With summer right around the corner, it’s about time to begin planning that annual beach vacation – that is if you haven’t done so already. No matter who you are or where you come from or even if you hate the idea of sand, the beach represents so much more than just surf and sun. It represents relaxation, days off from work, and a time to hit the reset button before getting back to the grind in the Fall. From beach cottages to condos, hotels to Airbnbs, there really is no shortage of places to stay along these coastline retreats, unless you wait too long to book of course.
So with Memorial Day (the unofficial start of summer) right around the corner, and the spirit of long days and sweltering nights already in the air, it’s time to start preparing. And if your only idea of a beach vacation is scouring the remote coastlines of Thailand for a secluded bungalow more power to ya, however, America has plenty of beachside gems right in our own backyard that are well worth a look. From coastal Maine down to Texas and up the West Coast to the Pacific Northwest, these are some of the many great beach towns the United States has to offer.
Old School Charm
Among the first places settled by Europeans after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, colonial heritage is still alive in the majority of these coastal towns. The East Coast of the US is known for more humble beginnings, where glitter and gold take a backseat to century’s old lighthouses, wooden boardwalks, and salt water taffy. These are the seasonal beach towns you’ve read about, sleepy communities that awaken come May, all while offering some seclusion and quiet reprieve come Fall and Winter.
York Beach, ME
The town of York contains three beautiful beaches that are separated by picturesque Cape Neddick. York is your quintessential sleepy beach town that comes alive during the summer months. Choose from many of the area’s beach cottages, inns, and bed and breakfasts for the weekend, and please, please make sure you get yourself some fresh seafood while you’re at it – lobster in particular.
Located about 74 miles south of Boston, Newport Rhode Island is a quaint beach community with direct access to one of the Northeast’s largest cities. Known throughout the region as a summer resort and famous for its old world mansions, there’s plenty of sight-seeing to go along with days at the beach. The city also served as a port town during the 18th century, and a lot of those colonial-era buildings remain to this day. A beach vacation and history lesson? Only in Newport.
Travel about 110 miles east of New York City out on Long Island and you’ll eventually reach the tip of the massive sand bar, Montauk. Jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean has left this fishing and surfer-friendly beach town one for the wear that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without some serious East Coast charm. Enjoy everything from swimming to surfing to golfing and boating in this removed town.
Cape May, NJ
Too often, and unfortunately, associated with the God-awful reality TV show that bears the same name, the Jersey Shore catches a bad rap. But as anyone from the Garden State will tell you, the ‘Shore’ in in fact broken up into Northern and Southern regions. Cape May, for instance, is part of the latter regions. In fact it’s located on the southern most point of the New Jersey coastline, therefore maintaining a colonial victorian charm throughout the town. Be sure to check out the Cape May Lighthouse as well, giving you unprecedented views of the Atlantic to the east and the Delaware Bay to the west.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
For a classic East Coast vacation, filled with salt water taffy, wooden boardwalks, amusement parks, and soft serve ice cream, there’s no better place in the Mid-Atlantic region than Rehoboth Beach. Complete with beach cottages for weekly or monthly rentals for seasonal industry workers, to restaurants lining the beachfront, this is classic beach Americana at its finest. A must see on you way down the coast.
Ocean City, MD
Located on a barrier island across from the Isle of Wright Bay, Ocean City is yet another classic East Coast beach community that over the years has grown into a bit of a tourist mecca for those living in the interior Northeast. Therefore, along with a thriving boardwalk, Ocean City boost its fair share of high-rise hotels in addition to weekly rental beach homes. There’s also a decades-old theme park located at the southern tip of the boardwalk, and you can even hop a short ferry to nearby Assateague Island, a wildlife preserve.
A welcome change from big city resorts, Chincoteague Island located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore boasts a quiet community that’s historical yet remains mostly untouched by man’s intrusive nature. The area hosts many a harbor, bay, and beach for the interested party, and is home to the famous Chincoteague wild horses, so don’t be surprised if you see several of these amazing animals roaming wildly around the beaches and bays during your stay here.
Full of Warmth and Comfort
Moving further down the coast still we begin to really feel the comforting heat of the American Southeast. From North Carolina all the way down the Florida coastline there lie thousands of miles of all sand beaches and beach towns to boot. Life here is on the slower side, where humble beginnings and southern charm lead the way. The coastline is also prone to hurricanes during the late summer and fall months, so a preparation kit should be in order alongside the sunscreen, bottled water, and Panama hat.
Nags Head, NC
Situated along the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Nags Head is part of a series of little beach towns that are scattered along this 100+ mile long sand bar that gently curves outward into the Atlantic Ocean. Here, sand and salt reign supreme while the majority of the year-round residents work in the fishing and tourist industry. The surf is also outstanding – as it is all along the coastline – and the seafood market-fresh and delicious to say the least.
Wrightsville Beach, NC
South of the Outer Banks we’re back again on the mainland. And at the southern tip of the state of North Carolina lies the happening town of Wrightsville Beach. We say this because just 20 minutes inland lies the college of UNCW so while a relaxing beach vacation is a possibility, summer here means fun times at the beach spilling over into local watering holes at happy hour. Rent beach cottages, stay in a local inn, or make some friends on the beach and crash college style. Here you can do it all.
Folly Beach, SC
For a taste of southern history to go along with your beach vacation, be sure to check out Folly Beach located just south of historic Charleston on the South Carolina coastline. Boasting some of the most picturesque sunrises and sunsets in the nation, this sleepy little southeastern town will reel you in its warmth and capture you with its charm. And for a day trip, be sure to check out Charleston for some legitimate southern culture.
Tybee Island, GA
In the same manner that Folly Beach is a beach ‘burb of Charleston, so too is Tybee Island an extension of historic Savannah, Georgia. Here, you’ll find all the trappings of a desirable southern beach town from the victorian architecture to their annual beach volleyball tournament. Rest amongst the palm and Spanish Moss trees for a week’s worth of R&R, enjoying some fine southern cuisine in the process.
New Smyrna Beach, FL
Along Florida’s central coastline lies a many a beach town catering to all sorts of atmospheres and personality types. None though, carry the “big little town” vibe better than New Smyrna Beach. A prominent surfing community, fishing town, and vacation mecca, NSB hosts some of the cleanest beaches around and is easily accessible. Where else can you drive a 2WD sedan right up to the water’s edge on the beach? And after a day in the sun, be sure to check out historic Flagler Ave for food, drinks, and fun.
Pensacola Beach, FL
A military town through and through but with enough room, warm water, and beach atmosphere to breathe, Pensacola has come a long way since its heyday as a Spring Break destination. Located along the panhandle of Florida, the warm Gulf Of Mexico keeps this town in vacation mode for the majority of the year while gentle surf makes swimming a more relaxing activity. And with the food on point, the nightlife rich, and the weather warm, it’s the next best thing to a Caribbean vacation.
South Padre Island, TX
We know what you’re thinking. Yes, so Texas technically isn’t part of the Southeast. However, considering our nation’s mid-section lacks in coastline, and that South Padre continues to gain popularity as a premier beach town in the Lone Star State, we deemed it necessary for inclusion. I mean, where else could you enjoy either a fine slab of Texas beef or quality seafood in the same sitting?
The Final Frontier
The American West. Home to rugged coastline, picturesque sunsets, and a wide variety of eclectic individuals. Many who were born out here will say there isn’t anywhere else like the West Coast in the nation – piggybacking on a “Best Coast” mentality. We claim, however, that the sheer variety of beachside communities along this often cooler and more windswept coastline cater to myriad personality types, incomes, and thrill seekers. From the temperate evergreen forests of coastal Washington to the man-made suburban oasis of Southern California to even further West along the coastal commutes of Hawaii, beauty comes in many forms along the coastline out here. So, is the West really the best? We’ll leave that for you to decide.
Cannon Beach, OR
As sleepy a beach town as they come, Cannon Beach is both historic and pristine in nature. Here, the rough and rugged coastline meets the roaring North Pacific Ocean in glory, leaving only a small stretch of sand between the rising mountains to the East and the thundering surf to the West. Beauty carved out of chaos, that’s Cannon Beach for you.
Santa Cruz, CA
One of the few places in the United States where hippies can use the front door, and own the damn restaurant in most cases, Santa Cruz is a surf and culture-centric hideaway south of bustling San Francisco. It’s home to the oldest themed amusement park in California and to some world class surf spots to boot. Hit the boardwalk, enjoy one of the many fine restaurants in the area, sit in on a class at UC Santa Cruz or head east and hit wine country. Welcome to California.
Carmel By The Sea, CA
Located on the Monterey Peninsula, this historic town is nestled in Carmel Bay south of Pebble Beach and north of Big Sur. Needless to say, bring your checkbook. This beach town is one of the most expensive places to live in the country – for good reason too. The area boasts some of the most beautiful landscapes around, an ideal year-round temperature, and nearby access to one of the most scenic drives in the US – we’re talking of course about the winding coastal drive along CA’s Pacific Coast Highway.
Morro Bay, CA
After making the world-renowned drive through Big Sur you’re introduced into the rural rolling hills of Central California. From yearly flower blooms to vast vineyards we have yet another reason why this part of the country is a coveted lot. Right in the middle of it all, of course, is Morro Bay. Functioning as a sleepy harbor town with an expansive beach and rustic restaurants to boot, this is one of the final stops you’ll make before entering the endless metropolis of Southern California.
For a taste of classic Southern California lifestyle, there really is no better place to spend a week or weekend than Encinitas. This town boasts an eclectic mix of surfers, skaters, spiritualists, and all-around friendly sun-clad Californians ready to share a story over an IPA and a couple fish tacos. The area is rich in culture, food, and could possibly be San Diego’s premier town for residence. A must see that’s for sure.
Pa’ia Maui, HI
Initially established as a Hawaiian plantation village in the second half of the 19th century, the town of Paia maintains its centuries-old charm thanks to the Aloha spirit of the locals. It’s also home to some world class windsurfing, some of Maui’s most pristine beaches, and a quaint yet bustling little business district where you’ll find everything from fresh seafood restaurants to local watering holes.