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FEATUREBy Jordan RaneHidden beach towns worth finding Longing for sun, surf and sand, sans the crowds. These spots serve a seaside vacation on the chiller side. Who doesn’t appreciate a good beach town — or maybe any beach town? Pairing a town with a sandy coast naturally gives it a happier twang. It’s hard to imagine any town not being sunnier for being attached to a beach — especially a more off the path one that gets you away from millions of vacationers who flock to the beach each year. These lesser-known, year-round beach towns are located coast to coast and a little farther down shore. Bathed in salty air, lapping waves and unfettered vibes away from the crowds, the following seaside settings share a common point: If you’ve made it to these beaches, you’ve come to the right town. CORONADO, CALIFORNIA Sure, Coronado is one of the most expensive ZIP codes in the United States, with a median home price edging toward $2 million. Keep in mind, you’re just happily visiting. The famous “island” hideaway (technically, a peninsula) on the far side of a bridge from downtown San Diego offers one of the quickest steel-girder-connected transitions from urban grit to pure coastal charm on the Southern California coast that even many locals somehow overlook.
Coronado’s draw includes a flawless, Mediterranean-style climate and its lively main drag along Orange Avenue, lined with charming shops, cafes and the long-running Lamb’s Players Theatre housed in the seaside village’s historic Spreckels Building. The must-visit spot here is the Hotel del Coronado. Regally occupying its perfect sandy shore on the edge of town since 1888, the “Del” remains one of the world’s grandest beachfront properties, featuring a who’s-who guest list of celebs, dignitaries and savvy spring breakers several generations long. Discover more details hereMOMPICHE, ECUADOR Off-the-beaten-barrel surfers have long since discovered the coast of Ecuador’s world-class swells, including its most famous, not-so-secret-anymore central coast hub of Montañita. Hiding about 250 miles north of all that wave traffic on Ecuador’s secluded upper coast is a place called Mompiche. The quaint beach town offers arguably the best surf and sun escape hatch in these parts. Mompiche makes any surf town between Montañita and Cocoa Beach look bustling by comparison. “If you’re looking for warm waves, cold beer, local fish grilled by the campfire on a quiet stretch of beach, and just the pure joy of surfing in an authentic environment you rarely see anymore, Mompiche is your place,” says Brian McCutcheon, founder of ROAM (Rivers, Oceans & Mountains), whose 8-day Ecuador Surf Safari (available November through April) on the peaceful, wave-battered shores of Mompiche includes nearly a week of private surf instruction while crashing in a cozy beach pad run by a local surf legend and talented chef named Sol Funk.
A couple of kilometers away in town, a hearty meal of pescado encocado (fish with coconut sauce — a local specialty) at Mompiche’s handful of funky cafes or sleepy watering holes catering to savvy surfers and other adventurers who’ve found their way here might cost just a few bucks. Beyond the board, other popular activities out of Mompiche include deep-sea angling with local fisherman, horseback riding and jungle tours through the town’s neighboring rain forest. Travel wise: Tips for a financially safe vacationThe hotel is booked and the flight is set. But as you venture out on your carefully planned trip, did you prepare financially? Beyond the cost of a vacation, be sure to prepare to avoid potential financial losses while your out of town. Here are things to plan in advance:
1. Be travel savvy. Avoid scams or fraud when traveling domestically or internationally. Be cautious when you see “low cost” or “free” advertised and remain wary when approached by strangers offering unsolicited propositions.
2. Take one credit card to use during your trip. Traveling with only one card is safer than carrying a wallet full of them, especially if you potentially lose one. It couldn’t hurt to keep a spare in your hotel room safe or securely hidden in our luggage if happen to misplace your travel card.
3. Avoid international fees. Using a credit card may allow you to avoid international fees during financial transactions. Use one of your American Airlines Credit Union credit cards and you’ll avoid unnecessary fees.
4. Share your travel dates. Don’t forget to let the Credit Union know when you’re traveling to avoid potential suspicious activity alerts that might get your cards turned off as potential fraud risks. Simply log into online banking and click on “Traveling Soon” to input your departure and return dates along with the card you’ll be using.
5. Have some cash on hand. It’s wise to travel with cash for certain expenditures, like tips, and to avoid international ATM transactions. The Credit Union now has more than 15,000 international ATM locations in our newly expanded network.
6. Do your homework when exchange cash for foreign currency. Research the best options for exchanging currency depending your destination.
7. Consider travel insurance — it may be worth the minimal charge. If you think you may need to cancel a trip or change dates, travel insurance is a must. Consider a comprehensive coverage that includes baggage loss or medical coverage. Check your credit card benefits to see if this is already an added benefit. MANZANITA, OREGON For crowd-avoiding, salt water taffy-declining types, the Oregon Coast really starts hitting its stride in Manzanita, just down the road from the Portland-weekender towns of Seaside with its Funland bumper cars, and nicer Cannon Beach, with its tony shops, yoga studios, and selfie bait Haystack Rock jutting 235-feet out of the sand.
Less than 15 miles south along an increasingly unruly looking stretch of sea stack-adorned Pacific Northwest coast, tiny Manzanita is an easy place to miss or roll right past — wedged between a pair of state parks, the Oregon Coast Highway (aka U.S. Route 101) and the sea.
“Because of how we’re situated, we can’t get any bigger,” the proprietor at local vino spot The Winery at Manzanita promised me after I’d serendipitously pulled into town one weekend, checking into a luxury “cabin” with a private outdoor hot tub at the Coast Cabins just a few blocks from the beach.
Manazanita’s broad, seven-mile strip of wild, unpeopled sand flecked with massive limbs of driftwood is one of the more flawless spots to watch a scarlet fireball sink into the Pacific Ocean in the sparse company of small-silhouetted groups huddled around fire pits, free-roaming black labs, and the odd local octogenarian power-walking by. “That’s the nicest sunset I’ve seen in awhile,” said the latter, which I take to mean in the last 24 hours in this clearly special spot you’ll want to tell everyone else about. But let’s keep it our little secret, shall we? TRONCONES, MEXICO Zihuatanejo and its twin beach resort hub of Ixtapa are a mite more developed in the 21st Century. The swift solution for solitude seekers around these resorted out parts? Head 20 miles upcoast to sleepy Troncones (pop. 600) — an unfrenzied seaside village that time has treated far more gently.
Troncones and its neighboring community of Majahua comprise what every overdeveloped Pacific beach community south of Malibu secretly wishes it still was – a low-key, high-rise-free ocean playground with the requisite seafood joints, tamale stands, cerveza spots, surf breaks and guest bungalows tailored for every beachhead budget.
Adventurers can paddle through the area’s wildlife rich estuaries, hike in the lush surrounding Sierra Madre mountains or hop on a horse. Escape artists can vanish in comfort at the area’s top resorts, the Inn at Manzanillo Bay and yoga-specialized Present Moment Retreat. Troncones’ wave-crested golden sand is also a prime launch pad for surfers of all levels angling for more elbow room. Jordan Rane is an award-winning writer whose work on travel and the outdoors has appeared in several national publications, including CNN.com, Outside, and The Los Angeles Times. He resides in a quaint little Southern California beach town called L.A.