Sarah L. Stewart, Travel + Leisure • Updated 7th July 2015
(Travel + Leisure) — When making summer beach plans, sometimes all one really wants is an ultra-simple warm-weather escape: sand, water, sun.
Even better? Each option has its own scenic bonus, from the snowcapped volcanoes in Alaska to wild ponies on Assateague Island.
Horseneck Beach State Reservation, Massachusetts. Fragrant wild roses bloom on the fringes of this two-mile beach flanking Buzzards Bay, on the mainland west of Martha's Vineyard. Campers and windsurfers flock to its 100 campsites for reliable ocean breezes and pounding surf, as do migratory shorebirds for the diverse coastal habitats found here. Rates start at $22 a night.
Anastasia State Park, Florida. Four miles of wide, undeveloped shoreline just minutes from downtown St. Augustine offer a glimpse of Florida much as it appeared to the first Spanish explorers 450 years ago. Stroll from the 139-site campground to the dunes at sunset for a 360-degree panorama of sand and sea—with a 19th-century lighthouse in the foreground. Rates start at $28 a night.
Oceanside Campground, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland. This narrow strip of land between Chincoteague Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is home to a famed herd of wild ponies that has roamed its beaches and dunes for more than 300 years. Stay at one of 104 waterfront camping spaces to spy the island's celebrated residents and savor its surreal seaside sunrises. Rates range from $20 to $30 a night.
Kalaloch Campground, Olympic National Park, Washington. Lose yourself in the wild beauty of the Olympic Peninsula at this 175-site outpost perched on a bluff high above the Pacific. Bald eagles and sea gulls fly overhead, whales occasionally spout offshore, and emerald-green sea urchins populate the rocky pools revealed at low tide. Rates range from $14 to $36 a night.
Westport-Union Landing State Beach, California. Land meets sea in dramatic fashion at this 86-site clifftop retreat on the Pacific Coast Highway in Mendocino County. A soundtrack of waves crashing against craggy coastline serenades campers day and night, while a shroud of salt spray softens the landscape with an ethereal mist. Rates start at $25 a night.
Wai'anapanapa State Park, Hawaii. A dazzling contrast of black volcanic sand and deep blue sea make this cove on Maui's lush eastern coast distinctly Hawaiian. Near the end of the renowned 52-mile Hana Highway, its 60 campsites are ideal for exploring the small-town charm and serene seclusion of the island's quieter side. Rates range from $12 to $18 a night.
Sea Camp Campground, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia. On this remote barrier island accessible only by boat, a labyrinth of gnarled live oak branches shields 16 campsites from the sun and sea breezes. Stroll 18 miles of wide, flat beaches, where you may spot feral horses descended from those introduced here by the Carnegie family in the early 1900s.
Cape Perpetua Campground, Siuslaw National Forest, Oregon. Sleep at one of 37 sites beneath an old-growth forest of spruce, fir, and hemlock on this rugged section of Oregon coastline. Paths lead to tide pools teeming with sea life, blowholes spouting in the pounding surf, and an overlook high above the roiling Pacific. Rates start at $22 a night.
Ninilchik View Campground, Ninilchik State Recreation Area, Alaska. Two 10,000-foot snowcapped volcanoes frame the horizon from these 13 blufftop sites on the Kenai Peninsula. Extreme tidal fluctuations in Cook Inlet yield constantly changing scenery, revealing vast sand flats at low tide and excellent beachcombing at any time. Rates start at $10 a night.
Ocracoke Campground, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina. This windswept barrier island in the Outer Banks features 13 miles of scenic shoreline and the state's oldest operating lighthouse. Dunes protect a 136-site campground, sandwiched between the Atlantic and placid Pamlico Sound. Rates start at $23 a night.
Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida. This idyllic island in the Florida Keys was once named one of the world's most romantic islands. The park's powdery white sand and warm turquoise waters are ideal for snorkeling, swimming, or simply basking in tropical tranquility. Rates start at $38.50 a night.