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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There’s nothing like a beach town in the summer, with those quintessential sea breezes and healing saltwater for all sorts of fun. While places like Myrtle Beach, Miami, and San Diego can make for a great beach vacation, when you’re looking to refresh and recharge, a small beach town without the thick crowds and the noise can be the best way to do it. From charming spots on the west coast to New England gems and quintessential Florida towns, consider one of these for your next beach getaway.
Located on Amelia Island, a barrier island off Florida’s northern coast, Fernandina Beach is a historic waterfront village that’s lovely just to stroll or enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride while learning about the historical points of interest. Celebrating pirate culture is a way of life, so you’ll often see locals dressed up like swashbucklers. Live music and parades featuring pirates are common too. Those who stay here will also have access to 12 miles of beautiful beaches, along with opportunities to horseback ride on the sand, sail, paddle, or cycle miles of trails. More history can be discovered at Fort Clinch State Park, which features one of the most well-preserved 19th-century forts in the country.
One of the most beautiful coastal towns in California, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a former artists’ colony with glorious stretches of sand for tranquil strolls, with Carmel Beach an over-mile-long expanse. Watch for the sea otters and dolphins that frequently pass by and the surfers that ride the waves, sticking around for dusk to enjoy a spectacular sunset. Some of the best golf courses are nearby, including Pebble Beach Golf Links, while downtown hosts multiple wine-tasting venues, art galleries, boutiques, and fine dining restaurants. The Great Sandcastle Contest marks the end of the summer season and is well worth planning a trip around.
Just a 90-minute drive from Portland along one of the most beautiful stretches of the Oregon Coast, Cannon Beach offers an idyllic escape with miles of sandy shores to play on. Haystack Rock is its iconic symbol, where you’ll often see puffins buzzing if you’re here in early summer. Nearby at Ecola State Park, you’ll find scenic hiking trails and picnic areas while the town itself is a joy to explore with art galleries, boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants serving fresh seafood, some with spectacular ocean views.
Just 30 minutes from Savannah, Tybee Island is a popular day trip for residents and visitors there, but it’s a great vacation destination in its own right. You’ll find plenty of southern charms while enjoying the beach life, perhaps taking to the water by paddleboard, kayak, or jet-ski. There are dolphin-watching tours, historical sites to explore, a lighthouse, fun shops, and plenty of fabulous local bars and eateries serving fresh seafood.
Anna Maria is a beach town on the island of Anna Maria, tucked along the west coast of Florida, offering a seven-mile-long paradise surrounded by the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are no high-rises or chain hotels here, but you will find funky boutiques, local cafes, and beautiful stretches of sand with opportunities to enjoy everything from kayaking and fishing to soaking up the sun.
Orange Beach is renowned for its magnificent white-sand beaches. Mostly made up of quartz, it results in picture-perfect sand that sparkles in the sun while the water is a brilliant blue creating a stunning contrast. There are nine miles of beaches here, bringing plenty of opportunities for swimming, boating, parasailing, and more. Dolphin cruises are popular, with so many inhabiting the sea here that you’re guaranteed a sighting with Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet. Head inland and you’ll find challenging golf courses, scenic hiking, and biking trails, and more. The Wharf serves as an entertainment district, offering shopping, dining, and entertainment.
Long Beach is aptly named as the self-proclaimed “World’s Longest Beach” with 30 miles of sand at the southern end of Washington’s coast. It’s the quintessential beach town with lots to do, including carnival games, bumper cars, a carousel, and a variety of cycling options to rent, including three-wheelers for cruising the beach. Kite flying is very popular here and you’ll even find the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame, while the annual Washington State International Kite Festival in August draws visitors from across the globe.
One of the most charming beach towns in South Carolina, Edisto Beach is home to a population of just 400, with more wildlife than people. Eco-tours are available to see the native wildlife along the beaches and in the marshes, but nearly everyone who comes will see deer, turtles, dolphins, and a wide range of birds. Enjoy swimming and relaxing, surf fishing, river fishing, pier fishing, and deep-sea fishing and when you want to avoid getting wet, you can rent a bike and pedal, with a path winding its way through most of the town, bringing scenic views with breaks to shop and dine.
Wrightsville Beach is a classic, with soft sandy beaches edged by brilliant blue waves that are ideal for surfing. In fact, this small town near Wilmington has been named among the world’s best beach towns by National Geographic. If you ever wanted to learn to surf, this is a great place to do it. Or, rent a stand-up paddleboard and paddle the Intracoastal Waterway, as you’ll have access to that as well. There are some outstanding waterfront eateries and beach bars to help keep you fueled for all your activities too.
Located at the northern tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is a colorful beach town with a long stretch of Cape Cod National Seashore. The beaches are ideal for strolls, swimming, whale watching, and many other activities. If you’re looking for tranquility, soak up the sun at Herring Cove. The downtown area is great for people-watching and houses many art galleries, casual seafood shacks, fine dining eateries, book shops, candy stores, and coffee houses.
Montauk is a seaside jewel near the tip of Long Island with many beaches to enjoy, and it’s also home to the state’s oldest lighthouse, Montauk Point. Constructed in 1796, visitors can climb to the top for a panoramic view. There are just a little over 3,500 residents in Montauk, but it boasts a half-dozen state parks, including Hither Hills, with whiter-than-white sands along a two-mile stretch of beach. In the village itself, you’ll find cobblestone streets lined with an array of enticing cafes and gift shops.
Fort Bragg is a family-friendly beach town along the northern coast of California, just over a three-hour drive from San Francisco. A few miles further north, you’ll find MacKerricher State Park, with beaches, sand dunes, coves, tide pools, a forest, and a freshwater lake. Take a stroll along the boardwalk to watch the many sea lions that gather here and explore the tide pools with all sorts of colorful marine life. Glass Beach, made up of small, smooth, colored pieces of “sea glass” can be accessed from town, providing hours of fun searching for that perfect piece. Head a few miles south to find the beautiful Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden while the famous Skunk Train departs from Fort Bragg for rides through the redwood forests.
For an idyllic New England beach escape, consider Stonington, which sits on the island of Deer Isle in Maine, offering sandy beaches, endless hiking trails, and some of the best lobster in the state. You’ll see lobster boats bobbing up and down in the harbor, where restaurant owners meet up with fishermen daily to get the freshest catch. Visitors can also watch for puffins, with the birds arriving in June, and enjoy exploring the many art galleries in town.
Located on California’s Central Coast boast a long, sandy beach and iconic Morro Rock, a 576-foot monolith that once served as an important navigational aid for sailors. Today it’s a nesting site for many birds, including gulls, falcons, and cormorants, while sea otters often float by. The small town itself is home to many seafood eateries and fun shops, while whale-watching tours can bring you to see a wealth of different species, including humpback, gray, and blue whales. Those who like to paddle can kayak or paddleboard along the coast, with guided tours and rentals available.
Chincoteague is a town on the island of the same name in the Eastern Shore region of Virginia. It became famous after being featured in the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague and subsequent film, which focused on the wild ponies that have lived on the island for hundreds of years. Visitors can enjoy watching the horses on nearby Assateague Island as they wander the dunes, marsh grasses, and beaches. You can also take part in a wide range of other outdoor activities, including hiking and biking, crabbing, clamming, boating, and fishing.
While you might not think of Michigan as a place for a beach getaway, Grand Haven is truly grand, with 48 acres of sugary white sand at Grand Haven State Park. It’s been named the best in the state, stretched along Lake Michigan on the west side and the Grand River to the north, complete with a fishing pier and lighthouse. A shop- and restaurant-lined boardwalk is great for a stroll, running along the harbor to the park, while the town itself offers historic charm and plenty of shops and eateries along with a musical fountain that wows crowds every evening at dusk, with special performances between May and September.