• Joey Amato

Domestic Beaches Worth the Splurge



St. Thomas, U.S.V.I: Traveling these days is complicated — do I need a pre-arrival test? Will I need to quarantine upon return? Is my new passport going to arrive on time? — but luckily getting to the idyllic sands of St. Thomas is not. The destination is an American overseas territory — as such, the CDC's COVID-19 international travel requirements do not apply to citizens traveling directly from USVI to the U.S. mainland. In practical terms, this means Americans do not need to worry about navigating testing before returning home. And, they don’t even need a passport for entry.


Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas is an ideal home base, offering travelers a much-deserved luxury getaway. The property is fresh off a $100 million renovation and redesign, and offers a slew of highly desirable amenities including a jaw-dropping 3-bedroom Presidential Suite, a Club Lounge experience on the beach (it is also notably the only hotel with a Club Level on-island), and more.


Worth-it Moment: Set sail aboard one of the property’s three luxury sailing catamarans. The Lady Lynsey II is an exquisite 60-ft vessel that offers island-hopping excursions, snorkeling tours, champagne sunset sails, and more, ideal for those wishing to revel in the island’s spirit of adventure. Jammin’ is Lady Lynsey II’s sister ship, designed with sun and fun in mind. She comes complete with two waterslides, the best stereo system in the USVI, and an open layout to kick back and relax or get the party started. Daydreamer is the smallest of the three vessels but is also among the finest catamarans in the Caribbean. She is the perfect boat for a day or evening on the water exploring the best of what the US and British Virgin Islands have to offer.

South Walton, FL: This collection of high-end beach towns located on Florida’s Gulf Coast may have FL zip code, but the vibe is more akin to Nashville than the Sunshine State. With towns built with a focus on walkability, green space, and neighborhood interaction, South Walton is as charming as it is beautiful. With true white sand beaches, bright turquoise water, oak tree line streets, and a plethora of stunning accommodation options, South Walton is Florida’s best-kept secret for a high-end beach escape.



Where to stay: Opened February 2021, Hotel Effie offers beautifully appointed guest rooms and suites, four culinary concepts by celebrity Chef Hugh Acheson, Spa, and more. Chef Acheson developed the hotel’s four culinary concepts, and guests are encouraged to check out Ara Pool + Lounge, the only hotel rooftop pool and lounge on the Emerald Coast.


Most worth-it moment: Explore works from global artists in the most unique of spots — 60-ft below land! Enjoy a private scuba diving excursion to the Underwater Museum of Art, the first permanent underwater sculpture garden in the U.S. Home to 25 sculptures, this eco-tourism attraction not only entices art lovers and divers, it provides a much-needed habitat for local marine life. After your dive, hit Havana Beach Bar & Grill and enjoy libations off of the restaurant’s Millionaire’s Cocktail Menu. Ranging from $125 to $800, the featured Millionaire’s Cocktails are modernized takes on classic cocktails, recipes for which date to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County): With more than 80 miles of pristine coastline and scenic views along Highway 1, SLO CAL is a beach lover's paradise. From rugged cliffs and wide stretches of soft sand to secluded coves, the county has a shoreline to suit every taste.



Where to stay: The Cliffs Hotel and Spa (Pismo Beach, CA): Perched on an oceanfront bluff overlooking the beach, this hotel features a heated pool, fitness center, rejuvenating spa, coastal restaurant, and incredible views. The Cliffs Exclusive Collection offers four suites including the Sunset Suite, complete with a wraparound oceanfront balcony, and Lighthouse Suite, located on the highest floor with unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean.


Worth-it moment: Experience a view of the Central Coast that few get to see as your soar high above SLOCAL in a hot air balloon! Balloons Over Paso offer sunrise flights that will take you floating over Paso Robles and vineyard views. You’ll have to get up early, but it’ll be worth it.

Sarasota, FL: Sarasota is both an exciting urban destination and an elegant coastal retreat. Between its colorful history and enticing natural landscape, the destination attracts visitors from around the world. Here, white-sand beaches give way to emerald fairways and Spanish architecture, and the museums and art galleries are as alluring as the turquoise waves on the horizon.



Where to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota is the area’s premier luxury property at which guests can enjoy the luxury of resort living in the heart of an urban downtown. Enjoy exclusive access to The Beach Club on Lido Key, an onsite spa, championship golf, spacious suites and guest rooms, and much more at this Gulf Coast destination.


Worth-it moment: Ready to win the Coolest Parent award? Sign your kids up for a private class at the Circus Arts Conservatory where they can learn various circus skills under the big top. Fun fact: Ever since John Ringling moved his famed eponymous circus to southwest Florida in 1927, Sarasota has been synonymous with the circus! While young ones are honing their trapeze skills, adults can enjoy a performance at the Sarasota Opera.

St. Phillips Island, SC is a 5,000-acre undeveloped island located off the coast of Beaufort, near Hilton Head. For nearly 40 years, this sanctuary was a beach retreat for billionaire, Ted Turner. He sold it to the state in 2018 and it is now open for visitors and locals alike to enjoy. The island is only accessible by boat or ferry and features a half-mile Beach Trail, providing access to a long expanse of pristine beach as beautiful as any on the Carolina coast.



Where to Stay: Tucked at the edge of this wild and beautiful wilderness is Ted Turner’s original home. The 3,350 square-foot Turner House can accommodate up to 12 people and is available for rent for $12,000 for five nights. In addition to its classic Carolina beachfront charm and comfort, lodgers will revel in the amazing amenities included such as private boat services, groceries, bicycles and kayaks, a personal golf cart, and binoculars and telescopes for bird watching.


Worth-it Moment: If renting Ted Turner’s original home is not enough, visitors also have the chance to rent out the entire island for five nights! This exclusive rental goes for $20,000 for five nights and includes all the amazing lodging amenities provided by the Turner House, ranger-led tours and programs to explore the island, and more.