Camping on a California beach
Carpinteria State Beach south of Santa Barbara was my introduction to camping on a beach, said Amy Hubbard in the Los Angeles Times. “It was all slightly surreal,” yet magical, too. In the morning, “you can open your tent flap and see the waves lapping the sand.” On our first night, my family and I squeezed into two small tents, though we were mostly surrounded by RVs. We “roasted the obligatory marshmallows,” then drew straws to see who got to sleep closest to the railroad tracks. “Yes, the train tracks”—just 50 yards from our tent. The quaint nearby village of Carpinteria is filled with antiques and inviting restaurants. Other attractions include the Gallup & Stribling Orchid Farm, the largest such operation in the U.S., and the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, where the wings of monarch butterflies fluttering in the sun “look like chips of stained glass.”

A Caribbean island’s rugged outback
Aruba, in the Dutch Antilles, has “some of the best beaches in the Caribbean,” said Bob Downing in the Akron Beacon Journal. While those powdery white beaches are the island’s best attraction, Aruba also boasts an average temperature of 82 degrees, azure waters, and first-class hotels, restaurants, and casinos. The island’s oldest building, Fort Zoutman, was built on the waterfront in 1796, and the capital city of Oranjestad sprang up around it. Yet the rugged Arikok National Park in the interior is equally fascinating. The park is the home of giant cactuses, caves, wild goats, iguanas, rattlesnakes, and abandoned gold mines. Hiking through this hardscrabble countryside can be arduous, which is why most visitors prefer to explore it by Jeep or ATV. The natural beauty of this outback is “subtle. It won’t knock your socks off.” But the quirky, haystack-shaped, 541-foot-high Hooiberg Mountain is undeniably charming, as are the donkey sanctuary, ostrich farm, and bird preserve.