Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Dreaming of a beach getaway without the crowds? While that might seem impossible, there are still plenty of laid-back spots to enjoy the sand. Some are sleepy towns, mostly meant for relaxing and recharging while others offer plenty of amusements without being overrun by tourists. From stretches in the Pacific Northwest and the California coast to fabulous options in the east, you’re sure to find your own perfect pick on this list.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
One of the most underrated Oregon coast towns, Bandon offers an idyllic escape with wide, uncrowded beaches and rock formations rising from the crashing waves. It’s the perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts and beach bums, with opportunities to just relax and enjoy the breathtaking view, particularly impressive from m Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint. Keep an eye out for abundant wildlife, including orca whales that are occasionally seen in the estuary and gray whales may be spotted migrating along the shore. Kayaking on Bandon Marsh and fishing on Bradley Lake are popular too, while Bandon Dunes Golf Resort draws golf enthusiasts to play a round with dazzling ocean views. The 10-square-block historic business district along the riverfront is fun to explore with its galleries, bookstores, boutiques, and restaurants.
While Pacific Grove may be best known as the starting point for the famous 17-Mile Drive that travels the Monterey Peninsula to Pebble Beach, it’s also a great place to enjoy a casual beach vibe and amazing scenery. You’ll find many gorgeous beaches for strolling and taking part in water sports, like Lovers Point Beach with its reliable waves for surfing and launching spots for kayaks. Nicknamed “Butterfly Town USA,” it’s also home to the Monarch Grove Sanctuary, one of several sites along the coast where monarch butterflies overwinter.
Downtown is home to some magnificent historic homes in architectural styles that range from Romanesque to Gothic, along with independent boutiques, art galleries, gift shops, and eateries like Passionfish, a long-time favorite serving delicious and sustainable seafood dishes.
While you’ve probably heard about Florida’s famous beach towns like Key West and Destin, odds are, you’ve never heard of the funky fishing village called Matlacha. Located on Pine Island, this charming small town in Florida is one of the most colorful you’ll find anywhere, with vibrant hues everywhere you look, from art galleries with painted murals to neon pink and green seafood shacks, tropical-style wooden homes, and even Airstreams. An art-inspired haven, consider signing up for a walking tour of the unique and eccentric structures and then head to the “fishingest bridge in the world” to watch for manatees and dolphins.
One of the cutest beach towns in New England, Ogunquit translates to “beautiful place by the sea.” It’s an apt name for this town with its wide, white sandy beaches that are unlike most along Maine’s mostly rocky shoreline. In the summer, visitors and locals enjoy cooling off by floating down with the tide through the Ogunquit River on inner tubes and theater at the Ogunquit Playhouse, just as they have for more than eight decades now. There’s also a summer trolley that makes it easy to explore all the offerings, from lobster shacks and wine bars to galleries and antique shops.
Some say Block Island is one of the best-kept secrets on the east coast, an idyllic destination with no big-name stores or traffic lights that can only be accessed by air or water. It lies just south of mainland Rhode Island and as it’s off most tourists’ radar, it’s ideal for recharging among peace and quiet as well as enjoying hiking, sailing, biking or browsing specialty boutiques and galleries. It’s also home to charming 18th-century lighthouses, an animal farm, ice cream shops, and eateries that serve fresh lobster rolls.
When you picture Oahu, you probably envision Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, which is almost always filled with throngs of tourists. And while many of them head to the small cove known as Hanauma Bay for snorkeling, by driving just 30 minutes north to Kailua, you’ll enjoy a chill vibe, access to less crowded stretches of sand. and fantastic snorkeling. Lanikai Beach is exceptional for beginners with close proximity to a living coral reef, calm and shallow water, and soft white sands. Just five minutes away is Kailua Beach Park which offers more great snorkeling right offshore. When hunger pangs hit, pick up some fresh poke at Foodland and then perhaps indulge in the famous root beer milkshake at Teddy’s Bigger Burgers.
While it may be less than a 30-minute drive from Charleston, Sullivan’s Island offers a tranquil respite from city life with three miles of shoreline that includes compact sands for bike riding as well as shallow, calm water for swimming. As it spans the Intracoastal Waterway, you can paddleboard or kayak through the marshy inlets. The sleepy downtown area is highly walkable and offers several tasty eateries, a day spa, and a park with a children’s playground.
Known for its remarkably wide beaches, lively bars, and extravagant vacation homes, Wrightsville Beach is also famous as one of the world’s best surf towns, as named by National Geographic. Riding the waves is a way of life for the locals, making it one of the best places to learn to surf on the east coast with access to top pro instructions. Sailing and stand-up paddleboarding are popular pursuits here too. You’ll find plenty of delicious eats and with all the water that surrounds the town on every side, waterfront dining is the thing to do here.
Tiny Menemsha sits on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard, an island that can be easily accessed by ferry with service multiple times a day from the village of Woods Hole on the “elbow” of Cape Cod. It has an authentic fishing village vibe with famously delicious chowder and hot lobster rolls to enjoy while watching breathtaking sunsets. It’s fun to watch the draggers come in with their nets and lobstermen and fishermen unload their catches, or you might spend the day fishing by chartering a boat. Of course, there are plenty of island beaches to enjoy, along with opportunities for horseback riding and culinary classes.
The unincorporated community of Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara on the central coast of California, has been a popular seaside escape among Hollywood stars since the late 1800s. While Miramar Beach is one of the top spots to go to, just five minutes away is Butterfly Beach, the locals’ favorite where it’s easy to find your own secluded spot. Visitors can also check out Lotusland, a 37-acre estate and botanical garden featuring over 3,000 plants from across the globe.
Bald Head Island is a barrier island that offers the chance to truly get away from it all. You can’t bring your car as they aren’t allowed with the only way to get there a ferry. There’s a marina where you can park nearby in Southport to hop on for the 20-minute ride. It’s easy to get around, with everything accessible by bicycle or on foot, including golf courses, shops, restaurants, a spa, and more. On this lush island, you’ll also find plenty of unspoiled beaches, hiking trails, and nature reserves to enjoy in peaceful seclusion.
Florence is an underrated seaside hamlet surrounded by rugged, natural beauty in every direction, from sand dunes to the long stretches of beach that edge the Pacific. As dozens of rivers empty into the ocean here, it’s especially popular for crabbing and fishing, while Bay Street is the downtown hub filled with quaint cafes, small boutiques, antique stores, and shops that sell locally-made saltwater taffy. Just north are the famous Sea Lion Caves that draw many here as one of the best places to watch the sea mammals.
Located in the Pacific Beach area, Seabrook was founded in 2004, north of busier Ocean Shores on a rugged stretch of the Washington coast just east of Olympic National Park. It provides access to the area’s crown jewel, Moclips Beach, a sandy stretch reached via a woodsy trail. There are hundreds of nature trails and you’ll even find a heated swimming pool at Crescent Park. If you want to explore on two wheels, bikes can be rented at Buck’s Northwest. Downtown also hosts family-owned shops like Front Street Market, perfect for picking up provisions for a picnic.
Located on Washington’s southwest coast, Long Beach offers 28 miles of sand as the self-proclaimed “World’s Longest Beach.” It has a downtown area with a World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame, carnival rides, games, bumper cars, and a carousel for lots of old-fashioned fun. You can rent a three-wheeler and cruise across the sand, or get a kite. Kite flying is one of the most popular things to do and if you visit in August you can attend the internationally-renowned annual Washington State International Kite Festival too.
Bethany Beach has a boardwalk like its more frequently visited neighbor Rehoboth, but it’s less touristy and family-friendly with a mile-long, 150-foot wide stretch of sand ideal for little ones. There are lots of fun activities hosted here like the summer concert series and Monday night movies on the beach. Just north is Delaware Seashore State Park, a barrier island with miles of beaches that frame both river bays and the Atlantic, while Fenwick Island State Park to the south has dunes and a surf area.