On busy holiday weekends, Clearwater Beach is absolutely packed. But this one’s popular for a reason: powdery sands and warm, shallow waters make this as appealing to spring-break crowds as families. Come sunset, people gravitate to Pier 60, where you can watch street performers in the nearby park and stroll 1,000+ feet out to the end of the pier for the most stunning sunset views. For fewer crowds, Caladesi Island, accessible by boat only (there’s a ferry), is an unspoiled gulf beach worth venturing to if you don’t mind ditching the beach-bar scene for the day for escapades in the real, all-natural Florida.
Where to stay: Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach tends to attract an interesting mix of the party crowd and families, with cute bunk beds painted with images of local celeb Winter the Dolphin and a happening bar by the pool. The more luxurious Sandpearl Resort, considered one of Florida’s top Florida hotels, appeals more to couples.
3. Rangitoto Island
Hop on a ferry from the Aukland’s downtown terminal and just 25 minutes later you’ll end up at Rangitoto Island, a volcanic island that emerged out of the water around 600 years ago. The highlight on this day-trip destination is hiking the summit track, which takes you through native pōhutukawa forest—the largest of its kind in the world—to the peak, where you’ll get great panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf from 259 meters above sea level.
As a fun little side trip, follow the signs to break off the walk and explore some lava caves (just remember to take a “torch,” which is “flashlight” in Kiwi slang).Since there are no shops to be found on this little island, be prepared and pack your own food and water. There’s very limited accommodation that needs to be booked in advance, so keep an eye on when your return ferry departs, lest you really need that torch.