You owe yourself a great vacation, but you don’t want to do a lot of planning and you definitely don’t want to spend most of your time in airports. Hey, no problem. Check out these seven coastal getaways, all but one of them a manageable five hours’ drive, or less, from here.
Photo Courtesy Epic Hotel
In South Florida, 2 Nuggets of Gold
If, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Unnecessary things are our only necessities,’’ then a decadent getaway to South Florida is a must.
Wait a minute. A Fort Lauderdale-Miami getaway? To what —more crowds and traffic? Sure, both locales boasted some snazzy beachside jewels back in the day, but can you even make your way to the waterfront anymore?
Yes, you can. Rest assured, most of the Gold Coast is still golden, the beaches and the dining are fine, and two relatively new luxury hotels have added substantial luster to the area.
Start at the Westin Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale, which is all about sand and sea, right down to the tan and blue color schemes in the rooms and throughout the hotel. The real thing is just across the street, and if you’re smart, you’ll get an ocean-view room to experience “I can’t believe I’m here’’ moments while gazing out of your floor-to-ceiling window at sunrise.
The newly remodeled Westin, formerly the Sheraton Yankee Trader, is the perfect place from which to explore Fort Lauderdale’s beach, which is simply fantastic whether you’re lying or walking on it. There are plenty of dining options nearby, or you can head downstairs and enjoy a fat, juicy New York strip at Shula’s on the Beach, a reliable mainstay that’s connected to the hotel.
Spend your next night 45 minutes south at the high-rise EPIC Hotel, a 14-month-old wonder in the heart of downtown Miami. The hotel has been on a roller-coaster ride of epic proportions the past few months. In early December, three cases of Legionnaire’s disease—one of them fatal —were found among people who had stayed at the hotel. Health officials subsequently discovered that the EPIC’s water system may have been filtering out too much chlorine, and the hotel took no guests for two weeks while it cleaned things up. Health officials have since said that the hotel likely wasn’t the source of the sickness because one of the three victims who had stayed at the EPIC had the same strain as a fourth victim who had not.
Many hotels would be unable to recover from a PR hit like that, but consider that the EPIC already was—and remains—Miami’s No. 1 hotel on TripAdvisor.com, a site that tourists use to rate hotels all over the world. The near-perfect grades are not surprising because, although the EPIC isn’t on the beach, there are plenty of “wow’’ experiences: opening the door to your room and realizing that the view from your balcony that night will be of glittering high-rises and leisure boats plying the Miami River; sitting under the stars at the 16th-floor Area 31 restaurant and enjoying yellowtail snapper with piquilo-roasted pepper, basil and olive oil; or taking possession of your private poolside cabana, complete with a day bed and widescreen television.
Decadence costs: That cabana will run you $200 a day. And unless you take advantage of the numerous packages offered, expect to pay several hundred dollars per night for a basic room at either the Westin or the EPIC. If you’re in the mood to splurge, though, unlock the credit cards and head south for the weekend. Your inner spoiled child will thank you. —Barry Glenn
Westin Beach Resort,
Savannah, Where the South Rises
From my perch on a sixth floor suite at the Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, I followed the river’s course as it swept below the spidery spans of the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, curved past shipyards and moved along the lamp-lined promenade below me. An enormous barge stacked high with containers steadily pushed toward the sea. My welcoming view made it clear: A visit to Savannah, Ga., is an excellent way to leave behind the familiar. Savannah’s dramatic river scenes and moss-draped antebellum parks are the antithesis of mouse ears and a certain UFO-shaped lake fountain.
While the water views are beautiful, Savannah’s interior is something to behold as well. Nearly every corner boasts a piece of American, military or cultural history. Give up any notion of not looking like a tourist and hop aboard one of the many trolley tours that offer a cheap, entertaining way to get the gist of the city. Besides taking in some of Savannah’s most remarkable architecture, tours make stops among 22 historic city squares, which feature monuments to military heroes and artists. Another must is a stroll through Forsyth Park, a lush, Victorian garden that oozes Gothic romance, and arguably is Savannah’s grand centerpiece.
The city’s cache lies in the antiquity of its structures, but one of the most beautiful places to stay is new. Opened last year, Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront merges Southern charm with luxurious modern amenities. The simple brick façade with high loft windows looks like a converted 19th century warehouse and blends seamlessly into the riverfront. The 75-room hotel’s décor reflects a loose British maritime theme—a nod to the city’s trade history—with driftwood accents, pretty art glass and tasteful touches of brass and leather. The Rocks on the Roof grill and bar affords rooftop views of the historic city on one side and the Savannah River on the other. As a testament to Rocks’ hipness, Savannah residents crowd into it every night, making it a great place to mingle with the locals. —Shelley Preston
Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront
102 West Bay St.
Savannah, GA 31401
Room rates: $169-$379
St. Augustine Is for Lovers
Since romance is a theme of this month’s issue, it’s only fitting that we offer a coastal destination that makes hearts grow fonder: St. Augustine.
America’s oldest city has all the ingredients for a couple’s weekend: loads of history and centuries-old architecture, antique shops, charming bed-and-breakfast inns, galleries and outdoor dining, plus miles of scenic Atlantic coastline. The city’s historic district sets the mood for quality time together while walking along cobblestone streets or riding in horse-drawn carriages along picturesque Matanzas Bay.
Here are some recommendations for lodging:
Bayfront Westcott House—Built in 1880, this B&B is decked out with antiques, and some of its 16 rooms have fireplaces. The inn faces Matanzas Bay and is within walking distance of the historic district.
Room rates: $129-$299, including full breakfast. Check its Web site for special deals.
146 Avenida Menendez
St. Augustine, FL 32084
Casablanca Inn—The restored 1914 Mediterranean revival B&B has 23 rooms and suites, but in three separate houses—the Main (12), Coach (8) and Secret Garden (3). It has a private garden, porches and a martini and wine bar looking out onto Matanzas Bay.
Room rates: $99-$349, including two-course breakfast.
24 Avenida Menendez
St. Augustine, FL 32084
Casa Monica Hotel—Restored to its former glory by Orlando hotelier Richard Kessler, the 1888 landmark in the center of the old city warms hearts of all ages. This is a full-service luxury hotel, with 124 guestrooms and 14 suites ranging in size from one to three bedrooms. Casa’s restaurant, 95 Cordova, is the place for a romantic dinner.
Room rates: $149-$619.
95 Cordova St.
St. Augustine, FL 32084
One-Stop Seclusion, Only 60 Miles Away
Daytona Beach Shores isn’t as well known among Central Floridians as its neighbors Daytona Beach to the north and New Smyrna Beach to the south, and that’s why it’s an ideal location for a quiet beach getaway.
Because it doesn’t have mass appeal, Daytona Beach Shores also doesn’t have many hotel, dining and nightlife options. But that, too, is part of its charm as a secluded destination, which is only a 60-mile drive from Orlando.
You won’t have to think about where to go and what to do if you stay at The Shores Resort & Spa, the only AAA Four-Diamond hotel on Florida’s Atlantic Coast between Palm Coast and Vero Beach. The 212-room (60 percent with ocean views) Shores opens out to a less-traveled–by-car stretch of beach, but its patio and pool areas are so comforting that leaving them to take dip in the ocean could take some doing.
When dinnertime rolls around, the best restaurant in town, and for some distance beyond it, is a short walk from the lobby. The fine-dining restaurant Azure serves ocean-inspired cuisine to guests seated indoors and at patio tables with views of the Atlantic.
For after-dinner nightlife, there are two big fire pits on the deck, with the sound of crashing waves in the background. Guests retire to the fireside Adirondack chairs and swap stories late into the night. —M. B.
The Shores Resort & Spa
2637 South Atlantic Avenue
Daytona Beach Shores, FL 32118
Room rates: $109-$219
Naples’ claims of being the Golf Capital of the World and of having more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city are open to interpretation. But there’s no disputing Naples’ calling its gulf shoreline the Paradise Coast.
Naples is a ritzy place, to be sure, with high-end everything. But the finest things in Naples are free—white-sand beaches, the tranquil gulf and spectacular sunsets. Unfortunately, the sunsets end almost as quickly as a weekend stay in Paradise, which is why I suggest staying at least three days in Naples.
Beyond golf and the gulf, Naples has a tony downtown with chic restaurants, retail boutiques and nightlife venues, as well as opulent in-town and beachfront hotels, a first-rate museum of art and an impressive zoo. After you spend a day on a golf course and another on the beach, you need a day to take in a spa treatment at a resort before heading out to see what else Paradise has to offer.
Fifth Avenue and intersecting Third Street are downtown’s main corridors of cosmopolitan consumerism. You may not be a millionaire, but you will feel like one while browsing in the art galleries and specialty stores, or eating lunch or dinner at an outdoor gourmet bistro.
I found that the best way to get the most out of a long weekend in Naples is by staying at two hotels. Spend a night at the Inn on Fifth, followed by a half-day downtown, then check into a beachfront resort for the remainder of the trip.
The 87-room inn makes a grand statement in luxury travel, with an ornate lobby, spacious rooms and a spa. Walk out of the Inn on Fifth and you’re on fancy Fifth Avenue, with Third Street and the beach just a few blocks west of the hotel.
For the beach-stay portion, my first choice is La Playa Beach & Golf Resort. La Playa has a private beach with watercraft rentals, a spa, pools with cabanas, a restaurant that specializes in gourmet seafood and irresistible desserts, and a tough but fun to play golf course (though it’s about five miles in town).
But it’s the sunsets that do the most to make LaPlaya an enjoyable stay. The hotel’s oceanfront patio is prime real estate every evening as guests gather to watch that giant orange ball on the horizon disappear. When it does, cheers erupt. —M.B
Inn on Fifth
La Playa Beach & Golf Resort
Thanks for the Memories
Boutique is not an adjective used to describe a motel. Roadside, beach, rundown, hourly, fleabag, mom and pop, maybe, but not boutique.
To be fair to Hank Staley, “boutique” never came up when he talked about his Palms Retro Hotel in sleepy Atlantic Beach. Staley calls his 10-room inn a “concept hotel,” and he’s spot on except for the hotel part. Palms Retro is a good ol’ fashioned motel of the beach variety. To judge from the teal exterior, at least. On the inside, Staley’s concept earns Palms Retro boutique status.
Each room is styled to evoke iconic symbols and figures of the 1950s and ’60s. You will find Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and James Dean on the walls in The Bad Boys room, where a bed headboard proclaims “Rebel Without a Cause.” In The Tube, a huge poster of nervous Nelly deputy Barney Fife watches over two queen beds–“Mayberry” painted on the one headboard, “Andy Griffith” on the other–facing a black armoire with a square-shaped TV set (remember them?) painted on its doors. On the set’s “screen” appears the I Love Lucy signature logo of cursive lettering inside a heart. Next to it are a picture of Lucy as Charlie Chaplin and a wall mural of an RCA TV showroom.
I stayed in The Rat Pack room, which really needs no explanation. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin are all over the room, along with a wall mural of the neon sign of the famed Frolic Room lounge in Hollywood.
Among some of the other themes are Planes, Trains & Automobiles (think chrome), The Divas (pink, with a mural of Marilyn Monroe), and The Rock ’N Rollers (posters of Elvis and Roy Orbison, with a mural of a drive-in theater).
All the rooms have wall murals and new furnishings, with beds as plush as you’ll find in upscale resorts. Plus each room is equipped with a mini-fridge, microwave oven and 32-inch flat panel TV set inside an armoire painted with images that reflect the room’s theme.
“I love the ’50s era,” says Staley, 54, who bought the 55-year-old motel last May and turned it into something unique with the help of his sisters and friends. “The icons of the ’50s are as big today as they were then. You really can’t say that about any other era.”
Palms Retro sits about four blocks off the beach, with a cluster of tourist shops and restaurants between it and the ocean. The Atlantic Beach location may not impress, but the hotel will rekindle fond memories for baby boomers. —M.B.
28 Sherry Drive
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
Room rates: Beginning at $79
weekday and $89 weekend
this month; in-season runs March
through August, with kings and double
queens $129 weekday, $139 weekend,
and single queens $109 weekday and
Florida’s Panhandle: It’s Getting Closer
The Panhandle’s Uncrowded beaches and sedate Gulf waters are sights to see and feel, but their distance from Orlando puts them out of reach for getaways.
In late May, however, the Panhandle will get a lot closer to us when Southwest Airlines begins nonstop service between Orlando International Airport and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. A trip from Orlando to a Panama City beach resort could take less than four hours, including drive and airport time, with an hour gained when you reset your watch to Central Time.
A check of southwest.com showed one-way fares beginning at $75, but Southwest could offer $49 introductory fares as the service’s May 23 start date nears.
“What’s in Panama City?” you may ask. Peace and quiet to start with, plus a coastline unlike almost any in peninsular Florida. There are also the luxury vacation-home communities of WaterColor, WaterSound and Seaside, where Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show was shot. The Gulf-front WaterColor Inn & Resort, a Four Diamond AAA Hotel with a spa and gourmet restaurant, and the Inn by the Sea, Vera Bradley, in Seaside, are the places to stay for intimate retreats, while the region’s rental homes are suited for families and large gatherings.
The area is so upscale now that its past identity as the Redneck Riviera is all but forgotten. —M.B.