The local Crystal Coast Stargazers (ccgazers.com) offer monthly astronomy programs to point out the particulars of what’s starring overhead. “The dark skies are good for our resources, but they’re great for nighttime ecotourism, too,” says B.G. Horvat, interpretation and education chief. Check their Facebook page for upcoming free events including a Telescope and Astrophotography Workshop at Fort Macon State Park on March 18.
Cape Lookout National Seashore, 131 Charles St., Harkers Island, North Carolina. 252-728-2250, www.nps.gov/calo
Steeped in the history of powerful business tycoons with names such as Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, Jekyll Island is a favorite of those who want to step back into another era. Along with restored “cottage” mansions of the rich and once-famous, visitors will find a secluded destination that draws reunions, weddings and intimate gatherings. With the opening of the Courtyard/Residence Inn Jekyll Island ($195 and up, 178 S. Beachview Drive, 912-635-2764, www.marriott.com), visitors without deep millionaire pockets can enjoy the same unspoiled beauty that brought those A-listers of the late 1880s. The beachfront property provides immediate access to the surf and boasts the island’s largest heated pool, as well as a hot tub, kiddie splash pad, a fast-casual restaurant, fitness center and spa.
Jekyll Island Guest Information Center, 901 Downing Musgrove Causeway, Jekyll Island. 912-635-3636, www.jekyllisland.com
New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
It’s not just humans who love a beach break. Our canine friends do, too. At Joy By the Sea ($350 a night and up, 2901 S. Atlantic Ave, 386-428-0513, joybythesea.org), recently opened in New Smyrna Beach, dogs are welcome to bring their owners for fun in the sun. Situated within a few steps of the sand, the property features rental villas and homes surrounding a saltwater pool. At the northern tip of the town’s 17-mile beachfront, visitors and their dogs are welcome to frolic at the pet-friendly Smyrna Dune Park (2995 N. Peninsula Ave.). On the land side, more than three dozen dining destinations are happy to host owners and pets while serving up regional seafood favorites, locally crafted beers and plenty of laid back, casual cuisine.
New Smyrna Beach Area Visitors Bureau, 2238 State Road 44, New Smyrna Beach, Florida. 386-428-1600, www.visitnsbfl.com
Sullivan’s Island, S.C.
Just minutes from the historic attractions of downtown Charleston lies Sullivan’s Island, a 3.3-mile spit of sand that was first settled in the 17th century. Today, the barrier island near Charleston’s harbor is noted for its unspoiled beaches, water sports, bike paths through the marshes and plenty of places to cast a line. It’s also known for having no hotels: Visitors can book one of 200 rental homes that contribute to the island’s family-friendly, laid-back lifestyle. Dine like a local at The Longboard (small plates $14-$23, 2213-B, Middle St., 843-868-8161, thelongboardsullivans.com), a recently opened eatery that capitalizes on local seafood with raw and oyster bars, and entrees of octopus, prawns, mussels and more.
Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, 375 Meeting St., Charleston, South Carolina. 800-774-0006, www.charlestoncvb.com
This city on the Cape Fear River boasts easy access to three beaches. Pick from the sandy stretches of Wrightsville, Kure and Carolina beaches to spread out a blanket and pop up an umbrella. Each has its own attractions, including Carolina’s beachside boardwalk, Kure’s Civil War-era Fort Fisher State Historic site and the North Carolina Aquarium, and Wrightsville’s water sports that include surfing and swimming as well as paddleboarding and kayaking along the intracoastal waterway.
A short drive from the water’s edge, Wilmington’s historic downtown is dotted with historic sites including the antebellum Bellamy Mansion and the World War II Battleship North Carolina. Both the beaches and town boast eateries where fresh seafood is the star. Stop by one of the newest dining destinations, Seabird (entrees $27-$32, 1 S. Front St., 910-769-5996, seabirdnc.com), located along the city’s famed Riverwalk. Husband-and-wife team Dean Neff and Lydia Clopton oversee an oyster bar and a menu of small plates and updated catches such as Eastern cioppino and mahi-mahi schnitzel.
Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1 Estell Lee Place, Wilmington, North Carolina. 910-341-4040, www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com
South Walton, Florida
Enjoy exceptional views of the Gulf of Mexico’s emerald waters from The Ivory Tower, a 2.5-story suite in The Court ($412 a night and up, 215 Quincy Circle, Santa Rosa Beach, 866-595-7178, www.thecourtseaside.com), a new lodging on the secluded Santa Rosa beach. The multi-level space is the premier option among boutique guest residences built around a landscaped garden.
After a day of surfing, swimming, fishing and sunning, head to the Central Square for fine dining, shopping and wine walks, or sign up for an art class at the Gulf Place artists colony. Enjoy local cuisine at recently opened eateries The Citizen, specializing in fresh gulf catches, and Scratch Biscuit Kitchen, serving hearty breakfasts and lunches.
Explore the nearby Point Washington State Forest’s 15,000 acres where the Panhandle’s ecosystem is on display. With 40% of land off-limits for development, South Walton is noted for its dunes, forests, lakes and expansive beach.
Visit South Walton Florida, 25777 U.S. Highway 331 South, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. 800-822-6877, www.visitsouthwalton.com
Providenciales, Turks & Caicos
If traveling responsibly is part of your destination decision, head to the Ocean Club Resorts – East or West ($305 and up, 118 Grace Bay Road and 54 Bonaventure Crescent, Grace Bay Beach, 649-946-5880, www.oceanclubeast.com, www.oceanclubwest.com) in the Turks & Caicos islands. The all-suite resorts recently earned the first Green Globe certification in the islands by using eco-friendly approaches such as replacing plastic straws and Styrofoam containers, using LED lighting and offering reusable shopping bags in each suite.
Guests are welcome to hop on the complimentary transportation between the two resorts and check out the multiple pools and restaurants, and to discover the area’s natural beauty on bikes, kayaks or paddleboards. But the resorts’ jewel in the crown is the location on Grace Bay Beach on the northeast coast of Providenciales island, a protected barrier-reef coastline with no rocks, swells or seaweed. The pristine setting has earned numerous awards as one of the world’s top beach destinations. Enjoy it from a comfy beach chair under an Ocean Club’s signature pink umbrella.
Turks & Caicos Tourism, Regent House, Ventura Drive, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands. 800-241-0824, www.turksandcaicostourism.com
Long hailed as a haven for family vacationers, Tybee is noted for its laid-back lifestyle and affordable accommodations. Its Atlantic Ocean coastline presents plenty of fun pastimes, from collecting shells to bodysurfing. But the island is also home to calmer waterways that make paddleboarding and kayaking easy. Fishing, biking and dolphin tours are added attractions.
Mix a bit of education into your stay with a visit to the 5,000-square-foot Tybee Island Marine Science Center ($10, 37 Meddin Drive, 912-786-5917, www.tybeemarinescience.org) on the island’s north side, close to the lighthouse. Along with touch tanks, floating classrooms and life-sized replicas of sea turtles, the facility is home to the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary that highlights an underwater park. The center hosts a variety of activities for kids, including beach treks, boat trips and sea camp.
Tybee Island Visitors Center, 802 1st St., Tybee Island. 877-344-3361, www.visittybee.com