- Karen Huppertz for The AJC
Your usual beach spot feeling a little stale this year? Wait too late to book and your options are too expensive, too small, too large ... or just plain wrong. Want to try a new spot, but not sure where to visit?
We've compiled a list of southeastern beaches that might just put the "ahh" back in your vacation.
If you want to read a trashy novel ... or walk miles of uncrowded, sandy shoreline, take a look at the Palm Coast of Florida. The area consists of a dozen beaches along 70 miles between St. Augustine, Fla., and Daytona Beach, Fla. You can find rentals to meet any budget, from campgrounds and RV parks near Flagler Beach to luxury resorts at Cinnamon Beach. Have your toes in the sand and your copy of "Fifty Shades of Grey" open to page one in just six hours.
If you want to be active ... make the drive to Fripp Island, a six-and-a-half square-mile barrier island in lowcountry South Carolina. The island offers boat, kayak and paddle board rentals, as well as miles of biking trails. Families can join organized nature walks, turtle nest patrols, shelling and crabbing. Each week between Memorial Day and Labor Day kids ages 3 to 12 can participate in Camp Fripp while mom and dad play tennis, golf or sip something tropical beachside. The gated island is approximately 21 miles from Beaufort, S.C., 96 miles south of Charleston, S.C., 65 miles north of Savannah and just over five and a half hours from Atlanta.
If you want to dance the night away ... sure, you could head to South Beach in Miami, but the famous Red Bar in Grayton Beach, Fla., is a much more laid-back way to shake your groove thing. Self-described as "a funky little beach town full of free-spirited folks with a laid-back attitude," Grayton Beach lies along the Florida Panhandle between Panama City Beach, Fla., and Destin, Fla. The eclectic little town offers good dining, funky art and a variety of rental options from quaint cottages to modern beach homes. Check out the Grayton Beach live webcam.
If the idea of chain restaurants turns your stomach ... consider Siesta Key, Fla., a barrier island consisting of three beaches just south of Sarasota, Fla., along the Gulf Coast. The casual atmosphere feels like a mixture of old-fashioned Florida and something out of Peachtree City. Visitors travel around town by calling one of several beach taxi services for a golf-cart or dune buggy ride.The rides are free, relying instead on your generous tips.
Voted as one of the best beaches by USA Today, Trip Advisor and AARP, the fine, white, quartz-sand beach's unique claim to fame is the sand never gets hot under your feet. Restaurants are all locally owned, casual and delicious. Eight and a half hours from Atlanta, but worth the extra drive.
If you'd like a little history thrown in ... it just makes sense to visit the nation's oldest city, St. Augustine. Founded forty-two years before Jamestown, Va., St. Augustine is bursting at the seams with historical attractions. Dating back to the 1500s, visitors can tour the Spanish fortress Castillo de San Marcos; Flagler College, built in the 1800s; the Alcazar Hotel, now the Lightner Museum and City of St. Augustine offices; and Casa Monica, a recently restored hotel originally built by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler.
The supposedly haunted St. Augustine Lighthouse and nearby Alligator Farm are must-sees. And what would a trip to St. Augustine be without a visit to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park?
Visitors can find great accommodations in the historic district, at several nearby campgrounds or beachfront at St. Augustine Beach. Commemorating 450+ years, St. Augustine is always celebrating its history in a variety of ways. Only six hours from Atlanta.
If you can't live without eighteen holes ... Sunset Beach might be your best bet. There are over 30 golf courses within a short distance of this coastal community on the southeast coast of North Carolina, halfway between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C.
The town encompasses both a mainland and a two and a half-mile long barrier island. The laid back vibe of the area is the perfect getaway spot after a day of shopping in Myrtle Beach or a tour of the Battleship North Carolina in Wilmington. And if the golf club isn't enough, the Silver Coast Winery is about 15 minutes away. Tee off after a six-hour drive from Atlanta.
If you are looking for a good party ... one often-overlooked spot is Daufuskie Island, S.C. Accessible only by boat, this island sits closest to Hilton Head, S.C., and may be best known as the subject of Pat Conroy's memoir "The Water is Wide." According to the island's website, "Most native residents of Daufuskie are descendants of freed slaves, who have made their living oystering and fishing for decades." Just to be clear, you’ll be leaving your car on the mainland.
Golf cart tours are available to see the many historic sites, artisan studios and galleries. But great music and a lively party happen daily at the Freeport marina and Old Daufuskie Crab Company restaurant or a little further around the island at Marshside Mama's. Ferry boats depart from Broad Creek Marina in Hilton Head twice a day, so there's no need to get pulled over for a BUI. It’s about four hours from Atlanta to Hilton Head and the ferry takes about an hour.
And finally, if salt, sand and an ocean breeze are all you need ... we reluctantly share an all-time favorite spot about six hours away – Pawley's Island, S.C. Located 70 miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, Pawley's is one of the oldest seaside resorts on the East Coast. This is lowcountry at its best. Ride bikes, fish in one of the nearby creeks and watch the sunrise each morning over the Atlantic Ocean. You'll be impressed by the selection of great restaurants nearby.
Oh, and don't forget to take home an original Pawley's Island rope hammock.