In some major metropolitan areas, finding a place to swim, sun and relax is a no-brainer; you don’t need tips for a place to take a dip in Honolulu or Miami. It’s not as straightforward in other cities. Even in Los Angeles, where residents have their pick of beaches, you might want a more off-the-beaten path option than Santa Monica or Malibu.
We gathered options – on oceans, lakes and rivers – for your beach-day needs near America’s biggest cities.
About an hour and a half from Atlanta, Lake Oconee is known as one of the cleanest lakes in the state, said Terika Haynes, CEO and founder of Dynamite Travel. It is popular for fishing, boating and water skiing. For those with a bigger budget, there’s a Ritz-Carlton on the lake with a golf course and spa.
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Families can check out Robin Lake Beach at Callaway Resort & Gardens, said Day Trip Queen travel blogger Rebecca Deitsch, who grew up in Duluth, Ga. Just over an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, Robin Lake has a mile-long white sand beach, places to grab food and drinks, plus rental equipment such as beach chairs and umbrellas, kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats.
To find one of the closest ocean beaches to Atlanta, head to Tybee Island near Savannah. While it’s four hours away by car, Larry Snider, vice president of operations of Casago Vacation Rentals, said the drive is worth it for Tybee’s scenic shoreline and active nightlife.
While Delaware’s Rehoboth and Dewey are some of the most popular beach destinations for DC locals, Sarah Kline, president of the agency Time for Travel, sends people to St. Michaels, Md., For a waterfront retreat. It’s about two hours from DC, depending on traffic and the weekend. “One of my favorite things to do is take a sunset sail on the Miles River or an antique ferry ride over to Oxford,” Kline said.
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The historic harbor town is popular for boating and fishing, and visitors can find a man-made beach to swim at Lowes Wharf Marina Inn. Kline also recommended stopping by the Chesapeake Maritime Museum and one of the area’s seafood restaurants for Maryland blue crabs. If you’re staying overnight, Kline is a fan of the luxurious Inn at Perry Cabin or the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, which offers a beach and water sports on the nearby Choptank River. Farther south of St. Michaels is Tilghman Island, where you will find the Wylder Hotel, a boarding-house-turned-boutique hotel on the water.
For a less obvious pick than Coney Island, Ronald Piedmonte, a ToursByLocals private guide in New York, sends beach-seeking day-trippers to Cooper’s Beach in Southampton. The Long Island beach is 90 miles from the city, about 3 hours if you’re driving in traffic, or you could grab the Hampton Jitney bus or Long Island Railroad then take a cab. Once you’re there, expect white sand and full facilities, including chair and umbrella rentals. Expect a $ 40 parking fee, though.
Nicolas Daeppen, general manager of the Hotel Indigo Williamsburg in Brooklyn, sends guests to beaches easily accessible by public transportation, such as Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Grand Ferry Park on the East River.
The latter is a tiny patch of beach that used to be a ferry landing. It doesn’t offer swimming, but “there are plenty of spots for picnicking and sunbathing,” Daeppen said. It’s also next to Domino Park, where you will find beach volleyball, interactive water fountains for kids and a taco stand.
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Right on Lake Michigan, Chicago has tons of accessible beaches. But Bob Glaze, who runs the Globalphile, a travel site, recommended Indiana Dunes National Park, located on the southeast tip of the lake about 35 miles from the city.
With 15 miles of lake shoreline, it’s “a gorgeous beach area an hour drive from Chicago or easy access by train,” Glaze said. Visitors can swim, hike, bird watch, and find plenty of places to eat and drink.
For families, there’s also Centennial Beach in Naperville, Ill, a Chicago suburb about 30 miles west of the city center. Amber Haggerty, who runs the travel blog AmberEverywhere.com, said the former limestone quarry is technically classified as a “beach” and offers a sandy beach, floating docks and diving areas.
“Most people will bring their own beach chairs, but some are available to the public,” Haggerty said. You can get to Centennial in about an hour by car from Chicago, or you can take the commuter train line (the BNSF) from Union Station then finish the last mile by foot or taxi.
It’s tough to find a beach that’s off the beaten path in Southern California, but there are spots that draw more of a local crowd than tourists. To the north of Los Angeles en route to Santa Barbara, there is Ventura, home to beloved surf spots, wineries and breweries, and sprawling beaches. If you don’t want to drive, the beach town is accessible by Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train from Los Angeles.
To the south, there is San Clemente, another year-round surfing epicenter, whether you are looking to learn or rip alongside professionals. Break for lunch at Pedro’s Tacos, then explore San Clemente Beach Trails, then head back to Los Angeles by train on the Surfliner.
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Even farther south, there is Oceanside. Henley Vazquez, travel adviser and co-founder of the travel agency Fora, called it “the last original, quintessential surf town in San Diego County.” Vazquez recommended going to the city’s biggest public beach, Harbor Beach, for beach volleyball, picnicking, water sports and “stunning panoramic views.”
Beyond the beach, Oceanside has a thriving art and food scene. Don’t miss the Michelin-rated Dija Mara or nearby Jeune et Jolie. You risk running into bad traffic on Interstate 5 (or just “the 5,” as Southern Californians like to say) going to and from Los Angeles if you drive, so you can skip it by taking that same Surfliner Amtrak.