Ice is melting, your heavy coats are finally put away, and that urge to get outside is starting to come back. After a brutal winter, spring has finally arrived. But instead of gently easing out of winter, we suggest diving in, head-first.
Shoulder season, that sweet spot between spring and summer, is an excellent excuse to travel, for two reasons: first, a wide array of beach destinations are already warm enough to enjoy in your bathing suit. Secondly, most travelers are waiting for the official start of summer to get away, which can lead to tremendous savings on lodging and meals for those who go now. Below, we offer ten outstanding, freshly thawed beach destinations – places where the crowds have yet to flock, and the prices have yet to hit their summer highs.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks: Highway 12 on North Carolina's coast is one of the most beautiful drives in the entire country. It’s barely wide enough for two lanes, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pamlico Sound on the other. In the spring, you’ll mostly have the road to yourself. Choose to stay in Roadanthe, Buxton, or Ocracoke, where you’ll find rental homes and B&Bs offering weekly rates that are about half off July and August rates. To get there, book a flight into Norfolk and rent a car.
Santorini, Greece: Lodging and dining deals in this fabled Greek isle have been widely available since the country’s economy faltered a few years ago, which translates into excellent bargains for travelers. Santorini is a quick hop from the Athens airport, and once you arrive, you can haggle over an ATV rental for a real adventure. On a recent trip, we scored a new ATV for 75 Euros, which allowed me to crisscross the island at my leisure (and park in comically small spaces) for three days. The best values are in Kamari, where you can stay along a quiet black-sand beach and four-wheel yourself to the hot spots in Oia. See our Greece deals here.
Culebra, Puerto Rico: Routinely voted one of the world’s best beaches, this one’s worth the effort of getting there. In the quiet season on mainland Puerto Rico, flights into San Juan can be found for under $300 from New York City and Fort Lauderdale. Once there, hop on a ferry (about $10) over to Culebra and settle into a local B&B. In addition to the glorious weather, another perk of vacationing here is that you’ll be able to use U.S. currency, and even your own mobile phone plan, if you use Sprint or AT&T. See our Puerto Rico deals here.
Los Cabos, Mexico: The southernmost tip of Baja California Sur has just waved goodbye to scads of spring breakers and is now welcoming the onset of summer. Between now and the mid-summer low season (when temperatures skyrocket beyond the point of comfort), lower occupancy rates mean cheaper hotel rates for you. Plus, this area remains one of the best values for renting a vehicle. Most major rental companies will charge about $250 per week for basic cars, enabling adventurers to cruise up to La Paz or Todos Santos. (Just mind the speed traps along the way.) See our Mexico deals here.
Gulf Shores, Alabama: Alabama isn’t a major beach destination, which means you’ll have the place mostly to yourself. It’s a quick drive from Pensacola’s airport, but unlike the northwestern Florida city, you’ll find lower hotel rates, less crowded beaches, and plenty of affordable fishing excursions. Believe it or not, Alabama's southern coast offers some of the finest, most pristine sand we've encountered.
Tybee Island, Georgia: The quintessential southern town of Savannah can be a headache in summer, when hotel rates skyrocket, and the sweltering heat makes moving around unpleasant. Spring is the best time to enjoy comfortably warm beach weather nearby. Tybee Island offers up great fishing, miles of unpopulated sand, and a lighthouse museum that’s well worth the $10 admission.
Dubrovnik, Croatia: The Croatian coast is no longer a secret, but many wait until the summer months to visit. If you go now, you’ll find cheaper flights and less expensive lodging. You might need to cover up on chilly evenings, but there’s plenty of warmth during the day. Plus, there’s always the magnificent old city if you can't take another day at the beach, and island-hopping is always an option. See our Croatia deals here.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts: New England's go-to summer hangout is still mostly deserted in April, but it won’t stay that way for long. Driving from Boston up to Provincetown is a treat, with plenty of opportunities to stop and dig your toes into the fine, white sand. Lobster shacks have yet to increase their prices into the stratosphere, and B&Bs are still eager to fill rooms. Though you can’t count on constant warmth, a week-long stay will increase your chances of snagging a few gorgeous days. Plus, a week in spring will cost about the same as two or three days during the height of summer.
Cadiz, Spain: The south of Spain is full of gorgeous beaches and is anchored by a historic city that’s a delight to tour when the weather isn't beach-perfect. Flights and room rates are a fraction of what they will be once Europeans begin their summer holidays in July. And to cross something else off your bucket list, Gibraltar is nearby. That’s certainly a passport stamp you’ve been longing for. See our Spain deals here.