Direct to the Beach: Fastest Winter Getaways
You’ve lost feeling in your fingers and toes. You also lost your sanity somewhere between the snowpocalypse and the polar vortex. Nikki Ridgway prescribes some Vitamin D escapes, pairing 10 cities with their easiest access beach destinations — no jetlag, no layovers and no more than five hours from home. Welcome to the fastest routes from Point A to Point Beach
Atlanta → Dominican Republic
JET: Nonstop to Punta Cana airport (PJU) in 3 hours and 30 minutes on Southwest Airlines or Delta Airlines, daily
SET: On the Dominican Republic’s east coast, the purpose-built Punta Cana hotels enclave is a tropical playground of white sand beaches, world-class golfing, eco adventures and watersports. Head to the shore and go local with Presidente beer on popular Playa Cabo Engano or Playa Bacar, or get a little more active on a snorkeling excursion in the Marinarium Park. For golf lovers, there’s the Jack Nicklaus-designed par 72 Punta Espada course overlooking the Caribbean Sea, while adventure seekers can get their fix with cliff jumping, ziplining and beach ATVing in Scape Park or kitesurfing in Cabarete.
GO: Find your Punta Cana hotel
Dallas → Miami
JET: Nonstop to Miami (MIA) in 2 hours and 30 minutes on American Airlines, daily
SET: From work suit to swimsuit in less than three hours, Miami is our go-to beach escape. And with a glut of new hotels (Ian Schrager’s sceney Edition Miami Beach is the reservation to snag), hotspot restaurants and the expanding Wynwood Art District, now’s the time to get reacquainted with the 305. High on the agenda in 2015 are visits to the Perez Art Museum and the 15th-anniversary exhibit at the Margulies Collection (through April 25); dinner at haute Mexican Cantina La Veinte, cuban sandwiches at Tongue & Cheek and cocktails at Sweet Liberty bar; and a wander to the upcoming Faena District, with starchitect-designed residential towers, a hotel and marina, just north of South Beach.
GO: Find your Miami hotel
NYC → Turks and Caicos
JET: Nonstop to Providenciales (PLS) in 3 hours and 30 minutes on JetBlue and Delta Airlines, daily
SET: With over 270 miles of shoreline and close to 365 days of sunshine, Turks & Caicos is a quintessential beach escape. Start as you mean to go on and make the 10-minute drive from the airport to seaside Da Conch Shack for Jan’s rum punch and curried conch, in fritters or as salad, chowder and ceviche. Snag a lounger on Grace Bay Beach for a day of sun worship, or join a boat tour for trips to the unpopulated cays — Caicos Dream Tours offers full day trips including food, drinks, all snorkel gear and a beach barbecue.
GO: See all our Turks & Caicos hotels
Washington D.C. → Grand Cayman
JET: Nonstop to Grand Cayman (GCM) in 3 hours and 30 minutes on United Airlines (weekends only)
SET: Known for its glitzy shopping malls and luxury resorts along Seven Mile beach, Grand Cayman is also a destination for serious scuba divers, with multiple wreck sites and one of the most abundant reefs in the Caribbean. Favorites off Grand Cayman include the USS Kittiwake, an artificial reef sunk in 2011, and Stingray City in the North Sound of the island. To escape the crowds in George Town, head to the island’s lesser-explored eastern end and discover the myriad nature parks like the Blue Iguana Reserve and Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.
GO: Find your Grand Cayman hotel
Chicago → Jamaica
JET: Nonstop to Montego Bay (MBJ) in 4 hours on American Airlines (excluding Tuesday)
SET: Though Kingston is the capital, Montego Bay, on the island’s northwest coast, is Jamaica’s vacation HQ. Off Gloucester Avenue are Mo’ Bay’s best public beaches, including Doctor’s Cave, where a small entrance fee keeps the souvenir hawkers at bay and the supposedly healing waters are fed by underground streams. Save at least one beach-free day for trips to the Blue Mountains and rafting on Rio Grande, and don’t miss the jerk entrees at Montego Bay institution, Scotchie’s.
GO: Find your Jamaica hotel
Boston → Aruba
JET: Nonstop to Aruba (AUA) in 4 hours and 45 minutes on JetBlue, daily
SET: The most popular of the ABC islands but just 20 miles long, Aruba packs a punch with its candy colored capital, Oranjestad, luxury resorts along Palm Beach and delicious Dutch-Creole cuisine. Watersports lovers have their pick of activities from kitesurfing on Akashi Beach to snorkel sessions at Boca Catalina reef and an unforgettable scuba dive at the Antilla, a World War II German freighter. Alternatively, craft a beach crawl to Aruba’s prized pockets of sand, including popular Eagle Beach, windsurfer favorite Fisherman’s Huts and Baby Beach, which gets busy with locals on weekends, but has some of the island’s best snorkeling thanks to a man-made reef.
GO: Find your Aruba hotel
Seattle → Los Angeles
JET: Nonstop to Los Angeles (LAX) in 2 hours and 30 minutes on Alaska Air, daily
SET: LA’s beaches have as many personalities as a Hollywood starlet — the trick is finding your tribe. First-timers should do the essential stops in Santa Monica (selfies on the pier, shopping in the open-air mall), while artists and hipsters should learn the lay of the land along Abbot Kinney Blvd. at Venice Beach. Upscale Malibu is the destination for celeb spotting and surfing, or follow veterans to Manhattan Beach for a more laid-back, local vibe. Away from the sand, ogle the Mission Revival architecture in Beverly Hills, the cityscape views from Runyon Canyon, or go gallery hopping along Main Street in the city’s transformed Downtown.
GO: Find your LA hotel
Philadelphia → Puerto Rico
JET: Nonstop to San Juan (SJU) in 4 hours on US Airways, daily
SET: Perfect for a long weekend escape thanks to regular nonstop flights and stress-free customs (passports aren’t required for US citizens), most visitors fly direct into San Juan and check in at the large resorts in Greater San Juan or restored boutique hotels in historic Old San Juan. Plan on a mix of poolside lazing, watersports on Condado Lagoon, cultural tours of World Heritage sites like Castillo San Felipe del Morro fortress and 16th-century La Fortaleza and standout eats in the artsy Santurce neighborhood. On longer trips, go farther afield for beachtime amid the wild horses on the island of Vieques, nature and eco adventures in the 30,000-acre El Yunque rainforest, or surfing in Aguadilla and Rincon.
GO: Find your Puerto Rico hotel
Los Angeles → Los Cabos
JET: Nonstop to San Jose Cabo (SJD) in 2 hours and 20 minutes on Alaska Airlines, daily
SET: The 20-mile Baja Corridor is home to party-loving Cabo San Lucas at one end and A-list favorite San Jose del Cabo at the other, with artsy Todos Santos farther north. Pick your playground, or do a multi-stop trip, but don’t miss a turn on one of Cabo’s championship golf courses, a sunset cruise to Land’s End and the iconic stone arch, or a guided kayak trip from Santa Maria Bay to Tortuga Bay on the Sea of Cortez. For a dose of pampering, book a traditional Baja treatment at the Spa at Las Ventanas or reserve a table at celeb-favorite, Flora Farms, known for its organic farm-to-table fare and views of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains.
GO: Find your Cabo hotel
San Francisco → Oahu
JET: Nonstop to Honolulu in 5 hours and 30 minutes on Hawaiian Air, daily
SET: The most visited of Hawaii’s five main islands, Oahu’s capital, Honolulu, offers brain-off beaching on Waikiki and quieter Kailua, world-class shopping in the state's largest mall and nature encounters out of town on the North Shore and in Ka'ena Point State Park. Craft an itinerary that mixes downtime with outdoor adventures, such as a morning hike up Diamond Head for views of the south shore, a round on the greens at Ko’olau Golf Club, surf lessons (or just spectating) at Haleiwa and serious Japanese eats at Asuka Nabe + Shabu Shabu.
GO: Find your Oahu hotel