Beaches That Play Hard to Get
Padre Island National Seashore, North Island (©Corpus Christi CVB)
Padre Island National Seashore,
Corpus Christi, Texas
Seventy miles long, majestic Padre Island National Seashore claims the longest undeveloped barrier beach in the world. A complex of sand, marsh, dunes and lagoon, most of Padre Island is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle - unless you're foolish enough to try your Camaro in the sand. Speaking of which, the National Park Service should win an award for this understatement: "Keep moving in deep sand. It may be difficult to pull out if you stop." Try your luck and you might see shorebirds, marsh birds, raptors and songbirds; 45 percent of all North American avian species have been spotted here, along with about half of the Kemp's ridley sea-turtle nests found along the entire Texas coast. On your way out, just watch out for turtle nests and the occasional gun-toting driver - licensed firearms are permitted on all Texas beaches, and all Texas beaches are public highways.
View of Morro Bay across the sand spit at Montana de Oro State Park (©Richard Wong/Alamy)
Morro Bay Sand Spit,
Montana de Oro State Park, California
A thin strand with dunes reaching 10 stories into the sky - and waters treacherous enough to make swimming foolish - make for an outing that's just challenge enough to deter casual beachgoers. "From my office nearby, I love to go to Morro Bay Sand Spit," says Andrea Jones, director of the Important Bird Areas Program for Audubon California. "You take a half-mile trail on a pretty steep slope to the sand spit, where you see a few hikers and birdwatchers and a lot of birds, with Morro Bay on one side and the open Pacific on the other." What paints gold on 1,347-foot Valencia Peak in this 12-square-mile seaside Eden? Spring poppies and buttercups by the millions.
Thousand Steps Beach, Santa Barbara, Calif. (Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission/Greg Peterson)
Thousand Steps Beach,
Santa Barbara, Calif.
The folks who picked the English name for Santa Barbara's Camino Al Mar came up with a simple yet effective way to reduce people traffic at this beach: Pick a nickname--Thousand Steps--that exaggerates the downs and ups of the access stairway by a factor of six. Yes, it's actually a mere 150 footsteps down steep, mossy and often wet stone steps to a rock-strewn water's edge that connects at low tide with miles of mostly flat sand north and south. Under tree-topped cliffs you'll see gulls, pelicans and--out to sea--an occasional pod of dolphins enjoying each others' intelligence and the paucity of human folly. Find this staircase to beach heaven near the corner of Santa Cruz Boulevard and Shoreline Drive in Santa Barbara.
The inter-tidal zone on Maine's Barred Island, Deer Isle (©Thomas R. Fletcher/Alamy)
Deer Isle, Maine
Barred Island is a Nature Conservancy property featuring an enchanting stroll through a ferny, mossy forest to the bar, a diminutive, 100-yard-long hump of sand that connects it to Deer Isle, the mainland, relatively speaking, in this land where even the islands have satellite islands. Diminutive, as in the bar diminishes to zero on the way to high tide. The hard part? Fighting off the mosquitoes along the wooded trail, remembering to arrive near low tide, and somehow getting the kids to put up with what is basically a one-mile walk in the park. Barred Island, administered by the Island Heritage Trust, is in Deer Isle on midcoast Maine's Blue Hill peninsula.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you always take a summer vacation?
- Yes, it’s when the kids are out of school
- No, flight prices are cheaper in off-peak season
- 64 %Sometimes, but not exclusively