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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What would summer be without a trip to the beach? While winter is a popular time for a Caribbean island vacation, you’ll find many great spots across the U.S. to enjoy the sand and sun during the warmest months of the year. Whether you’re looking for a lively place with all sorts of attractions, shopping, and dining, or a more remote destination that offers privacy and seclusion, there’s sure to be an ideal getaway for you on this list.
Enjoy an exotic beach vacation right in the U.S. by heading to Key West. Its Caribbean vibe makes it feel international yet there’s no need for a passport. There are white sandy beaches flanked by turquoise waters that are ideal for snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, and more. Of course, a sunset cruise here is a must. Sail into one of the area’s famously stunning sunsets while sipping a tropical cocktail, a favorite way to cap off a perfect day in paradise. You’ll find plenty of cultural attractions like the former home of Ernest Hemingway, along with beachy boutiques, art galleries, restaurants serving fresh seafood, and lively nightlife venues too.
San Diego offers idyllic weather year-round so you won’t have to worry about scorching hot temperatures, while the beaches are ideal for playing and relaxing. Enjoy surfing at La Jolla, known for its great waves, or just soak up the sun from Mission Beach. A trip to the San Diego Zoo is a must, known around the world as one of the best for its remarkable collection of animal species and its conservation efforts. If you’re in the mood for a cold brew, you’ll find many options as this is one of the country’s top craft beer cities with practically an endless number to choose from, including Mission Brewery, San Diego Brewing Company, and Ballast Point Brewery.
Famous for its lush surrounding forests, wild beaches with waves that crash against sea stacks, Cannon Beach is an artist community with upscale restaurants, luxurious resorts, boutiques, and art galleries. It’s fun just to peer into the tide pools around the iconic 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, while nearby Ecola Park offers trails that wind through the old-growth rainforest providing views of the coast and Tillamook Rock Light. Afterward, enjoy a picnic atop the grassy cliffs overlooking the ocean while elk graze in the meadow nearby.
Located at the northern tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown became an artist colony over a century ago and today it’s still known for attracting the creative and often quirky. Here, not only can you enjoy the sun, surf, and outstanding whale watching, but some fantastic people watching too. Explore the colorful downtown area, with everything from grand mansions to fine dining restaurants and fabulous seafood shacks, fudge shops, art galleries, and bookstores.
California’s most undeveloped stretch of shoreline, the Lost Coast may be remote but it’s worth the effort to get there. It’s nothing like those beaches down south where the sands are packed with people. This is a place of wild beauty, and for surfers, the waves here are legendary, with consistent year-round swells washing onto the rocky shoreline. It’s a true beach paradise as one of the few places in the Golden State where solitude and magnificent beauty can still be found.
Hanalei Bay is a must-see for everyone that visits Kauai and it also provides a great base for your getaway as one of the most scenic places on the island. A three-mile-long bay, it’s framed by a half-moon of golden sands backed by lush green mountains laced with waterfalls. Bring a picnic out onto the pier to enjoy a panoramic view of the bay and the dramatic ridges of the Na Pali coast. This is also a popular spot to leap into the water for a swim or to fish. You’ll find plenty of shops and eateries to enjoy nearby as well.
Siesta Key is home to what’s often named the most beautiful beach in the entire country, Siesta Key Beach, with its sands made up of what feels like powdered sugar. Made up of 99 percent crushed quartz, that means it won’t burn your feet no matter how hot the sun. Not to mention, it’s edged by brilliant turquoise water, looking as if it came straight from the Caribbean. Spend your days relaxing or taking part in a host of outdoor adventures, including swimming, snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking, and fishing. Whatever you do, be sure to keep an eye out for dolphins that dance through the surf. If you want to explore other beaches and attractions, shop, or dine, there’s even a free trolley to get you to where you want to go.
Gorgeous sand dunes where wild horses roam, historic lighthouses, and even flights in an open-cockpit biplane above the very spot the Wright Brothers first flew are just some of what awaits in the Outer Banks. Visitors can enjoy everything from deep-sea fishing to surfing too. There are charming towns like Duck and Corolla, fabulous beach homes for rent, along with inns and resorts. No matter where you decide to stay, fun shops and eateries serving fresh seafood are never far away.
The string of picturesque villages along Long Island’s southeast coast of Long Island known as the Hamptons, are just 90 minutes from New York City but feel like a whole new world with beautiful beaches and dramatic dunes, shingled windmills, and farm stands that offer fresh, local produce. Thre are quirky antique shops and museums, to browse along with tranquil bays with stretches of sand for beachcombing. In between, you’ll find plenty of fresh Long Island seafood, farm-to-table fare, and vineyards for enjoying a lazy afternoon sipping wine.
Maui is home to some of the Hawaiian Islands’ most spectacular beaches, including the sugary white sands of Kaanapali where one can enjoy everything from sipping cocktails and sunbathing to snorkeling, diving, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and even cliff jumping. The area around it makes a popular base with plenty of dining and shopping nearby. If you can drag yourself away from the beach, there’s an interesting whale museum, two championship golf courses, and free Hawaiian entertainment too.
Gulf Shores is renowned for its stunning white sands and crystal clear turquoise waters. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of activities at the beach, including watersports like boating, sailing, and fishing. There are plenty of other attractions too, like Waterville USA, a water park ideal for thrills while cooling off, and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. There are two beautiful golf courses, a wide range of tasty dining options from BBQ to shrimp done any way you like it. After dark, delve into the lively nightlife, with lots of fun beach bars, many of which offer live music, some with stages right outside on the sand.
One of the most popular beach vacation destinations in the South for summer fun, Hilton Head offers everything from recreational activities and opportunities for relaxation to mouthwatering low-country cuisine. Coligny Beach is a top spot for hanging out, complete with lifeguards, beachside bars, and even showers. It spans for miles, making it easy to find your own place to settle in and there are umbrellas and beach chairs for rent too. The Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to hike while watching for more than 250 bird species, bobcats, alligators, white-tailed deer, red fox, and more. Golfing enthusiasts will find some outstanding courses here too.
If you’re looking for something wild and remote, consider the northern Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. There are a number of quaint inns and rustic beach resorts in the area and a hike on the Cape Flattery Trail will bring you to the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States. The 0.75-mile trail features four observation decks with awe-inspiring views of rock formations and the chance to watch all sorts of seabirds, including puffins, and marine life, with gray whales and orcas occasionally passing by. While you’re here you won’t want to miss Shi Shi Beach, often ranked among the world’s most beautiful. It requires a 2-mile hike but your reward is a stretch of sands with gnarled logs, bleached and battered by the surf. Waves violently crash on the sea stacks offshore, while bald eagles and all sorts of other seabirds soar overhead.
The quintessential California beach town, Santa Cruz is famous for its waves that draw surfers from across the globe, but it offers a long list of other activities and attractions too. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers rollercoasters and many other rides and amusements, fronted by a long, wide sandy beach. If you want to escape the crowds, take a 17-mile drive north to Greyhound Rock Beach where you can make the easy climb up the rock to watch for dolphins that frequently swim by. You’ll find lots of waterfront eateries and shops to explore, including some outstanding options right on the pier, a great spot to watch sea lions with dozens of them lounging around on the rafters below.
The closest beach destination to Atlanta, Tybee Island offers many postcard-perfect beaches to choose from with North Beach a popular spot for soaking up the sand and the surf, while Back River Beach offers a more tranquil place for avoiding the crowds. There are plenty of ways to get out on the water too, including ecology and wildlife tours, kayaking, paddleboarding, and jetskiing. Climb the historic Tybee Island Lighthouse for a picturesque view and the chance to learn more about the island’s history. Bubba Gumbo’s is a great spot for fresh seafood or you can head over to nearby Savannah to take advantage of the many eateries there.