It’s a common predicament: You need an escape to the sun, and all you can think of are the obvious places that everybody else is thinking of too. And, because everybody else is trying to book them, they’re overpriced and overcrowded. Well, we’re here to help: TripAdvisor has identified the best beaches in the U.S. and the world—many of them lesser-known gems—and, on top of that, has found affordable hotels and vacation rentals nearby. These are places that anyone planning a winter escape ought to consider. For example:
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF FLORIDA
Instead of: Miami Beach
Try: Clearwater Beach
Walking on Clearwater Beach feels like walking on baby powder. That’s what I remember most clearly from my family vacation there four years ago. What my sons remember? The beach volleyball: “When you dive for the ball,” my 12-year-old recalls, “it’s like diving into a pillow.” I splurged on the kid-friendly Sandpearl Resort, but a more economical hotel such as Sea Captain Resort on the Bay can be booked on TripAdvisor for an average rate of $161/night. Or you can rent a waterfront studio for about $114/night.
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Instead of: Mission Beach
Try: La Jolla Shores
Mission Beach may be a traditional San Diego go-to, but La Jolla Shores is a jewel to discover. I once stayed just down from this mile-long strand at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, one of the few California hotels where your door opens right onto the beach, just steps from the water. But also nearby, more affordable and rated even higher, is the Empress Hotel of La Jolla, bookable on TripAdvisor for an average rate of $227/night. Traveling with an entourage? You could book this seven-bedroom home starting at $800/night.
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF OAHU, HAWAII
Instead of: Waikiki Beach
Try: Lanikai Beach
It’s only a half-hour drive from busy downtown Honolulu, yet it’s a world away from the Waikiki hustle and bustle, and the snorkeling is magnificent. Nearby is another little-known treasure, Paradise Bay Resort Hawaii, bookable on TripAdvisor for an average of $295/night; or consider a two-bedroom home starting at $800/night.
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF MAUI, HAWAII
Instead of: Wailea Beach
When you want something different from the resort vibe of Wailea Beach, head to Wai’anapanapa’s black sand beach, amid 120 tropical acres that many Hawaiians hold sacred. The Hana Kai Maui nearby is bookable on TripAdvisor for an average rate of $337/night. Got kids in tow? There’s a two-bedroom beachfront home on Hana Bay starting at $275/night.
IF YOU’RE THINKING OF THE CARIBBEAN
Instead of: Sapphire Beach, St. Thomas
Try: Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos
What makes Grace Bay the #1 beach in the world? While dotted with resorts, the three-mile-long strand never feels crowded. You won’t find the cruise-ship day-trippers that jam busier islands like St. Thomas. And Grace Bay is part of a protected coastal and marine national park; it’s almost as beautiful under the water as above it. Surprisingly, it can be affordable to boot. Just a few minutes’ walk from the beach, the Caribbean Paradise Inn is bookable on TripAdvisor for an average rate of $256/night.
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