cruises.
Watch Hill (Carousel) Beach, RI
Yes, Florida is tempting — but according to Tepper, it’s worth exploring an area of the U.S. that you might not typically consider for a beach locale. One of her favorites is Watch Hill Beach (also known as Carousel Beach) in Westerly, Rhode Island. “This calm beach with the cutest merry-go-round is a perfect getaway from a city,” she shares. “It has somewhat of an island feel as it’s located on a peninsula almost completely surrounded by water.” If you go, book a stay at the Ocean House Hotel, suggests Tepper — it boasts a beachfront location, beautiful rooms, and endless recreational activities.
Jensen Beach, FL
Located on the Treasure coast in Florida south of Fort Pierce and north of West Palm Beach, “This destination goes beyond having beautiful beaches,” says Dr. Haynes. In fact, she explains, it was once “known as the pineapple capital of the world.” Now, she says, it’s famous for great dining (especially seafood) and its wealth of shopping options. And if you enjoy luxury accommodations, make sure to book a stay at either Island Beach Resort or Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa, she continues.
St. Pete Beach, FL
As Tepper notes, there’s plenty to love about St. Pete Beach in Florida. “North of Siesta Keys and Coquina Beach, you’ll find this stretch of beach less crowded,” she explains. “It boasts the same firm white sand and calm blue waters as its neighbors.”
That said, Tepper continues, it does come with a downside that may explain its smaller crowds. “It has less free parking available, making it more of a deterrent to choose this as a regular beach spot.” You won’t have any problems there, though, if you decide on a longer stay — for which she suggests choosing the “iconic” beachfront Don CeSar hotel, “a glorious pink palace, which holds a romantic backstory.”
Houghton Beach, WA
If you want to go somewhere that’s under the radar and unconventional, Tepper recommends Houghton Beach, a lake beach located in Kirkland, Washington on Lake Washington. “It’s a quaint resort-like town just 15 minutes away from Seattle,” she says, adding that is has a great waterfront and plenty of boutique stores to shop. Her preferred accommodations near this beach park are the Woodmark Hotel & Still Spa, which sits just a few minutes away, or the Heathman Hotel, which is slightly further from Houghton (though still near the lake) in downtown Kirkland.