Our guide pairs beachy destinations around the world with often unexpected times to visit—when the crowds thin out and prices are gentler but you can still watch the waves crash along the shore—and reveals what to see and experience while you’re there.
January: The Dominican Republic
It’s balmy here year-round, with average highs topping 80 degrees even in January. As the New Year’s party scene dissipates, a new crowd rolls in: migrating humpback whales that pass by the northeastern Samaná Peninsula in droves. Whale Samaná (011-1-809-538-2494; excursions, $62*; children under 12, $33) leads boat excursions with naturalists from mid-January to mid-March. While in Samaná—a laid-back province popular with Europeans—you can pick up Dominican-made items at Nativ’Arte (270 N. Calle Duarte, Las Terrenas; 011-1-829-262-3406) in the main town of Las Terrenas. Or head to the beautiful and secluded Playa Cosón nearby. January is also a fine time to explore Punta Cana, a resort area in the sunny southeast, or Puerto Plata, a port city with historic attractions.
February: San Diego, California
San Diego’s off-season charms shine in February, when prices drop along with the temperatures. Expect 60-degree days at the beach, a chance of rain and plenty of indoor diversions thanks to half-off admission all month long at more than 40 cultural institutions, such as the USS Midway Museum (910 N. Harbor Dr.; 619-544-9600; admission, $20; children 6-12, $10) and The New Children’s Museum (200 W. Island Ave.; 619-233-8792; admission, $13). The city embraces a celebratory mood, with a Mardi Gras street party in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter as well as Lunar New Year events that have included Chinese acrobatic performances at SeaWorld (500 SeaWorld Dr.; 619-222-4732; admission, $95). Whale-watching peaks in February, and wildflowers begin blooming along the trails of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Borrego Springs; 760-767-4205), about a two-hour drive away.
March: Valletta, Malta
Set in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and Tunisia, the archipelago of Malta has been ruled by many different cultures and, as a result, is a true mash-up of influences. Valletta, its gracious waterfront capital, turned 450 in 2016 yet thrums with a revitalized energy. Openings in the run-up to its 2018 stint as a European Capital of Culture included architect Renzo Piano’s City Gate (among Piano’s past credits: Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou and the new Whitney Museum, in New York City); the St. James Cavalier (Castille Place; 011-356-2122-3200) cultural center; and MUŻA (Auberge d’Italie, Merchants St.; 011-356-2122-1047), a national museum of fine arts. In March, it’s pleasant enough to linger at outdoor bars overlooking the harbor—like Café Society (13 St. Johns St.; 011-356-2713-7491; drinks for two, $16)—and to stroll the 16th-century fortifications built by the Knights of St. John. They also left behind St. John’s Co-Cathedral (St. John’s Square; 011-356-2122-0536; admission, $12), whose ornate interior was recently restored and houses two paintings by Italian master Caravaggio.
April: Bali, Indonesia
April ushers in the dry season on Bali, a lush volcanic island whose scenery (think pristine palm-fringed beaches) and spirituality are equally moving. It also brings the return of the annual Bali Spirit Festival (011-62-811-393-9900; weeklong passes, $687), six days of yoga classes, concerts and workshops amid the terraced rice fields of Ubud, the island’s artistic (and expat) center. Just outside Ubud await the Goa Gajah (Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Bedulu Village; admission, $1), a ninth-century Hindu temple, and the rock-cut shrines of Gunung Kawi (Tampaksiring; 011-62-878-6221-6435; admission, $1). To head off the beaten path, consider exploring Amed, a region of fishing villages about 2.5 hours by car to the northeast. Its allure lies in terrific snorkeling, rides with East Bali Bike Tours (Amed-East Coast, Karangasem; 011-62-812-466-7752; full-day tours, from $90) and a taste of old-time Balinese daily life.
May: The Algarve, Portugal
The Algarve skirts the southern coast of Portugal for about 100 miles, from Sagres, where navigators once set sail, east to Faro and beyond. It teems with beachgoers in summer, but if you time your visit to May you’ll beat the crowds while still getting to bask in the sun. Lavender jacaranda trees are in bloom, and the postcard-perfect scenes range from soft sand beaches framed by limestone cliffs to whitewashed interior towns, seemingly frozen in time. In Silves, you’ll find medieval Moorish artifacts as well as Silves Castle (800-112 Silves; 011-351-282-440-800; admission, $3), one of the country’s most well-preserved Moorish fortifications. It’s about a half-hour drive to Albufeira, a fishing village that morphed into the Algarve’s main resort destination, with several golf courses and restaurants serving up fresh fish and local wines.
June: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
It’s easy to wax poetic about the all-American pleasures of summer on Cape Cod, with its seafood shacks, smooth beaches, lighthouses and historic towns. The weather begins to heat up in June—although the ocean is still bracing—and The Cape Playhouse (820 Main St., Dennis; 508-385-3911; tickets, from $20) opens its doors for another season of professional theater. Hyannis, the stomping grounds of the Kennedys, hosts a Father’s Day Car Show and Hyannis Arts and Craft Festival on Main Street, plus the annual late-June Cape Cod Chowderfest. At the tip of Cape Cod, LGBT-friendly Provincetown beckons with its colorful arts scene and landmarks that include a monument to the Pilgrims, who made landfall here.
July: Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s northwest has a look all its own: grasslands, dry savannas and splendid Pacific white-sand shores with warm, crystal clear waves. In July, during the wet season, foliage is greener and the rain often limits itself to a late-afternoon shower, which means you can still expect opportunities to snorkel, kayak and sunbathe on beaches such as secluded Potrero; Tamarindo, a favorite among surfers; and Nosara, where turtles start coming ashore in July to lay eggs. It’s worth venturing inland, too, for a taste of cowboy culture and to explore national parks. Don’t miss the hot springs and waterfalls of Rincón de la Vieja (011-506-2666-0630; admission, $15).
August: Agadir, Morocco
Rebuilt after a 1960s earthquake, the southwestern coastal city of Agadir is marked by wide boulevards lined with cafés, high-rises and towering palm trees. But you can still seek out its traditional side by haggling for wares at Souk El Had (Rue 2 Mars), taking a camel ride or exploring the ruins of the hilltop casbah, a type of fortress. Down below, the beach and its promenade curve along a picturesque Atlantic bay. (You can also admire the view while parasailing.) It’s graced with gentle waves and 300 days of annual sunshine. For more action, surfers head a few miles north to the fishing village of Taghazout. The bird reserve at Massa Lagoon, part of Souss Massa National Park (Sidi Binzarne; 011-212-6-54454762), and the ancient walled city of Taroudant also make for convenient day trips.
September: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Kids of all ages flock to the 1.2-mile boardwalk at Myrtle Beach to play in its old-school arcades and enjoy attractions such as the Family Kingdom (300 S. Ocean Blvd.; 843-626-3447; admission, free; rides, from $3.45 each) amusement park and one of the East Coast’s tallest Ferris wheels, SkyWheel (110 N. Ocean Blvd.; 843-839-9200; tickets, $14). The white-sand beach itself is popular for sailing and fishing. There are also several golf courses and public tennis courts, good for burning off the area’s signature seafood and soul food. If you need a break from the sun, you can retreat indoors to Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach (1110 Celebrity Circle; 800-734-8888; admission, from $28) or to WonderWorks (1313 Celebrity Circle; 843-626-9962; admission, from $18) for hands-on science exhibits and laser tag. Reemerge in time to root for the home team, the Pelicans, at an evening minor-league baseball game at Pelicans Ballpark (1251 21st Ave. N.; 843-918-6000; tickets, from $11), often accompanied by fireworks and promos like dollar beer.
October: Outer Banks, North Carolina
This string of barrier islands, extending from Virginia south to Ocracoke along North Carolina Highway 12, encourages visitors to appreciate low-key diversions. Fishing is at its best in fall, as are windsurfing and kiteboarding. On an outing with OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charters (4457 Mill Landing Rd., Wanchese; 252-423-0421; four-hour charters for party of up to six, $475), kids can pull up shrimp nets and crab pots on Roanoke Sound (anything you catch, you keep). Oyster season also typically gets underway in October. With mild temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the uncrowded shores are yours for strolls or horseback rides. Come sunset, you can gather round a beach fire, permitted at the town of Nags Head and along Cape Hatteras.
November: Uruguay’s Southern Coast
Beach towns don’t get much more glamorous than Punta del Este, a longtime retreat for wealthy Argentines and Brazilians that draws comparisons to the Hamptons. Seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, so the summer scene here starts in November, a sweet spot before the end-of-year holiday peak. There’s still plenty of people-watching to be had in Punta del Este and a string of nearby boho-chic towns, yet it’s not as difficult to get coveted reservations. Fifteen minutes to the east, La Barra stands out for its nightlife, while celebrity chef Francis Mallmann’s splurge-worthy restaurant Garzón (Costa José Ignacio, Garzón; 011-598-4410-2809; dinner for two, $250) has put the town that shares its name on the culinary map. And José Ignacio remains the “it” spot for its relaxed vibe—a place to linger over meals of seafood and grilled meats, lounge on the beaches and browse mom-and-pop shops.
December: Newport, Rhode Island
The seaside town of Newport brings to mind the lavish “cottages” of 19th-century industrialists. Although built for summer use, these mansions may look their most enchanting in winter. Thousands of poinsettias, evergreens and wreaths adorn The Elms (367 Bellevue Ave.; admission, $17.50) and the Vanderbilts’ Marble House (560 Bellevue Ave.; admission, $17.50), which also displays white candles in the windows, a nod to the colonial practice. Christmas in Newport, a monthlong festival, emphasizes these traditions, and all events are free or benefit charity. The grinchiest of visitors is likely to be swayed by that mission and the overall cheer—even boats get in the spirit during the Illuminated Boat Parade. And while this may be the one spot on our list where you won’t be hitting the beach in less than a cozy sweater, you can still get a lobster roll at Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant (140 Thames St.; 401-849-6334; lobster rolls for two, $44), a more-than-30-year institution.
RCI® affiliated resorts in and near some of the featured destinations include:
Each unit at this all-inclusive property has a balcony or terrace with Puerto Plata views. Playa Cofresi No. 1, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Member Review: “Great on-site food and drink.”
Families win with day care and a water park for the youngsters, and a spa and the adults-only Kitchen 23 restaurant for grown-ups. Uvero Alto, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Member Review: “Impeccable service!”
Comfortable rooms and swimming pools make this a great base for exploring Carlsbad. 5805 Armada Dr., Carlsbad, CA
Member Review: “Loved the lap pool.”
Villas are fitted with custom-made furniture, stand-alone soaking tubs and private pools. Jalan Kusuma Sari No. 8, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
Member Review: “Close to the beach and downtown Sanur.”
Sports enthusiasts rejoice in the resort’s snorkeling, waterskiing, windsurfing, sailing, tennis, golf and other offerings. Estrada de Ferreiras, Albufeira, Portugal
Member Review: “Well-maintained facilities.”
At this centrally located Cape resort, you can stock up on snacks at the on-site market or use the barbecue facilities for a family cookout. 711 Main St., South Yarmouth, MA
Member Review: “Great location to many places on the Cape.”
The on-site Dreams Spa by Pevonia has 10 treatment rooms and a dedicated hydrotherapy area. Playa el Jobo, La Cruz de Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Member Review: Not yet rated
You can lounge by the pool or the beach at this bright white property overlooking the Atlantic on the southwest coast of Morocco. Blvd. de 20 Août, Agadir, Morocco
Member Review: “Lovely on-site restaurants.”
There’s fun for all ages with on-site activities like a vineyard tour, bingo and chalk art. 1250 U.S. Hwy. 17 N., Surfside Beach, SC
Member Review: “Excellent manicured grounds.”
Set on 100 acres of maritime forest, the hotel offers activities that include fishing, kayaking and sailing. 1 Cypress Knee Trail, Kitty Hawk, NC
Member Review: “The indoor water park is great for kids.”
After exploring North Carolina’s Outer Banks, wind down in one of the well-appointed units that sleep up to 14. 1245 Duck Rd., Duck, NC
Member Review: “Awesome location with beach access.”
Kids can take advantage of the adventure park with ATVs, horseback riding and biking. Ruta Interbalnearia km. 118.5, Punta del Este, Uruguay
Member Review: “Helpful staff.”
Guests dine to live entertainment and partake in weekly wine-and-cheese socials. 359 Thames St., Newport, RI
Member Review: “Well-equipped facilities.”
Charming colonial-style architecture in New England. 5 Washington St., Newport, RI
Member Review: “We loved the indoor and outdoor pool.”
Save 10% on select Extra Vacations℠ getaways to Costa Rica this winter! Details on the exclusive RCI Subscribing Member offer can be found in the Winter 2017 issue.
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in some of the featured destinations include:
A chic converted townhouse with art-filled rooms and a roof terrace overlooking the Grand Harbour. 82A St. Ursula St., Valletta, Malta; 011-356-2122-7860; ursulinovalletta.com; doubles from $192 a night
Bahía del Sol
An open-air restaurant, complimentary yoga and a pool facing Playa Potrero are highlights of this casual hotel. South end of Potrero beach, Costa Rica; 866-223-2463; bahiadelsolhotel.com; doubles from $166 a night
- *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2017