Long before it became a national seashore and wilderness area, Cumberland Island had a reputation as a magical piece of real estate. “Earth in something close to its original state” is how John McPhee described the eighteen-mile-long island, which lies just off the southern coast of Georgia. The beach is 300 yards wide in places, and a favorite breeding ground for sea turtles. After the turtles came the Carnegies, who once maintained the island as a private residence. These days, you can tour their ruined mansions, camp under the stars, or bicycle to the beach down long alleys of palmetto and Spanish moss. The only accommodation on the island is the Greyfield Inn, a commodious old-world establishment owned by descendants of Thomas Carnegie. (This was the site of John Kennedy Jr.’s secret wedding reception.) If you’re up to it, visit the church where the doomed couple was married.
Details Delta, 800-221-1212, and US Airways, 800-428-4322, fly nonstop to Jacksonville from La Guardia; car service to Fernandina Beach, Florida: Aero Transportation, 888-289-4919; the Greyfield Inn, 904-261-6408 (doubles start at $290, including meals and ferry).
If you want old-school Hamptons-style rustic charm – but without the mind-numbing traffic – leave your car (and cares) behind in Montauk (or New London, Connecticut, or Port Judith, Rhode Island) and board the ferry to Block Island. There, amid the rolling hills and wide beaches, you can ride your bike (rentable at many venues on Water Street) to the Clayhead Nature Trail, out to the quaint southeast lighthouse, or around the Great Salt Pond, all in the course of a day or so. There are lobsters to be had at Ballards, along with amusing, low-budget entertainment – last June, Nick Apollo Forte, co-star of Broadway Danny Rose, was in residence for several weeks. Fried clams and scallops are served seaside at the Beach Head, and for those weekenders who find themselves longing for the upscale cuisine they got used to in Southampton, there’s the sophisticated fare at the Hotel Manisses dining room – particularly ideal because you’ll be staying upstairs in one of the Manisses’s small but comfortable Victorian rooms.
Details Hotel Manisses, 800-626-4773 (rooms start at $145); Ballards, 401-466-2231 (opens for the season in late May); the Beach Head, 401-466-2249. For more info, visit www.blockisland.com.
If it’s a jazzy, high-octane getaway you’re after, steer clear of this little hobbit paradise halfway up the coast of Maine. Dial-tone telephones didn’t arrive on Monhegan until the eighties, and the roads are not really roads at all (no cars allowed) but gravel paths lined with daffodils and stands of wild lupine. Some 60 people live here year-round (it’s only 1.7 miles long), mostly within shouting distance of one another. The population swells in summer, when boatloads of painters (notably Jamie Wyeth) arrive, attracted by the sweeping ocean views and the pristine qualities of the northerly light. Get a room at the Island Inn, a rambling Cape Cod structure with a newly improved restaurant and lawns rolling down to the sea. Ask for a corner room and a map of the hiking trails, and set off to discover your muse.
Details The Island Inn, 207-596-0371 (rooms start at $75); ferries leave from Port Clyde several times a week, 207-372-8848; on the drive up, visit the Farnsworth Museum, 207-596-6457, on Route 1, in Rockland, which has an entire building devoted to Wyeths.