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While it's hard to argue with the universal appeal of simply basking in the sun on beautiful white sand beaches (with maybe a frosty drink in hand), there's just so much to do on an island vacation. Active explorers can survey coves and ruins, take jeep tours, parasailing lessons, or set out on day cruises. For water enthusiasts, there are scuba diving, snorkeling, diving, and sea kayaking opportunities galore in most any island vacation spot. And if you're in search of dynamic nightlife, island travel is just the ticket: a beach vacation just wouldn't be complete without nights of feasting on fresh seafood, dancing the night away in after-hours clubs, or just chilling poolside at the cocktail bar at sunset. Soak up the serenity of unspoiled landscapes and enjoy the variety of activities that come with a beach vacation.
What are you waiting for? Grab your sunscreen and take a look at a list of our top beach vacation destinations. Our list will help you choose the island vacation that best fits your interests.
When you dream of an island getaway — the kind that comes complete with glittering hotels along a white-sand beach — you've got Honolulu in mind. Oahu's largest city and the state capital, Honolulu is home to many top attractions: sample a great dim-sum lunch in vibrant Chinatown or check out Aloha Tower, the city's landmark harbor-side clocktower surrounded by a marketplace brimming with shops and popular restaurants.
Honolulu is also home to famed Waikiki Beach, located between the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and Diamond Head. Just as you've seen in countless postcards, Waikiki's Beach's white sand runs along a 2-mile stretch of coast, flanked by dozens of high-rise hotels. The area is popular for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, body-boarding, picnicking, and outrigger canoeing. At the end of the beach is Diamond Head, one of the world's most famous volcanic rings. Although no diamonds were ever found here, the calcite crystals in the lava rock sparkle in the bright Hawaiian sunshine.
Arguably the most exotic city Americans can visit without a passport, Miami is home to sun, sand and irrepressible style. The city's 1970s boom has resulted in a flourishing economy. Home to many Cuban-Americans, Miami is a thriving multicultural metropolis that revels in its Latin American roots. Miami Beach's white sands welcome you to a tropical paradise where you can soak up the rays, boat, water ski and windsurf.
Attend a music festival, enjoy world-class cuisine, browse in fabulous shops and dance all night to the sizzling Latin beat. Hundreds of restored Art Deco buildings await admiration in South Beach, the first 20th-century district on the National Register of Historic Places. Noteworthy attractions in ethnically diverse downtown Miami include the Miami-Dade Cultural Center, containing the city's main art museum, historical museum and library; the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, a grand movie palace and concert hall; and the Freedom Tower, a key site for Cuban immigrants.
Deep in the heart of the Caribbean, the island nation of Jamaica has miles of unspoiled beaches, lush rain forests, and green mountains — it's been called "the biggest little island in the world" for good reason. The edges of the island are lined with resorts, while the interior is verdant and blossoming with all manner of flora and fauna. Laze on the sugar-soft sands of any one of Jamaica's many beaches or take an invigorating hike through the lush Blue Mountains.
On the west end of Jamaica, Negril boasts seven miles of beaches and serene waters to go swimming, snorkeling, or jet skiing in. At night, the discos are packed in Negril. You can also swim, play golf and tennis, and go to the spa at most of the island's resorts, and explore Jamaican culture in the city centers. In Kingston, Jamaica's capital, reggae fans can take a tour of the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road. In town, don't miss your chance to taste authentic Jamaican street food — try some spicy jerk chicken and wash it down with a Red Stripe.
Known for its family-friendly attractions, its proximity to Baja Mexico and its gorgeous coastlines, San Diego makes a perfect Southern California escape. The oldest port on the West Coast, San Diego is home to such famous attractions as the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld. In the heart of the city is Balboa Park, one of the finest urban parks in the country, home to numerous museums, gardens, galleries and theaters.
Take advantage of this vacation spot's perpetually idyllic climate and stay outside: you can swim, surf, kayak, bicycle, in-line skate, golf, and more in California's second largest city. But it's not just about the endless beaches or Shamu the whale: San Diego also boasts a vibrant art scene and hopping nightlife. Go to the historic Gaslamp Quarter (so-called because of the gas lamps that lined the streets) to check out both the well-preserved Victorian architecture of many modern storefronts and an array of fashionable restaurants and bars. Since San Diego is just 16 miles from Mexico, be sure to sample some tasty Mexican fare while you're there.
Choose the rustic beauty of a Cancun eco-resort, the amenities of a high-rise hotel on the beach, or the convenience of one of the area's plentiful all-inclusive resorts. No matter where you choose to stay, you'll be close to some of Mexico's most glorious beaches, archaeological sites, and natural preserves. Catch a tan at famous beaches like Playa Chacmool and Delifines.
And don't miss out on a chance to see Cancun's abundant sea life. Snorkeling offers an easy, inexpensive way to swim through the turquoise waters and float among bright-colored tropical fish. Visit Yamil Lu'um, a Mayan temple dating back to the 14th century. Golfers can hit the links at a number of beautiful and challenging courses. After dark, head to a cantina or one of dozens of nightclubs to dance the night away.