If you’re in the mood to hit the beach in Aruba or Ibiza, but forgot to renew your passport unlike the 18.6 million people who have one, you’re in luck.
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With scores of direct domestic flights nationwide, your next beach vacation could be in your backyard because you don’t need a passport to travel to the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Puerto Rico or California.
“The islands of St. Thomas and St. John feature breathtaking landscapes, beautiful beaches and a plethora of activities and attractions ranging from sublime relaxation to extreme adventure and everything in between,” Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands, tells NewsOne.“Travelers can have hassle-free, accessible vacation options here.”
When it’s time for snorkeling, private boat rides, flavorful ethnic food, shopping and sightseeing, you’ll be able to use U.S. dollars since, well, you don’t technically need to leave the country to visit the following five destinations:
1.St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI)
Bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, St. Thomas, the largest of the USVI quad, offers balmy, beach weather almost year-round–though the best time to visit is October to July, when the chances of a tropical storm or hurricane are least likely. Once there, head north for Magens Bay, a celebrated one-mile stretch of beach that’s ideal for sunbathing all day. When you’re ready to spend time in the water, opt to kayak or snorkel. Nature exploration via hikes and camping is also available thanks to an arboretum and on-site campgrounds. At night, visit Adventure Center for a clear-bottom, light-equipped kayak tour, which allows you to see what’s swimming around the ocean floor. You will see small and large fish, it’s tempting to reach out and touch them, but it’s best to keep your hands out of the water.
Trip tips: Spend time at Coral World Ocean Park swimming with sea lions then head to the adjacent Coki Beach to unwind for the rest of the day. In Charlotte Amalie, the island’s capital, head down architecturally stunning alleyways for food and shopping. Dine at Glady’s, a real down-home kind of restaurant with Caribbean-flavored dishes like conch and fungi (a cornmeal and okra dish similar to polenta), Creole-style cooked fish, kalaloo and a variety of jerk dishes, including chicken and pork chops.
2. St. John, United States Virgin Islands (USVI)
Make the most of your beach vacation by adding a stop to this island. “St. John is a quick 15-minute ferry ride from Red Hook in St. Thomas,” says Nicholson-Doty. Upon arrival, visit Francis Bay or Maho Bay for calm water and clean, sandy shores. Because of the smaller size of St. John, there’s generally more personal space.
Trip tip: In St. Thomas, ferries to Cruz Bay in St. John depart as early as 5:30 a.m. from Red Hook and 10 a.m. from Charlotte Amalie. The last ferry from St. John to Red Hook is 9 p.m. If you’re day tripping, bring a change of clothes and dine at ZoZo’s at The Sugar Mill, a Northern Italian restaurant located at Caneel Bay Resort.
3. Carolina, Puerto Rico
Pine Grove Beach, a crescent-shaped beach in the Isla Verde area, offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and is an oasis for people who like to surf, Jet Ski or indulge in ocean-side massages. Lounge chairs and umbrellas are available for rent.
Trip tip: Several hotels, including The Ritz-Carlton, San Juan and Courtyard by Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort, sit behind Pine Groove Beach making daily beach massages a reality. Bask on the beach as long as you can; most hotels along this beach are approximately twenty minutes away from San Juan Airport, or officially, Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.
4. Del Mar, California
California is known for its beaches, but Del Mar, a laid-back city in San Diego county, is the place to be when you want to escape the hubbub of the city. Pack a blanket, book, picnic basket and sunblock and spend the day at the city’s two-mile long beach. The beach sits between two coastal parks, which are great for picnics.
Trip tips: Del Mar is a tiny serene city, but if you’re looking for a more action by way of dining, shopping and uber-luxurious hotels, head to nearby San Diego (the actual city) or Coronado for its eponymous beach resort.
5. Kauai, Hawaii
Hawaii is one of the top destinations for beach vacations, and the birthplace of President Barack Obama. From Poipu Beach Park on the south to Salt Pond Beach Park on the west, the tropical paradise offers a recipe for a good time: clear blue water, swimming, low-key vibes, picnic facilities, showers and lifeguards. These beaches are also family friendly. Poipu Beach Park has an area reserved junior swimmers.
Trip tips: Most hotels have oceanfront access, so you can sunbathe all day then head back to your room to change, eat and sleep.
Ready to hit the beach?
Carolyn Desalu is an essayist and travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Ebony, Essence, Catapult and The Globe and Mail. Aside from writing a book of essays, she enjoys finding the best doughnut shops in every city she visits. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bycarolyndee