KAUAI, A MODERN-DAY EDEN
Given Kauai’s natural beauty, it’s only normal to spend all your time on this island outdoors. Start your adventure on the Kukui Trail (15 miles north of Kekaha on Kokee Rd), a hike that descends 2,000 feet to the Waimea Canyon floor. Or check out the Kilohana Plantation, a sugar baron’s former estate (and currently a working farm) that you can explore by narrated mini-train tour. For the quintessential beach day, make your way to the idyllic waters of Hanalei Bay, a 2-mile half-moon of glittering sand surrounded by taro farms and art galleries.
BEACH & MORE IN PUNTA CANA
With 10 beaches to choose from, the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic is a sun seeker’s paradise. To escape the crowds, claim a sunbed on Playa Juanillo, in Cap Cana. Though the beach is part of the Sanctuary Cap Cana Resort, day passes for non-guests are available in exchange for an ID. If it’s eco-adventures you’re after, try zip lining and buggy rides at Scape Park at Cap Cana, a natural wonderland studded with orchids and cacti. For marvels of the man-made variety, head to Altos de Chavón, a stunning replica of a 16th-century Mediterranean artisans village, wrought-iron details and all. It’s the 33-year-old brainchild of Italian set designer Roberto Coppa.
While party-hungry college students still dominate pockets of this coastal hot spot, you’ll find a different side of town at Mercado 23, one of Cancún’s main markets, which stocks everything from Maya huipils (woven blouses) to mounds of Oaxacan cheese. Get your art fix at the MUSA, a mostly underwater collection of some 500 sculptures viewable by glass-bottomed boat or on dry land in the visitors center. A 25-minute ferry ride with Ultramar, departing from the Gran Puerto Cancún Ferry Terminal, will land you on Isla Mujeres, which has some of the area’s best snorkeling. You can explore the island’s southern coast by golf cart and stop at Garrafon Natural Reef Park, where trails lead to the Mexican Caribbean.
UNCOVERING THE RIVIERA MAYA
Meet Quintana Roo’s rugged side with a day trip to nearby Cobá—Mayan for “water stirred by wind”—and take in ancient ruins, like Nohoch Mul, a temple pyramid considered the tallest Maya structure on the Yucatán peninsula. Or you can get up close and personal with endangered spider monkeys on an hour-long tour at The Jungle Place. For the shock-and-awe factor, don’t miss the nightly beachside fire and acrobatics show at the tiki-theme Blue Parrot Beach Club, in Playa del Carmen.
CLASSIC CAPE COD
East Coasters have long flocked to this nautical haven for a slice of America’s past, and you’ll find just that at the retro Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre. Consider ordering a root-beer float from the on-site Dairy Bar & Grill while indulging in a double feature. You can soak up some regional history at the Heritage Museums & Gardens; highlights include a working vintage carousel and dreamy hydrangea garden. Nature lovers shouldn’t miss canoeing across glacier-carved Gull Pond. For sweeping Atlantic Ocean views, you can’t beat Marconi Beach, where the bonus is a picture-perfect series of towering sand dunes.
FAMILY-FAVORITE COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG
At Williamsburg’s period gardens, horticulturists and historians re-created 90 acres of formal beds and green pastures. Kids are bound to love The World Made Small, a collection of historical miniatures, including furnished dollhouses and soldiers’ campsites, on display through September 7 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. For an adult evening, take in a play at the Virginia Shakespeare Festival. And consider a day at the Busch Gardens® Food & Wine Festival.
PLAY LIKE A KID IN ORLANDO
You’ve got to take in a theme park (or three) in a city that’s a standard setter. Universal’s Islands of Adventure® is made for movie buffs because of cinema-inspired attractions, like the Jurassic Park River Adventure and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal CityWalk® , fresh from a 2014 expansion, has 8 popular new eateries and cafés. For a waterpark experience, try the city’s steepest tower slide, at Aquatica, or get behind a go-kart wheel on a 4-story track at Fun Spot America. Seeking more outdoorsy fun? An Orlando classic is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, a 2-hour western-theme dinner show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
SUMMER IS SIMPLE IN MYRTLE BEACH
Daiquiri bars, T-shirt shops, arcades: Everything about this vacation spot screams classic Americana. Along the revamped boardwalk, you’ll find the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove, a mammoth souvenir store—8 floors of seaside kitsch. And Ripley’s® Aquarium attracts crowds thanks in part to Dangerous Reef, a 750,000-gallon underwater tunnel teeming with sharks. Beach lovers can park it along the 3-mile stretch of Huntington Beach State Park which is also the site of Atalaya, the palatial Moorish-style home of 20th-century sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.
LOWCOUNTRY SCENES IN HILTON HEAD ISLAND
There’s more to this resort town than golfing greens. Start with a guided horseback tour at Lawton Stables; Shetland ponies are available for children under 7. Follow that up with a tour with Island Explorer, which offers small-group nature cruises along Calibogue Sound. You may become acquainted with a few gregarious bottlenoses. A 114-step climb will take you to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse.
HEAD SOUTH TO THE FLORIDA KEYS
An irresistible blend of Southern hospitality and tropical charm greets those heading to this archipelago of nearly 1,700 islands. Dry Tortugas National Park, composed of a bird-and-marine-life sanctuary, a 19th-century fort and some of the most vibrant coral reefs on North American shores, is a constellation of 7 small isles accessible by a daily ferry from Key West. Pint-size tourists are bound to adore Theater of the Sea, which features natural lagoons and daily dolphin and sea-lion shows. And a nightly celebration in Mallory Square, showcasing craft exhibits, street performers and food carts, can be a great place to catch a fiery Florida sunset.
SOPHISTICATED SAN FRANCISCO
It can seem as if there’s no such thing as too much fog—or too many farmers markets—in the City by the Bay. Survey it all atop Coit Tower, whose observation deck delivers panoramic views of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. Then you can get in touch with your inner science geek at the Exploratorium, a 46-year-old museum that’s chock-full of playful exhibits that let you dissect everything from a baseball to a cow’s eye. No trip here is complete without a day in iconic Golden Gate Park: It attracts more than 13 million people annually with its windmills, waterfalls, Japanese tea garden and legendary Conservatory of Flowers.
A SIP OF NAPA
Epicures and oenophiles from all over the world come here for wine-country excursions. One of the most spellbinding may be to Castello di Amorosa, a Tuscan-style castle where visitors can wander clandestine passageways and taste handcrafted Italian-style wines. Get a different view of the valley by cruising the Napa River with Napa Valley Adventure Tours along restored wetlands and beside Napa’s historic downtown. And for a peek into California’s rural heritage, plan on an afternoon at Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, where you can leave with a bag of polenta, spelt or rye ground with millstones on-site.
Kilohana Plantation: 3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy., Lihue; 808.245.5608; kilohanakauai.com
Scape Park at Cap Cana: Cap Cana; 1.809.469.7484; scapepark.com
Altos de Chavón: La Romana; 1.809.523.2424; altosdechavon.edu.do
MUSA: Blvd. Kukulcan km 15.2; 011.52.998.848.8327; musacancun.org
Ultramar: José López Portillo, Puerto Juárez; 011.52.998.881.5890; granpuerto.com.mx/en
Garrafon Natural Reef Park: Camino Sac Bajo, Lote 26, Paraíso Laguna Mar; 1.866.393.5158; garrafon.com
Nohoch Mul: 1.877.437.4990; alltournative.com
The Jungle Place: Chemuyil; 011.52.984.116.9777; thejungleplace.com
Blue Parrot Beach Club: Calle 12 N., at First Ave.; no phone; blueparrotplaya.com
Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre: 51 State Hwy., Rte. 6, Wellfleet; 1.508.349.7176; wellfleetcinemas.com
Williamsburg’s period gardens: colonialwilliamsburg.com
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum: 326 Francis St. W.; 1.888.965.7254; colonialwilliamsburg.com
Virginia Shakespeare Festival: Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, College of William & Mary, 601 Jamestown Rd.; 1.757.221.2674; wmu.edu
Busch Gardens® Food & Wine Festival: 1 Busch Gardens Blvd; 1.800.343.7946; seaworldparks.com
Universal’s Islands of Adventure®: 6000 Universal Blvd.; 1.407.224.4233; universalorlando.com
Aquatica: 5800 Water Play Way; 1.407.351.3600; aquaticabyseaworld.com
Fun Spot America: 5700 Fun Spot Way; 1.407.363.3867; fun-spot.com
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue: 4510 N. Fort Wilderness Trail; 1.407.939.3463; disneyworld.com
Gay Dolphin Gift Cove: 910 N. Ocean Blvd.; 1.843.448.6550
Ripley’s® Aquarium: 1100 Celebrity Circle; 1.800.734.8888; ripleyaquariums.com
Huntington Beach State Park: 16148 Ocean Hwy., Murrells Inlet; 1.843.237.4440; huntingtonbeachstatepark.net
Lawton Stables: 190 Greenwood Dr., Sea Pines Plantation; 1.843.671.2586; lawtonstables.com
Island Explorer: 101 Marshland Rd.; 1.843.785.2100; dolphintourshiltonhead.com
Harbour Town Lighthouse: 149 Lighthouse Rd.; 1.866.305.9814; harbourtownlighthouse.com
Dry Tortugas National Park: 100 Grinnell St.; 1.800.634.0939; drytortugas.com
Theater of the Sea: 84721 Overseas Hwy., Islamorada; 1.305.664.2431; theaterofthesea.com
Mallory Square: 400 Wall St., Key West; mallorysquare.com
Coit Tower: 1 Telegraph Hill Blvd.; 1.415.249.0995
The Exploratorium: Pier 15; 1.415.528.4444; exploratorium.edu
Golden Gate Park: 1.415.831.2700; golden-gate-park.com
Conservatory of Flowers: 100 John F. Kennedy Dr.; 1.415.831.2090; conservatoryofflowers.org
Castello di Amorosa: 4045 Hwy. 29, Calistoga; 1.707.967.6272
Napa Valley Adventure Tours: 1147 First St.; 1.707.224.9080; napavalleyadventuretours.com
Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park: 3369 Hwy. 29, St. Helena; 1.707.942.2236
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.