Outside Magazine has listed its 2006 Top 10 picks for beach getaways. Here's a look:
1. California: San Diego, Pacific Beach/Surfing
The miles of white sand beaches, swelling waves, and an eclectic dining and shopping district make San Diego's Pacific Beach one of the most popular stretches of sand in the Golden State -- 26 million people visited last year. The beach itself is wedged between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay Park, a 4,235-acre man-made aquatic fun-hub perfect for row-boats and beach volleyball. In one day, visitors can play with dolphins at nearby Sea World, catch a wave at Pacific Beach and dine on fresh seafood at one of 150 restaurants. To find out more, go to www.pacificbeach.org.
Sign up for a family-friendly surf lesson at the Paskowitz Surf School. Kids aged four and older are welcome. You'll learn water safety tips before you practice your surf techniques on land and in water. For more information go to www.paskowitz.com, or call (949) 728-1000.
Where to Eat: Flip-flops and bathing suits are welcome at Nick's at the Beach, a family-owned, California-style eatery where the menu ranges from seafood to savory apple brandy pork chops. As one loyal patron put it, it has "a little bit of everything -- just like San Diego." Go to www.nicksatthebeach.com or call 858-270-1730 to learn more.
Where to Eat: The Catamaran Resort Hotel has access to both beach and bay. When the tide is high, take the family to the calmer waters in Mission Bay where you can rent paddle boats and bicycles. Children ages 5 to 12 can learn about earthquakes, volcanoes, and sea urchins at the on-site Kid's Camp, while parents enjoy an 80-minute couples massage at the Catamaran Spa. Prices for doubles range from $185-$315. Go to www.catamaranresort.com to learn more.
With the San Diego Zoo and Sea World just minutes from the Pacific Terrace hotel is another popular spot for families. Suite prices range from $499. Call 858-581-3500 or go to www.pacificterrace.com to learn more.
There aren't many beachside wilderness camping options in San Diego, but just 10 miles southeast of downtown (and Sea World), you'll find Sweetwater Regional Park, with views of the Pacific and Sweetwater Reservoir, equestrian, hiking, and mountain biking trails, and more than 50 sites that accommodate everything from a 45-foot RV to a pup tent. Partial hookups cost $16 per night. Call 858-565-3600 or go to www.co.san-diego.ca.us/parks/camping/ for more information. Construction on nearby Route 125 will act as an automatic morning alarm.
2. North Carolina Cape Hatteras National Seashore/Kiteboarding
You'll find 70 miles of beautiful white sand beaches, green dune grass, blue ocean water, and not a lot of humanity -- the perfect place for your kids to practice their new kiteboarding obsession. Take a lesson with REAL Kiteboarding -- ranked by Outside magazine as one of the "Top Ten Adventure Camps in the World" -- which offers both daily lessons and weekly kiteboarding camps. Lessons start at $100; call 866-REAL-KITE or go to www.realkiteboarding.com.
Where to Eat: For overflowing plates of crab legs, shrimp and other delectables served on outdoor picnic tables, check out the local's favorite surf-and-turf hang out, The Mad Crabber (252-995-5959).
Where to Stay: Outer Beaches Realty (252-995-4447, www.outerbeaches.com) offers excellent deals on vacation rental homes ranging from two-bedroom beach boxes to 10-bedrooom/10-bathrooom beachfront mega-homes. They have the right accommodation for any size family and budget to make the most of your time at the beach. The Frisco and Cape Point campgrounds on Cape Hatteras are suitable for tents or RVs and are just minutes from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse and the kiteboarding action ($20 per day; www.nps.gov/caha/pphtml/camping.html).
3. Hawaii: Poipu, Kauai, Snorkeling
This is possibly the only resort area on the planet that consistently offers close-encounters with angels -- or at least angelfish -- within steps of your hotel room. The hot spots include Nukumoi Point, a reef thick with angelfish, striped damsels, moorish idols, black tangs and schools of canary-colored butterfly fish. Just be sure not to swim too close to Spouting Horn, a lava tube that spews saltwater 50 feet.
Kauai Snorkeling Tours offers three-hour tours of Kukuiulu Harbor in Poipu near Spouting Horn; three-hour private snorkeling charters, during which you might spot a humpback heading out into the Pacific; or a six-hour private tour of the precipitous Napali Coast (www.hawaiiwebdesign.com/kauai_snorkelingtours.htm).
Get the aerial layout of the island with Air Kauai Helicopters, an FAA-approved outfitter offering daily helicopter flights to places like Waimea Canyon, dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" by Mark Twain (808-246-4666, www.airkauai.com).
Where to Eat: Grab a frank--Hawaiian style--at Puka Dog, touted as a wiener haven, where the tropical relishes (choose from pineapple, coconut, mango, banana, or star fruit) will redeem every cent of airfare. (www.pukadog.com, 808-742-6044)
Where to Stay: Whaler's Cove offers oceanfront luxury with its glass, marble, and private-terrace condos. Added bonus: Each unit comes with a hot tub and full kitchens (Doubles range from $370, 800-225-2683; www.whalers-cove.com).The 60-unit Poipu Kapili resort offers packages that include zip-line adventure, jungle kayak trips and waterfall excursions (Ocean-view two-bedrooms, from $320; kauai.aloha-hawaii.com/hawaii/poipu+kapili/).
4. New Jersey: Cape May/Birding
Billed simultaneously as the "Nation's Oldest Seashore Resort," "The Restaurant Capital of New Jersey," and the nations' third-most popular wedding destination, Cape May on Delaware Bay offers ample opportunity for overeating. On the flipside, it's also a beloved birding destination, with a year-round revolving door of exciting species. The summer favorites are the laughing gull, herring gull, sanderling, and ruddy turnstone, among others. Bird watching activities are run by the Cape May Bird Observatory ( www.capemaybeach.com), which has locations at Cape May Point and in Goshen. Aqua Trails Kayak Nature Tours and Sales (www.aquatrails.com/wildlife.html) offers salt marsh tours, where you can check out all sorts of cool marine life.
For whale watching, hop aboard the Cape May Whale Watcher, which offers dolphin sighting trips in the morning and evening, and whale watching in the afternoon ($35, kids under 7 are free; 800-786-5445, www.capemaywhalewatcher.com).
Where to Eat: Enjoy some of the Cape's freshest seafood at The Lobster House, where you can relish a platter of steamed crustaceans at the dockside tables or in a schooner bobbing in the harbor next to the restaurant (www.thelobsterhouse.com, 609-884-8296).
Where to Stay: The 130-year-old Chalfonte Hotel, prides itself on its genteel Southern hospitality and wrap-around verandas. (Prices for doubles from $135; go to www.capemaytimes.com/hotels/cape-may/chalfonte-hotel.htm for more information. ) Or pick from a number of three-bedroom cottages, such as Meadow View ($1,500 per week in August, $900-$1100 in September, 212-732-2148, www.capemaytimes.com/rentals/rizzo.htm).
5. Minnesota: Harbor Beach/North House Folk School
Sand isn't part of the experience at Harbor Beach, which fronts the quaint village of Grand Marais. But you won't miss it. Instead, you'll eat up hours skipping the beach's perfectly rounded stones into Lake Superior. After you've toured the Coast Guard Museum just a few blocks away, your kids will be inspired to try the family boatbuilding class at the North House Folk School. There's also a ready-made option: a five-day Lake Superior schooner adventure to the Apostle Islands ( 888-387-9762, www.northhouse.org).
Or forget school altogether and head out for an epic hiking adventure on the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, a 205-mile wilderness path, accessible from many points along Lake Superior's North Shore. It's the closest you'll come to Rocky Mountain hiking in the Midwest.
Where to Eat: For scrumptious dishes prepared with locally-caught fish and farm-fresh produce, swing by the Angry Trout Café, a tastefully converted fish shanty on the edge of Grand Marais harbor. (Go to www.angrytroutcafe.com or call 218-387-1265.)
Where to Stay: The 80-year-old Naniboujou Lodge and Resort in Grand Marais is a classic North Woods getaway, with a 200-ton native rock fireplace in the massive 30 x 80-foot Great Hall. Be forewarned: There are no TVs or telephones in any of the lodge's 24 bedrooms (doubles from $95; 218-387-2688, ww.naniboujou.com). The Grand Marais Municipal Campground right next door to Harbor Beach has more than 300 lakeside or wooded tent and RV sites, an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, and a public boat launch (800-998-0959; www.grandmaraisrvparkandcampground.com).
6. California: Francis Beach, Half Moon Bay/Sea Kayaking
Drive south from San Francisco on scenic Highway 1 to the once-sleepy beach town of Half Moon Bay, where you'll find Francis Beach, part of the Half Moon Bay State Beaches. With summertime water temperatures ranging from 55 to 65 degrees, a wetsuit for swimming and surfing is highly recommended. Although it's often foggy, on clear days you can see out to Pillar Point Harbor, a commercial and sport fishing site.
Rent a sea kayak from Half Moon Bay Kayak Co., the first kayak company in the country to outfit their boats with a GPS tracking device. Paddle 45 minutes from their Pillar Point Harbor location, and you'll be at legendary surf wave, Mavericks ($15 per hour; 650-773-6101, www.hmbkayak.com).
Hikers and runners will relish the sea breezes along the waterfront oceanside trail, connecting several beaches, or at the conifer-lined trails of Pursima Cree Redwoods Open Space Preserve in the hills above town.
Where to Eat: Post adventure, swing by the Half Moon Bay Brewery for classy pub fare, made with organic and locally grown ingredients, or kick back with the locals and a Maverick's Amber Ale on the waterfront deck (650-728-2739, www.hmbbrewingco.com).
Where to Stay: For five-star luxury set atop sea bluffs, check into the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay (from $305, 650-712-7000, www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/half_moon_bay/). Don't miss the alfresco fare at the new Ocean Terrace Restaurant overlooking the sea and be sure to enroll the kids in the year-round Ritz Kids program. For even more alfresco living, book one of the 52 ocean-side campsites at Francis Beach's state campground, which, last year, began offering beach-wide Wi-Fi access. In April 2004, the campsite facilities were remodeled-and now include hot showers ($25 a night; 800-444-7275, www.reserveamerica.com).
7. Oregon: Newport, South Beach State Park/Kite flying and Whale Watching
From historic Nye Beach to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and Interpretive Center -- home to Oregon's tallest lighthouse -- your car will be a sandbox by the time you're ready to head home. Our favorite beach for kids is South Beach State Park (www.oregonstateparks.org/), two miles south of Newport. This long, wide stretch of sand is perfect for kite flying and sand-castle building. Stop in at the Kite Company in Newport, a behemoth 6,500-square-foot retail space, pick your poison from a selection of delta, dragon, box, diamond, stunt, or parafoil kites, then take it for a spin at South Beach. Or head to Depoe Bay, the official Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast.
During the week of August 28 through September 4 is Fall Whale Watch Week (503-986-0707). For surfers, Moolack Beach is as good as it gets in Oregon. Get started at Ossie's Surf Shop, where they'll give you the lowdown on gear and the best surf conditions (541-574-4634, www.ossiessurfshop.com/).
Surf camps and lessons are available up the coast at Cannon Beach's Surf Adventures (503-436-1481, www.oregonsurfadventures.com).
Where to Eat: Try the Cioppino (a fish stew) or New York Pan Roast at Shark's Seafood Bar and Steamer, which stakes claim as the only non-fried seafood restaurant on the Oregon coast (www.sharkseafoodbar.com, 541-574-0590).
Where to Stay: Book one of the 27 yurts available at South Beach ($29 per yurt; 541-867-4715; www.reserveamerica.com). Starfish Point condominiums (www.starfishpoint.com/) offer two-bedroom, two-bath condos with Jacuzzis, full kitchens, and panoramic views. From $165 for weekend nights off-season, from $175 during high season.
8. Florida: Sanibel and Captiva Islands/Finding Seashells
Not every family fun-time activity has to be adrenaline packed. Slow it down on Gulf Coast neighbors Sanibel or Captiva with seashells. The two islands are like one giant shovel that scoop up the millions of seashells that migrate to the Gulf Coast from the Caribbean.
Search long enough and you'll find perfectly intact conchs, welchs, scallops, clams, and starfish. Sanibel's well-maintained bike paths cover 25 miles of shopping districts and back roads, and meander through friendly neighborhoods, beneath shady tree canopies, across wooden bridges, and along quiet waterways. On Rabbit Road Trail, which runs along a canal, you might see small gray marsh rabbits and the alligators who want to eat them.
Rent a bike or even sign up for a Segway tour of Sanibel at Billy's Rentals (800-575-8717; www.billysrentals.com). At Tarpon Bay Explorers (239-472-8900 www.tarponbayexplorers.com), sign up for canoe, kayak, or fishing tours of the "Ding" Darling Refuge, a 6,000-acre wetland.
Where to Eat: A funky Sanibel classic, McT's Shrimp House and Tavern gets rave reviews for its conch chowder, oysters and steamed seafood platter, though you'll want to save room the legendary Sanibel Mud Pie – if you can (www.eatmoreshrimp.com; 239-472-3161).
Where to Stay: The Sanibel Inn (866-565-5480; www.sanibelcollection.com) has 600 feet of beach, an L-shaped pool, bird- and butterfly gardens, access to The Dunes Championship Golf Course, free bikes with kid carriers, and suits with sleeping capability for up to six people. On Captiva, South Seas Island Resort offers kids camps, sailing lessons, and tennis courts (doubles from $154, 877-205-1293, www.southseas.com).
9. Texas: Mustang Island, Port Aransas/Fishing
Everything is big in Texas, including the fish. Which is why you may want to check the hurricane patterns and -- if the coast is clear -- head to Mustang Island, just northeast of South Padre Island National Seashore.
The Port Aransas Ferry System provides free transportation service from Port Aransas to Mustang Island seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. In addition to sand that seems to stretch on forever, the bays, jetties, and deep Gulf waters are home to speckled trout, redfish, black drum, flounder, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, kingfish, tarpon, sheep head, sailfish, marlin, tuna...the list goes on and on. Captain Ivey's Charters (call 361-749-4302, 800-552-3486 or go to www.fishingportaransas.com/ivey/ ) offers five-hour deep-sea fishing trips starting at $450 for three people.
For world-class kiteboarding, visit nearby Bird Island Basin off Padre Island National Seashore. Take a lesson at Air Padre Kiteboarding (prices range from $200; call 956-299-9463 or go to www.airpadrekiteboarding.com).
Where to Eat: At sundown, head to Buelah's to dine on local blackened redfish and their signature Chocolate Silk pie (361-749-4888).
Where to Stay: The historic Tarpon Inn (doubles, $69-$79; 361.749.5555, www.thetarponinn.com/ ), built in 1886, claims to be the birthplace of sport fishing in Texas. Or rent one of the pastel-colored Latitude 28 cottages (start at $129, 361-739-7292, www.latitude28cottages.com), and time warp back to the fifties era of Texas beach living.
10. Massachusetts: Cape Cod — Wellfleet/Swimming/Biking/Having Fun
Here's a statistic that says it all: 61 percent of Wellfleet is Cape Cod National Seashore Park. About 33 miles north of Hyannis, Wellfleet is also home to the Cape Cod National Seashore Headquarters and the 1,000-acre Massachusetts Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary. In addition to swimming, surf fishing, and eating oysters, there's an innovative summer-long children's program that includes dance lessons and yoga on the beach.
For more information, go to: www.wellfleetma.org.
If the kids still have time to play, rent beach cruisers from Rail Trail Bike Shop (508-896-8200, www.railtrailbikeshop.com) and pedal the 26-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, a ribbon of pavement that runs from Dennis to Wellfleet.
Where to Eat: Satisfy that craving for fresh, buttery lobster and down east clam bakes at Moby Dick's, a seaside restaurant complete with cheesy, seascape murals and the requisite lifesaver on the wall (www.mobydicksrestaurant.com, 508-349-9795).
Where to Stay: Rent one of 19 Surfside Colony Cottages (508-349-3959, www.surfsidevacation.com/), an unpretentious fleet of vacation homes, many of which back right up to the beach. Three-bedrooms start at $1,850. Or experience Cape Cod charm in the Carriage House, the smallest outbuilding on the Inn at Duck Creeke complex, a Wellfleet icon (508-349-9333, www.innatduckcreeke.com)