America's 10 best winter beach retreats
1. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
With more than 100 hotels welcoming guests, 4,000+ restaurants cooking away, and 107 tourist attractions open to visitors, San Juan’s post-Maria comeback is something to behold. Add to that the stunning beaches and the 16th-century colonial history, and you have the makings for a trip that mixes relaxing tropical vacation with cultural getaway. Hit the beaches in the blissfully uncrowded mornings (Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach are local favorites) and spend your afternoons strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the candy-colored buildings of Old Town. History buffs won’t want to miss Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro” to locals), a 16th-century fort perched at the edge of a triangle of land.
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EAT: Alcapurrias, bacalaitos, empanadillas – do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the names of popular Puerto Rican street foods pre-trip so you’ll be ready to hit the food trucks the minute you land. Choose from the many vendors in Old San Juan, or if you’re up for exploring, drive about 30 minutes to Piñones, famous for its authentic street food. For an eclectic array of options, head to Lote 23, a collection of food trucks serving everything from poke bowls to croquettes to made-to-order donuts.
STAY: Like San Juan itself, The Gallery Inn is a masterful mix of old-world charm and gorgeous tropical getaway. Originally built in the 17th century, the inn is a labyrinth of lush gardens (19 of them, inf fact), art studios, fountains, a music room (check the front desk for concert times), a pool with waterfalls, and 27 guest rooms. Don’t miss the wine deck, with its panoramic views of Old San Juan (rooms from $117).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (three-and-a-half-hour flight), Orlando (four-hour flight), New York City (five-hour flight).
2. SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA
The sea is hands-down the main attraction in Sanibel, and while there are some top contenders when it comes to beaches – Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass Beach are all stellar options – whichever spot you choose you can rest assured you’ll be treated to fine white sand and calm turquoise waters. To get out on said waters, sign up for a kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a naturalist will explain every wading bird and mysterious underwater shadow you encounter as you paddle through the mangrove forest (tours from $35; includes use of the kayak for the rest of the day). Cool off with a trip to Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream, a local institution famous for its island-inspired flavors (Key-Lime Hurricane, Dirty Sand Dollar) and signature animal cracker perched atop each scoop (scoops from $4).
EAT: “Restaurant” doesn’t seem like quite the right word for The Island Cow. It’s more of an event, complete with an outdoor corn-hole set-up, photo opps, live music, and yes, food. The bustling spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a four-page menu that has everything from pancakes to conch fritters (breakfast from $8; dinner entrées from $10). For something a little more serene, Gramma Dot’s sits dockside at the Sanibel Marina and serves all manner of local seafood, from grouper and tilapia to soft-shell crab and shrimp (entrées from $26).
STAY: In a state where beachside hotels are plentiful, Seahorse Cottages is a welcome departure. Tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood, the collection of cottages – ranging in size from studio to two-bedroom – feels welcoming and quaint, almost as though a relative has given you the keys to a guesthouse for the weekend. Hospitality prevails, with free cruiser bicycles for guests to explore nearby Old Town Sanibel, as well as beach chairs, umbrellas, and wagons to cart your beach gear back and forth (adults only, from $135).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (2 hr 45 minute drive), Orlando (1-hour flight), New York City (three-hour flight).
3. KAILUA, OAHU, HAWAII
Winter months mean towering waves at many of Oahu’s most popular beaches – which is great if you want to sit on the sand and admire the world-class surfers, but far too dangerous for mere mortals to go swimming. Kailua Beach, however, is nearly always calm and safe. The small, gentle waves make it an ideal beach for everything from swimming to kayaking to kiteboarding. On days when the water is extra calm, rent a kayak from Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle the mile or so out to the Mokulua Islands (rentals from $59). Conveniently, the town’s best shave ice is just a few storefronts down from the rental shop. Post-kayaking, drop off your boat and treat yourself to an icy, syrupy delight (shave ice from $3.50).
EAT: Just across the road from the beach, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been serving up tropical drinks and steak and fish dinners for 55 years. The feel is part tiki-bar kitsch, part tropical elegance (no tank tops after 4:30 p.m.) (entrées from $23).
STAY: Kailua and neighboring Lanikai are primarily residential, so hotels are few and far between. In-the-know visitors opt for house rentals instead – and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. You’ll likely be spending most of your time here at the beach, so look for something that’s walking distance to the water.
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (20-minute drive), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight).
4. HANALEI, KAUA'I, HAWAII
Kaua'i has managed to stay a little more under the radar than other Hawaiian islands, and that's what makes it so appealing. Hanalei, on the North Shore, is as close to magical as a town can get – lush green mountains, fields of taro, and rainbows on a daily basis. The horseshoe-shaped, secluded Hanalei Bay is the best beach for swimming and lounging on the golden sand, but if you want to get out on the water, sign up for one of the four-hour motor-powered raft trips with Na Pali Riders. You'll explore sea caves, go snorkeling, and almost definitely spot dolphins (tours from $149). Afterward, dry off with a hike along the Hanakapi'ai Trail, which follows the stunningly beautiful Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back, about four miles altogether.
EAT: You can't go to Hawaii without trying a plate lunch: a local specialty that consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein (often teriyaki chicken or seared ahi). Locals rave about the version served up at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a restaurant owned by a family that's been farming taro in the valley for generations (plate lunch from $10). For straight-from-the-ocean fish, have dinner at The Hanalei Dolphin Sushi Lounge (hanaleidolphin.com).
STAY: The four studio apartments at casual Hanalei Inn, just a block from Hanalei Bay, have full kitchens and an outdoor lanai with a grill, so you can save money by cooking meals during your stay. Plus, the picnic table looking out at the mountains is the perfect place to have your morning coffee (from $159).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (40-minute flight), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight).
5. LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA
Done the right way, this SoCal beach town can be surprisingly down-to-earth. After all, some of its first citizens were not glamorous teenagers or housewives but early 20th-century struggling artists such as William Wendt and Lolita Perine. The arts still play a big role here, thanks to the Laguna Art Museum, galleries along the waterfront, and the Laguna Playhouse. Still, the seven miles of classic California coastline are the big draw. Beaches fill up during the summer, but in the winter months they're blissfully crowd-free – especially 1,000 Steps Beach, just off 9th Street (don't let the name scare you; there are actually only 230-something steps leading down to the beach). The waves are perfect for boogie boarding, and the views – golden cliffs and multimillion-dollar houses, some with elevators – are pure SoCal. Post-beach, drive a mile and a half along Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna Canyon Winery, where you can sample award-winning reds and whites in the cozy, low-lit barrel room (tastings from $2, waived with bottle purchase).
EAT: As you watch the sun dip below the horizon from Sapphire Laguna’s patio, you’ll understand why they call their happy hour “Sunset Hour.” The menu – a pared-down version of their lunch and dinner offerings – includes a curated selection of wines, beers and specialty cocktails, plus a just-right sampling of snacks and entrées. Beware the house-made potato chips, made with rosemary, sage, and sea salt – they’re so deliciously addictive you could easily order them on a loop, staying long past the actual sunset. During the cooler months, stay warm at a table near the fire pit. (snacks from $4; entrées from $11).
STAY: With its Spanish Colonial architecture, lush gardens, and towering palms, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is quintessential Southern California. Each of the 23 rooms is unique and lively, designed with Moroccan tiles and bright fabrics. Start the day with the complimentary breakfast, then choose between the heated pool, on-site spa, or the beach, just across the street (from $230).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: L.A. (50 miles; about one hour by car), San Diego (73 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Chicago (four-and-a-half-hour flight).
6. GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA
In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana's Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000. But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds. Anglers adore this island thanks to the more than 280 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and many flock to Grand Isle State Park to fish in its calm waters. Those not obsessed with reeling in The Big One head to the beaches. Although the 2010 oil spill closed all beaches on the seven-mile-long island this summer, most stretches of golden sand reopened in August 2018, after an intensive cleanup effort.
EAT: Most of the restaurants on Grand Isle specialize in – what else? – fresh fish, particularly catfish and trout. So make like a local and indulge in the fish sandwiches and po'boys at Starfish Restaurant (sandwiches from $5.25).
STAY: The old-fashioned, no-frills Cajun Tide Beach Resort sits beachside and caters to anglers with a fish-cleaning room, a screened-in cooking room, and enough barbecue pits for guests to cook up feasts from the day's catch (from $50).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: New Orleans (109 miles; about two hours by car), Baton Rouge (160 miles; about three hours by car), Chicago (three-hour flight to New Orleans), Detroit (four-and-a-half-hour flight to New Orleans).
7. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
San Diego is a small town with big ambitions: the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter, with its shops and restaurants, feels urban, but the crashing waves of the Pacific nearby create a vibe that's classic American beach village. However, the best way to experience it all is to hit the boardwalk. At Pacific Beach, known for its wide stretches of sand and perfect surfing waves, rent a beach cruiser from Cheap Rentals and ride the three-and-a-half-mile stretch to South Mission Beach, passing all manner of local characters along the way: scantily clad in-line skaters, vacationing families, throwback '60s hippies, and even the random guy on a unicycle who always seems to make an appearance (rentals from $6 per hour).
EAT: The massive breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, and fresh avocado at beachside Kono's Surf Club is a San Diego rite of passage – as is the line that snakes out the door and around the corner (breakfast from $3.50).
STAY: Beach shacks in the area sound charming...until you see the shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and sagging mattresses. Tower23 is a welcome departure from the norm, with its modern, glass-box look, neutral-palette rooms filled with teak furniture, and a hip indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with a view of the ocean (from $229).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: LA (120 miles; about two hours by car), Phoenix (one-hour flight), Seattle (two-and-a-half-hour flight).
8. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA
One of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles (a collection of barrier islands just off the southeastern coast), St. Simons is known for its centuries-old moss-draped oak trees, historical landmarks, white-sand beaches, and 99 holes of golf. Cars are allowed on the island, but the leisurely pace of life here will make you want to stay away from anything with a motor. Instead, rent a beach-cruiser bike from Ocean Motion Surf Co. and pedal your way past King and Prince Beach, plantations, the lighthouse, and Christ Church, originally built in 1820. The ride covers about 14 miles, and there are plenty of stops to admire the scenery, so allow at least a half day (rentals from $15).
EAT: Owned by the same family for 30 years, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill prides itself on its passed-down-from-generations recipes and its welcoming we’re-all-friends-here ambiance. With the exception of a few obligatory chicken and steak dishes, virtually everything on the menu is seafood-based. Whatever you choose, be sure to start with an order of shrimp and grits, the house specialty (entrées from $18).
STAY: The oak trees on St. Simons are so treasured that the Village Inn & Pub was built around them – not one tree had to be cut down during construction. This place is as charming as it gets: the reception area is a restored 1930s cottage, the English pub is outfitted with a huge stone fireplace, and each of the 28 guest rooms is named for a historical figure with some significance to the island, such as Sid Lanier, a poet, novelist, and composer (from $135).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Savannah (84 miles; about two hours by car), Atlanta (282 miles; about five hours by car), Charleston, S.C. (193 miles; about four hours by car).
9. ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA
Most people don't automatically associate the phrase "beach retreat" with Alabama – but don't tell a local that. Alabamians are adamant that their Gulf Coast beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. The sand is 95 percent quartz, meaning it's snow-white and sparkles in the sun, and the waters are as blue as any you'll find in Florida. Nine-mile Orange Beach has everything you need – warm water, lots of room to spread out your beach blanket, and restaurants just off the sand. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20).
EAT: Gulf Shores Steamer is a rarity in these parts: a beachside seafood joint that doesn't fry everything in sight. In fact, the folks here don't fry anything. Instead, the fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters are steamed or grilled—and always delicious (gulfshoressteamer.com, entrées from $15).
STAY: The beachfront 346-room Perdido Beach Resort is like a community unto itself, with four restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tubs, and tennis courts (from $94).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Mobile, Ala. (54 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Pensacola, Fla. (29 miles; about one hour by car), St. Louis (four-hour flight to Mobile).
10. GALVESTON, TEXAS
In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (from $26).
EAT: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar (gumbo from $12), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the Ceviche Corinto at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (ceviche $17).
STAY: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (from $102).
EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).
10 Best Budget Destinations for 2013
Year after year, friends and family of the Budget Travel staff inevitably ask us the same question: "Where's the coolest and most affordable place to go next?" Luckily, we work hard to get at the right answers for them. Each year before the holidays, the BT team combs through piles of data regarding new flight destinations, airline prices, places aggressively building new hotels, cities experiencing cultural booms, currency charts, and other statistics to compile our list of the 10 best Budget Destinations for the upcoming year. Some destinations were more interesting to us because they were so full of new and unique attractions (Northern Ireland!), and others were standby dream vacation spots that were suddenly more affordable than they've been in recent years (the Loire Valley, France). But the one thing they have in common is that they're completely accessible and ripe for exploring now. So read up, pick a place, and get planning! SEE THE DESTINATIONS! 1. TORONTO, CANADA Why in 2013: Toronto is seriously having a moment. The cultural, entertainment, and financial capital of Canada has not only undergone a huge building boom (with more than 30,000 new homes being built over the past year alone) but New York City exports are opening up here at rapid pace, like the new Thompson and Trump hotels, and David Chang's Momofuku empire. (In fact, foodie-ism is at its prime in Toronto—the St. Lawrence food market, with its 120 specialty vendors, is regularly considered one of the world's best.) But what makes it a great budget destination is that unlike the rest of the world, hotel prices didn't increase at all in the first half of 2012, with the cost of an average room remaining at $148, according to the 2012 Hotels.com Price Index. Like any good bustling North American city, there are myriad cultural options to be found here, from museums, great theater, art galleries, and shopping, but because this is a harbor town off Lake Ontario, there are also plenty of affordable outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking, and canoeing, especially around the Toronto Islands. And because about half of the population was born abroad, the ethnic food scene is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Beyond Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India, there is also a Koreatown, Little Portugal, Little Jamaica, and neighborhoods specializing in Polish, Japanese, and Greek cuisine. One last dollar-saving factor? You don't need a car while visiting. The TTC, or Toronto Transit Comission, is the third largest transit system in North America, and completely simple to navigate. When to Go: Peak visitor season is in the summertime, which means both airfare and hotel costs are much higher. If you're aiming to save some money, try September through November, or March through May. Where to Stay: The downtown Bond Place Hotel is a contemporary and charming hotel with ultra-modern rooms and an eye for urban-design—and is extremely affordable. The prime location at Yonge-Dundas Square is a quick walk from the Theater District and Eaton Centre (an enormous indoor mall), as well as within walking distance of many of the universities (65 Dundas St. East, bondplace.ca, doubles from $79). 2. ANTALYA, TURKEY Why in 2013: If you've never heard of the Turkish Riviera, you're not alone—Americans have thus far rarely ventured to the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey for holiday, unlike Eastern Europeans, who have been flocking here in droves for years. All that seems likely to change this year for several reasons: Average hotel prices have significantly and notably dropped from last year (from $193 to $146, almost 25 percent), and in 2011 it beat New York City to become the world's third most visited city by international tourists. The word is out about this city that's part beachfront, part metropolis, and part ancient town. And even though many of the tourists here are of the incredibly wealthy European variety (the city even boasts a megaresort, Rixos Sungate Hotel, with the world's second largest spa!), the 5-star all-inclusive resorts on the beaches offer rates as low as $100 a night. More adventurous types will also get a huge kick out of the city's proximity to some of the oldest known architectural ruins in the world. The nearby Catalhoyuk Mound is one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic site to date, existing from 7500 BC to 5700 BC. When to Go: It gets well into the 90s in the middle of summer, so it's best to visit in September through October, or May through June. While it never gets particularly cold in the winter months, you won't want to take a dip in the chilly Mediterranean then either. Where to Stay: If you love history and immersing yourself in local culture, skip the beachfront resorts for Kaleici, the charming old city that's teeming with mosques, churches, Turkish baths, open-air markets, and bazaars. The Puding Suite Hotel is a 300-year-old mansion built out of Roman stone walls located in the heart of the old town, which is a thick tangle of small, cobblestone streets. (Beware the cars zooming around the corners—this is not a pedestrian village.) The rooms have been properly modernized and include flat screens and Jacuzzi tubs, and there's also a heated swimming pool, spa, and one of the best restaurants in town onsite (Mermerli Sok. 15, pudingsuite.com, doubles from $146). 3. LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE Why in 2013: According to the 2012 Hotel Price Index, the historic wine and chateaux region known as the Loire Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) saw a 19 percent price decrease in average hotel rooms, bringing them to $128—pretty good, considering going to France isn't generally considered a budget affair. And in November of this year, the Euro hit a two-month low against the dollar due to bailing out debt-burdened member nations. Bad news for Europeans, but it adds to your advantage when traveling right now. (As of press time, 1 Euro equalled $1.27.) The best way to see the area is to rent a car in Paris and drive 150 miles south until you reach the middle stretch along the Loire River. You'll want to be able to drive to the various vineyards—the fertile land is home to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as Muscadet. Add to the fact that there are hundreds of small country inns, charming B&Bs, and chateaux-turned-hotels here, ranging from as low as $70 a night, and you're looking at an attainable dream trip in 2013. When to Go: July and August are the most crowded, so we suggest aiming for spring and fall. The weather is still warm here in September, and the rolling hills take on a gorgeous golden hue. Where to Stay: The supremely charming, family-run Hotel Diderot in Chinon was once an aristocratic house from the 17th century, and its 27 rooms have of course been modernized, though the interior décor still hints at its noble past—the spiral staircase is from the 18th century and the fireplace in the breakfast room is from the 15th century. The beds are antiques, and exposed beams and hardwood floors throughout the home complete the overall grand vibe. Breakfast is served on the terrace in the warmer months, and includes over two dozen homemade preserves to slather onto your fresh baked breads (4 Rue de Buffon, Chinon, hoteldiderot.com, doubles from $67). 4. PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA Why in 2013: With its towering namesake palms and countless pools, Palm Springs has long been heralded as California's desert oasis, where the stars and golf aficionados fled when they needed a little R&R. Now, with a 6 percent drop in airfares amid near-universal increases nationwide, it's also a refuge for bargain-seeking travelers. Along with the decrease in ticket prices, Palm Springs International Airport is seeing a spike in traffic—over 16 percent more passengers flew through in 2012 than in 2011—and it's also expanding its reach with new, nonstop routes from New York launching in December through Virgin America. On the ground, the town has been rolling out the red carpet for visitors, making as much room as possible for the new surge of sun-seekers. The city gained over 1,600 new hotel rooms since 2008 through an aggressive tourism incentive program designed to boost the local economy, and it's also among the top 10 domestic markets for new vacation rental listings. When to Go: With not-yet-scorching temperatures, winter and early spring remain peak seasons. Crowds descend on the area for big-ticket events in January (the Palm Springs International Film Festival) and April (perennially popular Coachella), and occupancy rates remain high in between. Opt for fall instead to beat both the heat and the masses. Where to Stay: Alcazar Palm Springs, an intimate 34-room property opened in 2011, makes an ideal retreat with its soothing décor in crisp white, black, and chrome. Owner and Palm Springs native Tara Lazar parlayed the success of her restaurant, Cheeky's, into the boutique hotel and onsite Italian restaurant, Birba (622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, alcazarpalmsprings.com, doubles from $79). 5. KO PHI PHI, THAILAND Why in 2013: Even if Ko Phi Phi isn't familiar by name, you still might recognize its turquoise waters, leaf-blanketed limestone peaks, and signature longtail boats—the hallmarks of this island paradise off the coast of Thailand inspired wanderlust the world over when it was spotlighted in the film The Beach, the drama that launched a thousand backpackers. An archipelago comprised of two main islands, Ko Phi Phi was on the rise as a holiday destination when it was devastated by the tsunami of 2004. Eight years and a rigorous rebuilding effort later, it's now well on its way to becoming a luxury tourist spot. Because of its high tourist concentration and the construction of plush new resorts such as the Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort and Spa, Ko Phi Phi can be somewhat expensive by Thai standards. This year, however, hotel rates have dropped by 27 percent to an average of $151 per night, compared with a 13 percent increase in nearby Phuket. When to Go: Spring (March, April) offers a sweet spot between the peak tourist season of the holidays and the onslaught of the rainy season in May. Where to Stay: Located in a quiet corner of the busier Phi Phi island is the Mama Beach Residence, which has 24 rooms that combine modern touches (WiFi, satellite television, and air conditioning—which is harder to come by than you might expect in these parts) with island necessities (beach access and sun decks outfitted with cushy chaises). You can also book day trips to uninhabited Ko Phi Phi Leh and its famed Maya Bay, beloved by snorkelers and divers. (199 moo 7 Tambon Aonang, Ko Phi Phi, mama-beach.com, from $98). 6. NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE Why in 2013: In the new hit ABC drama Nashville, a political powerbroker describes his hometown as "a thriving, prosperous city, an industrial and cultural juggernaut." In other words, the home of the Grand Ole Opry is going a little heavy on the "grand," while easing up considerably on the "ole." You might say life imitates art. This spring, a brand-new, $585 million, 118,000-square-foot convention center will open downtown, which will in turn help fuel the city's ongoing hotel construction boom. To meet the needs, over 1,000 rooms are currently under construction, with five new hotels potentially slated for the SoBro (South of Lower Broadway) neighborhood alone—a move that is expected to drive average daily rates down in the city. But growth in Nashville isn't solely related to real estate. In a city known primarily for its "hot chicken" and "meat and three sides," chefs are helping to transform Nashville into a new culinary powerhouse, along the lines of Charleston, with all the requisite James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. On the other end of the spectrum, buzzy food trucks are hitting the streets of hip neighborhoods like East Nashville and The Gulch, the first LEED-certified green neighborhood in the South. When to Go: Gourmet restaurants and architecture aside, Nashville is still the capital of the country music world. From June 6 through 9, the city will play host to the CMA Music Festival, which attracts a who's who of country stars, including Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Miranda Lambert (cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival, four-day passes from $125). Where to Stay: Don't be fooled by its location near the airport: Hotel Preston is much cooler and more refined than an airport hotel has any right to be. Think complimentary pet goldfish, lava lamps on request, and a "spiritual menu"—in lieu of Bibles in the nightstand, you can request any number of holy texts, including the Koran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita (733 Briley Parkway, Nashville, hotelpreston.com, doubles from $93). 7. NORTHERN IRELAND Why in 2013: Northern Ireland has been a bit, well, troubled for the better part of the 20th century, thanks to the bloody religious conflict known as The Troubles. Peace has since been restored, but that didn't immediately skyrocket Northern Ireland to the top of travelers' bucket lists. So how's the outlook in 2013? Just ask the aptly named Oaky Dokes, the red squirrel mascot of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city and the first ever U.K. City of Culture (cityofculture2013.com). The 6th-century walled city beat out finalists Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield, and will spend $25 million in new cultural programs designed to bring in tourism, including performances from the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, a new punk musical, and the premiere of a Sam Shepard play. The city itself has also gotten a makeover. Ebrington Square, former military parade grounds, reopened in 2012 as a new public space for outdoor concerts and festivals, and it also saw the opening of the Peace Bridge, which links the predominantly Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. Best of all, Northern Ireland is now easier (and cheaper) to get to: Beginning in fall 2012, EasyJet and Aer Lingus added more flights between Belfast and London, which is expected to increase competition with British Airways and thus further lower airline prices. When to Go: The UK City of Culture program will run throughout 2013, but late March is a particularly rich period. On March 18, the London Symphony Orchestra will present the works of John Williams, with excerpts from Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on March 30-31, the Royal Ballet will perform for the first time in Northern Ireland in two decades. Where to Stay: The Beech Hill Country House Hotel, a Georgian estate set among lush woodlands two miles from Londonderry, is filled with period antiques. The property once housed U.S. Marines during World War II (32 Ardmore Rd., Londonderry, beech-hill.com, doubles from $87). 8. SLOVAKIA Why in 2013: After their amicable split in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia took very different approaches to singledom. The Czech Republic, led by majestic Prague, became a major stop on the backpacker circuit and eventually caught on with jetsetters. Slovakia, on the other hand, has always remained more of a quiet hidden gem. But on the 20th anniversary of its independence, with one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, Slovakia finally seems ready for its close-up. In recent years, the capital Bratislava has seen the construction of a luxury riverside five-star resort and a brand-new community-run Jewish cultural center. Despite its growth, the capital has remained surprisingly affordable: According to the 2012 Priceoftravel.com Backpacker Index, Bratislava is more than half as cheap as nearby Vienna for travelers, ranking as the 10th biggest bargain among major European cities. But 2013 is really all about Slovakia's second city, Košice, which shares the European Capital of Culture designation with Marseille, marking the first time a Slovak city has held the title (www.kosice2013.sk/en). The well-preserved city, which dates back to the 12th century, boasts the largest cathedral in Slovakia, the Gothic St. Elizabeth. In 2013, however, the focus will be on the future. The city's 19th-century military barracks have been converted into Kulturpark, a creative district that will promote contemporary art, experimental theater, and modern dance, with performances and exhibits throughout the year. When to Go: Capital of Culture events are scheduled throughout 2013, but one that shouldn't be missed is the Biela Noc, or White Night, on October 5, 2013. The program, which started in Paris in 2002 and has since spread across Europe, brings musical performances and art installations out into the streets of Košice well past sunset. Their slogan? "We guarantee you won't fall asleep." Where to Stay: Part of the Historic Hotels of Slovakia association, the Hotel Bankov dates back to 1869, making it the country's oldest surviving hotel. The onsite restaurant serves Slovak specialties, such as roasted quail with leek fondue (Dolný Bankov 2, Košice, hotelbankov.sk/en, doubles from $108). 9. BORACAY ISLAND, THE PHILIPPINES Why in 2013: As tourism from east Asia and the United States grows each year, the white-sand beaches of this southeast Asian archipelago should move from your bucket list to your see-it-before-it's-overrun list—especially since Royal Caribbean made its first call to Boracay in October, a move that's sure to incite other cruise lines to do the same. This will no doubt have a universal impact on Philippines tourism and its still-affordable hotel prices. But it's also rather remarkable considering that tourists never even set foot on Boracay until the 1970s. Now there are more than 300 resorts and hotels for visitors to choose from on this thin speck of prime oceanfront real estate (less than a mile wide and less than four miles long) and last year the area saw more than 900,000 visitors. Regional airlines like Airphil Express make the hour-long flight from Manila to Boracay's new airport for less than $25 round-trip. When to Go: January to May is typically the best weather, but unless you're keen to celebrate Easter with thousands of other tourists, skip Holy Week (March 24 to 31 in 2013), when major cities are packed with visitors. While heavy rain is always possible here, the second half of the year is typhoon season and best to avoid. Where to Stay: Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center in Boracay offers upscale rooms with kitchenettes, a pool, onsite restaurants, and easy beach access (Boat Station 2, Boracay, crownregencyhotels.com, doubles from $110). 10. THE BAHAMAS Why in 2013: If it seems as if the Bahamas are an annual fixture on you-can-afford-to-go-here lists, well, they are—for good reason. According to Travelocity, fares to the islands, north of Cuba in the Atlantic ocean, fell 4 percent this year even as the number of visitors to the islands increased by 8 percent—the average airfare to the Bahamas in 2012 was $463. From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to iconic Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite "stylish steal" for savvy travelers—just take a look at hotel prices, which fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 according to the Bahamas Hotels Association. For a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine, stop into Twin Brothers for mixed platters of local favorites like conch, snapper, and grouper (Arawak Cay, Nassau, twinbrothersbahamas.com, grilled combos from $20.50). When to Go: Mild trade winds keep the average temperatures in the 70s and 80s pretty much year-round, but rainy season is May through October, making the islands most hospitable in late fall, winter, and early spring. Where to Stay: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, with gorgeous Cable Beach just outside, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants (including the Black Angus Grille, serving steaks and seafood) are onsite, and the casino offers table games and slots. Suites with balconies are available but you're probably going to be happier hitting the sand and surf (West Bay Street, Cable Beach, New Providence Island, wyndhamnassauresort.com, doubles from $112).
10 Coolest Small Towns in Europe
America hasn't cornered the market on Coolest Small Towns! Sure, we love London and Paris as much as the next traveler. But over the years, some of the most charming, delicious, historic, and, well, cool places in Europe that we've covered in Budget Travel have been off-the-beaten-path villages and towns. As the saying goes, good things really do come in small packages. SEE THE TOWNS! CESKY KRUMLOV, CZECH REPUBLIC One of the oldest villages in the Czech Republic, Cesky Krumlov is set in a valley in Bohemia south of the Blansko Forest and circled by the Vltava River. The village grew up around the 13th-century Gothic castle of the Lords of Krumlov, which has 40 buildings and palaces, gardens, and turrets and today is a major performing arts location. The cobblestone streets of Cesky Krumlov's Old Town are lined with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance buildings housing art galleries, cafes, and quaint B&Bs. One of the best ways to experience the town is to take a ride down the Vltava on a wooden raft ($24, en.ceskykrumlov-info.cz). How to Get There: Prague, about 110 miles away, is connected to Cesky Krumlov by a three-hour bus ride ($10 each way; jizdnirady.idnes.cz). PALMANOVA, ITALY Founded in 1593 as a stronghold of the Venetian Republic, this UNESCO World Heritage town was built in a unique, 18-sided octadecagon shape. When viewed from above, the fortress community looks like a delicately made paper snowflake, with streets radiating out of the structure like sunbeams. Tucked into a valley with a lagoon running into the Adriatic Sea, the land surrounding Palmanova yields high-quality Chardonnay, while the local waters are stocked with mullet, sea bass, and other delicious fish. In town, look out for the symbol of a leafy bough, or a frasca, hanging outside of restaurants to pinpoint ones serving regionally sourced food, such as the classic Venetian dish baccalà, made with dry-salted cod. At night, the city's earth-and-stone defensive works are lit up like a movie set. How to Get There: Palmanova sits between Venice and Trieste in northeastern Italy. It's accessible by car along the A4 and A23 motorways and Highway 352. Venice is 75 miles to the southwest, while Trieste is 34 miles to the southeast. The town also sits close to the Cervignano del Friuli station and is serviced by the Udine railway (prices vary). ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, GERMANY Germany's so-called Romantic Road—which slices north to south through the southern German state of Bavaria—earned its name for its string of stunning castles. But most of the region's bastions are stand-alone tourist attractions, not thriving municipalities. A charming exception is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a red-walled town set up on a hill above the Tauber River. It has all the pastoral views and scenery of the Romantic Road's other castle stops yet has a strong civic pulse, too. Walt Disney was so taken by the town, in fact, that he used it as inspiration for the village in the movie Pinocchio. An earthquake destroyed the castle's main tower in 1356, but the town's red-roofed medieval and Renaissance houses have endured for centuries and were fully restored after World War II. Visitors can tour the castle's stone towers—protected beneath covered walkways—and stop by its base, where crafts shops sell everything from antique clocks to handmade garden gnomes. Cuisine is celebrated here in a way it isn't in larger German cities like Frankfurt or Berlin, let alone in castle canteens elsewhere. You may come here for the shining armor—but you'll return for the delicious renditions of Bavarian comfort foods (more spätzle, anyone?). How to Get There: The closest major tourist city to Rothenburg ob der Tauber is Munich, which sits about 130 miles southeast. Train service runs between the two cities and takes about three hours (tickets from $67). You can also drive: The A7 autobahn runs right past town. BIBURY, ENGLAND Located on the River Coln in hilly west-central England, Bibury was described by 19th-century artist-writer William Morris as "the most beautiful village in England"—which is saying something in a country known for its watercolor views. Honey-colored 17th-century stone cottages, the Saxon Church of St. Mary, and a still-working 1902 trout farm are some of the ancient village's must-sees. The most photographed spot is Arlington Row, a collection of 14th-century stone buildings that were converted into weavers' cottages in the 1600s. How to Get There: The closest train station to Bibury is 12 miles away, in Kemble. Multiple trains make the 80-minute journey from London's Paddington Station (nationalrail.co.uk, round trip from $57). Cirencester, seven miles away, is linked to London by daily buses (nationalexpress.com, round trip from $30). There is no public transport directly to Bibury, but taxis are available and local hotels will often arrange transport for guests. DÜRNSTEIN, AUSTRIA On the banks of the Danube, in the shadow of a castle from the Middle Ages, Dürnstein is one of those impossibly quaint towns where everything, from the red-tiled roofs to the baroque clock tower to the winding cobblestoned alleys, seems lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Just an hour downriver from Vienna, Dürnstein is an under-explored retreat and a gateway to the surrounding Wachau valley, a grape region prized for crisp, dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. To experience the area like a local, take a seat inside a Heuriger, a cozy tavern that sells only indigenous wines, namely those from the most recent harvest. Authentic establishments hang fir branches above their doorways to welcome the thirsty, while Schrammelmusik (traditional fiddle-and-accordion folk music) plays from within. Although the Wachau is known for its grapes, it is the Marille (apricot) that sets the region apart. In early April, the valley erupts in pale-pink blossoms, and the fruit begins showing up in strudels, pork dishes, and Marillenknödel (apricot dumplings rolled in butter-toasted bread crumbs). Wieser Wachau Shop & Café, with locations throughout the valley, sells apricot soap, schnapps, and marmalade (wieser-wachau.at). How to Get There: The town is best reached by car and is only about an hour drive from Vienna on the A1 autobahn. For a more picturesque route, opt for a day trip river cruise on the DDSG Blue Danube MS Admiral Tegetthoff (ddsg-blue-danube.at/eng, round-trip $39). BINN, SWITZERLAND Life moves slowly in the village of Binn—and that's by design. Years ago, the residents of this tiny Alpine town (pop. 150, two and a half hours from Bern) decided to stave off development by preserving the surrounding valley as a park. Today, instead of the posh ski resorts and multilane highways in much of southwestern Switzerland, Binn remains a time capsule of village life. Gravel lanes wind between neat pine chalets. Flower boxes filled with geraniums hang from every window. The town's 16th-century bridge is traversed by hikers and goats instead of cars. Up the Binna River, visitors will find even smaller hamlets and picture-perfect meadows, where they can spread out a picnic of local wine and raclette cheese and listen to the cowbells ring down from the high pastures. About a mile from Binn along mountain trails, the riverside Restaurant Imfeld is a timber chalet at 4,983 feet with a terrace overlooking the Alps. Hikers can stop in for fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—prepared by rubbing salt, herbs, and spices into raw beef and leaving it to dry in a wooden barn for at least six weeks (011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9). How to Get There: Because of Binn's remote location, it's not exactly an easy trip to get to the town from major cities. On PostBus Switzerland, you can get from Zurich to Binn in a little over three hours with two bus transfers—not a terrible trek to reach total untouched seclusion (postbus.ch, one way from $56). TRÉMOLAT, FRANCE While Provence is justifiably famous for its rosé and rustic gîtes (holiday rental homes), that celebrity comes at a high price. Nearly a straight shot across the country, close to Bordeaux, the cluster of market towns known as Périgord Noir offers weekly cottage rentals at nearly half the cost—and the small-town experience is no less picturesque. One of the quaintest towns in the area, Trémolat sits on a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Dordogne River and is dominated by a fortresslike Romanesque church that dates back to the 11th century. But the highlight of the town is farm-to-table restaurant Les Truffières. Yanick Le Goff oversees a classic ferme auberge—a working farm that serves the food it grows (011-33/5-53-27-30-44, six-course family-style meal with wine $34, reservations required). Plates like barbecued duck, garlic-and-goose-fat soup, and house made foie gras are paired with local wines like a lavender-tinged aperitif or a rosé. The surrounding area is best known for its dark oak forests, hillside vineyards, medieval châteaux, Stonehenge-like megaliths, and, of course, the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascaux with haunting images of bison, horses, and traced human hands estimated to be an astounding 17,000 years old. How to Get There: From Paris Montparnasse station, Tremolat is a five hour and twenty minute ride with one transfer at Bordeaux St. Jean (raileurope.com, from $78). TENBY, WALES The city walls of the seaside resort town of Tenby might have kept attackers out during the Middle Ages, but today they can't quite contain the pastel Georgian buildings spilling right out onto the sand. The view from the harbor is rightfully renowned, but you can get an even better taste of Tenby's medieval past by taking a ramble down one of its narrow, winding alleys—like the quirkily named Lower Frog Street, a canyon of color. (No amphibian greens, though—Tenby's hues skew lighter.) The town is always popular with holidaymakers, but it's getting an extra boost this year with the recent opening of the Wales Coast Path, an 870-mile meander along the country's edge that includes Tenby on its route. Trekkers can enjoy shades as sweet as the seaside treats sold by candymaker Lollies. How to Get There: Trains from London to Tenby on the National Rail service take roughly five hours, with one change in Swansea (nationalrail.co.uk, one way from $24). ERICEIRA, PORTUGAL With its cobblestoned streets and tiled buildings, Ericeira looks like a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. But north and south of the village center, scalloped cliffs give way to white-sand beaches and—much to surfers' delight—consistent right-hand reef breaks. Thanks to its seaside location, Ericeira is also well-known for its seafood. Though the town's name is said to come from the Portuguese word for sea urchins, the regional specialty here is lobster, which are bred in nurseries along the rocky coast. How to Get There: Ericeira is a mere 37-minute drive northwest of Lisbon. VESTMANNAEYJAR, ICELAND From their base in the capital city of Reykjavik, most visitors to Iceland will follow the usual tourist circuit of the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, and thermodynamic geysers. The Westman Islands, a wild volcanic archipelago off Iceland's southern coast, feel a world away. The 15 islands are named not for the Norse settlers that conquered these parts but for the Irish they enslaved; the Norse referred to the Irish as Vestmenn, or Westmen. The inhabitants on Heimaey—the only inhabited island in the bunch—and the main port town of Vestmannaeyjar are still mostly a mix of Norse and Celtic descendants. The principal industry is commercial fishing, and the wharf is lined with unassuming seafood restaurants. The just-caught fish—cold-water species like cod and halibut—are usually prepared in a traditional European style, sautéed in brown butter. Adventurous travelers can explore the islands by hitching rides with local fishermen. If a professional operation is more your speed, go with Viking Tours (boattours.is, 90-minute island circle tour $40). The 90-minute ride circles Heimaey, yielding picture-perfect vistas of rugged sheer cliffs, with killer whales splashing offshore, plus a healthy population of puffins. Venture inside Klettshellur, a sea cave formed by crashing waves; a crew member will likely play a tune or two on a saxophone to demonstrate the dramatic acoustics. How to Get There: The most direct route between Reykjavik and Vestmannaeyjar is a 20-minute flight on Eagle Air (ernir.is, one-way from $169). A cheaper option, the Herjólfur ferry, departs from Landeyjahöfn, a new harbor on Iceland's southern coast that opened in 2010 (eimskip.is, 30-minute ferry ride from $10)—the harbor can be reached by bus from the capital.
9 Most Colorful Beaches in the World
Most beaches need umbrellas and blankets to brighten up the landscape. Not these nine stretches of sand. From iconic pink sand beaches in the Bahamas to a green beach in Hawaii, we've rounded up nine beaches around the world that you have to see to believe—and we show you exactly how to get there. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST COLORFUL BEACHES! BLACK SANDMuriwai Black Sand Beach, New ZealandBlack sand beaches are typically a result of an island's explosive volcanic past—the rich color is a result of a mixture of iron, titanium, and several other volcanic materials. New Zealand's stunning Muriwai Black Sand Beach is a 37-mile stretch of sparkling black sand and home to New Zealand's largest colony of Gannet birds. Hike up the scenic trail at the southern end of the beach to two viewing platforms for great ocean views and a peek at the birds in their natural habitat, where nearly 1,200 pairs nest between August and March each year. See it for yourself: Just a 40-minute ride west of downtown Auckland, Muriwai Black Sand Beach can be a day trip, or book a room at the Lodge Escape at Muriwai for from $120 a night. Feeling gutsy? Try a two-hour lesson from the Muriwai Surf School (from $60 per person including equipment). GREEN SANDPapakōlea Beach, Big Island of HawaiiLocated on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach. And for good reason. The sand here is made of tiny olivine crystals from the surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu'u Mahana cinder cone by the waters of Mahana Bay. The density of the olivine crystals keeps them from being washed away by the tide, resulting in a striking olive-green accumulation along the coastline. Swimming is allowed but waves on the windy southern coast can be particularly strong. And while it's tempting, it's bad form to take the sand home with you. See it for yourself: Papakōlea Beach is equidistant from both Kona and Hilo, and well worth the scenic two-hour-and-15-minute drive on Highway 11 (look for signs for Ka Lae, or South Point between mile markers 69 and 70). You can also take the two-mile hike along the southernmost point in the U.S.A. for a glimpse of the uniquely olive-green sand. RED SANDRed Beach, Santorini, GreeceSantorini's Red Beach (also called Kokkini Beach) is set at the base of giant red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters. The colorful red sand is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks left over from the ancient volcanic activity of Thira, the impressive volcano that erupted and essentially shaped Santorini in 1450 B.C. Nowadays, the beach is popular with sunbathers, though you'll want to rent beach chairs to avoid sitting directly on the coarse sand. And it's best to visit in the early morning hours—the sand heats up under the warm Mediterranean sun. See it for yourself: The easiest way to reach Red Beach is by boat from Akrotíri or Períssa on Santorini. Pair your trip to the beach with a visit to the ancient Minoan Ruins of Akrotiri, a 10-minute walk away. PINK SANDPink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, BahamasA lot goes into making this Pink Sand Beach so… pink. The three-and-a half-mile-long stretch gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. The pink sands can also be found on Harbour Island's Atlantic side and along the Exuma Sound—Lighthouse Beach, Surfer's Beach, Winding Bay Beach, and French Leave Beach are also famous for their rosy sand. See it for yourself: Several flights to Eleuthera are available through Bahamasair from South Florida, or opt for one of several ferries or water taxis from the other Bahamian islands. The five-hour Eleuthera Express from Nassau costs $35 per person one-way. To get to Harbor Island from North Eleuthera Airport, take a 10-minute taxi ride (about $5 per person) to the boat dock and a 10-minute water taxi (also about $5 per person) across to Harbor Island—bicycles, scooters, and golf carts are available for rental once on the island, while walking tends to be the preferred form of transportation. PURPLE SANDPfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CaliforniaHave you ever heard of purple sand? Head to the northern coastline of Pfeiffer Beach, where patches of violet and deep-purple sand can be found. The source is large deposits of quartz and manganese garnet originating in the nearby hills being washed down from the creek to its final resting place along the Pacific. The purple sand is more likely to be seen after storms during the winter. Swimming is not recommended because of strong currents and a number of sharp purple rocks offshore, which also contribute to the beach's rare coloration. See it for yourself: Pfeiffer Beach is located just outside Big Sur State Park about an hour south of Monterey, or roughly two hours and 45 minutes south of San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. Keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road just past mile marker 45.64 and continue through Los Padres National Forest—if you are driving from Northern California, turn right approximately 0.66 miles after you see the park ranger station. Parking is available for $5 per vehicle. ORANGE SANDPorto Ferro, Sardinia, ItalyThe northern corner of Italy's island of Sardinia is home to Porto Ferro, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of oddly orange-colored sand thanks to a unique mixture of the area's native orange limestone, crushed shells, and other volcanic deposits. You can also find 65-foot-tall ochre-colored sand dunes behind the beach on the way to Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural salt lake. The area is known for its scenic bike and hiking paths, and three Spanish lookout towers—Torre Negra, Torre Bianca, and Torre de Bantine Sale—that date back to the 1600s. Boating is the best way to explore this pristine area of Sardinia, which is also a popular spot for diving, surfing, and windsurfing. See it for yourself: Ryanair offers affordable round-trip flights from many Italian cities to the town of Alghero on Sardinia, with prices from Rome's Ciampino Airport starting at around $69 per person. Once on the island of Sardinia, Porto Ferro is just 19 miles outside Alghero—drive northwest toward the town of Capo Caccia, turn right, and continue up the coast to reach Porto Ferro. WHITE SANDCrescent Beach, Siesta Key, FloridaA lot of places boast that they have white-sand beaches, but it doesn't get much whiter than Crescent Beach, located on Siesta Key, a barrier island just off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The sand here is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida's rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. The best part about this sand's fine texture: Not only does it feel like you're walking through powdered sugar, but because of its unique quartz makeup, it will never heat up no matter how hot the Florida sun beats down. You'll also find coral and other diverse rock formations at the southern end of the beach at Point of Rocks that make this a great area for diving and snorkeling. Alas, it turns out there may be one beach with whiter sand: Hyams Beach in Australia is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sand in the world. See it for yourself: Siesta Key is about a 20-minute drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport—travel south on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Siesta Drive, turn right and go over the bridge to Siesta Key, bear left at the first traffic light, follow State Highway 758, and make a right at the second traffic light at Beach Road. Park in the lot on the left and walk five minutes south to reach Crescent Beach. GRAY SANDShelter Cove, Humboldt County, CaliforniaOne word best describes Shelter Cove: remote. It's worth the trip to see the gray-colored sand, the result of years of erosion of the nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. The area is also known for its scenic coastal drives, hikes, and an abundant source of wildlife at the nearby 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, home to sea lions, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk—even Bigfoot himself has been spotted roaming the woods here. See it for yourself: Make the four-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101 to Northern California's Humboldt County. Shelter Cove is along "The Lost Coast" just above Mendocino County and about an hour south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Look for the Redway-Shelter Cove exit on U.S. Highway 101 and drive onto Briceland Road to get to the northern part of the beach. MULTICOLORED SANDRainbow Beach, AustraliaRainbow Beach makes up for its small size (just 0.62 miles) with its many colors. There are 74 different hues, a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that has been occurring since the last ice age, and the makeup changes. There is a sad romantic story behind the colors as well. According to an ancient Aboriginal legend, the sands became colorful as a result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large 656-foot tall beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman, leaving his beautiful colors to rest on the beach for all of eternity. See it for yourself: Rainbow Beach is a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast of northeast Queensland. Greyhound Australia offers shuttle bus service to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane International Airport—prices for a round-trip adult ticket start from $114 per person including taxes. Another bus company, Premier Motor Services, offers similar routes for from $60 per person for a round-trip ticket.
Ireland's 10 Best Attractions
Whether you're headed to the Emerald Isle any time soon or simply window-shopping, we've rounded up 10 of the best attractions Ireland has to offer, from natural wonders on the Atlantic coast to Dublin's literary highlights, a world-famous castle, and traditional music and merriment. SEE OUR READERS' BEST IRELAND PHOTOS Davy Byrnes Pub This establishment on Dublin's Duke Street is mentioned in Irish novelist James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, and attracts visitors from around the world for precisely that reason. Stop in for a pint of stout and a taste of the famed Dublin wit at the heart of Joyce's work. Abbey Theatre Having presented the work of playwrights such as William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Samuel Beckett, Dublin's Abbey Theatre can rightly claim to be the treasure house of Irish literary culture. Catch a play, then follow the actors to a favorite nearby haunt, the Flowing Tide, for refreshment. Trinity College Founded in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I, this college, on the south bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin, boasts alumni that include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. Today, it is home to the iconic Book of Kells, a spectacular illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. Newgrange In County Meath, about 30 miles northwest of Dublin, this prehistoric passage tomb (a narrow passage made of large stones with a covered burial chamber) takes you back to 4000 B.C., a thousand years before England's Stonehenge. During the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small opening above the tomb's doorway, illuminating the chamber. Blarney Castle Yup, it's as touristy as it gets, but countless visitors have made the five-mile pilgrimage from Cork City to this impressive tower to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone (by some thoroughly unreliable accounts, a fragment of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall) in hopes of acquiring the gift of gab. Before you schlep all the way, be warned: In order for your lips to reach the storied stone, you have to lean backward over a parapet with an attendant holding your legs to keep you from falling. Aran Islands A short boat ride from Rossaveal or Doolin will take you to these islands off the Atlantic coast where the Irish language is still spoken. The smallest of the islands, Inisheer, is like a time capsule of ancient Ireland, with its patchwork of fields and stone walls; the Hotel Inisheer is famed for traditional Irish music and merrymaking. Cliffs of Moher Towering 700 feet above the roaring Atlantic Ocean, these shale and sandstone cliffs, near the village of Liscannor about halfway between Kerry and Connemara, make you feel as if you are standing on the edge of the world. A visitors' center offers guided tours and on clear days you can see past the Aran Islands all the way to Connemara. Skellig Michael A 700-foot-high rock that rises from the sea off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Skellig Michael can be reached by an hour-long boat ride from Valentia Island. But when you disembark your journey isn't complete; you can climb 650 small steps cut out of the rock to see the remains of a 7th-century Christian monastery. Maamturk Mountains Galway has been a mecca for cyclists for years, and the Maamturk Mountains offer gentle climbs that take you past pristine lakes and bogs, plus the opportunity to coast down into tiny Leenane, where the Atlantic Ocean flows into Killary Harbour. Glenveagh National Park North of Galway, this isolated park is home to red deer and falcons and offers some of the most beautiful hiking, such as the Derrylahan Trail and the Glen Walk through the Derryveagh Mountains.