Travel Smart:
Last Chance at Summer

Gourmet’s travel editor divulges some great ideas for hitting the beach but skipping the jet lag.

Houses line the bluff overlooking a sandy beach in the Florida Panhandle town of Seaside. Seaside is an award-winning planned community designed to resemble the architecture of old seaside towns.—ca. 1995, Seaside, Florida, USA

You want to get away before fall descends, and you want something a little bit exotic. But easy access is also key to a late-season holiday, one that will let you keep that vacation glow long after you’re back (or at least for a week). Here are six excellent short-hop options:


Harbour Island, the Bahamas
European correspondent Alexander Lobrano swears by this single-island resort. In fact, he spends a week there every summer, renting a house and chilling out in what he says is a place that’s “much cooler than Paris in August.” That’s right, he travels from Europe, but if you’re in the Midwest or on the East Coast, you fly to Eleuthera, and Harbour Island is a short—and very pleasant—ferry ride away. (Accommodations from $219)

St. Martin, West Indies
There are lots of nonstops from the East Coast to St. Maarten, the Dutch side of this Caribbean island, which is very much oriented towards mass tourism. But while the airport is convenient for nonstops, you’ll want to drive over to the French half, St. Martin, to stay at La Samanna, a luxurious resort that’s almost another world. (Rooms start at $295.) Even though you never have to leave the hotel—the hilltop bar and restaurant are particularly nice—there’s a wonderful “restaurant row ” in Grand Case not far from the hotel that’s filled with Creole and French restaurants, not to mention beautiful views.

Seaside, Florida
I’ve been going to this planned resort community, a model of “new urbanism,” ever since it went up about 20 years ago. Back then, the area was completely rural, with nothing but sugar-white sand beaches and small hotel communities that provided few accommodations for visitors. Seaside started a trend, with its mostly gingerbread houses painted in all shades of pastel, and the whole area west of Panama City is now dotted with the same kind of communities, where rates start at about $200 per night. (There’s a newer one, Water Color, right next door, where prices start at $395 a night.) To get to Seaside, you have to fly to Panama City—probably changing planes en route—and then drive for about 45 minutes, but once you arrive, there’s nothing to do but relax. Rent one of the private homes or choose the Beachside Cottages, right on the beach, which were done according to architectural plans from Thomas Jefferson.

Baja California, Mexico
For Westerners, Baja is not only close, it’s one of the most seductive coastal destinations in the world and one that has become a major culinary destination. Little wonder when you’re never far from salt water and the bounty of seafood that forms the basis of so much cooking here. One of the most beautiful resorts on the peninsula, Las Ventanas al Paraíso, has private casitas and a stunning setting above the sea (from $515). If you don’t mind being a bit inland, the Swiss-owned hideaway Posada La Pozo, in Todos Santos, is more affordable, and its low-rise hotel is set amid charming gardens, creating a very private atmosphere (from $200).

Why fight it, especially if you live on the West Coast? Hotels throughout the Islands are cutting such good deals this summer that it might be worth a long flight, even from as far away as Denver or Chicago (nonstop from both cities on United). There are so many places to choose from, too, from the high-end Halekulani (from $420) on Waikiki, with its elegant La Mer restaurant, to simple B&Bs (check out Waianuhea), on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island (from $195). Or pick a hotel anywhere in the middle and see what kind of a deal you can get.

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