Depending on the crowd you run with, it can feel as though everyone you know this summer is on the East End of Long Island, hanging with the president and the first family on the Vineyard, or down the Jersey Shore.
If you want a jam-packed concert calendar, fabulous nightlife or a bustling Jewish scene, certain well-known resorts are waiting for you — and they’re popular for a reason.
But if your end-of-summer goal is to relax on a nice beach without fighting the neighbors over a parking spot, consider some of the alternatives listed here. All of these destinations are known to locals and welcoming to tourists, but are remote or under-the-radar enough that they can provide solitude.
1. Georgetown and Arrowsic Islands, Maine: Across a quaint series of bridges from Maine’s central coast, these secluded islands are where locals vacation, away from the throngs in Bar Harbor and Kennebunkport.
Reachable by a series of small bridges and fed by the Kennebec, Sasanoa and Back Rivers, these tiny islands reward visitors with trail-laden wildlife sanctuaries, expansive water views, and a rusticity hard to find in better-known resorts. Arrowsic is said to have one lighthouse for every 125 people; that’s four total, since the population is about 500. Georgetown, the livelier of the two isles, boasts some of Maine’s only sandy beaches in Reid State Park, along with sailboat-dotted harbors, bald eagles and moose.
2. Cambria, Calif.: Considering California’s vast sprawl and endless freeways, it’s kind of amazing how much of its coastline remains pristine. Most of the state’s traffic zips along I-5 inland, leaving the coastal highway for those not in a hurry. Even such fabled destinations as Malibu and Big Sur can feel peaceful, solitary, even remote.
My favorite place to stop and unwind is Cambria. Tucked into the cliffs near San Luis Obispo on the central coast, it’s one of many tiny, artsy villages full of galleries and stunning, windswept beaches. There is not much to do here – but that is the point. The intrepid can brave ocean temperatures that are often in the frigid 60s. The rest of us can take walks amid driftwood or surf the crashing waves, drink fabulous local wine, and gaze at the sunset and the sea lions.
3. Florida’s Atlantic beaches in summer: Many people don’t realize that summer highs, moderated by the ocean, aren’t really all that high at all, and often lower than temperatures in New York City. Even Miami rarely tops the low 90s — and between ubiquitous air-conditioning and sea breezes, Florida’s Atlantic beaches can be as pleasant as those farther north, at least for folks who do enjoy heat.
They’re also a bargain. Flights and hotel rooms all offer significant discounts on summer rates — especially in hurricane season — and you’ll find mostly locals on the uncrowded beaches. It’s low season in Miami, of course, but the scene is even more relaxing farther north. The mid-coast barrier islands — Melbourne Beach, Cocoa Beach — offer an ideal escape, as does the pretty village of St. Augustine, where lovely beaches lie just a stroll away from a vintage downtown.
4. Rhode Island: Yes, it’s an entire state. But it’s a tiny state whose abundant, uncrowded beaches and charming small towns are gems hiding in plain sight of vacationers, who so often head to trendier points north.
Watch Hill and Block Island are probably the most famous of the state’s resorts — and even in the height of summer, they have a laid-back, low-traffic feel. These are not beaches where you have to fight for parking and a square inch of sand; with minimal effort (and maybe a bike to explore), sleepy coves and bays are yours to savor.
But the entire coast is basically one sandy, clean beach after another. State beaches lowered fees this year and boast excellent, family-friendly facilities. A few beaches have boardwalks; some, on the Eastern side of Narragansett Bay, even have sunsets. All have good ice cream nearby. And none has the kind of pretentious, competitive scene you’d find at certain other East Coast resorts.
5. Door County and Washington Island, Wis.: The Great Lakes are full of gorgeous, sandy beaches on crystal-clear water; islands beckon from Michigan to Ontario, peppered with pretty resort towns. Door County, consisting of a wild green peninsula and islands in Western Lake Michigan, is just one example of a place virtually unknown to vacationers outside the Midwest or Canada.
Boasting nearly a dozen lighthouses, numerous quaint fishing villages, five state parks, and more than 300 miles of uncrowded shoreline, Door County is often compared to Cape Cod — and the comparison is apt. In August, Washington Island offers spectacular scenery, festivals and country fairs, and endless opportunities for boating, hiking and swimming. September brings warm, mild days and plenty of fall color.