Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top U.S. Beaches - With Apologies to Connie Francis

Earlier this week, I read an article by USA Today about TripAdvisor's 2012 awards for favorite U.S. beaches. According to TripAdvisor's users, seven of the 10 best beaches are in the South, one is in California, and two are in Hawaii.

Strangely enough, my two favorites--a nude beach outside San Francisco and a former 'gay' beach near Charleston, S.C., didn't make the cut.

I'll tell you about them in my next post. Today, let's focus on America's top 10 beaches, according to TripAdvisor's army of reviewers. Here they are, in order and annotated with my ramblings:

The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete
1. St. Pete Beach, Fla. Been there several times. I love the big pink Don CeSar hotel.

Who's sorry now, indeed. Connie Francis and two admirers.
2. Miami/Miami Beach, Fla. Nick and I once met Connie Francis there. She was signing copies of her autobiography, Who's Sorry Now? We had our photo taken with her (wouldn't you?) and used it as our Christmas card that year.

3. Myrtle Beach, S.C. As a kid, my family and I would spend a week at Ocean Isle, N.C. Inevitably, we'd pester our father to drive us to Myrtle Beach. I couldn't wait to shop at a trinket store called Gay Dolphin. I just Googled it. To my amazement, it's still there and it's still called  Gay Dolphin!

Don't f--- with me, fellas! I'm fixin' to give some diarrhea!
4. Virginia Beach, Va. Been there once or twice. Saw Mommie Dearest there for the first time. It gave me diarrhea.

Doris Duke's Shangri La
5. Honolulu, Hawaii. I love big cities. I love beaches. I love Hawaii. Naturally, Honolulu is heaven to me. If you ever go, Doris Duke's former home there is a must.

What? There are no lines in this here road!
6. Daytona Beach, Fla. Never been. Never intend to go. Though I'm slightly intrigued by a beach that also doubles as a highway.

Before There Was Toni Basil and "Mickey," There Was Connie
7. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Been several times. Like it, don't love it. Reminds me of Connie Francis and Where the Boys Are, though, so it's not all bad.

Mrs. P strikes a pose in Hawaii
8. Lahaina, Hawaii. It's on the island of Maui. Nick, his mother (Mrs. P), and I went to Maui in 2000 but we stayed at a resort on Wailea Beach. Thinking of Maui actually makes me sad, because Mrs. P, a Southern version of Auntie Mame and one of my soul mates, passed away two months after our trip there. The last restaurant meal we ever had together was at the Four Seasons Resort on Maui.

Marilyn at the Hotel Del
9. San Diego. I was just there for a conference; this is where I should have given a homeless woman a sandwich I didn't want. I didn't have the chance to go to a beach this time. On previous visits, however, I've stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victorian on the beach that served as a backdrop for the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe (plus Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag).

Larry Harvey
10. Key West, Fla. Nick and I vacationed here twice in the mid 1980s. I bought my first and last pale turquoise suit there. We toured the Ernest Hemingway home and were delighted by the endlessly entertaining tour guide Larry Harvey. Short and sassy in a Leslie Jordan Will & Grace sort of way, he told our tour group to "Pivot!" whenever we needed to make a turn. When it was time to go through a set of doors, he'd say, "Pretend you're Loretta Young and sweep through those doors!" Nick and I still fondly mimic his drawling pronunciation of Miami: "Mah-AH-mah."

I just Googled Larry Harvey. Apparently, he's still a guide at the Ernest Hemingway house! I'm elated to think that there are tourists in Key West who will soon be entranced by this witty, one-of-a-kind, deeply Southern character. If TripAdvisor ever compiles a list of the Top 10 Tour Guides in the U.S., allow me to be the first to nominate Larry Harvey.


And now, my fabulous readers: What is your favorite U.S. beach? And what memories--goofy, strange, or poignant--does it conjure up for you?


P.S. My buddy Erfert wanted to see a photo of me in that pale turquoise suit. I dug one up. It's not a terribly good shot, and the suit--now that I see it again--actually looks pale green. But here it is: 


  1. Jim, another wonderful post. Your description of Mrs. P is sweet and she sounds likes she was quite a character and a truly fabulous woman. Anyone who can be compared to Auntie MUST be wonderful! It's one of my favorite movies and my uncle Ken and I watch it together every Christmas. :)

    1. Thanks Lady Liz (is it OK to call you that?). Auntie Mame is one of those movies I wish I could crawl into and be a part of.

  2. Interesting list of beaches. I agree with a few of them. Would have to say Ogunquit Beach in Maine would have to be my favorite. The water is frigid, the summer is as fleeting as a fourth of July firecracker, but how beautiful it is with rocky cliffs and wide sandy beaches all wrapped up in a small very accepting town.

    1. I love Ogunquit too. Very beautiful beach attached to a fun town.

  3. The Gay Dolphin IS still there, and I'm betting it hasn't changed one iota since you were there. More tackiness per square foot than anyplace I've ever been. (possible exception: Gatlinburg)

    1. I haven't been to Gatlinburg. Now I'm sure I never will.

  4. Your tribute to Mrs P. is the best and like all good writing it made me think.

    The beaches in the Trip Advisor list seem to be resorts. Until I went to grad school I always lived within a 15 or 30 minute drive to the beach. These were beach communities, not resorts, in Southern California. So, the beaches that I tend to remember are those associated with people in my life -- much like your connection to Maui and Mrs P.

    So, my list:

    Undisclosed locations from Point Conception to the Mexican Border (if I told you and the whole internet, there would be no place to park).

    Any beach with a good pier that hasn't been chi-chi'd. The presence of local fishermen/women is a good sign.

    A protected and uncrowded west facing beach that allows the ritual sacrifice of beer, tortilla chips and bean dip as the sun sets. (Note: this liturgy can be adapted to include other adult beverages and salsa depending upon the season and needs of the communicants).

    PS North of Point Conception you are not going to the beach, you are going to the Coast. There are a few exceptions to this. The Rule of Thumb is how much clothing you will wear. If you are not going to strip down and get some sun, you are going to the Coast.

    1. Thanks Will. As another commenter said, you always leave such thoughtful and interesting comments. Now you have me curious about Point Conception.

  5. Having attended HSU in Arcata, Ca, I'm a bit partial to the beaches up there. My absolute favorite is Agate Beach in Patrick's Point State Park in Trinidad, CA. We always made the short trek up there on clear weekends, just to get a break from school and the dorms.

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