Week of May 2-9, 1996
Pilgrimage to mountain biking mecca: Moab, Utah
City dwellers' salvation: Canoeing in New Hampshire
Adventure hikes at the Grand Canyon
East Coast beach vacations
Rafting Colorado's Animas River
Planning your next family-style ski vacation
East Coast beach vacations
Question: A friend at work who is five months pregnant and has a 17-month-old child needs a recommendation for a family vacation, preferably on the East Coast near a beach. Thanks.
Twelve miles of sandy ocean beaches are the big draw to Hilton Head Island, a tennis-shoe-shaped patch of dry land deep in the South Carolina low country. In some places, the flat, hard-packed beach is 600 feet wide, so there's more than enough sand to go around. The west side of Hilton Head is rimmed with salt marshes and lagoons, and in between are dense stands of subtropical trees, oaks, pines, bays, and palmettos. Beachcombers and condo-dwellers share the island with alligators, bobcats, and some 250 species of birds--many of which live within the 800 acres of wildlife preserves that manage to keep the place relatively unspoiled.
There are 29 golf courses and 300 tennis courts, but the beach beats 'em all, hands down. The sand is hard enough for bicycling, and you can rent a two-wheeler from Hilton Head Bicycle (803-686-6888) or Peddling Pelican Bike Rentals (803-785-5470) for anywhere from $10-$25 per day. Shore Beach Service (803-785-3494) has catamarans, bikes, Boogie boards, and other goodies for more adventurous pursuits. After beach-lounging and biking, there are several miles of trails in 650-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, home to herons, egrets, and ibis; binoculars required!
As for kiddie-catering accommodations, consider the island's high-end hotels--such as the towering oceanfront Westin Resort (doubles, $150-$290; 800-228-3000); their camplike children's programs feature arts and crafts, swimming, and games. For other options, call the Visitor Information Center at 803-785-3673. They have listings of the thousands of hotel and motel rooms, as well as villas and vacation home rentals available on the island.
Another good bet, farther up the eastern seaboard, is Cape May, New Jersey. The Garden State gets its share of abuse, but consider this: a postcard-quaint Victorian-style community fronting three miles of hard-packed, white-sand beach and perched on the Atlantic flyway. Long considered one of the best birding sites in the world, Cape May is a stopover for robins and rarer species such as peregrine falcons and northern harriers. There's an asphalt boardwalk and plenty of bikeable back roads through rural farmland and nature refuges, and the beach itself is pounded by two- to three-foot waves. Pedal the town's quiet side streets for glimpses of the 600 houses on the National Historic Register with a rental from the Village Bicycle Shop (609-884-8500). Or sign up for a guided birding walk with the Cape May Observatory (609-884-2626).
Compared to its noisy upcoast neighbors on the infamous Jersey shore, Cape May is a sleepy beach town reminiscent of the 19th century. Bed down in the venerable Marquis de Lafayette (doubles, $148-$228; 800-257-0432) with its prime ocean-view location, heated pool, and adjoining three-story motel. If this doesn't fit the bill, Cape May Reservation Service (609-884-3191) can provide an impressive list of worthy B&Bs, hotels, motels, and guest houses.
For other recommended destinations--not to mention an exhaustive look at the art of perfecting a family vacation--pick up a copy of Outside's summer 1996 Family Vacations guide, on newsstands this week and coming online later this month.