Secret Beaches of the US

by Jordan Simon Subscribe to Jordan Simon's posts Posted May 19th 2010 03:08 PM


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Secret Beaches of the US

Hate crowds? So do we. While the beauty and appeal of popular destination beaches is undeniable, the stretches are usually as sardine-packed as the Southern California waters when the grunions run. Fortunately, we found amazing sand-and-surf getaways for beachcombers who savor solitude, just in time for the summer season to go into full swing. Most are fairly remote and are accessible only by boat or strenuous hike while others fly under the radar despite being right under your zinc oxide-slathered nose. So grab a suit, towel, and book and hit these ten off-the-grid beaches. But be sure to keep the locations just between us.

Secret Beaches of the US

Fans of Winslow Homer's paintings might recognize this scenic seascape that is little changed in the past century. Fronting the Scarborough River and marsh, this Atlantic inlet beach looks more serene than the typical wild Maine tangle of rock and surf, and its sand is fine rather than coarse and pebbly. Still, beware the swirling currents and sudden drop-off. If you are looking to swim, stroll south to the calmer waters at adjacent Western Beach. You can watch lobstermen go about their business, and the flurry of flotillas floating in and out of the boathouse.

Tip: If water sports are more your thing, head to nearby Higgins Beach. The wide grin of sand has barely enough parking even for residents, who dub it a "private beach with public access." The linen-white stretch offers spectacular kayaking, fishing, surfing, even snorkeling around shipwrecks.

Secret Beaches of the US

You have to hike down the challenging titular escarpment to access this rad surf spot, which resembles an abstract rock art installation with striated bluffs and unusual rock formations peppered with tiny coves. The strands come and go with the tides, but it's peaceful and utterly gorgeous and has unimpeded views of the Pacific, as well as the iconic Point Loma Lighthouse. You may even see dinosaur fossils embedded in the ancient rock. It's the perfect spot to hang ten or hang out, but obviously beware the powerful churning undertow.

Tip: Hip hopping happening Ocean Beach is right nearby. The quintessential SoCal beach town, O.B brims with boisterous bars, cafes, and surf shops. Before you escape to the masses, pick up some of the best fish tacos anywhere at South Beach Bar & Grill for your picnic.

Secret Beaches of the US

Unlike several surrounding islands, pastoral Guemes has maintained its slow pace and mellow vibe. It helps that it takes a ferry or a private boat to access this sliver of sand. The mile-long beach features excellent crabbing in summer, shiny agates that make lovely keepsakes, and dazzling views of Puget Sound and Mt. Baker. Eagles soar above, seals and porpoises cavort offshore, and you might even see a pod of orcas cruise by (there are also chartered whale-watching boat trips in season).

Tip: Other than a few beachfront home rentals, the only lodging is quaint, eco-centric Guemes Island Resort. Stop by its fun funky general store for provisions, especially artisanal boutique beers, wines, even sakes.

Secret Beaches of the US

Monroe is Michigan's only county situated on Lake Erie, yet despite the proximity of Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, this charmer remains tranquil even during spring break. Inlets and waterways filigree the coast, forming marshes that attract wildlife and waterfowl. The name derives from estrella, Spanish for "star," which could easily apply to the perfectly tumbled sea glass that can be found in exquisite colors ranging from cobalt to crimson.

Tip: Outdoor writer Mark Hicks, author of "The Walleye Pro's Notebook" calls this 50-mile shoreline the "sweetest freshwater sea." Locals brag that it's the world's walleye capital, and you'll find plenty of bait shops and boat rentals if you're angling for catch.

Secret Beaches of the US

Part of the country's first designated National Seashore, this barrier island, caught between the Atlantic and Currituck Sound, remains blissfully undeveloped, with communities refusing to permit paved roads. Past "bustling" Carolla north to the Virginia border, the 11 miles of beaches are only accessible via four-wheel drive, with dirt tracks dancing in and out of scrub pine forest. Much of the area is protected wetlands and wildlife reserve, offering sensational bird, dolphin and sea turtle watching. Activities along the coast range from kayaking to kite boarding. Kitty Hawk, home to the Wright Brothers museum and the world's largest hang-gliding school, is also close by. It's one of the premier mid-Atlantic spots to glimpse wild horses, descendants of shipwrecked colonial Spanish mustangs, galloping amid the surf and dunes.

Tip: Take one of the guided backcountry jeep and horse tours out of Corolla, whose interactive Wild Horse Museum also offers activities for kids.

Secret Beaches of the US

Obviously the Hawaiian Islands teem with striking strands, many of them secluded. But few beaches in the world can rival nature's artistry here, dramatically juxtaposing elemental colors. The turquoise lagoon, the jade green ironwood trees, the bullying black cliffs, and the ruddy sand that comes courtesy of crumbling volcanic cinder cone make for a vibrant surrounding unlike any other. Just south of world-famous Hana Bay, Kaihalulu is best reached by a precariously steep cliffside path, and its comparative inaccessibility makes it a favorite with the clothing-optional set.

Tip: A jagged lava seawall forms a natural barrier against the fierce Pacific currents, but even strong swimmers should watch the prevailing winds and surf: There's a reason the name means "Roaring Sea."

Secret Beaches of the US

You walk roughly a half mile partly under canopies of the world's tallest living things that vault up to 35 stories to reach this sublime stretch, ringed by wildflower-carpeted cliffs. It's a majestic perch to watch migrating whales in season, as well as bald eagles and sea lions. Locals often comb the beach for whimsically shaped "found art" driftwood. Depending on the tide you'll find freshwater streams, eroded stone arches, and boulders like Henry Moore sculptures, part of why the United Nations designated the coast and interior old-growth forest as a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

Tip: You can hike nearly the entire coastal length of the park, or take advantage of fascinating park ranger-guided tidal pool and other nature walks.

Secret Beaches of the US

Romantic rumors of buried buccaneer booty still abound about this archipelago of seven islets roughly 70 miles west of Key West. And it's well worth the five-hour round-trip ferry ride or 20-minute seaplane ride into the Gulf of Mexico. The area was designated a National Park for its natural beauty and historic significance since it's home to the unfinished 1846 Fort Jefferson, the Western Hemisphere's largest masonry structure, stretching half a mile and incorporating 50-foot walls. The treacherous surrounding waters abound with coral-encrusted shipwrecks, making them a dive/snorkeling Mecca; it's also a prime bird watching spot.

Tip: Though the Park sees 80,000 visitors, they're mostly day-trippers; adventuresome souls can apply for camping permits to enjoy supreme solitude. Be sure to pack all necessities including drinking water -- they're not called dry for nothing and lack any freshwater source other than rain.

Secret Beaches of the US

Only 300 daily campers and visitors can access America's largest wilderness island, part of the National Seashore (and U.N. International Biosphere Reserve) at the state's southeastern tip. Fifty miles of hiking/biking trails meander past imposing 19th-century ruins through several distinct eco-systems: maritime forests, interior wetlands, freshwater lakes, marshes, tidal creeks, and beautiful thousand-foot-wide beaches where dolphins and manatees swim. You can also bob for bass, beach comb for shark's teeth and shells, or bird watch; indigenous wildlife runs the gamut from armadillos to alligators, as well as over 330 avian species from pelicans to peregrine falcons.

Tip: There are several campgrounds or you can rough it in rustic-chic style at the grand Greyfield Inn, built in 1900 by the Carnegies as a family manse.

Secret Beaches of the US

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