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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While you might think there are no charming beach towns left in the world to enjoy without having to battle the crowds, think again. While secrets tend to get out eventually, these towns, from America’s east to west, and well beyond, including some South America and Europe gems, are sure to provide the more tranquil experience in the sun and the sand that you’re looking for. Choose your favorite, near or far, and start making plans for an unforgettable getaway.
Wrightsville Beach is small town near Wilmington is a classic, with soft sandy beaches framed with brilliant blue waters and a laid-back vibe. If you like to surf, you should know that it was named one of the best surf towns in the world by National Geographic, learn how to ride the waves, you’ll have access to top pro instructors. Another option is to rent stand-up paddleboards to paddle through the Intracoastal Waterway on a standup paddleboard. You’ll find some fabulous waterfront restaurants and beach bars for fueling your activities along with a wide range of accommodation from bungalows to resorts.
Lagos is located in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, an hour from Faro and boasts spectacular pristine beaches along with mouthwatering fresh seafood and magnificent centuries-old buildings that line charming cobbled streets. This is a place that you can still watch fishermen head out to sea as they have for generations. The city beach, Praia de Batata enjoys a stunning 17th-century fortress backdrop. In between dips in the aquamarine sea, enjoy snacking on cream-filled donuts called Bola de Berlim.
Baja’s most popular destination, Cabo, is where you’ll find all the crowds. But just 45 minutes north along the Pacific coast is the tiny beach town of El Pescadero backed by gorgeous desert landscape and mountains in the distance. Visit in the winter months and you’ll be able to lots of whales migrating north. It’s especially popular with surfers, but you’ll find a hidden swimming beach nearby in Cerritos. There are a smattering of bars and eateries to enjoy along with a few hotels, but just a short drive away in artsy Todos Santos you’ll find lots of interesting shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants to take advantage of.
The little fishing village of Montezuma sits at the far tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and has a cute downtown area with a handful of shops, hotels and restaurants, along with a nature-loving hippie vibe. It offers a tranquil beach vacation with the beach just a short walk from town, complete with a waterfall that cascades onto the sands and pools for swimming. Keep in mind that the roads can be rough getting here in the rainy season, from May through about mid-November, and some of the hotels may be shut down due to the weather that can keep many visitors away.
Florence lies along the breathtaking central Oregon coast, tucked behind beautiful dunes as part of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area offers opportunities to ride the dunes in an ATV, go sand boarding and more. Nearby are the famous Sea Lion Caves, home to Steller sea lions that inhabit the largest sea cavern in the world. Enjoy walking the trails around Heceta Head Lighthouse, looking through the tide pools at low tide, filled with colorful starfish, sea anemones and hermit crabs, and exploring the historic Old Town district in Florence.
Anna Maria Island on the Gulf of Mexico, reached via Bradenton, offers gorgeous white sands and tropical aquamarine waters that are ideal for the ultimate beach vacation without enduring big crowds. There are a few restaurants like the Island Creperie, or you can head to nearby Longboat Key for more options. If it gets to quiet, it’s easy to access the many attractions in Bradenton, providing the best of both worlds.
Manabi is a sleepy little beach town on the coast of Ecuador between Puerto Lopez and Montanita home to both Playa Las Tunas and Playa Ayampe, which offer gorgeous sunsets, soft white sands and crystal-clear waters. The beaches are often empty, with perhaps a few of the locals practicing yoga in the morning, and a few enjoying beach walks at sunset. The town itself has a few eateries and just one local bar where oftentimes, it will be just you and the bartender.
Enjoy small-town vibes in Inisheer, the smallest of the three Aran Islands located off Ireland’s Galway coast with less than 300 permanent residents. With only a passenger ferry to get there, it has an especially tranquil feel with very little vehicle traffic. Visitors get around on foot, bicycle and the traditional pony and cart. The main village sits adjacent to the beach, which you might swear was stolen from the Caribbean with its intense blue-green water. At any given time, you’re likely to enjoy it to yourself, or just a handful of others, and perhaps the local dolphin Sandy who enjoys following the ferry as it comes and goes. There are just a couple of hotels and some fantastic B&Bs like South Aran House, while the town pub Tigh Ned’s offers live music in the summer.
This tiny hamlet south of San Francisco and north of Santa Cruz was once a popular destination on the stagecoach route between the two cities. Today, it retains its “stage-stop” flavor with its historic buildings along with a smattering of interesting shops and outstanding eateries like Duarte’s Tavern. It also offers surprisingly uncrowded beaches on one side and soaring redwoods on the other.
Blue Hill is a small seaside town located on the central coast of Maine. it has an artsy vibe, popular with creative types searching for scenic solitude and relatively low-cost rents. It offers soft sands and cobalt blue lobster-filled waters along with jagged rock outcroppings. If you visit around late August or early September you can join the fun annual Blue Hill County Fair, popular for its llama demonstrations.