Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Shoes off!

Although Hurricane Katrina left the Alabama Gulf Coast relatively unscathed, the 32 miles of sugar-white beach had suffered a double whammy a short time before. In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan did major damage to the area, and then, 10 months later, Hurricane Dennis came along and “did a little more damage.”

The beach at Daytona Beach, Fla., is filled with activity and opportunities to people watch. Courtesy Daytona Beach Area CVB

“Over the last five years, we have done a lot of restoration down here,” said Mike Foster, vice president of marketing for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have really re-created ourselves in a way that appeals to a broader base of people.”

Although hurricanes have resulted in a renaissance along the Alabama coast, most beach destinations on the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico dread storms. However, Newport, Ore., promotes them.

“November to January is a great time to go storm watching,” said Lorna Davis, tourism development director for the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce. “If you haven’t seen a storm roll in off the Pacific, it is incredible.”

This attitude toward storms is indicative of the variety of experiences that await groups that travel to the country’s beach destinations, whether the rocky shores of Oregon or the soft, sandy beaches of Florida and Alabama.

Alabama Gulf Coast

“We are 32 miles of sugar-white sand and blue-green water that is magical,” said Foster. “The sand has a sugar texture; it is very fine. [The beach] is truly the crown jewel of our area, but we have built a destination around those 32 miles.”

In addition to the beach, Foster said the area has several historic and nature-based attractions, including dolphin cruises and historic Fort Morgan, which played a prominent role in the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay.

Several boats offer inland cruises. “We still have crabs, clams and oysters back in that area,” said Foster. “It is a wonderful opportunity to get back into the real environment of the Gulf Coast, away from the sand and sea.”


The National Resources Defense Council has rated the Gulf Shores Public Beaches among the cleanest in the nation. Courtesy Alabama Gulf Coast CVB

er said most of the Alabama Gulf Coast’s 16,000 rooms are in condominiums, which “offer a nice opportunity most people don’t think about. For the same cost as two hotel rooms, it is the opportunity to stay right on the beach with a refrigerator, microwave oven and separate bedrooms. It’s a wonderful experience that is unique from a hotel.

“The other thing that is so special in this area is the food,” he said. “We feature everything from traditional fried fish to very high-level gourmet eating right on the water.”
(800) 982-8562

Brunswick and the Golden Isles

The folks at Georgia’s Golden Isles, the four barrier islands just off the coast of mainland Brunswick, don’t worry that their water is not as crystal clear and blue as other beach destinations.

“If you have clear water, there is nothing in it,” said Bill Tipton, executive director of the Brunswick and the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Ours is a kind of murky water that is full of nutrients and is a breeding ground for shrimp and small fish. And it is very clean.”

That murky water not only provides great fresh seafood, but also offers an opportunity for informative cruises aboard a local shrimp boat, the Lady Jane. “You can go out on the boat and that night eat fresh shrimp that was caught. Seining off the back of the shrimp boat is a big thing,” said Tipton.

There are several other cruise options in the Golden Isles, including dolphin  and sunset cruises, and pontoon boats through the area that was the yachting competition venue during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Popcorn is one of many treats available along the three-mile boardwalk at Ocean City, Md. Courtesy Ocean City CVB

“We don’t sell it as bring your bikini and stay out on the beach but an opportunity to get out on the water,” said Tipton. “Most of the things we talk about are boat-related.”

However, the islands that form the Golden Isles — St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island — do have great beaches that can be used for walking or just sitting and relaxing.

“People enjoy just seeing the beach,” said Tipton.

A new sea turtle center on Jekyll Island is also popular with groups. “It is an actual hospital repairing injured sea turtles,” said Tipton. “They recuperate in a big tank in the back. The releases when they are ready to go back in the ocean are a big deal.”
(800) 809-1790

Ocean City, Md.

Ocean City is located on a barrier island off the coast of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and its white-sand beach runs the length of the town. “The beach is the No. 1 attraction. It is 10 miles long, as long as the town is,” said Donna Abbott, public relations director for the Ocean City Department of Tourism.

“There are all sorts of activities, from sitting on the beach and watching the waves to jumping in the waves and all kinds of water sports. All 10 miles are free and open to the public.”

Three miles of the beach is bordered by Ocean City’s popular and highly regarded wooden boardwalk. The Travel Channel and USA Today have rated it one of the best boardwalks in the country.

“The boardwalk is second to the beach,” said Abbott. “Most people include a visit to the boardwalk. It has an amusement park on the southern end with vintage rides and a museu

The 10-mile beach, which runs the length of Ocean City, Md., is the city’s top attraction. Courtesy Ocean City CVB

m at the southern end that tells the history of the town.

“In the summertime, it [the museum] offers free programs in the morning outside. The topics range from learning to tie knots to a beach patrol seminar on beach safety. A lot of people like to sit on the end of the boardwalk and watch the commercial boats come and go.

“Groups enjoy the boardwalk. It has benches along the way that look out over the beach without being on it,” said Abbott.

The boardwalk is lined with shops and food stands, which sell everything from Maryland crab cakes, cheeseburgers and pizza to the boardwalk’s signature French fries.

Because it is on a barrier island, Ocean City offers the unusual beach option of watching both sunrises and sunsets. “You can sit on the beach in the morning and watch [the sun] rise over the Atlantic and in the evening walk just a few blocks to see it set over the bay,” said Abbott.

Lakes count, too


Indiana might be one of the last states that comes to mind when you think about a beach destination. But the sandy shores of the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan, complete with surf and tides, provide an oceanlike experience.

“Some people, when they think of a lake, think of Kentucky Lake; but when you get to Lake Michigan and sit on the shore, to me it resembles what the Atlantic Ocean is like,” said Ruth Keefover, director of public relations for the Porter County Visitors Commission. “It’s like going to a regular beach.”

Keefover pointed out that an online photo contest had contestants guess where a photo of the dunes was located. “It took two weeks for people to guess it. Their guesses ranged from the Caribbean to the South,” she said. “You can sit here and never guess you are less than an hour from Chicago.”

The dunes are protected by an unusual combination of state and federal resources. “It is a very unique area,” said Keefover. “We have the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which covers 15 miles and 15,000 acres. And right in the middle is a state park. It is the only place in the country where a state park is inside a national park.

“Since the entire dunes area is protected by the government, everything is very nature-based,” she said. “There are no boardwalks, jet skiing or dune buggies. It is nature at its best.

“Some are as are flat like regular beaches, and then there are rolling dunes that you can climb. Mount Tom, the tallest dune, is 196 feet high.”

The dunes have diverse natural resources that also include extensive wetlands, pine forests, oak savannas and prairies, along with more than 1,000 flowering plant species and ferns and more than 300 species of birds.
(800) 283-8687


The mainland features outlet shopping and quaint towns with antiques shopping, boutiques and museums.
(800) OC-OCEAN (626-2326)

Newport, Ore.

“One of our biggest draws is the beach itself,” said Davis. “Some people have never had their feet in sand or seen a sunset. Some of the hotels have seating near the beach. They are very cognizant that is a good selling piece for our destination.

“We have very accessible beaches with a variety of activities, from hunting for fossils and agates to tide pools, kite flying and bonfires.

“One of the things we are promoting to groups on coaches is the bonfire element. A lot of hotels will provide a bonfire. They do s’mores, and it’s a fun evening,” she said.

“We have dry sand that is very fine and great to throw a blanket on and have a picnic.”

Newport jointly promotes its area with Lincoln City, a half-hour to the north, and both have glass-float promotions. “They are fishing floats, usually Japanese,” said Davis. “They are devices attached to the nets when the fleets go out. You will occasionally find them.”

Davis said groups can make their own glass floats or watch them being made at several local galleries. “They are usually clear or tinted green or blue, but the floats at the galleries can be any number of colors,” she said.

Lincoln City’s Finders Keepers promotion runs from May through October. “They salt the beach at high tide at secret locations with glass floats made by local artisans,” said Davis.

“Our Glass Treasures is from November through January, with 60 businesses giving two floats apiece. You stop at each location and sign up for an opportunity to win.”
(800) COAST44 (262-7844)

Daytona Beach, Fla.

The sand on sections of the 23 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach at Daytona Beach is firm enough that cars can drive on it. On other parts, it’s soft like on most beaches.

But whatever section you are on, there is always something going on.

“It is very lively and festive,” said Tangela Boyd, publicity manager for the Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There are lots of people watching, lots of colorful umbrellas up and down the beach. You can sit back and do nothing, or there are tons of activities.”

There are several boat tours in the area for people who want to get away from the beach for a while. “The manatee cruises go down the Intracoastal Waterway to New Smyrna Beach, and one on the west side, the Fountain of Youth/Eco History Tours, goes down to the St. Johns River,” said Boyd.

A popular stop is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House, located, as the name suggests, in a former sugar mill inside the DeLeon Springs State Park, a half-hour west of Daytona Beach. “You make your own pancakes,” said Boyd. “They bring out the batter, and the tables have griddles on them. You can also fry eggs on the griddles. It is a really cheap breakfast, and it is all rustic and historic.”

Beach Street in the downtown Daytona Beach Historic District is a nostalgic stretch of shops, restaurants, the Halifax Historical Museum, and the Angell and Phelps Chocolate Factory, located along a palm-lined street.
(800) 544-0415