St. Joseph Peninsula, Florida
The St. Joseph Peninsula is a 15-mile-long ribbon of wilderness, jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. To the east, on the mainland, sits the 70,000-acre, 80-year-old St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. In this part of Florida, bobcats and armadillos walk around like they own the place; gulf winds have created miles of huge dunes, some of the highest and most pristine in the country; and loggerhead sea turtles nest here in the summers. Sandwiched between the two is the Old Salt Works, a former Confederate fort lovingly remade into cabins, where you can sit on your porch staring out over St. Joseph Bay while listening to the ocean roar behind you.
St. Joseph Peninsula has everything you're looking for in a beach getaway – the sugary sand is impossibly white and the sea stays warm year-round – as well as a vast network of hiking trails, where you're likely to spot ospreys sweeping across the massive dunes on the hunt. In St. Marks, it's not uncommon to stumble upon a giant alligator sunning itself in the brush.
Down here, all the civilization you need is in Apalachicola Bay, which has some of the most productive wild oyster grounds in the world and is one of the last places in the U.S. where they're still harvested by tongs from small boats. A daily seven-minute commute from the Old Salt Works cabins to the Indian Pass Raw Bar will get you two dozen on the half shell, a half-pound of shrimp, and four beers for about $35. It has a deeply local, though oddly welcoming, roadhouse vibe, and the beer is self-serve, straight from the tap behind the counter.
Getting there: Fly to Tallahassee; drive two hours through Apalachicola National Forest.