Waikiki to Westhampton, Baja to the Boardwalk, when the surf's up and the sun's warm, hot-weather fans know it's time to hit the beach. As every self-respecting sun-worshiper knows, America's sandy shores display more than golden bodies; every great one also boasts a distinctive personality. So before you pull on that new bikini and head for the shore with your significant oiler, know where the beachcombing's best and you can fall asleep to the sounds of waves lapping the shore.
Treasures of the Gulf of Mexico wash up daily around Bowman’s Beach and others spots along Sanibel Island shores. Located west of Fort Myers, Sanibel is reachable via causeway and the beaches closest to the roadway have water sports outlets and picnic spots. The seafood is almost as plentiful as the shelling, You'll want to dine outdoors and eat on the early side so you can savor sunset over the Gulf. Early risers get the first shot at the day's shells, so prepare to grab a couple of buckets or nets and see who can collect the most beautiful and diverse specimens, then display them at home in a place of honor.
Dewey draws sun-and-sand lovers who spend the cooler months working on their beach bodies. Those with less than perfect pecs and parts of steel can shop for cover-ups at nearby Tanger Outlets at Rehoboth Beach. Dewey's geography, with Atlantic Ocean beaches on one side and a broad bay on the other, offers opportunities for twice the fun—and that can include parasailing, wakeboarding, water skiing, windsurfing, and other ways to get wet. Sunsets over the bay inspire romance, as do movies on the beach and bonfires. Another appealing factor: restaurants, clubs, and lodgings are clustered close together, so visitors can safely enjoy a few drinks and walk home.
Here the stars come out day and night since they happen to live in the multi-million-dollar beach chateaux lining this golden stretch of the Pacific coast. Wooden stairways extend from their decks down to the sand, so strolling beachgoers who can take a self-guided architectural tour of the fantastic Malibu Colony beach homes. Note that there's no public entrance; the prime part of Malibu Beach is the strip that lies along Malibu Colony Road, which is private and has a gate. Nonetheless, determined day-trippers can get there by walking west from Malibu Lagoon State Beach at low tide or east from Malibu Road. If you're lucky, you'll get to rub shoulders and suntan oil with stars of stage and screen.
Jackpot! Atlantic City beach is as egalitarian as Malibu is for the rich and famous. Here everyone is welcome, and you'll see people of all ages, shapes, and from all walks of life. Although the town itself has gone through fat times and lean ones, the wide beach has never lost its appeal. What helps is the wooden boardwalk, which stretches for four miles, fine for strolling the shops and restaurants along the way and offering multiple ingresses to the sandy shore. A favorite place for couples is The Playground and Pier Shops at Caesars that jut out over the water and contain exceptional restaurants. Even if you don't strike it rich in one of the towering casinos along the Boardwalk and can only afford hot dogs, there's no charge to enjoy the salt-water air, brisk ocean waves, and strong rays here.
Long Beach is known for its hard-packed sand, the perfect medium for building a dream sand castle. The best way to experience the 28-mile-long beach is via moped or fat-tire electric bike, both rentable. A steady breeze and low humidity attract some 100,000+ spectators to the annual International Kite Festival, which takes place along the beach during the third week in August. When you're not looking upwards to the sky, the timing may be right to dig for razor clams (if you're not too squeamish). Any time, feast on local cuisine that includes fresh seafood, wild berries, mushrooms, and other treasures of the land and sea from oyster burgers to fish and chips.
Muir Beach, California
There aren't that many places where nude bathing is sanctioned, but Muir Beach has never had a problem with visitors getting down to their birthday suits. The rule is: going bare is fine but no sexy acts in public. Play peekaboo along the north end of this Marin County beach, where the water stays warm through Labor Day. There's another plus to visiting late in the season: Millions of monarch butterflies migrate in the direction of this spot just 16 miles north of San Francisco and they may be seen perched on Monterey pines in a grove at Muir Beach.
Provincetown is part of Cape Cod National Seashore Park, and almost three-quarters of the town's land is preserved as wilderness. In the park, there is access to ocean beaches and nature trails designed to accommodate bikers and hikers. P-town is also America's oldest art colony and spotlights work by emerging as well as established artists. Long a magnet to same-sex couples, many come for the laid-back scene as well as the sand. The main drag is historic Commercial Street, where well-preserved buildings, unusual boutiques, tattoo parlors, seafood restaurants (such as the iconic Lobster Pot overlooking the harbor), clubs, and galleries attract crowds in the sultry season.
Models, celebrities, photographers, roller skaters, and scene makers stoke the buzz 24/7 in this historic Art Deco community. After working the runway or Collins Avenue, the long-limbed and pouty unwind in the outdoor cafes that parallel the beach and so can you. Miami is known for its collection of sexy hotels, many of which lead directly onto the beach. Yet there's so much more to do here, from exploring the city's vibrant Wynwood Arts District, which has more than 70 galleries to visit; to Lincoln Road, a hip open-air shopping area filled with a variety of restaurants and fashion-forward boutiques.
This series of coastal towns stretching on the east end of Long Island, from Westhampton to Montauk, is where New York City's wealthy gather each summer to relax, shop, gallery-hop, and vie for restaurant reservations when they're not stretched out along the sand, slathered in expensive SPF cream and shielded in designer sunglasses. The clean, wide beaches and quaint villages draw day-trippers and permanent residents (including Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel, and Steven Spielberg) alike. Until mid- or late summer, the Atlantic Ocean is too cold to swim in without a wetsuit. Bide your time with a mug of clam chowder, a lobster roll, or paté made from locally caught bluefin tuna.
It will take some planning to get to the island of Nantucket, but it's worth it. You can only reach it via a small plane or ferry from Hyannis on Cape Cod. Reservations are highly recommended, particularly in the summer season. There's limited parking at the beach, but there are several bike rental places close to the ferry landing; some also rent surfboards, wetsuits, fishing poles, and swim gear such as fins. Ride on two wheels past cranberry bogs to reach this pristine, serene, and sparsely populated beach six miles from town, and plan to stay long enough to enjoy the sunset.