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What Are the Best Southern Beach Towns?

Summer 2020 might look a lot different in many ways, including how we travel. Cruise lines are facing investigations because of their handling of the coronavirus pandemic and are out of commission at least until late summer. Airlines are implementing social distancing protocols and cutting routes significantly, and hotels may have to operate at a reduced capacity because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rather than cruises or international travel, this summer might be a time to explore destinations closer to home in the U.S.

The South has largely opened up following coronavirus shutdowns. While you will have to base any travel decisions on current restrictions and health warnings, the following are some of the South’s best beach towns that should be open for summer travel.

You can explore these towns online if you’re not quite at a point where you’re ready to book an actual vacation just yet. It’s OK to daydream a bit in the meantime.

Isle of Palms, South Carolina

Credit: Susan Smith, Flickr Creative Commons

South Carolina’s entire coastline is known for its beauty, and Isle of Palms is a standout, even among many gems.

Isle of Palms has been a vacation spot since the late 19th century and, at that time, you could only access it by ferry. A bridge was built in 1929, and today it’s known as a golf destination, as well as the perfect place for fishing and beaches.

You can reach Charleston from Isle of Palms in just about 30 minutes by car, and there you’ll find historic homes, great restaurants and fantastic shopping. Isle of Palms itself boasts six miles of sandy beaches, and it’s a barrier island that’s only one mile wide.

Conde Nast Traveler voted Isle of Palms as No. 6 on their list of North American Islands. Wildlife is abundant on Isle of Palms, so it’s not uncommon to see a loggerhead sea turtle, dolphins or pelicans.

Alys Beach, Florida

Credit: Katie Norman, Flickr Creative Commons

Alys Beach is on the Panhandle coast of Florida, and it was named one of the Top 20 Best Places to Live in 2017. This beach town boasts the beautiful water of the Gulf of Mexico, paired with white sand beaches and is located along Hwy. 30A, which also connects it with popular Seaside.

Alys Beach features narrow streets in an eco-friendly community. There is an abundance of food and arts festivals, and you can bike to Seaside or Rosemary Beach. Rent cruisers at The Bike Shop and visit a 20-acre nature preserve in the community.

You can rent a home or head to nearby Rosemary Beach to stay at The Pearl, an adults-only boutique hotel.

Galveston, Texas

Galveston is where many cruise ships leave from, but there’s more to this Texas city than just being a cruise port. It’s a vacation destination in and of itself for many each year.

Galveston is about an hour south of Houston, and you’ll find palm trees and seagulls, making you feel like you’re much further from the major Texas city.

Located on the Gulf Coast, some favorite things to do in the Galveston area include shopping The Strand, visiting Moody Gardens and of course soaking up the sun on the beaches.

Most of the restaurants focus their menus heavily on fresh seafood, and you’ll find some places with Creole-influenced menu items as well. You can also kayak in Galveston Island State Park and visit the Texas Seaport Museum or the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark.

Key West, Florida

Key West is the furthest South of the Florida Keys and also the southernmost point of the continental U.S.

Key West has attracted famous people like Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams over the years as a place where people go to relax and unwind, but also party. It is like nowhere else in the world, so you should expect a colorful, vibrant atmosphere when you go.

There are different types of accommodations, from cheap motels to luxury house rentals and lots of bed and breakfasts near Old Town. You can take the Old Town Trolley Tour, which stops at 12 places around the city, or visit the Key West Butterfly Conservancy.

Other places to visit are the Hemingway House and the Key West Lighthouse and of course Mallory Square. The months of December through March are the most expensive and crowded times to visit Key West, so you might think about going in early summer before hurricane season is in full swing.

Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Credit: gardener41, Flickr Creative Commons

Bald Head Island is peaceful, charming and picturesque. The island is located around 30 minutes from Wilmington, North Carolina, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, and it’s only reachable by ferry, which you take from Southport’s Deep Point Marina.

You can also reach the island with your own boat. There are no cars on the island, so once you’re there you get around by golf cart or bike.

Bald Head Island has a stunning maritime forest and moss-covered trees line the streets. There’s the Bald Head Island Lighthouse to visit, which is also known as Old Baldy. Thomas Jefferson commissioned Old Baldy, and it’s the oldest lighthouse still standing in the state.

Bald Head Island has 14 miles of stunning, uncrowded beaches, and there are two clubs located on the island. The Shoals Club is right off the beach, where you can swim and dine. Bald Head Island Club features a golf course that winds around lagoons, over dunes and through a maritime forest.

There’s only one grocery store on the island, the Maritime Market, but you should be able to stock up there because it is full-service. There are a few restaurants, many of which are at the clubs on the island, in addition to Mojos on the Harbor and Delphina Cantina.

Of course, there are many other wonderful Southern beach destinations to consider, but these are some standouts that could be a domestic travel option for your family.

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