K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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It’s that time of year again when we start thinking about those wonderful summer days at the beach. If you’re dreaming of a vacation in a seaside town, these spots in the U.S. offer something for everyone, including an idyllic stretch of sand.
These top beach towns were chosen for their combination of summertime charm and pristine shoreline for the perfect warm-weather getaway. Sun-seekers can expect laid-back vibes and stunning coastal views paired with easy access to outdoor activities, quaint shops, and excellent eateries. For a memorable vacation, add these top beach towns in America to your summer itinerary.
Florida is full of charming beach towns, but Fernandina Beach, a small town on Amelia Island, a barrier island off the northern coast of Florida, has been luring visitors in for nearly 500 years. It offers a lively beach culture, seaside charm, and a historic downtown bustling with a growing foodie scene. It’s also home to Fort Clinch State Park, the largest natural shoreline area on the island with 8,400 feet along the Amelia riverbank and 4,000 feet on the Atlantic coast. The dunes are perfect for taking a stroll, and you’ll also find a half-mile-long pier for fishing and spectacular waterfront views. The brick fortress itself is one of the best-preserved 19th-century forts in the nation. Visitors can stand on its outer walls and take in more breathtaking views overlooking Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic shoreline.
Tybee Island has been called the perfect beach town with plenty of white sand and great seafood eateries, including The Crab Shack, which claims to be the place “where the elite eat in their bare feet,” as well as North Beach Bar & Grill with its delicious sautéed shrimp and crab cakes. Visitors can also take tours to see the resident dolphins and explore two military forts. One of the best ways to explore the island is to rent a beach cruiser from Fat Tire Bikes and cruise around at a leisurely pace. Check out the 239-year-old Tybee Lighthouse and ride the flat McQueen’s Island Historic Trail.
Provincetown, situated at the far tip of Cape Cod in intensely beautiful surroundings, including vast sand dunes and more than 30 miles of beaches, is known for its especially warm welcome to people of all types. Enjoy sunbathing on tranquil Herring Cove, strolling the sands of Race Point Beach, and exploring the colorful downtown area with everything from great seafood shacks and fudge shops to art galleries, grand mansions, and fine eateries, bookstores, and coffee houses. This top Cape Cod destination is also a great spot for whale watching.
Santa Barbara‘s southernmost town offers quintessential Southern California beaches, a relaxed pace, year-round mild weather, and a wide sandy beach with beginner-size waves, perfect for learning to bodyboard. While mornings can be foggy, that can make for a perfect time to enjoy the pleasures of Linden Avenue, shaded by palm trees and lined with cafes, galleries, and clothing stores. Enjoy breakfast at Esau’s Cafe, renowned for its fantastic chile relleno omelet, and when it’s time for lunch, stop for a burger at The Spot. This eclectic, artsy town is one of California’s few remaining beach communities that hasn’t lost its original flavor.
This town on Oahu’s North Shore is the Hawaii you’ve envisioned, with clean, white sand beaches, palm trees, and perfect surf. Haleiwa is also the social and artistic hub of the area, and it’s long been known as a surfer’s paradise, with great waves and a relaxed, laid-back attitude. The waves definitely do not disappoint – surfers and spectators gather here from October through April for the thrilling daily water show. Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, Haleiwa has waves for you. The town itself is filled with local style, cool surf shops, and boutiques, along with charming art galleries and restaurants.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, a former artists’ colony on Monterey Bay, may be the ideal beach town for romance. Enjoy the blissful sounds of the waves crashing into the rocks and snuggling up with your loved one by a bonfire along the shore of this top-rated California coastal town, then indulge in one of the many wine-tasting venues downtown. You’ll also find a multitude of romantic eateries with gourmet cuisine and ocean views as well as high-end shops and jewelry stores like Tiffany & Co. A wide array of accommodation options perfect for setting the scene for romance also await, including the chateau-style L’Auberge Carmel and Mission Ranch, an old dairy farm saved from developers by the city’s most famous former mayor, Clint Eastwood.
The spectacular seaside beauty of Bandon has been drawing visitors since the mid-19th century, some of which decide to never leave. This tiny town on the southern coast of Oregon is a quintessential beachside destination with shorebirds, ospreys, geese, and bald eagles hanging out in a pristine salt marsh just east of downtown, while tufted puffins, murres, and cormorants frequent the waters of the ocean just off Coquille Point. Gray whales migrate here, and orcas are sometimes even spotted in the estuary. Bandon’s Old Town is filled with restaurants, galleries, boutiques, and bookstores, while the tidal flats just south of town are ideal for beachcombing.
While Treasure Island used to be a treasure-seekers destination, today, this beautiful barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast near St. Petersburg is known for its three miles of pristine, white sandy beaches. It offers the ideal beach getaway for swimming, snorkeling, parasailing, beachcombing, and just kicking back and watching the sun dip below the water’s edge. During the summer, the town sponsors a sunset festival featuring street performers, artisans, and live music. Sway to the sounds of the steel drum, watch magicians and fire eaters, all leading up to the grand finale: a glorious sunset.
Orange Beach is a top destination for beachgoers in Alabama, renowned for its magnificent white-sand beaches. Mostly made up of quartz, the beaches here have picture-perfect sand that sparkles in the sun while the water is stark blue, creating a stunning contrast. You can throw out a towel on the nine miles of beaches, and sun-seekers will find plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, with swimming, boating, and parasailing all popular. For a memorable adventure, hop on one of the dolphin cruises, as there are so many of these friendly creatures inhabiting the sea here that you’re guaranteed a sighting. Families will love the Wharf district with its shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Santa Cruz is the perfect beach town for those who want lots of excitement along with time in the sun and the sand. Adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts will find practically an endless number of attractions, including hiking in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park just a few miles out of town, surfing at Pleasure Point, kayaking and paddle boarding at Santa Cruz Main Beach, and riding thrill rides like the Giant Dipper roller coast at the Beach Boardwalk. The Santa Cruz Wharf is ideal for watching sea lions frolic in the water, shopping for beachwear, and enjoying fresh seafood at any one of a number of restaurants while taking in beautiful ocean views.
Set between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Pescadero is a charming town in the rolling hills along the coast that makes a perfect weekend beach getaway with its fresh, clean air and pristine, uncrowded beaches. Visit Ano Nuevo State Park, known as the home for elephant seals who use the sand dunes here to rest and mate, as well as the multitude of wonderful beaches in either direction where you can explore tide pools teeming with all sorts of sea creatures. Enjoy off-road bicycling and hiking trails that wind through majestic redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains and take in downtown Pescadero’s many colorful shops and eateries. Don’t miss Pie Ranch, a sustainable working farm shaped like a slice of pie, offering a farm stand with fresh produce and seasonal pies along with picnic tables.
One of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S., Beaufort is a friendly getaway near Hilton Head on Port Royal Island that is renowned for its historic antebellum architecture and mouth-watering local cuisine. It offers a perfect blend of southern charms and urban refinement and is a great base for exploring the surrounding natural environs like Hunting Island, a 5,000-acre state park with over three miles of unspoiled beach, known as some of the most appealing sands in the state. Enjoy leisurely strolls with mandevilla-perfumed breezes while taking in the slower pace of life in Beaufort. The walkable downtown boasts bookstores, art galleries, antiques, and eateries with classic Lowcountry cuisine, including thick and spicy gumbos.
Cape May is both an ideal destination for families and those who are looking for a romantic getaway, with its host of charming B&Bs, horse-drawn carriages, and some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Year-round, you can find entertainment, art shows, go boating, visit the zoo, sample a taste of craft beer at local breweries, take a self-guided wine tour, or spend some time at the arcades on the promenade. This top New Jersey destination is home to beach resorts as well as romantic inns and family-friendly hotels, along with great shopping at the Washington Street Mall.
In Southwest Washington, not far from the Oregon border where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific, the Long Beach Peninsula offers a ton of fun for just about every one, along with lots of great seafood and colorful shops. In addition to 25 miles of gorgeous public beaches and state parks, the area is home to a new national park, two historic lighthouses, cranberry bogs, and oyster farms. The charming streets of Long Beach are lined with amusements, including a carousel and carnival rides, game parlors, bike rental shops, quirky museums, and candy shops, in addition to a variety of dining options from oyster burgers and fries to upscale dining featuring Northwest regional cuisine. Long Beach is also world-famous as the host of the Annual Kite Festival and a kite museum.
Friday Harbor, the county seat of the San Juan Islands, just a ferry ride away from Washington State’s mainland, is an ideal getaway for those who prefer cooler summers (high temps in the 70s), getting active, and enjoying an abundance of wildlife. A number of beaches can be found throughout the island, including Jackson Beach, just two miles from the ferry landing, offering access to the calm waters of Griffin Bay. You can also rent a bicycle or a moped and explore the gallery-filled downtown, paddle a kayak around the waters, or take a whale-watching cruise for the chance to see the local orcas and other marine life-like otters, porpoises, and seals. You’ll also find several outstanding eateries offering gourmet farm-to-table cuisine.
Most people associate this picturesque, coastal town in Maine with the shopping and dining at Dock Square, known for its colorful eateries like the legendary lobster at Mabel’s Lobster Claw. However, the true highlight of a visit to Kennebunkport is driving on the backcountry roads searching for lobster traps piled high on Cape Porpoise, the small strip of sand at Goose Rocks Beach. The fortunate 1,200 residents who live in the area know that it’s one of New England’s true beach town treasures. While you’re here, you can enjoy one of the best meals in all of New England at the White Barn Inn Restaurant, which is just west across the river in neighboring Kennebunk Beach and serves an incredible menu.
Ogunquit translates to “beautiful place by the sea,” and it just happens to be known as the home of the prettiest beach in southern Maine. It’s a New England hotspot in summer, where locals and visitors alike plan their day according to the tides. In between high tide and low tide, when the current of Ogunquit River flows out to the Atlantic, people head to the flat stretch of sand that rolls down the river bank carrying an assortment of floatation devices like inner tubes and rafts. The town is also known as the birthplace of summer stock theater, with its Ogunquit Playhouse still thriving after more than 80 years. No matter where you stay, you’ll be within easy walking distance to the beach, classic seafood shacks, and boutiques filled with items made by local artisans.
Perched on Mount Desert Island at the gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is a historic resort town that maintains its Victorian splendor of bygone days. It’s filled with Victorian mansions converted into elegant restaurants and romantic B&Bs. The downtown area is especially walker and bicycle-friendly. Cycling enthusiasts will love the miles of trails in nearby Acadia National Park, with more than 40 miles of unique carriage trails ranging from easy to challenging.
Corolla, the northernmost city on the Outer Banks, is known for its wide clean beaches with fine sand that gently slopes to the Atlantic as well as its wild horses. These mustang ponies are descended from equines brought here by Spanish explorers more than 500 years ago. A top beach town in North Carolina, you can take an off-road safari tour in a caravan or try to find the majestic horses on your own. In this angler’s mecca, you can also enjoy great fishing as well as take part in a variety of water sports, including kayaking, jet skiing, and surfing. On land, you’ll find a number of local golf courses, hiking trails, and great seafood eateries. While it lacks “superstores,” shopping lovers are sure to enjoy the interesting locally-owned shops.
Newport is on the picturesque central coast and is a great beach town in Oregon for families. It’s home to numerous kid-friendly attractions like the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Hatfield Marine Science Center along the Bayfront. You can also watch sea lions and spend time on idyllic sandy beaches building sandcastles, flying kites, and all the other usual beach-type activities. Literary types will love it here too, with a bookstore on just about every block in the city’s oceanfront district, Nye Beach. While you’re here, you won’t want to miss visiting Yaquina Head, the site of Oregon’s tallest and second-oldest active lighthouse. The lighthouse, which stands 93 feet tall, was completed in 1872 and built in a natural area created by lava flow over 14 million years ago.