BY THIS TIME OF YEAR—when hotel and vacation rental reservations at summertime hot spots are all sewn up— the deals are gone and what’s left is in ruins, ruinous, or both. Procrastinators start to panic. What? No exit strategy? Fear not, distracted multitaskers. Recall that summer is not only a season but a state of mind. For those in a last-minute search for American-style relaxation and fun in the sun, don’t think trendy. Think old-fashioned classic summer. Jump in a lake. Watch a turtle hatch on the beach. Reel in a trout. Kayak around dolphins. Gorge on blueberries and lobster rolls. Here are some spots where a couple, a family or a group of friends can still find good times for good value.
At the southern end of Tampa Bay, you’ll find Anna Maria Island. This 7-mile, white-sand strip on Florida’s Gulf Coast sustains three little cities and a trolley that runs up and down, from one end to the other, stopping to allow you endless perspectives on ocean or bay beaches along the way. Charming Anna Maria, at the northern tip, is the sleepiest. Not that any area is party-hearty: Even Bradenton Beach, the liveliest town, has a nighttime noise ordinance. The island’s soaring popularity has brought high-season traffic and crowds, but summer is generally cheaper, less crowded and thus arguably nicer. It is also hot and wet, the kind of climate in which orchids and other hothouse flowers—and manatees—thrive. Temperatures will go up to 90 and cool off a bit after the rain that often falls in the late afternoon. Beyond playing in the ocean or a pool, the summer crowd likes to fish, kayak, look for manatees and dolphins, and wander down boardwalks through restored nature preserves.
Getting There: Anna Maria Island is about a 20 minutes’ drive from Sarasota-Bradenton airport.
Staying There: Pineapplefish is a small and particularly appealing collection of sustainably well-designed and -appointed 3- and 4-bedroom vacation houses, each with a private pool. From $1,950 a week, pineapplefish.com. The Waterline Marina Resort & Beach Club, the only full-service resort hotel on the island, just opened in November. From $332 a night for a 2-bedroom suite, waterlineresort.com
Turtle Speed in North Carolina
At the mouth of Cape Fear River, just south of Wilmington, N.C., sits Bald Head Island, a small resort community with a magnificent beach, a golf course and a strict weathered-shingle, earth-tones aesthetic. Incorporated only 33 years ago, it is uncrowded, non-commercial and reachable only by a small and rather cute ferry. Cars aren’t allowed; islanders get around by golf cart or bicycle. The small market area accommodates a grocery and hardware, and little businesses that provide everything from boogie boards to fishing tackle, jewellery to facials. The only happening thing on the island is its nature conservancy, notably the sea-turtle nesting and protection program. From late July through September, a big night out on Bald Head usually means heading over to the beach after dark with the BHI Conservancy to watch hatchlings wiggle out and make their way down to the ocean. bhic.org
Getting There: A 20-minute ferry runs from Southport, N.C., to the island.
Staying There: The Inn at Bald Head Island, a three-story B&B, offers ten rooms for adult guests (no kids allowed). From $225 a night theinnatbaldheadisland.com. Alternatively, privately owned houses are available for rent through the island’s property management group. baldheadisland.com
Cool as a Keuka-Comber in New York
Keuka Lake, almost 20 miles long and shaped like a Y, is among the smallest of New York’s Finger Lakes. At the top sits the town of Penn Yan, and at the bottom, Hammondsport. In between is clean, fresh water, delicious for swimming and boating, and all around are wineries and breweries, great hiking and bike riding and tiny museums. Still verdant farm country, this part of New York is home to a growing community of Old Order Amish and Mennonites, who produce stands and stores like the Quilt Shop and Oak Hill Bulk Foods, which easily has 15 kinds of flour. Grapes have been planted in the area since the 1800s, and 18 wineries now cluster around the lake, many of which hold tastings. If you prefer suds, stop by Keuka Brewing Company.
Getting There: Penn Yan is a five-hour drive from New York City.
Staying There: Steamboat Castle B&B, right on the lake in Penn Yan, loans guests kayaks and canoes. From $200 a night, steamboatcastle.com. In nearby Hammondsport, Black Sheep Inn and Spa occupy a historic octagon house. From $169 a night, stayblacksheepinn.com.
Chilling in Maine
Well-heeled city folk have the spent the summer “rusticating” on Maine’s Casco Bay since the mid-19th century, and the local pastimes haven’t changed all that much. Visitors come to bike, hike, sail, play tennis and golf, hang out on the beach and take dips in Maine’s attitude-improving water. Chebeague (pronounced sha-beeg), at 2-by-5 miles, is one of the largest islands in the bay, home to about 350 people year round and a host of summer natives, families who’ve been marching out here for generations. Although some residents have jalopies (and sometimes one will come with a rental house), the way to get around is on a bike, a golf cart or your own two feet. No rental car agencies exist on the island.
Getting There: Take a 15-minute ferry from Yarmouth, Maine operated by the Chebeague Transportation Company. chebeaguetrans.com.From Portland, it’s a 70-minute ferry ride with Casco Bay Lines. cascobaylines.com
Staying There: The classically beautiful 1880s Chebeague Island Inn, overlooking the ocean from its wraparound porch, consists of 21 rooms and a good, inventive restaurant that deploys local ingredients (lobster, blueberries, cheddar cheese, among others) in some dishes. The hotel is wired for Wi-Fi, but little else: no TV, no phones, no a/c. From $189 a night, chebeagueislandinn.com For vacation rental properties, check out the listings at chebeague.org.
Utah When It’s Not Snowing
In summer, Park City, Utah offered everything except snow, like ski season but turned inside out. All those slopes are sporting a new look, dramatic landscapes in mild-weather dressing suitable for other activities—say mountain biking, hiking or rock climbing (seewhitepinetouring.com for guided excursions). Meanwhile, snowmelt courses through the valleys, priming the local waters for rafting and kayaking (allseasonsadventures.com) as well as fly fishing (utahproflyfishing.com). Obsessive amateur photographers can get a few pointers on their own back-roads tour with a pro shutterbug. davidcschultz.com Another off-season perk: the town‘s slate of talented chefs have the time to goof around with summer ingredients.
Getting There: From Salt Lake International Airport, Park City is a 35-minute drive.
Staying There: The Washington School House Hotel, built as a school in 1889, re-emerged a few years back as a stylish art-filled hotel with 12 rooms and a heated pool. From $405 a night, washingtonschoolhouse.com. For something a little smaller, the six-suite Torchlight Inn is a B&B with a terrific breakfast. From $198 a night, torchlightinn.com.
Credit: Alison Humes for The Wall Street Journal, 28 June 2018.