At Ease: 6 Great Military Bases Where You Can Stay On Vacation
Attention all military personnel: Take your leave in a sweet city, and stay in bargain, on-base digs.
From coast to coast, we’ve rounded up sexy American spots, and the bases to host your visit. Just call ahead to make sure you’re good to go, and bring your military ID. Those eligible to stay in base lodgings include: Active-duty and retired service members; their spouses and children under age 23; activated and drilling reservists and National Guardsmen; DoD civilians traveling on orders.
Marine Corps Support Facility, New Orleans
It’s all work aboard this Marine compound, so you’ll want to walk a mile from the base-adjacent hotel to the river ferry, which drops you just outside the French Quarter. Once you’ve had your fill of the strip clubs and neon shots, hit Felipe’s for fresh taquería fare, then hump upstairs to the tri-weekly Tiki Tolteca for bold, Latin American-style tiki drinks. You’ll also find quality cocktails at the relaxed Bourbon “O” Bar and at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, where you can take in a free burlesque show on Fridays at midnight. All these bars stock El Guapo Bitters, hand-crafted by former Marine Scot Mattox. Ask for them in your drink.
Deet Sheet: Catch live local acts at Old Point Bar, which is back across the river and near the base on Algiers Point.
Lodging digits:Federal City Inn & Suites (504.366.7408) is open to the public, but does offer military discounts (25% off if you pay in full, in advance). You’ll find better rates at the Navy Gateway Inns and Suites on NAS Belle Chasse (504.678.3419), though it’s about 30 minutes from downtown New Orleans (large groups can book a shuttle from the hotel into the city, or take a $35 one-way cab ride). The Belle Chasse base also has an ITT office (504.678.3508), where you can book that airboat swamp tour.
Naval Air Station, Key West
Fighter squadrons train at this tropical paradise, where you’ll paddleboard through pristine mangrove swamps (and maybe see eagles and marsh rabbits), or take out a 21-foot power boat to fish, swim, and snorkel in sapphire water. When you’re ready to power down, hook a Tahiti-style hut back on the beach. Just off base, the sunken USS Vandenberg is where locals go to reef fish and scuba dive; in town, get hopped at Rum Bar (specialty, strapping rum drinks) or 2¢ (good-looking bar staff, funky locals, small plates), and listen to live reggae, blues, and more at Schooner Wharf while you suck on fresh crab claws, dockside.
Deet Sheet: Brush up on watercraft before you go – you’ll have to pass a safety test before renting a boat at the base marina.
Lodging digits:Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (305.293.4305); Navy Lodge (305.292.7556); Navy Getaways Vacation Rentals’ three-bedroom townhomes rent for $115 a night (305.293.5000); Navy Getaways Campground includes some full hookup sites for RVs (305.293.4432).
Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, New York
In private hands, this Army post, located at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, would be reserved for the mega-rich. Instead, the gates swing open just for you, service member. On garrison you’ll find the usual perks, plus a USO center with free Wi-Fi and discounted tickets to Broadway shows. The nearest subway stop is about seven blocks from the main gate; once you’re in Manhattan, visit former Marine-turned-bartender Steve Schneider at Employees Only, then score $5 burgers at Gin Palace. In Brooklyn, go see Donna for handcrafted drinks and a fresh taco pop-up, or The Commodore, a neighborhood joint specializing in soul food and boat drinks.
Deet Sheet: Harbor View car service is the only one allowed through the post’s front gate, the PAO says. Call when you’re ready for pickup at 718.680.2500 (and ask for the rate up front).
Lodging digits: The Holiday Inn Express Ft. Hamilton (718.439.2340) isn’t as deeply discounted as other on-base hotels, but it still beats Manhattan rates. Here, the suites go for $160/night and sleep up to four (on a queen bed and pullout sofa), while regular rooms with one queen bed are $150/night. These rates hold steady all year long, according to the reservations desk.
Naval Station, Newport, Rhode Island
There are schools on base – for submariners, bomb disposal guys, new recruits, and officers alike – but your classroom will be the marina, for seasonal sailing and power boat lessons. Land lubbers head to the outdoor rec rental for camping gear, all-terrain bikes (a great way to get around Newport), and golf clubs (take these out to the town’s luxe links). Go old-money most anywhere in town, or take a rum-soaked tour of Thomas Tew Distillery, hang with boat crews at the casual, visitor-friendly International Yacht & Athletic Club, and nosh on barbecue at Smoke House. Later, catch a cover band (and maybe a bachelorette party) at One Pelham East.
Deet Sheet: Check with risalutes.com or the ITT office (401.841.3116) on base; they’ll hook you up with discounted tickets to local attractions.
Lodging digits:Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (401.841.7900), Navy Lodge (401.849.4500).
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, San Diego County
Surf’s up on this sprawling base, which spans 16 miles of California coastline. Besides two beaches (which rent out boards daily), this bodacious MCB gives you skeet and trap shooting, a killer paintball field, a golf course, and even horseback riding (just pretend you’re in the cavalry). All rooms at the South Mesa Lodge have ocean views, and top out at $139 a night. You’re also about an hour from San Diego, so go hang gliding (Torrey Pines Gliderport overlooks a nude beach…just sayin’), build your own meatball meals at Soda & Swine (head next door for beer cocktails), then on to Prepkitchen Little Italy, known for its late-night tapas happy hour.
Deet Sheet: Take private and small group surfing lessons through MCCS for a reasonable price at all skill levels; surfboards provided. Call 760.429.8236 for more info.
Lodging digits: Ward Lodge (760.725.5194), South Mesa Lodge (760.763.7805), Marine Manor (760.430.4702), Harborsite Inn (760.430.4703). Del Mar Beach Resort rents out villas (760.725.2134).
Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C.
Air Force and Navy bases (and a Coast Guard station) merge here on the Anacostia River, giving you easy access to the water, as well as windsurfers, waterskis, and sail or power boats (bring a boatus.org safety course certificate to the base marina, then take an orientation class). When you’re done, set up at the waterside Slip Inn Bar and Grill for live music and food specials like an $8 half-rack of ribs and slaw. Depending on the base’s Liberty Program schedule, you can join a local hike or laser tag, or see a pro sports game. Before you leave, tour nearby military monuments, and pay your respects at Arlington.
Deet Sheet: Download the free “ABSalute” app for JBAB phone numbers, events calendar, Liberty Program and outdoor rental info, menus for on-base restaurants, and the current issue of MWR’s magazine.
Lodging digits:Navy Lodge (202.563.6950), Navy Gateway Inns & Suites (202.610.8000).