Quick beach vacation

We’ve picked 10 choice beach spots that are serviced by short, direct flights from the east or west coasts, so you can be on the sand by lunchtime. In these locales, springtime means good news for travelers: a drastic drop in prices, no winter crowds, and great weather before the heat of summer.

1. Aruba
Everyone knows that Aruba’s beaches are among the best in the world, which explains the high rate of repeat visitors. The long, broad, white sand beaches are great for walking, while the almost constant breeze complements an always-sunny, hurricane-free island.

Splurge: The all-inclusive Occidental Grand Aruba resort has more activities than the island has Divi-divi trees, including sailing, snorkeling, and kayaking. Besides the casino and Las Vegas–style shows, there’s a ton of ethnic food options, from Caribbean fusion to classic Italian to pan-Asian. $260/night per person; occidentalhotels.com/grandaruba

Value: If you’re looking for a quiet beach, no kids, and an environmentally friendly resort, the Bucuti Beach Resort Aruba is the place to stay. Ask for a room in the Tara Beach Suites & Spa, a newly built wing of oceanfront suites that open right onto the beach. From $210/night; bucuti.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Atlanta (3.5 hours); Chicago (5 hours); Miami (2.5 hours); New York (4.5 hours)

2. Barbados
This Caribbean island has a little bit of everything: hopping nightlife, top-notch restaurants, and fine white beaches that extend along a coral shore. The best beaches are on the calmer west and action-packed south coasts.

Splurge: Just five miles from Grantley Adams airport, the brand-new Almond Casuarina Beach Resort is a kid-friendly all-inclusive retreat with plenty of room to luxuriate in its 10 tropical acres. From $319/night; almondresorts.com

Value: For more than 120 years, guests have flocked to Barbados’s first resort, the historic Crane Resort & Residences. Perched on a cliff, the mansion has kept its old timber ceilings, marble bathrooms, and old-world charm even as it has modernized its amenities. From $150/night; thecrane.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Miami (3.5 hours); New York (5 hours); Toronto (5.5 hours)

3. Key West
Vacationers flock to this tropical island city for its easy attitude and laid-back lifestyle. Despite the crowds, the Conch Republic maintains its appeal with a colorful cast of local characters, 19th-century architecture, and full-service resorts.

Splurge: Once inside the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa, it’s hard to leave the private, powder-soft beach that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. Located on the corner of Duval Street, right in Old Town Key West, Pier House combines a quiet beach escape with access to carnivalesque nightlife. Grab a room on the second floor and you’ll be treated to
magnificent ocean views. From $279/night after April 13; pierhouse.com

Value: Casa Marina Resort & Beach Club, a national landmark hotel built in the 1920s, has Key West’s largest private beach, is three miles from the airport, and is 15 minutes from the center of town. Fresh from a $43 million restoration, the 311 rooms have been upgraded with plasma TVs and iHome docking stations, while the iconic architecture and breathtaking views remain. From $279/night; casamarinaresort.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Atlanta (2 hours);  Fort Lauderdale (50 minutes); Fort Myers (1 hour); Miami (1 hour); Orlando (70 minutes); Tampa (75 minutes)

4. Oahu
The most cosmopolitan of the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is quickly becoming a cultural and culinary hot spot. Of course, its prime appeal still lies in the 100-plus miles of beaches, including the perennially cool Waikiki (only 10 miles from the airport) and the more secluded, surf-heavy North Shore.
Splurge: The Waikiki Parc Hotel is the trendy little sister to the opulent Halekulani across the street. The fact that this property is not directly on the water knocks a few hundred dollars off the price. Spare funds can be put toward the new Nobu outpost in the Parc’s lobby, the superlative spa at the Halekulani, and an upgrade to an ocean-view room. From $173/night; waikikiparc.com

Value: Set a few blocks from the beach, the Aqua Waikiki Wave underwent a total renovation in 2006, and airy rooms with flat-screen TVs and free WiFi put this hotel a few notches above the competition. Reserve a room on one of the upper floors to avoid the street din. From $135/night; aquaresorts.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Portland (5.5 hours); Los Angeles (5.5 hours); San Francisco (5.5 hours); Seattle (5.5 hours)

5. Providenciales
Despite its growing popularity over the past several years, the Turks & Caicos remain relatively unspoiled. The main island, Providenciales (known as “Provo”), is home to Grace Bay—one of the best beaches in the world—and is surrounded by a natural barrier reef that affords it clear turquoise waters for miles.

Splurge: As the World Travel Award’s pick for the Caribbean’s Leading Boutique Hotel for the third time, the Point Grace is clearly doing something right. Its perfect beach location helps, as does the stellar restaurant, a Thalassotherapy spa, palatial suites, and sumptuous service that includes a daily cocktail hour by the pool. From $475/night after April 1; pointgrace.com

Value: The smallest hotel on Grace Bay, the Sibonne Beach Hotel boasts a beachfront address, a quaint atmosphere, and comfortable rooms—truly a knockout deal for its location. Paying a bit more for an upstairs room is worth it.  From $110/night after April 15; sibonne.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Atlanta (3 hours); Boston (3.5 hours); Miami (1.5 hours); New York (3.5 hours); Philadelphia (3.5 hours)

6. Puerto Vallarta
With its cobblestone streets and small-town affability, Vallarta has distinguished itself among Mexico’s other resort locales by retaining authentic charm amid major development. Wedged between a verdant mountainside and the blue Pacific, activities abound—and, of course, there are 34 miles of uninterrupted sand. After sunset, the city jumps to life (in recent years, it’s gained popularity as a gay-friendly destination).

Splurge: Though not directly on the beach (a set of stairs gets you close enough), the 14-suite Hacienda San Angel is swathed in lush foliage and boasts three separate pools and a star-studded history. There’s also a rooftop Jacuzzi with a stunning view of the city’s famous Guadalupe church (which is particularly striking at sunset). Rooms from $290/night; haciendasanangel.com

Value: The rooms at the charming Playa Los Arcos are small but sufficient for a weekend visit. The prime location—directly on the beach and near the Zona Romántica restaurants, bars, and shops—cannot be beat for this price. From $116/night after April 1; playalosarcos.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Chicago (4.5 hours); Denver (3.5 hours); Houston (2.5 hours); Kansas City (3.5 hours); Los Angeles (3 hours); Phoenix (2.5 hours); San Francisco (3.5 hours); Seattle (5 hours)

7. Rincon
A former fishing village on the westernmost point of the island, laid-back Rincon boasts what many claim to be the best waves in the Caribbean. Nonsurfers will find world-class snorkeling and golf. It feels off the beaten path, but the roads are paved, cell phones get reception, and it’s a 25-minute drive from the Aguadilla airport.

Splurge: One of the most exquisite small properties in the Caribbean, the Horned Dorset Primavera is made up of perfect two-story villas scattered over a tranquil, green hillside. From $410/night after April 1; horneddorset.com

Value: Tres Sirenas Beach Inn is a cozy, beachfront boutique hotel decorated in classic West Indies style. From $155/night after May 1, breakfast included; tressirenas.com

Getting there: Direct flights  to Aguadilla from Fort Lauderdale (2.5 hours); New York (4 hours); Orlando (2.5 hours)

8. San José del Cabo
This quiet, picture-perfect village is as easily reached as nearby Cabo, yet it’s worlds away from that town’s harried scene. An historical air hangs over the tree-lined streets and old adobe homes, while a slew of sophisticated galleries and excellent shops reveal its cultured spirit.

Splurge: There is a two-to-one staff-to-room ratio at the elegant, easygoing Casa Natalia, which is home to one of the best restaurants in the area. Full breakfast served on the terrace as well as shuttles to a nearby private beach club are included. From $250/night after May 1; casanatalia.com

Value: Set on a quiet street dotted with galleries, El Encanto Inn is a serene hideaway. Guests stay in one of 28 rooms in either the Garden or Pool sections; room service is available from several nearby restaurants. From $95/night; elencantoinn.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Chicago (4.5 hours); Denver (3 hours); Houston (3 hours); Los Angeles (2.5 hours); Phoenix (2 hours); San Francisco (3 hours); Seattle (4 hours)

9. St. Lucia
The greenest of all the Caribbean islands, much of St. Lucia’s interior is covered in lush tropical rain forests, while the coastline offers serene bay beaches. Flora and fauna abound year-round, and in April, most resorts are at half their capacity. Visitors who go in July will experience Carnival, a true taste of St. Lucian culture.

Splurge: The most elegant of St. Lucia’s all-inclusive properties, East Winds Inn has just 26 island-inspired rooms scattered across its green gardens and manicured grounds. Watch for the daily visit by local fisherman, who deliver dinner right from their boats. From $445/night after June 1; eastwinds.com

Value: Located on Rodney Bay, the low-key Coco Palm Resort has 83 rooms, some with swim-up pool access. Coco Palm’s restaurant, Ti Bananne, offers a blend of Caribbean and Creole-inspired dishes. From $145/night after April 15;

Getting there: Direct flights from Atlanta (4.5 hours); Charlotte (4.5 hours); New York (5 hours); Philadelphia (5 hours)

10. St. Martin
Though it’s one of the Caribbean’s smallest, this half-Dutch and half-French island has a lot to offer beyond its 37 picture-perfect beaches. It’s home to a busy nightlife of casinos and dance clubs, a slew of water sports, and even naturists who sunbathe sans bikini tops. Properties on the French side are secluded and intimate, while larger resorts are on the Dutch half.

Splurge: Right next door to the fabulous restaurant row on Grand Case Bay is Le Petit Hotel, which eschews the usual Caribbean decor for classic modern architecture. There are only 10 beach-chic suites, and all are within steps to the beach. From $265/night after April 1; lepetithotel.com

Value: Each room at Hotel L’Esplanade, on a steep slope above Grand Case Bay, has a Juliet-style balcony overlooking the water, and the roomy top-floor lofts are worth the extra cost. The bougainvillea-covered hotel is a short walk from Petit Plage beach. From $245/night; www.lesplanade.com

Getting there: Direct flights from Charlotte (4 hours); Miami (3 hours); New York (4 hours)

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