Playa Isla Verde is Puerto Rican paradise close to the runway. (Puerto Rico Tourism Company.)
Sometimes, getting there isn’t half the fun. When you’re traveling, every second spent in traffic can be better spent working on a tan or a bottomless tropical drink. Here are a few beaches that are conveniently located less than half an hour from major airports.
1. Playa de Isla Verde, Puerto Rico
(Puerto Rico Tourism Company)
Less than five miles from San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (SJU), Playa de Isla Verde is the first place travelers can work on their tan upon arriving in Puerto Rico. The 1.5-mile-long crescent-shaped stretch of sand is popular with locals who come for sunbathing, paddle boarding, snorkeling and swimming. Families like this beach because the drop-off is gradual and the waves are gentle. As far as municipal beaches go, it’s hard to find one as clean as Playa de Isla Verde, which translates into “green island.” Green also has another meaning here: cash. Beachfront hotels like Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort and the Ritz-Carlton San Juan boast hundreds of slot machines, so guests and visitors can gamble when it rains.
2. South Beach, Florida
(Hyatt Centric South Beach Miami)
Long layovers at Miami International Airport (MIA) need not be spent in overpriced airport bars, because tropical drinks are only a 20-minute cab ride away at happening South Beach bars like DECK Sixteen, on the roof of the brand-new Hyatt Centric. South Beach is famous for its celebrity-studded clubbing scene, and at only a quarter per ride the local Miami Beach buses make nightlife transportation easy and affordable. During the day, the welcoming stretch of sand is the ideal place for people-watching. (That nondescript jogger on Ocean Drive Promenade just might be an A-lister.) And when you’ve had enough sun, South Beach’s historic and iconic art deco buildings offer plenty of shade.
3. Virginia Beach
(Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau)
Virginia’s No. 1 visitor attraction, Virginia Beach, is a 20-minute drive from Norfolk International Airport (ORF). While certain parts of the beach are packed (especially during Beach Street U.S.A. concerts and festivals), Virginia Beach comprises 14 miles of sand – all offering free access – so it’s never hard to find space for your beach towel. More active, year-round activities include whale-watching excursions, horseback riding on the beach and bird-watching in the national wildlife refuge. For adrenaline junkies, there’s swinging on the Skyscraper ride at the Amusement Park or climbing canopies in the aerial forest park at the Aquarium’s Adventure Center. Remember to save some time to visit the Military Aviation Museum and Fighter Factory when you return to the airport.
4. Culebra Bay, Costa Rica
(Playa Papagayo – El Mangroove)
Breathtakingly beautiful Culebra Bay, just 12 miles from Liberia International Airport (LIR), is a convenient escape for those who want to stay in the Guanacaste region, nicknamed Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, without a rental car. The tranquil bay has several stunning white sand beaches – crowds and pesky vendors don’t exist here – backed by mangrove forests. Guests at beachfront properties like El Mangroove can rent kayaks or paddleboards and beach-hop until they reach the northern part of the bay, where the water is as clear as glass and the coral community lends itself to brilliant and rather animated snorkeling. The bay is also a popular launching point for fishing trips and sunset cruises that take travelers into the Gulf of Papagayo.
5. Venice Beach, California
(California Travel and Tourism Commission, Andreas Hub)
With characters as entertaining as any you’ll find at Disneyland, Los Angeles’ Venice Beach is a must-see for visitors to sunny Southern California. The 2.5-mile-long boardwalk is only five miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), a $40, 15-minute cab ride or an $18, 25-minute shared shuttle ride away. Once at the beach, visitors can get their hands greasy with fried foods galore or chalk up and compete with the boardwalk’s resident bodybuilders. The craziness of Venice Beach is what draws the masses – it has more than 16 million visitors a year – so it’s smart to book a room away from the chaos. The Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey is within walking distance, but it also offers bike rentals so guests can pedal to the boardwalk.
6. Hermosa Beach. California
(Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce and Vistors Bureau)
Just 10 minutes from LAX is Hermosa Beach, a quieter, more affluent answer to Venice Beach. Beach volleyball is as routine as brushing teeth here, and it’s worth it to join a pickup game and play with the good-looking locals, even if you’re in town only for a few hours. Hermosa Beach also offers excellent surfing; the Hermosa Beach Pier is home to the Surfer’s Walk of Fame. Although it’s primarily a residential area, the Beach House Hotel Hermosa Beach is located right on the 26-mile oceanfront paved path running up to Malibu, and 80 percent of its 96 guest suites offer sunset views.
7. Zona Hotelera, Cancun, Mexico
(CasaMagna Marriott Cancun)
If not for the time spent waiting for bags and immigration, travelers could arrive at Cancun International Airport (CUN) and have their feet in the sand within 20 minutes. Only 10.5 miles from the airport, CasaMagna Marriott Resort rises up from the picture-perfect white sand at the midpoint of the 12-mile-long Zona Hotelera. Since all of Mexico’s beaches are federally owned; there are 10 public access points in Zona Hotelera, making it easy for travelers to reach the beach without having to book a room at one of the fancy resorts lining the strip. This stretch of sand is a magnet for spring breakers, but putting up with party-hungry college kids is a small price to pay for enjoying such a fine slice of paradise.
8. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
(Wilmington and Beaches CVB)
Billed as North Carolina’s most accessible beach, Wrightsville Beach is a no-brainer for beach-minded travelers to the Tar Heel State. A bridge links the picturesque island community to the mainland and the city of Wilmington – a destination in itself. Wilmington International Airport (ILM) is just 10 miles away, so travelers can be paddle boarding along the Intracoastal Waterway or bodysurfing in the Atlantic less than 30 minutes after they touch down. This coastline is also a world-class diving destination. After launching from Wrightsville Beach, divers can explore more than 200 historic shipwrecks. During the winter months, when the water is too cold for swimming, visitors can rent kayaks and paddle to Masonboro, an undeveloped barrier island that’s home to an array of seabirds and nesting loggerhead and green sea turtles.
9. Loreto Islands, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
(James Tiffany Photography)
Intended to be the original Cabo, it’s surprising that Loreto has managed to stay true to its sleepy fishing village roots. Often referred to as Mexico’s best-kept secret, the Loreto Islands lie just off the shore of the Loreto International Airport (LTO). The five major islands are anchored in the Sea of Cortez, home to Mexico’s largest marine preserve. The region’s premier resort, Villa del Palmar, offers boat excursions that allow visitors to tour the islands and interact with more than 800 species of marine life, ranging from mating Pacific gray whales to tasty yellowfin tuna and curious sea lions. Baja is home to some pretty outstanding beaches, and there’s no better or more convenient place to enjoy them in peace and quiet.
10. Rockaway Beach, New York
New York City’s Rockaway Beach isn’t for the faint of heart, but it fits in perfectly in the city of extremes. The Atlantic-facing beach gets crowded in the summer, and the water temperature hovers near freezing in the winter. Still, the sandy shore is a sight for sore eyes in the concrete jungle, and it’s only a 20-minute taxi ride from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). You can also get to Rockaway Beach via AirTrain and subway, but the $7.75 trip takes twice as long. At the beach, surfing (with wetsuits of course) reigns supreme. A-Team Paddleboarding offers rentals and lessons as well as SUP & Stay packages that feature floating campsites made out of roof panels and repurposed truck caps.
Katie Jackson is a travel writer. When she’s not working, she’s chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus.