WowTowel is proud to pass along U.S. News Travel’s 2013 Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.A. U.S. News Travel went into incredible detail with links that are very, very useful and they want your opinion. For instance, U.S. News Travel will ask you whether these beaches belong on the list or not, shows you the beaches on maps, why you should go to this particular beach, lots of pictures, top things to do at that beach, Travel Guide, best hotels, best airfares, when to visit, getting around, neighborhoods, and to plan your trip to your favorite beach. We ask our WowTowel blog readers to please take the time to go through this interactive and very informative top 10 beaches for families in the USA with their multiple links that are helpful per beach. Click here for U.S. News Travel U.S. News Travel’s 2013 Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.A.
#1 OUTER BANKS, NORTH CAROLINA (OBX)
Why go: North Carolina’s Outer Banks has a wide array of beaches that are especially prized for their consistent-yet-manageable waves and beautiful natural landscape. You can also count on OBX to deliver great summer weather. To save some dough on accommodations, consider skipping the hotel in favor of a cottage or condo rental. This will give you more space for family time and, since many rentals sit on the shore, prime beach access.
Outer Banks Travel Tips: History drips from the Outer Banks: Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kitty Hawk), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke), and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (where is anyone’s guess). But this chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina — OBX for those in the know — isn’t just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing, nature watching and ATV driving attracts the adventurous types while the beach, mini-golf and the aquarium entertains families and young couples. And each island has its own charm: The old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south couple with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops in the north, all to form a unique seaside destination.
Keep in Mind:
- There’s a dress code OBX is a pretty casual destination but you still want to throw something on when you leave the beach.
- There’s a fish code Jellyfish are common off the coast of OBX so carry some vinegar and let the lifeguard know if you’ve been stung.
- There’s a swim code If the red flag is flying, the tides are too strong for swimming. Also stroke clear of the surfing areas; otherwise, you’ll be a danger to the surfers and yourself.
How To Save Money in Outer Banks
- Skip the summer Prices jump sky high to take advantage of the summer crowds, so plan an off-season visit instead. Most attractions will be still be open — even the outdoor spots.
- Skip the hotel Staying at a beach cottage on Nags Head is a more authentic way to experience OBX, and cheaper too. The National Park Service also reserves camping spots for around $20 a day if you feel like roughing it.
- Skim the site The OBX’s Visitors Bureau offers a special discount card online and also posts local deals on lodging, travel packages and business specials, so be sure to check out the website as you plan.
Outer Banks Culture & Customs: The Outer Banks have a long history, as home to everyone from Native American tribes to the Wright brothers. And because of all the ships that have sunk here, it’s also known as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.” According to local lore, one such ship crashed off the Outer Banks coast in the 1600s, spilling its cargo of Banker horses into the water. The horses made their way onto shore and have stayed ever since, mostly in Ocracoke. Although they are not native to the islands, they remain an important and visible vestige of the region’s storied past.
Today, the OBX has become a huge tourist destination, which still offers a bit of a rustic feel for those who want both a relaxing and an active getaway. There are miles of coastline here, where swimsuits are acceptable. But be sure to throw something else on when you go into town.
Outer Banks Dining: Fresh seafood with a southern twist is an Outer Banks specialty. The bigger and more tourist-oriented communities of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk generally have more options than other spots in the OBX. In Nags Head, many recommend Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant, which is attached to a seafood market. If you’re traveling in the off-season, we suggest calling ahead to check that the establishment is still open, as many close for the winter season.
#2 MAUI, HAWAII
Why go: While cost is a barrier for any family beach vacation, it’s an especially large barrier in Hawaii. Still, Maui contains some of the most abundant and exotic family-friendly sands in the United States. Wailea Beach is the obvious go-to, with golden shoreline plenty of umbrellas to go around. But the kids will also enjoy building castles with the red sands of Kaihalulu or the black sands of Waianapanapa State Park.
Maui Travel Tips: Maui is an attraction-filled destination that seems like a compilation of Hawaii’s best qualities. Surfing beaches? Check. Volcanoes? Several. Family-friendly? Definitely. Posh resorts? Absolutely. The legions of vacationers that come back home teary-eyed and hypnotized can’t be wrong — this is where you learn Hawaii is more than a series of islands, it’s also a spiritual experience. Step off the plane, take one whiff of the plumeria blooms and you’ll be hooked.
You should note that every Hawaiian island offers something different. With Maui, you can expect one of the most tourist-friendly experiences. The island is easily covered by car, and the diverse terrain keeps photos interesting. If you’re looking for adventure, you’re better off on the Big Island. Should you want luxurious isolation, head to exclusive Lanai. For most visitors, Maui excels at providing the envisioned Hawaiian vacation and is the perfect introduction to the archipelago.
Keep in Mind…
- Beware the “resort fee” Things that used to be freebies (like the hotel gym, the daily newspaper and making local telephone calls) are now tacked onto your hotel bill. Unfortunately, they’re not negotiable, but at least you’ll know in advance.
- Beware the “plate lunch” The term might make it sound like a light mid-day meal, but in truth, this uniquely Hawaiian tradition is a heaping pile of meat, at least two types of starch and fish.
- Beware daylight savings Or keep in mind that there aren’t any. When the rest of the U.S. moves their clocks one-hour forward, Maui is three hours behind the West Coast and six hours behind the East Coast
How To Save Money in Maui
- Forgo the oceanview You won’t miss much if you have the “garden view,” plus you’ll find the day rate drops significantly.
- Reread your car-insurance policy Some rental agencies will try to convince you that you’ll need collision insurance (This is a no-fault state, where you’ll have to pay any accident damages before leaving). But your personal insurance policy might already cover this. Double check before you rent.
- Skip the luau The Old Lahaina Luau is credited as one of the most popular (and authentic) luaus of the Hawaiian islands, but tickets are nearly $100 per adult, and more than $65 per child.
Maui Culture & Customs: While Maui retains many aspects of its indigenous culture — including hula and a vibrant traditional arts scene — it’s also important to recognize Maui and the island of Hawaii as a uniquely American travel destination. You should never refer to Hawaiian citizens as “natives” or “islanders,” and to be aware that, in addition to the indigenous traditions of the island, Hawaiians also take pride in their status as a state of the union.
Maui Dining: According to About.com, “Maui is Hawai’i's dining epicenter.” From Asian to European cuisine, this small island is certainly pleasing to the taste buds. But a trip to Maui is not complete if you haven’t tasted some of the local cuisine, such as Huli-Huli chicken or a traditional plate lunch, brimming with fresh seafood and macaroni salad.
#3 SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
Why go: San Diego remains a top-ranked family beach destination for its access to calm, family-friendly, and lifeguard-patrolled beaches. Mission Beach is the star here, with miles of creamy sands easily accessible from the downtown area. La Jolla’s shoreline is also popular, especially among families with younger children. The northern coastline boasts calmer waters perfect for novice swimmers.
San Diego Travel Tips: Consistently sunny weather is what draws visitors to San Diego throughout the year: that and the mouthwatering cuisine, thriving nightlife and one of the country’s favorite zoos. And then there are the beaches: As home of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, San Diego has many top activities that revolve around the sea. Head to Mission Beach to soak up the rays, to La Jolla to catch a wave, or to the Maritime Museum to learn a little nautical history.
In spite of constant growth, America’s Finest City maintains a small-town feel, making it a popular destination for families and anyone looking for a more laid-back getaway. But that doesn’t mean you can’t let loose here. Pockets of vivacious nightlife can be found throughout, especially near the historical Gaslamp Quarter. So when it comes to visiting San Diego, take Channel 4 anchorman Ron Burgundy’s advice: “Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.”
Keep in Mind…
- Surf’s up Before diving in, make sure to check the weather and surf conditions at San Diego’s beaches. Heavy tides and rough waves can ruin a leisurely Pacific swim.
- Have your own wheels You’ll discover that exploring San Diego is much easier in a car. Plus, there are many parts of the city where public transport is scarce.
- Stick to the crosswalks Jaywalking is frowned upon here. If caught, you can be fined up to $168.
How To Save Money in San Diego
- Check the calendar There are numerous events and conventions throughout the year, ushering in thousands of visitors at any given time. Plan your trip around San Diego’s event calendar to avoid high hotel rates.
- Skip summer This is the peak tourist season, meaning hotel rates skyrocket while availability plummets. Instead, try for an early spring or late fall getaway.
- Hang your hat downtown Hotels along the beaches charge hefty fees for their views. You’ll find more affordable lodging in the downtown area.
San Diego Culture & Customs: San Diego culture is a confluence of Spanish, Mexican and American cultures. Its eclectic nature as a border town has greatly influenced its art, architecture and politics, especially in the La Jolla and Solana Beach neighborhoods. Balboa Park also features several popular art museums, including the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art and the Museum of the Living Artist.
San Diego Dining: For a city by the Pacific Ocean, San Diego is definitely known as a place to get great seafood and Mexican cuisine. But the area is also popular for outdoor dining, fine wine, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Traveler-approved San Diego restaurants include Phil’s B.B.Q for cheap and excellent American food and Sushi Ota for Japanese dishes.
#4 MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA
Why go: The oceanfront at Myrtle Beach is famous for attracting families to sunbathe and swim on the East Coast. But after you’ve devoted a fair amount of time to the beach, take advantage of the numerous other family-friendly things to do. Kids will especially enjoy a visit to the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Ripley’s Aquarium. Just be sure to wear plenty of sunblock, as the South Carolina sun can be unforgiving.
Myrtle Beach Travel Tips: The clean beaches are the main draw in Myrtle Beach, but there’s more to her than miles of brown sand. One of the best East Coast family vacation destinations, Myrtle Beach, S.C. boasts hundreds of golf courses for golfers at all levels; amusement parks that fling the kiddies around on water rides, roller coasters and race tracks; Dolly Parton singing and dancing for dinner guests; and Ripley’s Aquarium, which dares visitors to commune with the sharks. It might not be the ritziest vacation, but the casual capital of South Carolina’s 60-mile long waterfront, the Grand Strand, is a rambunctious smorgasbord of family fun.
Keep in Mind…
- Look out for jellyfish The marine pest is common in these waters. If you’re stung, wash the afflicted area with salt water and either see a lifeguard or head to the hospital immediately.
- Myrtle’s so hospitable Southern hospitality is alive and well at Myrtle Beach. The people here are laid-back and friendly, peppering their conversation with polite niceties like “Sir” or “Ma’am.”
- But Myrtle also knows how to party Myrtle Beach is a spring break destination for college kids, so if this isn’t appealing, you might want to schedule your trip at another time.
How To Save Money in Myrtle Beach
- Rent a home Consider renting an actual home for a week, especially if you’re traveling with a large group. And with your own kitchen, you have an affordable dining-in option too.
- Visit the tourism board Myrtle Beach’s Tourism Board has coupons for all sorts of attractions, restaurants, shopping and more. There are visitors’ centers in the bus terminal, in the airport and on North Oak Street.
- Visit in the off season Hotel rates jump sky high in summer. Consider visiting in the fall or even the winter. Rates are much more manageable this time of year, and a bevy of holiday events will keep you entertained.
Myrtle Beach Culture & Customs: The residents of Myrtle Beach are very laid-back and the city is generally calm and relaxed, as it is mainly a family destination. However, around the March and April, the city becomes Spring Break central for many area students. The city is overrun by the younger demographic and it can get a little rowdy. If you must visit during this time but want a quiet vacation, head towards the northern end of the city.
Myrtle Beach Dining: Chain restaurants — including Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville — are all over Myrtle Beach. If you are looking for a diverse and innovative foodie scene, this is not where you want to go. However, if there is a major cuisine theme in this coastal city, it is seafood. A decent amount of restaurants are located along Kings Highway (U.S. 17), sometimes called “Restaurant Row,” including some of the city’s finer dining spots. Recent visitors recommend City Bar Metropolitan Cuisine for upscale American and Bonefish Grill for seafood; both are located on Restaurant Row. Leisure travelers also recommend heading about 30 minutes south to Litchfield Beach for more elegant dining options.
#5 SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA
Why go: Sanibel Island is a hit with kids for two reasons. First, the “Sanibel Scoop”—the island’s pastime—keeps little ones occupied for hours, combing the wide beaches for shells and sand dollars. Second, they love the local dessert: Chocolate pudding fruit hits a home run in both taste and health benefits. If you’re not yet convinced, note that hotel deals are pretty easy to find here.
Sanibel Island Travel Tips: This secluded Fort Myers offshoot is considered even more low-key, quiet and quaint than its Gulf Coast neighbor, and that’s saying a lot. Casual is the order of the day on Sanibel Island; a shabby chic vibe permeates the Periwinkle Way galleries, restaurants and shops; seashells cover every sandy and linoleum surface. In fact, the abundant seashells have become this island’s (and its smaller sister, Captiva‘s) claim to fame. You’ll find plenty of beachcombers practicing the “Sanibel stoop” — what locals call shelling — on any lengthy stretch of sand. Plan on joining them for at least one afternoon of your stay; that is, if the mood strikes you. The residents of laid-back Sanibel wouldn’t have it any other way.
Keep in Mind…
- Food is a fine art Seafood is all the rage, particularly grouper and stone crabs. For dessert, order something with chocolate pudding fruit, a locally grown fruit that’s filled with a sweet, chocolate-colored pulp.
- There’s a knack to shelling For the best assortment of whelks, conchs and sand dollars, visit the beach an hour before low tide or right after a rain shower. Ask at your hotel’s front desk for a guide to finding the best “catch.”
How To Save Money in Sanibel Island
- Don’t drive to the beach All of Sanibel’s beaches have metered parking. Book a hotel that’s close to your beach of preference, then walk or bike to the shore.
- Visit in fall Winter is the standout season on Sanibel, but the best shelling conditions are actually in the cheaper fall months. Pack a sweater and book for October or November.
#6 HONOLULU – OAHU, HAWAII
Why go: Oahu is expensive, which is a serious drawback for some families. But the island is still widely regarded as the best Hawaiian beach destination for families. The most family-friendly beaches are in Waikiki, where waters remain relatively calm throughout the year and are watched by lifeguards. And should you tire of the beach, you’ll find plenty of things to do that cater to all age groups, like the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial and the Waikiki Aquarium.
Honolulu - Oahu Travel Tips: Oahu blends cosmopolitan luxury and breathtaking scenery more than any other Hawaiian island. Its capital city, Honolulu, showcases the island’s urban appeal. Nearby you’ll find a host of cultural and historical sites, from the austere USS Arizona Memorial to ornate ‘Iolani Palace. In the nearby Waikiki neighborhood, a skyline of high-rises and resort hotels contrasts with sprawling white-sand beaches. For a taste of rural Hawaii, visit the North Shore. Here, you’ll find the most brilliant blue waters and meandering hikes. But those three spots aren’t all Oahu offers. Its high-class restaurants, vibrant cultural events, and wild nightlife further showcase this island as a “Gathering Place” of Hawaiian culture.
Keep in Mind…
- Oahu is a foodie’s paradise From celebrity-chef steakhouses to mom-and-pop joints, the island’s restaurants serve up varied and delicious cuisine.
- Oahu’s beaches are for surfers The beaches of Waikiki are renowned for their waves, but the swells at Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay are also magnificent.
- Don’t forget about cultural! Visit Oahu’s avant-garde art museums, stroll through Chinatown, or revel in the Aloha Festivals.
How To Save Money in Honolulu – Oahu
- Splurge to save Staying in a ritzy hotel in Waikiki might not seem as economical as the quieter options on the North Shore, but it will keep you from paying a lot to travel to the island’s well-known sites.
- Rent a car If you spring upfront for a rental car, you’ll save more money than paying taxi fare and bus fees in increments throughout your trip.
- Visit in fall If you aren’t a surfer, autumn is a magnificent time to experience Honolulu. Average temperatures are between the low 70s and mid-80s, and the hotel rates can drop as low as $90 a night.
Honolulu – Oahu Culture & Customs: Oahu is one of the centers of Hawaii’s arts and culture scene. The island has a large number of music and dance festivals, including the Annual Ukulele Festival. You can also find many expressions of Polynesian and indigenous Hawaiian culture throughout the island. Be sure to check out the Polynesian Cultural Center on the island’s north shore for a deeper look into the island’s native heritage. It’s also important to regard Hawaiians as American citizens instead of “Hawaiians” or “Native Islanders.” While citizens of Oahu cherish their indigenous ancestry, they also take pride in their American heritage. Residents of the Hawaiian islands generally have a laid-back attitude. Life is slower there than most U.S. cities, and customer service can be inefficient. It’s easy to lose patience while visiting.
Honolulu – Oahu Dining: Although you’ll find many familiar American chains in Honolulu and Waikiki, you should try Hawaiian favorites like shave ice with red bean paste or Filipino pork adobo. The island is also home to famed chefs Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, who put Hawaiian cuisine on the American regional food map. Recent visitors recommend trying the Hawaiian fusion cuisine at Roy’s Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Yamaguchi’s chain restaurant that serves up classic European and Asian dishes with a Hawaiian twist.
#7 CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
Why go: On quirky Cape Cod, your family can learn about the country’s first residents at the Pilgrim Monument, go whale-watching in lively Provincetown, and tackle the scavenger hunt at the Sandwich Glass Museum. At night, pile the whole family in the car and catch a flick at the Wellfleet Drive-in. Just make sure you save some time to kick back and relax along one of the Cape’s golden beaches.
Cape Cod Travel Tips: There’s something delightfully odd about Cape Cod. More affordable than the nearby Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands, this place — known as “the Arm” of Massachusetts or simply “the Cape” to locals — is a main summer retreat for New England mainlanders. Life moves at a slower pace here — larger towns like Dennis and are just getting Wi-Fi — but that’s part of the charm. After bottlenecking on the island’s two bridges, the tourists spread out along the seashore while the more glamorous visitors (Broadway stars, Major League Baseball swingers and the Kennedy Clan) softly clink glasses in the ritzy yacht clubs. Even in the dead of off-season, you can appreciate the quiet calm that comes with a Cape Cod visit. Somewhere amid the glass-blowing demonstrations, harbor seal-spotting tours and the view from atop the Pilgrim Monument in funky — and gay friendly — Provincetown, you’ll realize why Cape “Natives” are so protective of their turf.
Keep in Mind…
- Dress neat-casual Cape-wide, dress codes rarely go beyond casual; still, beachwear isn’t appropriate away from the shore. It’s best if you leave your rattiest sweatshirts at home.
- Eat very local Noshing on fried scallops and clams at a dinky seafood shack is a must — the closer to the ocean, the fresher the fish. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can always charter a boat to fish for your supper or dig for your own oysters in Wellfleet.
- Traffic is a problem With only two bridges, getting on and off the Cape can be a production, especially in the high season. Avoid commuting on Friday and Sunday afternoons at all costs. Stay up-to-date on traffic conditions by dialing 511, the automated MassDOT Traffic service.
#8 VIRGINIA BEACH, VIRGINIA
Why go: The beach-and-boardwalk combo rarely disappoints, and the Virginia Beach Boardwalk is no different. The wooden-planked walkway provides easy access to the golden Atlantic coast, not to mention a variety of games, shops, and kid-friendly eateries. And because you can only spend so much time cruising the boardwalk, devote some attention to educational attractions like the Virginia Aquarium and First Landing State Park.
Virginia Beach Travel Tips: One-third affordable party spot for local college kids, one-third haven for families with small kids and one-third renaissance beach town, Virginia Beach is a coastal city making an attempt to lure beachcombers up from their usual Ocean City, Outer Banks and Myrtle Beach haunts to its own revitalized stretch of East Coast sand and boardwalk. And it’s not doing too shabby either. Like those other towns, “VA Beach” offers scenic coastal views, enough sand and sun to keep the kids entertained and enough affordable nighttime diversion to keep unpretentious adults happy. Sure, the hotels, restaurants or attractions aren’t super-luxe, but the point is that here, no one needs them to be. Come see for yourself, Virginia Beach is for those who want a relaxing good time without any hassle.
Keep in Mind…
- Keep safe at the beach Swim near a lifeguard and avoid rip currents, which are recognizable by particularly foamy and choppy waters. If the conditions are especially dangerous, lifeguards will raise a red flag to keep people out of the water.
- Keep your cover-up handy Virginia Beach is a casual beach destination, but not that casual. You should still cover up when you step off the sand.
- Keep it family-friendly You’ll find lots of signs warning against cursing and an abundance of law enforcement patrolling the streets and boardwalk. So be on your best behavior, Virginia Beach is serious about preserving their PG image.
How To Save Money in Virginia Beach:
- Don’t shop on the beach Souvenir stores are plentiful along the boardwalk, but you’ll find the same trinkets in town for cheaper prices.
- Visit in the early spring The shoulder season in between April and Memorial Day is a great time to visit Virginia Beach for cheap and still enjoy the waterfront.
- Go as a group Beach house rentals and grocery shopping split among a large group means more money for you.
Virginia Beach Culture & Customs: There’s plenty of parking enforcement here, so be sure to keep a close eye on your parking meter. And recent visitors say that police officiers patrolling the streets are a regular effort to keep the city a family-friendly getaway. Last, don’t be alarmed if you see or hear large aircrafts fly by. The Naval Air Station Oceana is located nearby; its planes can sometimes be loud and distracting.
Virginia Beach Dining: As a coastal city, seafood is the overwhelming theme of the food scene here, and experts say seafood buffets are scattered throughout. Virginia Beach has a lot of chain restaurants, but discerning stomachs can also find more elegant and diverse establishments, like the Shogun Japanese Steakhouse & Seafood restaurant, inland off the Norfolk Virginia Beach Expressway. The boardwalk has your typical spread of restaurants, including burger joints and pizzerias.
#9 U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
Why go: One of the most affordable and accessible Caribbean destinations (and one of the few eligible for “American” status), the US Virgin Islands contains a host of welcoming beaches, family-friendly hotels and interesting historic attractions. The Virgin Islands National Park provides accessible hiking trails for family excursions.
U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Tips: The U.S. Virgin Islands is “America’s Caribbean Paradise” — the place to see moko jumbies dance at a Carnival parade, hear the lilting patois of a Creole dialect, or smell the spices in a saltfish pate (all without losing cell phone reception). You could visit either St. Thomas, St. John or St. Croix, but better yet, spend a little time on all three islands. That way you’ll get plenty of pampering, undisturbed nature and colonial history jammed into one vacation. And bonus: you can pay for everything with U.S. dollars.
Each island offers something different. Called “Rock City” for its hilly, craggy horizon, St. Thomas is better known for its luxury — from the mega-yachts moored in the harbor to the Gucci, Nicole Miller and Tiffany & Co. storefronts along Main Street. Located a short ferry-ride east, St. John intoxicates honeymooners and nature lovers with more than 7,000 acres of dedicated parkland plus its pristine beaches. Way down south in the Caribbean Sea, less-visited St. Croix has sugar cane plantations and rum distilleries that offer a glimpse into both the past and the present of the Virgin Islands.
Keep in Mind…
- You’re on island time People working in hospitality might move slower than you’re accustomed. You will be waited on quicker if you say “Good morning,” “Good afternoon” and “Good night” when you enter or exit a room.
- You’re in the island sun Take it easy your first day on the islands to avoid heat stroke. And always apply sunscreen before venturing out.
- You’ll see island critters Lizards and medium-sized iguanas roam freely outdoors.
How To Save Money in U.S. Virgin Islands
- Book early It is possible to secure a good deal at one of the VI’s four-star hotels in the peak season, but you should start looking for a room up to a year in advance.
- Visit in spring April and May hotel rates are as low as $120 a night, plus you’ll get your Caribbean vacation in before the sticky, wet summer.
- Take an Eastern Caribbean cruise St. Thomas is the busiest port in the Caribbean, and the top cruises generally dock for up to eight hours. That’ll give you time to explore Rock City or even take a ferry to St. John.
U.S. Virgin Islands Culture & Customs: Similar to the residents of other Caribbean islands, Virgin Islanders dress casually but conservatively. Wearing a bathing suit — or even sandals — anywhere besides the beach marks you as a tourist. According to most sites, tipping etiquette is the same in the V.I. as in other parts of the United States; 15 to 20 percent is considered the standard, but more is appreciated for exceptional service.
U.S. Virgin Islands Dining: The U.S. Virgin Islands offer an assortment of restaurant options that range from hoity-toity white tablecloth establishments to affordable diners and fast food joints. Recent vacationers particularly enjoyed Frenchtown or Red Hook restaurants in St. Thomas, and also praised the eateries by Cruz Bay on St. John. However, there are also a handful of good options on St. Croix’s West End.
Most restaurants in those areas will give you the coddling tourist experience, but you might also find the opportunity to try something more authentic. Look for menu options like pate (ground beef, chicken or salted cod wrapped and deep-fried in dough), johnnycake (deep-fried dough), fungi (corn meal) or peas and rice (kidney beans or lentils with brown rice) to eat like a Virgin Islander.
#10 FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA
Why go: Unlike Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale has been able to shake its reputation for rowdiness and now boasts all the makings of a quality family getaway. The Fort Lauderdale Beach is both expansive and safe, and resorts along the beach also contain many child-friendly amenities, including large kids’ clubs, pools and playgrounds. The city also boasts plenty of family-friendly eateries.
Fort Lauderdale Travel Tips: To the citizens of Fort Lauderdale, their home offers quintessential Florida — beaches, palm trees, shopping and relaxation — without the see-and-be-seen attitude and the exorbitant prices of the state’s other beachside cities. You can judge if they’re right, but certainly expect a different atmosphere than their close rival, Miami Beach. Fort Lauderdale’s wide stretches of white sand surpass those of its southern neighbor and, to some, are the best shores statewide. And when you consider its fantastic scenery, great dining options and a range of things to do, Fort Lauderdale is also somewhat affordable compared to similar vacation spots. The “Venice of America,” nicknamed for its 185 miles of waterways and canals, is slowly but surely climbing the ranks of top beach destinations to the cheer of its residents.
Keep in Mind…
- It’s all in the name The city’s confusing thoroughfares adhere to one strange bit of logic — naming. “Avenues” and “drives” run north-south, and “streets,” “boulevards” and “roads” run east-west.
- It’s unbelievably close You would suspect that Florida’s large size corresponds to great distances between cities and attractions. South Florida dismisses this notion with West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami all within a 1.5 hour drive (sans traffic).
- Don’t hit the snow birds Fort Lauderdale is the winter home of thousands of migratory snow birds escaping the north. When you are on the road, be careful of all the drivers around you; on the highway, they usually stick to the right lane.
How To Save Money in Fort Lauderdale
- Multiple Choice South Florida’s density allows visitors to choose flights at multiple airports in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm and Miami.
- Just a summer breeze Fort Lauderdale has been hit with several hurricanes in the past decade, so probability tells us that the city should have some hurricane-free summers. This translates to cheap rates with good weather.
- Beach days The beach is Fort Lauderdale’s best and cheapest attraction. (Cost per person: $0)
Fort Lauderdale Culture & Customs: Like many other Florida beach destinations, Fort Lauderdale exudes a laid-back atmosphere. Residents are generally very welcoming, so don’t hesitate to ask for directions. Just make sure to treat the city with respect. While beachwear is acceptable on the shore, it’s not proper in town.
Fort Lauderdale Dining: In an area once dominated by surf-and-turf joints, Fort Lauderdale’s culinary scene has begun to change. Now, there’s quite a variety of outdoor and waterfront dining spots. Seafood is dominant on the menus, though international cuisines, including Caribbean and Japanese fare, have also been making their mark in the city of late.
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