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Explore Beaches, Sea Change

Not all beaches were created equal. Many have the basic combination of waves and sand, but not much else. However, several beach destinations across the U.S. stand out with signature experiences.

Groups can listen to award-winning musical performances in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, or immerse themselves in Colonial history in St. Augustine, Florida. Those seeking a wilder beach vacation can climb giant dunes at Porter, Indiana, or see massive whales in Monterey, California.

Instead of simply parking groups in front of the ocean, planners should take advantage of the tour possibilities at these memorable beach destinations.

Theater and Entertainment

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Powerhouse vocals that can fill a theater, hip-hop cloggers and fiddling champions ensure that every second of the Carolina Opry is packed with talent. A cast of 35 top performers put their hearts and souls into the two-hour, high-energy performance at Myrtle Beach’s Calvin Gilmore Theater.

Named the “Top Attraction in Myrtle Beach” by CNBC, the Carolina Opry is one of many theater and entertainment performances available at the Grand Strand. The Calvin Gilmore Theater alone presents four other award-winning live entertainment experiences, including “Time Warp” and “The Christmas Special.” “Time Warp” takes guests on a musical tour of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with live musical performances of hit songs.

New in 2019, Le Grand Cirque features acrobats from around the world performing impressive stunts that don’t seem humanly possible. Aerial acts, trampoline acts, fire dancers and contortionists keep viewers’ eyes transfixed.

More live performances happen at Broadway at the Beach, the Asher Theatre, the Pirates Voyage and Dinner Show, and the House of Blues. The House of Blues offers live musical entertainment, a custom menu and a two-level music hall. Groups can also opt for more intimate private rooms.

Beachgoers that like to end their day with dinner and a show will also enjoy two new venues. P. Reynolds by the Ocean recently opened as a music-themed restaurant with live jazz music and Cajun French-style cuisine. The GTS Theatre has also attracted more shows and casts this year, with an upcoming lineup that features “Elvis Live” and the “Michael Bairefoot Comedy and Magic Show.”

visitmyrtlebeach.com

Historical Tours

St. Augustine, Florida

In America, it’s hard to compete with 500 years of written history. St. Augustine’s history is not just written in the history books; it is visible to visitors around every corner.

Groups can discover the city’s colorful history while sipping wine with Tour St. Augustine. The tour company uses costumed guides to walk guests through the city’s historic district. Stops at local eateries allow participants to sample gourmet chocolate, olive oils, drinks and other tasty treats.

Groups don’t have to stay on land to tour the coastal town. The Schooner Freedom Sail allows guests to board a replica 19th-century sailboat to admire the coastal scenery, look for wildlife and enjoy a complimentary drink.

Traditionally, groups love to explore the city on the Old Town Trolley, which passes by 100 different points of interest, including the Fountain of Youth, the City Gates, the Spanish Quarter and historic St. George Street. The Colonial Quarter takes guests back to the city’s time as a Spanish colony with re-created blacksmith shops, print shops and other interactive historical reenactments.

The city’s Gilded Age ties are also obvious around town. The railroad and Standard Oil millionaire Henry Flagler built several sprawling Mediterranean-style buildings to launch the town’s tourism industry.

Forty-two miles of unspoiled beaches, shopping, golf and live downtown music ensure that a trip to the vibrant Florida town is more than a history lesson.

floridashistoriccoast.com

Whale Watching

Monterey, California

Rivaling the depth of the Grand Canyon, the Monterey Submarine Canyon measures a full mile from top to bottom. The largest submarine canyon along North America’s west coast hides a wealth of marine life that normally inhabits ocean ecosystems far removed from easy human access.

Because of this close-to-shore canyon, Monterey is one of the only places in the world where visitors can see whales year-round. Occasionally, visitors can even spot whales offshore with the naked eye.

Groups can go on an ocean safari to search for a wide range of whale species, such as humpbacks, blue whales, sperm whales and orcas. Birds, sea otters, sea lions and other coastal creatures also frequently turn up for whale cruises.

Discovery Whale Watch sails groups of up to 45 people on three- or four-hour cruises. For larger groups, the Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers three- to five-hour trips for up to 420 people on multiple boats.

Upscale cruises like Princess Monterey Whale Watching and Sanctuary Cruises lead customized charters with catering options for a more relaxed wildlife experience. Marine naturalists lead each of these whale tours.

Once a group returns from whale watching, plenty of entertainment awaits at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, local wineries, golf courses and 99 miles of California’s central coastline between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

seemonterey.com

Maritime Experiences

Mystic, Connecticut

Residents of 1830s Mystic, Connecticut, would feel right at home at Mystic Seaport, the largest maritime museum in the country. The museum re-creates a 19th-century shipbuilding village with more than 60 historic buildings. Visitors can immerse themselves in the city’s past by wandering into a variety of restored shops, such as a chandlery, a sail loft, a ropewalk and a bank.

The 19-acre site preserves four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the last wooden whaleship in the world, the Charles W. Morgan. Groups can explore the site’s extensive collection, which includes 500 historic watercrafts, maritime art, a working ship-restoration shipyard and a children’s museum. An on-site planetarium demonstrates how seamen used the stars to navigate.

Mystic’s connection to maritime traditions goes beyond the museum with historical cruises operated by Argia Mystic Cruises. The boat tour offers views of the area, refreshments and passage under the National Landmark Bascule Bridge.

What is happening beneath the waves also plays a featured role in Mystic at the Mystic Aquarium. Guests can interact with stingrays, sharks and reptiles. The aquarium displays thousands of other animals, like whales, penguins, fish and sea lions.

The New England charm of the coastal city especially shines at Olde Mystic Village. Over 50 local shops, restaurants and businesses operate within a re-created 1720s Colonial community.

ctvisit.com

Beach Scenery

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

Most people don’t immediately picture Indiana when they think of untouched beach vistas. But Indiana Dunes National Park showcases some of the world’s largest lakeshore dunes and several ecosystems, including forests, marshes and wetlands.

Officially renamed a national park in February, the 15,000-acre Indiana Dunes National Park and 2,000-acre Indiana Dunes State Park preserve some of the most ecologically diverse places in North America. Visitors love to relax by the wild beaches and look up the massive mounds of sand that reach nearly 200 feet high.

The park’s dunes formed when glaciers passed through the area over 10,000 years ago. The serene landscape was almost swallowed up by development when the largest dunes were carried off in boxcars as early as 1916. But local activists managed to preserve many of the dunes, which now serve as home to more than 1,000 native plant species and 370 bird species.

The area also boasts nearby towns with inviting downtowns to wander. Every week, downtown Chesterton hosts the European Market, where artisans and farmers sell handmade crafts, artisan breads and farm-fresh cheese.

The Old Lighthouse Museum, the Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, and the Chicago Street Theatre also welcome groups in the area.

indianadunes.com

Military Attractions

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Fighter jets roaring across the skies in Virginia Beach are visible reminders of the area’s past and present connection to the armed forces. The military tradition began in 1607 when Capt. John Smith declared the area near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay an important defense position.

Today, the region known as the Hampton Roads houses the world’s largest naval base, the only NATO command headquartered in the country and close to 85,000 servicemen and servicewomen. Guests can explore the area’s deep ties with the military at related museums and on tours.

Virginia Beach has not only a popular beach and entertainment options, but also the Virginia Military Aviation Museum. This museum goes beyond storing planes for viewing; it restores them to their original flying condition.

Guests can book rides with veteran pilots in historic aircraft. Flight demonstrations at the museum also bring these warbirds back to the skies. The museum has one of the world’s largest collections of military planes, with special emphasis on World War I and World War II. Tours highlight the history of some of these incredible planes created by American, Russian, British and German engineers.

Each spring, the Annual Warbirds Over the Beach airshow take these planes to the skies over Virginia Beach. Historians, World War II-era music and pilots dressed in period clothing bring the 1940s back to life.

A costumed storyteller can walk groups through the exhibits at the Old Coast Guard Station Museum. The museum houses a collection of 1,800 artifacts and stories of daring shipwreck rescues from the Coast Guard Services. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the surrounding Hampton Roads area, groups can also explore the Naval Air Station Oceana, the Battleship Wisconsin and Langley Air Force Base.

visitvirginiabeach.com

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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