American educator, philosopher, and natural science writer Loren Eiseley once said, “If there is magic on this planet it is contained in water.”
There’s just something about being on the water. It’s an absolute feast for the senses. The tourmaline waters of the Caribbean, azure crystalline lakes, the salty scent of the ocean, the cool rushing flow of a mountain stream. They are all just pieces of heaven on Earth.
When one considers that 71% of the world is water, it’s not difficult for the mermaid in all of us to seek out awe-inspiring places that draw us like moths to the flame. Here are some of my favorites within the U.S. where you don’t even need a passport to be in paradise.
Mark Twain called Lake Tahoe “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.” What’s not to love about a mesmerizing sapphire water playground, surrounded by towering conifers and soaring snow-capped mountains?
North America’s largest alpine lake and second deepest, Lake Tahoe reaches an unbelievable depth of 1,645 feet. Clarity is so amazing that on a clear day, a white plate can be seen 75-feet below the surface.
A scenic cruise is the ideal way to experience the majesty of the lake. Bleu Wave, a 70-foot yacht, transports passengers through the stunning waters of Emerald Bay. An oasis of shimmering greens, turquoise and azure against the strikingly magnificent mountains framing the lake’s west shore, Emerald Bay is the crown jewel of Lake Tahoe, and by far its most photographed site.
Known as the “houseboat capital of the world,” Lake Shasta is California’s second-largest after Lake Tahoe. The man-made lake was formed by one of the most impressive engineering marvels of the 20th century—Shasta Dam, the tallest center overflow dam in the world.
Surprises lay in store as we boarded our catamaran for a scenic cruise and adventure tour across the serene, sky-blue waters of Lake Shasta. As we disembarked, a passenger bus carried us 800 feet up the mountainside to the Shasta Caverns. These magnificent geological wonders were formed at least 200 million years ago by a constant flow of water. If the stalagmites and stalactites of the natural limestone multi-hued caves weren’t impressive enough, breathtaking vistas of the shimmering lake below were unforgettable.
Island of Kauai
With its unique geography and unparalleled natural beauty, Kauai is one of the most breathtaking islands in the world. Approximately 97 percent of its land is covered with verdant, undeveloped mountain ranges and lush, tropical rainforests.
The soaring cliffs of the Na Pali coast and its many velvety emerald peaks brought gasps from every passenger on our catamaran. Though we’d hiked this strenuous coastline in the past, viewing these massive jagged bluffs and surging coves from the water is almost a religious experience.
Kauai has the only navigable rivers in the Hawaiian Islands, and the Wailua River is the largest. Kayaking the river is impressive, especially when the end prize is a short hike through a lush rainforest, to the magnificent 120-foot Secret Falls for a picnic lunch and a quick dip under the cascade.
We have been on several whale-watching trips, but our cruise to Alaska a few years back provided the experience of a lifetime.
If the Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s top attraction, whale watching is a close second. Summer is ideal for whale-watching as the southeastern waters of Alaska are teeming with humpback whales that migrated north to feed on herring and other local fish. We figured we’d see whales, as Alaska Shore Tours guaranteed it. What we didn’t expect was a humpback frenzy right next to our boat with a score of whales forming a bubble net herding herring into a tight ball then breaching with open stretching mouths to take in the bounty. According to our boat captain, this was the best and closest bubble net he’d ever seen in his life.
On the way back to our ship, we were mesmerized not only by the stunning scenery surrounding us, but we were treated to a cornucopia of wildlife–seals, sea lions, orcas, bald eagles, and even a Mama brown bear with her cubs feeding on the shoreline.
Dana Point, California
There’s not a California beach town we don’t love, but there’s just something special about Dana Point. The portside community is situated in a natural cove bounded by dramatic cliffs on one side and the crystalline waters of the Pacific on the other.
Dana Point Marina is a jumping off point for whale-watching cruises, and our favorite, the sunset cruise. We were treated to a fun-filled night of wine tasting aboard a 63-foot catamaran on the OC Wine Cruise, a 90-minute calm-water harbor excursion accompanied by wine, hor d’oeuvres and soft jazz. Not only were the views and sunset spectacular, but as the sun disappeared on the horizon, it slowly transformed into a majestic star-studded night sky.
St. Augustine, Florida
The seaside community of St. Augustine celebrates its Spanish heritage and Old-World allure, drawing visitors with a laid-back genteel Southern vibe.
The historic district of the old colonial city is delightful, with its brick-paved walkways and coquina-shelled buildings. Remnants of the old city wall cling to the banks of the sparkling Matanzas River. It’s as if St. Augustine has been untouched by time.
What we appreciated most about the area was its profound commitment to conservation, wildlife, and habitat protection. Thanks to interpretive naturalist Zach McKenna of St. Augustine Eco Tours, we were able to get out for an inspirational and informative 1.5-hour nature boat tour where we spotted a pod of dolphins, exotic birds, and a host of fiddler crabs, all while learning more of the area’s living treasures and ecosystems.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Three main Caribbean islands make up the U.S. Virgin Islands chain. Though they are a U.S. territory, they feel a world away.
St. Croix boasts colorful historic Danish buildings, St. Thomas is the mecca for shopping and night life, and St. John is the lush, tranquil and more secluded of the three islands.
What they all have in common is the turquoise, crystalline waters teeming with ocean life, and the magnificent coral reefs so popular with divers and snorkelers. There are a host of ways to have a magical day at sea, but our favorite is sailing between the three islands. Private or group charters are available for half or full-day adventures to hidden harbors, postcard-perfect beaches, and ideal dive and snorkeling spots. Trade winds prevail, views are stunning, and with a “Pain Killer” or another of their famous island rum drinks in hand, you’ll know you’re in paradise.
Note: Common to the travel industry, some of this writer’s activities were hosted by the destinations though it does not influence this review.