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One-tank beach getaways

Is there anything that says "summer vacation" like packing the family into the car and hitting the road for cooler, calmer environs? No airports, no security lines and -- once you get off Long Island -- very little traffic, hopefully. Within a four- to five-hour drive is a wide array of natural attractions -- from lakes to beaches to mountains -- that make for an easy weeklong vacation, or even a long weekend.

Our once-a-month summer series continues with beaches in nearby states. Sure, Long Island isn't exactly lacking for coastline, so a beach trip "off-Island" must have its own special appeal. The following five -- known for their Victorian charms, boardwalk bliss and celebrity entertainment -- fit the bill.

Seaside Heights, New Jersey

Seaside Heights, New Jersey; 75 miles from New
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

Seaside Heights, New Jersey; 75 miles from New York City

This family-friendly, mile-long barrier island beach and boardwalk is back stronger than ever after a tough bout with superstorm Sandy. The beautifully renovated boardwalk features several arcades, and the newly built Casino Pier has an antique carousel, a rooftop miniature golf course and many rides and attractions that appeal to all ages. There's a great water park -- Breakwater Beach -- a block from the beach, and on the bay side, opportunities to rent paddleboards, kayaks and Jet Skis. Most of the eateries are of the fast-food boardwalk variety.

Among local favorites: Three Brothers Pizza, Midway Steak House for sausage and peppers and cheese steaks, JAX Garage for hot dogs and hamburgers, and Van Hoelten's candy for must-have fudge. Sit-down dining favorites include Klee's, a family Irish Pub with live music, and upscale Hemingway's.

Pictured: Emilie Sullivan is thrown into the air by her friends as they play on the first weekend of Jersey Shore beaches re-opening to the public on May 27, 2013 in Seaside Heights, NJ.

Seaside Heights, New Jersey DON'T MISS Bonfire On
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Kena Betancur

Seaside Heights, New Jersey

DON'T MISS Bonfire On the Beach, featuring live acoustic music performances, Monday nights at 9, July 6-Aug. 31.

WHERE TO STAY Families prefer the Colony Motel (seasidecolonymotel.com): small, clean and family-run, less than a block from beach. More nice motels are in Seaside Park, the next town over.

INFO exit82.com

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Watch Hill, Rhode Island; 150 miles from New
Photo Credit: Ocean House

Watch Hill, Rhode Island; 150 miles from New York City

Sunsets are dramatic from the edge of this Rhode Island peninsula. Climbing the bluff that overlooks Watch Hill harbor and the Atlantic Ocean, you can almost see Victorian-era travelers as they hauled their steamer trunks to the portico of the bright yellow Ocean House, a grand resort constructed in 1868, and renovated as a distinguished 43-room Relais and Chateaux hotel.

Even if you don't stay at the Ocean House (rates begin at more than $800 per night in season), treat yourself to a meal at its restaurant, Seasons, for exceptional food and views. Town beaches are clean and popular, especially Watch Hill, aka Carousel Beach. If you want to get away from the crowds, head out on the spit of sand called Napatree Point -- a Wildlife Preserve with no lifeguard, bathrooms or services.

Watch Hill, Rhode Island DON'T MISS Grab for
Photo Credit: South Country RI / Myrna George

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

DON'T MISS Grab for the brass ring on the historic Watch Hill Carousel. Since the late 1880s, this National Historic Landmark has been a Watch Hill summer memory for many.

WHERE TO STAY Besides the Ocean House (oceanhouseri.com), you can bed down in the newly renovated Pleasant View Inn (pvinn.com), directly on the beach just 2.5 miles away (summer rates begin at $300 per night).

INFO visitwatchhill.com

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City, New Jersey; 125 miles from New
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Atlantic City, New Jersey; 125 miles from New York City

Once upon a time, Atlantic City was the place to be on the East Coast, with its famous four-mile boardwalk and casinos. Its claim to fame was that it was like Las Vegas -- but with a beach. This summer, despite the closing of three casinos (Revel, Showboat, Trump), A.C. remains a nostalgic spot, again hosting the Miss America pageant and scoring major celebrity headliners (Styx, Hall & Oates, Lady Gaga with Tony Bennett).

The adventurous will want to test their mettle on more than a dozen rides on Steel Pier, and people-watchers will be happy riding the rolling chairs that have been transporting tourists along the boardwalk almost since it was built in 1870 to keep sand out of new hotel lobbies. Restaurant options run the gamut from hot dogs on the boardwalk to Bobby Flay's steakhouse at the Borgata.

Atlantic City, New Jersey DON'T MISS At night,
Photo Credit: AP / Wayne Parry

Atlantic City, New Jersey

DON'T MISS At night, gather with the crowds on the boardwalk to see the 81/2-minute 3-D Lightshow on the Boardwalk -- with special effects projected onto the facade of Boardwalk Hall.

WHERE TO STAY Families will want to stay a couple of blocks from the ocean at Courtyard Atlantic City (Courtyard Atlantic City). Others can take the jitney from the boardwalk to the top-rated and stylish nearby Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa (theborgata.com).

INFO atlanticcitynj.com

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; 200 miles from New York
Photo Credit: AP / Scott Nathan

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware; 200 miles from New York City

Mile-long Rehoboth Beach, the largest beach resort in Delaware, has attracted sun-seekers from Philly and the D.C. area since Victorian times. But New Yorkers and New Englanders will find this newly cultivated foodie and LGBT-friendly destination a nice alternative to the wild Jersey Shore.

Take time off from the clean water and clean sand to get your fill of boardwalk food at Thrasher's Fries and Kohr's Frozen Custard. Or go for upscale innovative cuisine at Blue Moon, Turkish fare at Semra's Mediterranean Grill or farm-to-table at Back Porch.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware DON'T MISS Affectionately named the
Photo Credit: AP / Bill O'Leary

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

DON'T MISS Affectionately named the "Willy Wonka of Rehoboth," Dolle's Candyland has been around since 1927. It makes hundreds of pounds of taffy in 24 flavors every day. Dolle's doesn't have a website and it doesn't ship, so you've got to come in person.

WHERE TO STAY Families can stay at Sands Hotel (atlanticsandshotel.com) on the boardwalk, which went through a top-to-bottom renovation in 2013 -- adding the only oceanfront saltwater pool in town. Or try the Victorian Boardwalk Plaza (boardwalkplaza.com), its charming lobby stuffed with plants, a real RCA Victrola and two extravagant birdcages with two engaging parrots.

INFO visitsoutherndelaware.com

Pictured: Jake Wales, 8, foreground, of Gaithersburg, has dug himself into a hole, leaving him defenseless against younger brother Brady, 7, who douses him with a pail of sea water at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May, New Jersey; 160 miles from New
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Cape May, New Jersey; 160 miles from New York City

At the southern tip of the New Jersey Shore, Cape May is a beach town lined with colorful gingerbread Victorian homes and a boardwalk so yesteryear, you can bike it in a rented surrey with actual fringe on top.

Take the 45-minute Cape May Trolley Tour for an overview, bring your binoculars to the Cape May Lighthouse or just hang out on the 21/2-mile series of wide, soft, white sand beaches. Check out Hot-Dog Tommy's, a great shore food shack; Mario's for modestly priced Italian; Mad Batters for decadent breakfasts, and The Washington Inn for classy cuisine and ambience.

Cape May, New Jersey DON'T MISS Hunt for
Photo Credit: AP / Daniel Hulshizer

Cape May, New Jersey

DON'T MISS Hunt for Cape May "diamonds'' (polished quartz). These frosted or clear pebbles can best be found on Sunset Beach.

WHERE TO STAY Families can stay right on the beach in the newly updated Montreal Beach Resort (montrealbeachresort.com), where attendants set up your spot with umbrellas, beach chairs, food and nonalcoholic beverage service. Alternately, you can stay in one of the town's Victorian beauties -- among the most popular, The Queen Victoria (queenvictoria.com), where your stay includes gourmet breakfast, an afternoon tea with sweets and savories, beach chairs, bikes and lots more.

INFO visitnj.org/city/cape-may

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