Top Ten Active Beach Vacations

Top Ten Active Beach Vacations
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A morning bike ride topped off with a late afternoon stroll. A chance to sea kayak in rarely-seen coves, followed by a hike on underused trails. My definition of an active beach vacation consists of a destination where you can sample a variety of sports. It doesn't hurt that the following best active beaches also boast stunning scenery. Head into the wilds of Big Sur or the Big Island and you'll think twice about taking that return flight home. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to truly savor these adventures.

10. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Best known for their Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that once hosted the Ryder Cup, Kiawah Island, a half-hour drive from Charleston, features a ten-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline and a flat interior shaded by those southern beauties—live oaks and magnolia trees draped in Spanish moss. Outside the five golf courses, other activities include deep-sea fishing, kayaking through the marsh in search of mink and osprey, and biking the trails to spot gators. Stay at the swanky Kiawah Island Resort and you can add tennis to the list of activities. Tennis Magazine ranked them the number two tennis resort in the United States.

9. Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, accessible via a short ferry ride from New Bedford or Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard is the perfect playground for the active traveler. The short hills, limited car traffic, and bike trails attract a loyal legion of bikers who cruise along the coast through the historic towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, or follow backcountry roads to the multi-colored clay cliffs of glorious Gay Head Beach. Walkers stroll with the warblers through Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary. Kayakers paddle the large ponds on the island including Edgartown Great Pond and Poucha Pond in Chappaquiddick. Anglers have their fill of stripers, found in remarkable numbers along the rips that lead from the ponds out to the ocean. Head to Coop's Bait and Tackle (508.627.3909) to find out where the fish are biting. Stay at theWinnetu Oceanside Resort, where you can do morning yoga around the pond, and then take a jog on nearby South Beach.

8. Acadia National Park, Maine Sitting on top of Acadia Mountain's short summit, peering down at the lobster boats anchored in Southwest Harbor, one is easily captivated by the merging of summits and sea at Acadia National Park. Stunning East Coast mountains, vast pockets of pine forest, the Atlantic Ocean, even a landlocked fjord are all within grasp on this compact island. You can hike up Acadia and Cadillac mountains; mountain bike on 43 miles of carriage path trails, hard packed gravel roads that crisscross the entire eastern half of Mount Desert Island; paddle Long Pond, the largest body of water in the park; sea kayak to the Cranberry Islands; even go rock climbing on a sheer cliff wall. Stay at the Seawall Campground (207.288.3338), four miles south of Southwest Harbor on Route 102A. Primarily consisting of tent sites nestled in the woods, the campground is only a ten-minute walk to the tidal pools that hug the Atlantic shoreline.

7. The Big Island, Hawaii Home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Hawaii's southernmost island is falsely assumed by many to be an angry land of deadened rock and rivers of red. But this ever-expanding island has a myriad of moods—the gentle rolling hills of Waimea that evoke Montana and are thus ideal for horseback riding; the inviting sand of the Kohala Coast; the almost-impenetrable jungle-like interior of the Hamakua Coast; the enormity of two nearly 14,000-foot mountains; even a rain forest on the backside of a volcano. Indeed, Hawaii is more like a miniature continent than an island in the Pacific. Cars race around the island, not experiencing a shift of terrain until they're smack dab in the middle of it. Bikers have the privilege of slowing down to watch the sea wash against a narrow fringe of palms and to smell the pink-and-purple bougainvillea (sorry, no roses here). At the Kilauea Lodge, you'll wake up to a breakfast of fresh Kona coffee, pineapple, and papaya, all grown here, then bike or hike along the Kilauea crater.

6. Kas, Turkey One of the last unspoiled regions of the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey boasts aquamarine waters relatively free of boat traffic and mountainous shores that contain few posh hotels or high-rise condominiums. The coastal community of Kas is the gateway to Kekova, a sunken city where homes can still be seen submerged under the water. You'll also spot numerous sarcophagi—ancient tombs sitting mysteriously in the Mediterranean. This archaeological treasure is best seen by sailboat, aboard a chartered gulet (a Turkish wooden yacht) on the legendary Blue Cruise. Your daily itinerary includes snorkeling or scuba diving before breakfast, a visit to Lycian tombs at lunch, and a feast of fresh fish and lobster for dinner. Book a cabin with a reputable Turkish broker like Vela Dare and spend a glorious week on the Turkish Mediterranean cruising from Kas to Gocek.

Acadia National Park Photo Gallery

Acadia National Park Photo Gallery

5. Taveuni, Fiji Why Fiji remains the number one travel destination in the South Pacific is not easily explained. The terrain on French Polynesia's Moorea and Bora Bora is far more volcanic and lush, and the countries of Tonga and Vanuatu are more budget-oriented. Travelers come to Fiji for that genuine encounter with the people. Their hospitality comes from a place of pride, not their bank accounts. This is certainly true of Taveuni, nicknamed The Garden Isle, where the locals have good reason to brag about its rainbow-colored reefs and almost unparalleled scuba diving. The white and reddish-pink coral provides a dramatic backdrop for the dazzling array of sea life—turtles, barracudas, moray eels, grey sharks, colorful butterflyfish, and clown fish.

Hike up to Lake Tangimauthia, a volcanic lake hidden within the island's mountainous interior. Northwest of Taveuni, Matangi is one of the many small Fijian islands with a limited amount of bures (thatched huts), perfect for couples or anyone searching for a tranquil spot where the hum of automobiles and televisions is replaced by the soft sounds of waves tumbling ashore. If you want the popular 12th bure, a treehouse 30 feet high in the air, you'll have to make reservations well in advance.

4. Quepos, Costa Rica Home to Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos is the gateway to Pacific Coast pleasure. With its mix of rainforest and beach, one can spend a week here ziplining atop 300-year-old wild cashew trees and waterfalls, hiking along the coast accompanied by monkeys and sloths, cruising down a tumultuous river in a raft, sea kayaking from deserted beach to deserted beach, and deep-sea fishing to hook yellowfin tuna, or even a marlin. Stay at the spanking newArenas del Mar resort, owned by the same folks who built the eco-friendly favorite, Finca Rosa Blanca, outside of San Jose. Or go inland to Rafiki Safari Lodge. Nestled deep in the verdant mountainside, the South African-born owners have a created an upscale safari-style lodge like the ones found around Kruger National Park. One, that is, with a killer water slide.

3. Big Sur, California Highway One is the road that appears most often in car ads, where the convertible hugs wide turns as cliffs plunge to the Pacific below. But the best part of Big Sur entails getting out of your car and seeing this spectacular scenery up close. First stop is the quarter-mile walk at Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which leads to the precipitous rock, waterfalls, and wildflowers of this rugged paradise. They will whet your appetite for backpacking on more than 200 miles of trails, including the easily accessible Pine Ridge Trail at Big Sur Station, a quarter-mile past the entrance to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park. Nearby, the exquisite Pfeiffer Beach is the place to be at sunset. Horseback riders should head to Andrew Molera State Park for coastal riding. In 2005, John and Corrine Hardy fulfilled their 20-year dream to build 16 yurts on the coast halfway between Hearst Castle and Big Sur. Unlike the yurts found in Mongolia, these circular tent structures don't have dirt floors. Indeed, the amenities at Treebones Resort include polished pine floors, French doors, colorful quilts, and dome roofs that let the sunlight in by day, stars at night.

2. Bali, Indonesia Upon arriving in Lovina, on the north coast of Bali, you will be asked by young men, "Do you want to see the dolphins?" By all means, say yes. The following morning at 6 a.m., a longtail boat glides to a small cove where some 20 to 30 dolphins jump in and out of the ocean water as the sun rises above the mountainous backdrop. Then the skipper cruises over to a coral reef where you can snorkel for several hours among an incredible array of fluorescent blue, yellow, and green angelfish, purple starfish, and an occasional moray eel. For the scuba diver, snorkeling will whet your appetite for the manta rays, lionfish, and reef sharks off Menjangan Island, Bali's best diving spot. Hikers will want to head southeast of Lovina to Penelokan, which means place to look, an appropriate name for the breathtaking view of the volcano, Gunung Batur, and the cerulean body of water at the bottom of its crater, Lake Batur. Rising over 5,600 feet, this mighty volcano last erupted in 1917, eradicating an entire village. Even more magical than Gunung Batur is Besakih, located an hour south of Penelokan. This is the Mother Temple of Bali, the largest, oldest, and most impressive of all the island's Hindu shrines. First constructed over 1,000 years ago, today it houses over 30 temples, at least one for every district of Bali. Stay at one of the eight upscale beachfront bungalows at the very Zen-like Damai Lovina Villas and you'll quickly understand what I mean about not wanting to take that flight back home.

1. Cape Town, South Africa You can have San Fran and Sydney. My choice for most tantalizing city in the world goes to Cape Town. Backed by Table Mountain, where the frigid waters of the Atlantic meet the almost Jacuzzi-like waters of the Indian Ocean, Cape Town offers a plethora of activity. To get a good overview of the city, climb to the 3,562-foot shelf atop Table Mountain via the popular Platteklip Gorge route, then take the cable car back down. Bikers pedal on the spectacular Chapman's Peak Drive around Hout's Bay, beachcombers take long walks on Clifton Beach, mountain bikers head to Cape Point (popular also with baboons), surfers head to Kalk Bay, and sea kayakers can pick almost any cove they want along the coast. Then, of course, there's safari. Cape Town's closest private game reserve, Aquila, features giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and ostriches. Stay downtown in the heart of De Waterkant district at the relatively new 15-room b&b, The Village Lodge.

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