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If you’re looking for a vacation on the East Coast of the United States, you’ll have nearly an endless list of options to choose from. There are lots of opportunities for beach escapes, but you’ll find plenty of exciting cities too. From Maine to Florida, these are some of our top picks for east coast getaways.
Martha’s Vineyard has been a famous summer playground for the wealthy for decades. Today this island, accessed by ferry from Cape Cod, offers something for visitors of all types with beautiful beaches, a picturesque lighthouse, brightly painted gingerbread cottages, and charming hotels. While it may be best known for its natural attractions like South Beach State Park, Mytoi and Aquinnah Cliffs, you won’t want to miss taking a spin on the historic Flying Horses carousel. You can also enjoy fantastic farmers’ markets, sip cold pints at Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery or The Black Dog Tavern and perhaps catch a glimpse of a celebrity or two.
Set along the Grand Stand in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach makes for an especially family-friendly vacation, offering something for just about everyone. Enjoy the beautiful beachfront along with a wealth of attractions, including multiple amusement parks and excursions on the water, like Blackbeard’s Pirate Cruise. The oceanfront boardwalk offers live entertainment on summer nights, including a weekly firework display along with stilt walkers, bagpipers, jugglers, and the like. There are plenty of recreational activities, on the Atlantic and the Intercoastal Waterway, from diving and sailing to paddle boarding.
Bar Harbor is home to the majority of Acadia National Park, one of the country’s most beautiful parks and a quintessential Maine family vacation destination. This charming seaside town offers everything from soaring mountains to the sea, with the winding drive up Cadillac Mountain offering scenic hikes and awe-inspiring views. Visitors can take kayak or canoe tours along the Mount Desert shoreline or take a puffin, seal, and whale watching tour. On land, visit the Abbe Museum to learn about the native Wabanaki people and enjoy feasting on the area’s mouthwatering specialty, lobster. If you’re craving dessert, there are a wealth of ice cream shops to choose from here as well.
Portsmouth offers the ultimate in New England charms just an hour south of Portland and an hour north of Boston near the mouth of the Piscataqua River. One of the oldest cities in the U.S., it was settled in 1623 and hosts multiple historic sites along with beautiful waterfront views. There are great museums like the USS Albacore Museum, housed in a 1953 US Navy submarine, and the Strawbery Banke Museum, an outdoor museum that traces its early history through historic homes and exhibits. Visitors can also walk the Portsmouth Harbor Trail, which showcases 70 historic and scenic sites. If you want to get out on the water, there are boat charters and whale-watching excursions too.
Just over 10 miles off Rhode Island’s southern coast accessed by ferry, Block Island offers an unforgettable beach vacation with beautiful stretches of sand, magnificent ocean views, and lots of recreational opportunities. Enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, bird watching, sailing, kayaking, and even snorkeling. You can fuel your active pursuits with tasty clam chowder and lobster rolls and enjoy sights like historic lighthouses and beachfront mansions. There are plenty of shopping opportunities to satisfy your urge to splurge too.
While spring is a popular time to visit Washington, D.C. with the cherry blossoms in bloom, anytime is a good time to visit some of the best museums, including the Smithsonian Institute, which includes 17 separate museums and galleries. While it’s hard to choose a favorite, start at the Smithsonian Institution Building, where you’ll find the Smithsonian Visitor Center. It features highlights of collections from each of the museums that can help you decide which you want to explore. A few of the must-sees are Hope Diamond, the original Star-Spangled Banner, the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” and the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer.”
While Florida is more often associated with its white sandy beaches and sunny skies, St. Augustine is especially rich in history as the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in North America. It was founded by Spanish colonists in 1565, and many of its original buildings still stand. You can marvel at the historic city gate, the 1672 Castillo de San Marcos, and the Plaza de la Constitucion while experiencing its enticing Old World ambiance as you stroll the cobbled streets. Of course, just minutes away are pristine stretches of sand and brilliant blue waters, with the city home to more than 40 miles of beaches.
Summers in Cape Cod are famous for beach holidays, with endless stretches of beach and swimming opportunities along with all sorts of other activities. At the northern tip of the Cape, Provincetown boasts over 30 miles of beaches and hosts a lively downtown with unique shops, art galleries, museums, seafood shacks, and more. It’s also popular for boating excursions, including whale watching with the area home to some of the highest numbers of humpback whales in the country.
Ocean City is a 10-mile barrier island offering both oceanfront and bayfront restaurants, sandy beaches, and a three-mile-long Boardwalk with a variety of rides and amusements. A spin on the giant Ferris wheel, which provides a bird’s-eye view of the landscape, is a must. With more than 10 miles of sandy beaches, an epic boardwalk, an endless supply of seafood joints, and plenty of family amusement, this Eastern Shore town is an absolute must. Jolly Roger at the Pier, Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, and Baja Amusements supply top-notch family fun.
If it’s a city vacation you’re after on the east coast, New York City is probably a no-brainer. It’s a place everyone should visit at least once, with attractions like Central Park, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, museums like the Met, Broadway shows, and endless opportunities for shopping and dining. From Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Long Island, this is America’s ultimate urban destination and one that has something different to offer every season. Some of the most popular NYC experiences include Central Park, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and celebrity restaurants.
Boston is a fantastic city with a long list of attractions and possible day trips if you want to enjoy an escape to the beach or the mountains, as both are within easy reach. Cheer on the home team at Fenway Park, explore history by walking the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that connects 16 important sites related to the Revolutionary War, or visit one of many different museums, including the Old State Museum, which even contains a vial of tea salvaged from the original Tea Party crowd. The trail ends at the Charlestown waterfront, where you can join a whale-watching tour where you might spot humpback and fin whales along with other marine life.
When it comes to beaches on the East Coast, the Outer Banks is one of the most popular destinations but you can avoid the big crowds by heading to Carova Beach at the northernmost end. It can’t be accessed by paved road, which is partly what keeps the masses away, but that means you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle or a boat to get there. But once you’ve arrived, you’re more likely to encounter the famous wild horses than humans. There are 11 miles of soft sands and two wildlife preserves, with opportunities to swim, fish, hike, bike, kayak, and more. Camping and vacation rentals are available for overnight stays and hotels can be found a short drive away.
Asheville offers lots right in town, including a famous arts, craft brew, and dining scene, while a wealth of outdoor adventures await within a short drive. Chimney Rock State Park offers a wide range of hiking trails, while whitewater rafting can be enjoyed on the French Broad River. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only a 45-minute drive away too. If you want to see one of America’s rare castles, Biltmore Estate is the place to go with its magnificent chateau and sprawling gardens.
The 9,000-square-mile Finger Lakes area of New York is a year-round playground with a burgeoning wine country that’s been compared to California’s Napa Valley. It also offers everything from hiking to waterfalls and dramatic gorges to fishing, boating, and other water sports. Watkins Glen, a town at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, is home to Watkins Glen State Park, which has a spectacular series of waterfalls. By basing yourself here, you’ll also have easy access to the area’s wineries and plenty downtown too, including tasty local eateries, specialty shops, and the Seneca Harbor Wine Center, where you can taste some of the local vintages and create a plan to visit the over 30 wineries on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail.
Hilton Head Island offers 23 championship golf courses and 12 miles of beaches, all of which are public. Spend your days soaking up the sun and the sand at Coligny Beach Park or Driessen Beach Park. There are plenty of other activities, including miles of trails for hiking, kayaking spots, and places to watch for wildlife, like Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’s home to everything from over 250 bird species to red foxes, white-tailed deer, bobcats, and alligators.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the country’s most popular national parks. Straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, it’s a nature lover’s paradise spanning more than 500,000 acres with abundant wildlife, including 68 different types of mammals. Black bears are what many visitors look for, most commonly spotted at Cades Cove, which can easily be reached via an 11-mile loop road. There are 800 miles of trails for hiking, some of which lead to waterfalls like Ramsey Cascades. You’ll find a long list of attractions in the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge too.
Located in the corner of southeastern Vermont, at the junction of Connecticut and West rivers, Brattleboro has lots to offer visitors, including water sports. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and tubes can all be rented at the Vermont Canoe Touring Center, which also offers guided tours. If you prefer to stay on land, consider pedaling around by renting bikes at the Brattleboro Bicycle Shop. Self-guided itineraries on the area’s trails can be picked up at Vermont Cycling Tours. Downtown offers plenty, including a wide range of shopping and dining venues, outstanding local theater, live music, and the popular Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.