The U.S. Virgin Islands are the ultimate beach vacation destination — Photo courtesy of cdwheatley / Getty Images
With colder days on the way, a tropical beach vacation is just what you need to cure the winter blues.
Don’t have a valid passport? No need to pack away your flip-flops. We have tips on 10 sultry beach getaways that don’t require one for U.S. citizens. Think about it: Lazing in the sand in your private beach cabana, all-inclusive resorts where you don’t have to lift a finger, snorkeling and swimming in crystal blue waters. It’s all easier (and closer) than you think.
From a low-key barrier island in Florida to the dynamic San Juan, Puerto Rico, these no-passport destinations and activities will make you feel like summer goes on forever.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Savor local cuisine in Puerto Rico — Photo courtesy of Discover Puerto Rico
Though it feels worlds away, U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to visit Puerto Rico because it’s a U.S. territory. And with 270 miles of coastline and nearly 300 beaches, there’s plenty to do to soak up the sun. From exploring secluded coves to snorkeling in crystal-blue waters as warm as bathwater, Puerto Rico is one of the most gorgeous places to visit for a beach vacation.
One of the best ways to get to know a place is through food, and Puerto Rico’s culinary scene is not only a magnet for epicureans, it offers a lens into the island’s cultural identity. Get a full taste with a Flavors of San Juan food tour to sample authentic Puerto Rican dishes, such as mofongo, the mashed green plantain that’s Puerto Rican comfort food at its finest.
Where to stay: The gardens and secluded beach at Caribe Hilton are unparalleled.
The Big Island of Hawaii
Refresh under a waterfall in Hawaii — Photo courtesy of Hawaii Forest & Trail
A Hawaiian beach vacation is a dream for many, and as America’s 50th state, no passport is needed to make that dream a reality. On the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, stunning beaches are as plentiful as palm trees, with sparkling waterfalls dropped in for good measure.
The experienced guides at Hawaii Forest & Trail lead family-friendly tours that include off-road adventures, a gentle ramble through a private nature preserve, and a dip under a cascading waterfall.
Where to stay: Fairmont Orchid offers beachfront luxury on the Kohala Coast.
Amelia Island, Florida
Explore Fort Clinch — Photo courtesy of Ameliaisland.com
On the southernmost tip of the Sea Islands chain off of Florida’s Atlantic coast, you can enjoy miles of pristine beaches and salt-marsh estuaries on Amelia Island.
Some places to explore include the pedestrian-friendly Fernandina Beach, which is punctuated with Victorian, Queen Anne, and Italianate homes, many on the National Register of Historic Places.
When you’re ready to go beyond the Florida beaches, history buffs shouldn’t miss a visit to the immaculately preserved Civil War fort at Fort Clinch State Park, where you can learn the life of a Union soldier through exhibits and periodic re-enactments.
Where to stay: Curl up with a good book on the porch of Elizabeth Pointe Lodge.
Sarasota makes a great beach vacation without a lot of hassel — Photo courtesy of Ruth Peterkin / iStock Via Getty Images
Leave your passport at home when you visit Sarasota, a coastal Florida haven where you can spend days in a bathing suit and nights enjoying world-class performances.
With a sophisticated array of homegrown arts, from ballet to opera to live theater, there’s lots to do away from the sand. The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s collection is acclaimed for its 17th century Baroque canvases by Dutch painter Peter Paul Rubens and its courtyard filled with Greco-Roman statues.
For more modern visuals, the Sarasota Art Museum features boundary-pushing exhibits.
Where to stay: The Carlisle Inn has homey rooms and warm service just minutes away from Siesta and Lido Key beaches.
Pismo Beach, California
Surf’s always up in Pismo Beach any time of year — Photo courtesy of Visit California
Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Pismo Beach surf culture is the essence of “California Dreaming.” Of course, you don’t need a passport to enjoy the Golden State’s trifecta of sand, surf, and sunshine.
Even in winter the waves here are fine for surfing. The Central Coast Surf School provides instruction, boards, and wetsuits for the uninitiated.
Where to stay: The Seacrest OceanFront Hotel has an abundance of casual allure and a gorgeous view of the beach and horizon.
Anna Maria Island, Florida
Beach vacations are low-key on Anna Maria Island — Photo courtesy of The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
For an immersion in Sunshine State charm before mass tourism, Anna Maria Island fits the bill, without a tall building or big-box shop in sight. This low-key barrier island sits along Florida’s Gulf Coast, west of Bradenton, a perfect spot to fill balmy days with swimming and fishing.
With pristine white sand, these are some of the best beaches in the South, wide open and glorious for disconnecting. Anna Maria Beach is serene and secluded, perfect for a day of peaceful reading and lounging with gentle waves in the background.
This Leave No Trace destination is committed to protecting its superb beaches with responsible tourism practices.
Where to stay: For a bit of modern beach living, Mello on the Beach has many amenities, including a pool.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Beautiful beaches abound on the U.S. Virgin Islands — Photo courtesy of U.S. Virgin Islands
St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John are the three main islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands. All are the definition of Caribbean paradise, and all are United States territories, making for a picture-perfect beach vacation.
St. John is the least developed, with a wealth of unspoiled hiking trails and a wide variety of flora and fauna. Lightly tread beaches, some of the best in the Caribbean, are ideal for swimmers, snorkelers, and sun-seekers.
Where to stay: Connect with nature at rustic Cinnamon Bay Beach & Campground, located within the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park.
Clearwater Beach, Florida
Family fun on Clearwater Beach — Photo courtesy of Vist St. Pete Clearwater
Places like Clearwater Beach are all about family-friendly travel. Home to one of the best beaches in the country, the soft sand and mild Gulf waters make the perfect backdrop for sandcastle building, swimming, and beachcombing.
Ride on the Jolley Trolley and visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a marine hospital that rescues injured animals and releases them once rehabilitated. At dusk, Sunsets at Pier 60 comes alive with music and street performers providing entertainment at a bedtime-friendly hour.
Where to stay: Sandpearl Resort offers direct beach access and sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico.
Channel Islands National Park, California
Serenity on the Channel Islands — Photo courtesy of Visit Ventura
Called the Galapagos of North America, the five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park are home to dozens of animals and plants that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
The islands may feel a million miles away from civilization, but in truth this Ventura County wonderland isn’t far from the urban sprawl and traffic that define Los Angeles. Adventure and beauty await as you kayak in a sea cave, hike, and whale watch.
Island Packer Cruises ferries visitors year-round, departing from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard and Ventura Harbor.
Where to stay: You can camp on all five islands, though many visitors are day-trippers. Stay at Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach, Curio Collection in Oxnard for beachfront comfort near the ferry.
Key West, Florida
Six-toed cats prowl the grounds at the Hemingway House — Photo courtesy of Andy Newman, Newman PR
As the southernmost point of the United States, Key West is actually geographically closer to Havana than Miami. But any American citizen can enjoy its Caribbean flair without a passport. You can spend days snorkeling, diving, and fishing in the gorgeous blue waters, and then walk around town to take in the sights.
Along with the beachy vibe and party atmosphere, the literary history of Key West is legendary. Fans of Ernest Hemingway shouldn’t miss the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where personal links abound. The best are the resident felines descended from Hemingway’s six-toed tomcat. They all have an extra toe!
For more bookish tales, the Old Town Literary Walking Tour stops at favorite haunts of illustrious authors, such as Tennessee Williams, Shel Silverstein, and Robert Frost. And, of course, Jimmy Buffet loved it here, too.
Where to stay: Situated right on the Old Town waterfront, Opal Key Resort & Marina is steps from the sunset-famous Mallory Square and one block from raucous Duval Street.