On a warm spring or summer day, if the liquid feeling of sunlight doesn’t instantly lift your mood in one of these charming beach towns, the historical character, quality shopping and grub—and many other pleasing attributes—certainly will.
Just in time for vaccine summer, which is going to be marked by both “Toe Dip Trips” and revenge travel galore, it’s officially time to start planning your next vacation to any one of these charming beach towns in America.
Editor’s note: Please follow all social distancing guidelines and local travel recommendations. You may also want to reach out to your host or hotel to ensure that they are using additional cleaning and sanitation practices.
1. KEY WEST, FL
Key West is Florida’s southernmost point, and it’s surrounded by crystal blue waters. This means stunning, Caribbean-like beaches (see: Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach) juxtaposed against cute, brightly painted beach cottages with ornate latticework and plenty of cultural charm, too. In a town that appeals to all types of visitors—and has a strong LGBTQIA+ scene to boot—you might find yourself heading over to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum for a slice of literary history, seeing a drag show, or taking a kayak tour of a mangrove all in one day.
If you’re looking for true relaxation in your accommodations, the Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort is a paradise all on its very own. It offers a full-service spa, as well as three on-site restaurants and is located directly on the beach. The hotel also has a world-renowned sand sculptor on staff who creates custom sculpture murals.
2. NEWPORT, RI
Newport is known for its Gilded Age mansions, and even if you can’t afford one of them yourself, it’s totally free to spend a day gawking at them during a drive down Bellevue Avenue or, better yet, by peering at them from a leisurely walk around the famed Cliff Walk, a public access walk which tightly hugs the shoreline.
Apart from hitting the beach at Easton’s, Bailey’s, or King’s Park, taking a sailboat out for the day—or even better, for a sunset cruise—is a popular summertime activity away from the sand. The same is true for shopping Thames St., which is host to clothing, decor, fine food and other specialty shops. Giving “estate sale” a proper meaning, the local emporium of antiques, Aardvark Antiques, is another not-to-be-missed draw for fine, vintage finds in this seaside town.
Post up at the Castle Hill Inn at your very own beach cottage (which also happens to be one of their pet-friendly room types. It overlooks a stretch of private beach, and many of these rooms have private fireplaces and soaking tubs, too.
3. KENAI, AK
Yes, seriously, a beach in Alaska! While you’re not wrong to drum up visions of snow-capped mountains when you think of The Last Frontier, you can also add this small beach town to your overall vision. Known as a world-class King Salmon fishing destination, this truly authentic Alaskan village’s beach and water temperatures might not be ideal for sunbathing, but they are where you’ll catch some of the most stunning sunsets in the U.S. If you’re only looking to extend your Alaskan trip, this is the perfect spot for a day trip or a quick weekend getaway.
Stay at the town’s newest hotel, The Cannery Lodge, which offers a lovely bar and lounge, as well as convenient proximity to beaches, hiking and fishing. Basically, it’s a go-to hub for those looking for outdoor adventures. The interiors pay homage to the cannery’s history and feature stunning rustic features and unbeatable views.
4. DEL MAR, CA
Located just north of San Diego, Del Mar has a small-town feel that’s big on scenic offerings. It has astonishing hiking trails, like the Torrey Pines Beach Trail and the Razor Point Trail, both of which offer striking canyon and ocean views. It’s also known for its iconic race track.
Whether you stay or just visit the splurge-worthy L’Auberge Del Mar for the day, the al fresco Coastline restaurant and Bleu Bar—with great nighttime outdoor fire pits—are popular gathering places for locals and visitors alike. For more private accommodations, check out this stunning beachside VRBO, or this condo with endless ocean views.
5. MONTEREY, CA
Known for the iconic 17-mile drive, where you’ll definitely want to stop for a few photo opps, Monterey is perhaps one of the most beautiful towns in all of California. Make sure you stop by Monterey Bay and the Coast Guard Pier to catch a sight of dozens of sunbathing seals. You can also spend an afternoon shopping in Old Monterey.
For accommodations, The Lodge at Pebble Beach has accommodation offerings for every type of traveler or group of travelers. The resort is famous for its world-class golfing and tennis courts, as well as a full-service spa, and offering guests access to its picture-perfect beach club and pool that overlook the water.
6. ST. AUGUSTINE, FL
Head over to the hop-on, hop-off Old Town Trolley Tours for a build-it-yourself adventure of this historic beach town that allows you to choose from an array of the city’s cultural experiences.
While the entire city is truly packed with history—it was a continuously inhabited European-established settlement since 1565—you’ll notice beyond all the Spanish Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival architecture, there’s a flare for the supernatural here. Think: ghost tours galore. This is because it’s said to be one of the most haunted cities in America, and whether you believe in it or not, the tours are a great way to learn more about the city and see its sites.
When it comes to hotels in the area, there is truly an array of stunners. The Renaissance St. Augustine Historic Downtown Hotel is ideal if you plan to explore the city’s lively downtown by foot; if it’s history you’re looking for, the Casa Monica Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection, originally built in 1888, is located in the historic district of St. Augustine and offers convenient proximity to all of the city’s major attractions.
7. MONTAUK, NY
When you search photos of Montauk on Instagram, one of the top locations that pops up says “Montauk End of the World” and travelers there can very much attest to it feeling that way. A few hours outside of New York City, Montauk is a laid-back beach town at the Easternmost point of Long Island that feels isolated and protected. Ditch Plains Beach, Kirk Park and Gin Beach are all popular with sun-seekers tempted to take in the area’s natural beauty. As a destination, Montauk also offers guests plenty of outdoor activities, including horseback riding on the beach at Deep Hollow Ranch, not to mention water-based sports.
Another highlight in Montauk are the trendy restaurants and hotels. Located on the docks and previously known as Swallow East, this eatery will reopen as an evolved concept this year, La Fin Kitchen & Lounge. Scheduled to make its debut late Spring 2021, La Fin Kitchen & Lounge will offer dining in a setting that is reminiscent of St. Barth’s and St. Tropez, dreamy places with major Frenchie vibes.
As for accommodations, Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa is set on a favorable stretch of oceanfront, and is home to Scarpetta Beach, an Italian outpost of the popular Manhattan restaurant that never disappoints.
8. HILTON HEAD, SC
If golfing is one of your chosen leisure-time activities, then Hilton Head is the place for you. This lovely part of the country has plenty of dramatic oceanfront courses that also offer award-winning accommodations. Check out Palmetto Dunes, which has different courses and packages for guests. You can also head over to Hilton Head Golf Vacations for a trip planned solely around your course time.
Those looking for a break from golf (or an escape from all of your friends who only want to play or talk about golf), should check out one of the stunning beaches (Hilton Head Island Beach, Coligny, Folly Field Beach Park) or rent a boat and spend a day on the water. You can also take a breathtaking sunset dolphin watching cruise. For a little retail therapy, the Main Street Village shopping corridor is a pleasant way to shop and stroll, and bargain hunters will appreciate the area’s primo Tanger Outlets, too.
9. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA
Welcome to St. Simons Island, a little piece of heaven where Spanish moss meets beachfront beauty. For a day on the white sands, head over to East Beach, which is the name given to the island’s entire coastline. It’s a part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, which also includes Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Brunswick, and they’re so close together, you could make a day of island-hopping.
Kick back on one of the town’s stunning golf courses, or explore the eclectic downtown area by foot, but whatever you do, don’t forget to grab breakfast at the delish Palmer's Village Café and to book a St. Simons Trolley Tour!
For accommodations, Grey Owl Inn offers the most stunning landscape, as it’s nestled under giant oak trees with a perfect beachside view. For golfers, a room at The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort is a special treat, thanks to the property’s 18-hole seaside course.
10. CAPE MAY, NJ
Located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a delightful town filled with Victorian-era history. But that’s not the only style in this beach town, which is an architecture buff’s dream: It also houses Eclectic, Queen Anne, Colonial, Italianate, Gothic Revival and French Second Empire-style dwellings.
With plenty of beaches to choose from, including the walkable-from-town Cape May Public Beaches, and the further afar Poverty Beach, Higbee Beach and—our personal fave—Sunset Beach, you could easily spend a long weekend beach-hopping, but you should also partake in the town’s many cultural and culinary sites when here. These include the recently opened Harriet Tubman Museum, touring historic houses like the Emlen Physick estate and more, sipping a martini on the porch of the Ebbitt Room, or touring the farm grounds at Beach Plum Farm before a hosted dinner on the property.
As one of the country’s oldest beach resort communities, Cape May has plenty of charming B&Bs and hotels to take up residence. One of the larger hotels in town is the 200+ year old Congress Hall, which happens to be America’s oldest seaside resort. Here, guests enjoy white Adirondack chairs facing the ocean, a large pool and lawn, and the too-many-to-count historical details.
11. SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, SC
Located near the entrance of Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island is a quiet, two-and-a-half-mile barrier island. Sullivan’s is home to Charleston’s most scenic and family-friendly beaches, not to mention some handsome real estate and even a more modern-style lighthouse. Pro tip: When visiting Sullivan’s, head over to Kayak Charleston to book yourself a paddleboard or a kayak so that you can set sail on the calm waters nearby.
12. SANTA BARBARA, CA
Santa Barbara is one of the most favored California getaway towns, and for good reason. In addition to stunning beaches, it’s renowned for its Spanish-influenced downtown area, which is riddled with delicious restaurants and shops.
Stop by one of them, Parker Clay, a handsome leather shop where it’s nearly impossible to leave empty-handed. Another shop that shouldn’t be missed is Plum Goods, a book-meets-gift-meets-home decor paradise. From there, grab dinner at Loquita, or Blue Agave or Bouchon. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
And since Santa Barbara is one of those towns you’ll be looking to splurge in either way, for a special treat, check yourself right into the dreamy Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. Grab an oceanfront room, or for a more budget-friendly experience, just head over after dinner for a drink and an oceanside fire pit.
13. DELRAY BEACH, FL
Located in The Palm Beaches, Delray Beach offers perfect white sandy beaches and quintessential small-town vibes. The Pineapple Grove Arts District here is Instagram gold thanks to the many murals and sculptures on display, not to mention wine bars and eateries. The thriving arts and culture scene is centered here, but downtown and closer to the beach, there are plenty of places to exercise your wallet on Atlantic Avenue, which has its own electric energy, and features everything from local gem mom-and-pop shops to familiar chains. The downtown area also benefits from robust dining and nightlife options.
What we love most about Delray Beach though is that it’s a casual beach town with luxe little details, all mirrored very well at The Seagate Hotel and Beach Club, which has comfortable, contemporary rooms (some with large soaking tubs!) and is located along the main Atlantic Avenue strip. All stays offer complimentary towel service, chairs and umbrellas at both the pool and the beach, and you’ll appreciate that. The Seagate is also connected to a membership-based Beach Club, Yacht Club, and Country Club with an 18-hole golf course and desirable Har-Tru tennis courts.
14. MAKAWAO, HI
Located on Maui, Makawo is known as the “upcountry.” This is because its landscape is dominated primarily by lush agriculture—not bad, right? It is chock-full of opportunities for hiking, mountain biking and even farm tours, not to mention the most charming, Hawaiian little village of gift shops, clothing stores, eateries, and even a glassblowing studio.
If you’re looking for a stunning place to stay, check out this VRBO that offers panoramic views of the mountains and the ocean. For a more traditional lodging experience, Lumeria Maui is a wellness retreat and spa overlooking the stunning North Shore and the TripAdvisor ratings speak for themselves.
15. NANTUCKET, MA
Step out of real-life and step onto Nantucket. This small island, located about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, is the definition of quintessential New England. The cobblestone downtown streets are home to an array of delicious shopping, oh, and restaurants too. Check out Dune for American-fare paired with fresh seafood or the Sandbar at Jetties Beach for a casual frozen beachside cocktail. Of course, you haven’t truly visited Nantucket until you’ve spent an afternoon at Cisco Brewers, which is further inland, sipping on one of their amazing beers.
For accommodations, check out the White Elephant Resorts, which offers lots of options for accommodations, including cottages, waterfront rooms and even eclectic lofts. You also can’t go wrong with The Woof Cottages at Nantucket Boat Basin, which are pet-friendly and offer waterfront views and spacious decks.
16. ALYS BEACH, FL
If you’re currently jonesing to go to Greece, but aren’t quite ready to travel that far, Alys Beach is *seriously* the next best thing. The seaside community features white stucco villas and shops that look stunning in front of the crystal blue waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Seriously, one quick scroll through Pinterest and you’ll be booking your trip here.
For accommodations, stay on-site in one of the aforementioned crisp, white villas. You’ll have access to food and beverage service through Piper’s Kitchen, as well as access to oversized umbrellas, kayaks, paddleboards and so much more.
17. DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, SC
For a truly unique, remote experience where it will be easy to turn off your cell phone, Daufuskie Island in South Carolina is the place. You arrive there via ferry, which leaves from Hilton Head, and there’s no cars allowed on the island. The result? A super friendly place that’s a little stuck in time (in a good way) and offers three and a half miles of uninterrupted white sand beaches. There’s also lots of wildlife, including horses and sea turtles, which are native to the area.
You’ll want to stay at Haig Point, which is the residential community on the northern tip of the island. Choose from lots of stunning and spacious ocean-front cottages on VRBO, or if you’re super lucky and there’s availability, you can even stay at a historic lighthouse.
18. PETOSKEY, MI
Though this beach town is located on Lake Michigan, you’d hardly ever know it by its coastal character. Petoskey’s long pier is home to a white-and-red painted lighthouse at the very end you’d otherwise expect to see in Cape Cod, not to mention glittering views over Little Traverse Bay from its many different vantage points. But beyond the scenery, it’s the Victorian architecture and corresponding historical tours, quality shops and restaurants and access to water recreation that are a main draw for visitors. Oh, and the fossils. Technically called Petoskey stones, the fossilized rugose coral make for a one-of-a-kind souvenir in this region.
Guests staying overnight should stretch out at the Inn at Bay Harbor, Autograph Collection. It’s built in the style of one of Michigan’s great turn-of-the-century lakeside inns and offers guests cute, comfortable rooms, a seasonal pool, and access to a stretch of private Lake Michigan shoreline.
19. CAMBRIA, CA
Located mere minutes from the popular and very worthwhile tourist stop, Hearst Castle, this small town on California’s rugged central coast. Hunting for Moonstones on the beach is a favorite pastime here, or you can simply enjoy the waves breaking over Moonstone beach as you take in the view of its spectacular coastline. Or, you might consider riding a Clydesdale horse through a pine forest before sitting in town at Robin’s Restaurant for eclectic and tasty, farm fresh dishes on the outdoor patio.
In Cambria, the newly refreshed White Water Cambria Hotel is a design lover’s dream, with large picture windows that look out onto stunning natural beauty; many rooms also have indoor and outdoor ocean-view soaking tubs—sign us up! Further inland, the Paso Robles wine country is less than 40 minutes away, where you can sip some of California’s most celebrated wines and extend your time with a stay at Allegretto Vineyard Resort, another stunning property featuring Euro-style charms and a worldly collection of art and decor.
20. AVILA BEACH, CA
“This town also has several high-quality wineries, but my personal favorite is Kelsey See,” says Becky van Dijk, a travel expert and founder of the female travel community We Are Travel Girls. “Also check out the Avila Valley Barn which is an amazing local farmer's market with some of the best organic produce, and the Bob Jones Bike Trail which takes you on a long bike path from the hills to the ocean," she adds.
The town is also known for wildlife sightings—we’re talking seals and otters—and the ability to kayak to a historic lighthouse currently only accessible by water. A walkable pier and natural mineral soaking springs round this instant charmer out. A popular spot for vacation rentals, you'll find sparkling accommodations like this stunning condo, which boasts vaulted wooden ceilings and skylights in the kitchen, a fireplace, private patio and access to a hot tub, too.
21. PACIFIC GROVE, CALIFORNIA
A historic town at the tip of the Monterey Peninsula near the equally charming Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove has darling Queen Anne architecture married with a quirky, artist-driven vibe. It’s easy to see why creative types are drawn here too—Pacific Grove's Ocean View Boulevard is nicknamed the “magic carpet” thanks to the magenta ice plant, which blooms and covers the shoreline in a fantasy-like display of splendor. Also known for whale-watching and birding, the real magic happens from October through December when Pacific Grove turns into a butterfly sanctuary and is filled with beautiful Monarch butterflies.
To take in the magic during your stay, you can post up at Asilomar, an oceanfront property that’s been operating for more than 100 years and is surrounded by protected California State Park beachfront filled with stunning walking trails through the dunes.
22. CANNON BEACH, OR
Imagine all the beauty of that heavily wooded, Pacific Northwest town from Twilight (It’s an actual place, folks—Forks, WA) combined with a beach setting, and you’ve got yourself Cannon Beach. Known for its rugged coastline, amongst many other things, exploring the tidepools on the vast beach and staying after sundown for an oceanside bonfire is a favorite pastime of Katie Diederichs, an Oregonian and ½ of the couple behind travel blog Two Wandering Soles. “Just offshore sits Haystack Rock, an iconic rock formation that was first made famous in the ‘80s classic The Goonies,” she adds.
The quaint downtown of Cannon Beach can fill an afternoon with shopping and dining, but one of the best things to do here is just to relax and watch the waves crash against the coast. You might take it all in from the popular Surfs and Resort or from the privacy of this beachfront rental with views of Haystack Rock .
23. PROVINCETOWN, MA
Those in the know affectionately call this place P-Town, and a mention of the town by any name instantly conjures images of Cape Cod charm—but it wasn’t always that way. Nicknamed “Helltown'' in Puritan times, it was a favored port of call for seafarers and fishermen during the 1600s, who gambled, drank and partied in this tiny town. Today, the town still throws popular parties, many for the LGBTQIA+ scene that dominates here, especially on popular themed weekends.
Dune tours, whale watching tours, and seeing a show at one of the welcoming restaurants or entertainment venues in town is a good place to start. Reopening in spring of 2021, a meal at the Lobster Pot is ritualized for return visitors, and there’s plenty of restaurants (Helltown Kitchen, The Canteen and Mac’s Fish House) that fit every budget and palette.
A stay at the dreamy Stowaway, an intimate guesthouse with a storybook-like garden, is just one option in town that turns on the charm. The property boasts a hot tub, sauna, and patio area ideal for congregating in an outdoor, socially distanced way.
24. SPRING LAKE, NJ
The idyllic town of Spring Lake has a quiet boardwalk that, unlike many of its Jersey beach town counterparts, is purposely kept that way with a lack of commercial businesses. While you won’t find funnel cakes or Fried Oreos here, you will find many people breathing in the salt air on a walk or exercising as they enjoy the serene views over the Atlantic.
A short walk from the boardwalk and well taken care of beaches, charming downtown boasting shops, restaurants and galleries, and stately, manicured historical, and historical-inspired homes add to the luster of Spring Lake, as does Divine Park and the wooden pathway that connects over its main draw, the spring-fed lake for which the take is named after.
Many people vacationing here rent the exquisite homes in town, like this large family home a short walk or bike ride from the beach that sleeps ten or this stunner with a sun-soaked private pool and spa.
25. REHOBOTH BEACH, DE
This town, equally as popular with families from D.C. as it is the queer community, is a charming slice of Americana. Dubbed the “Nation’s Summer Capital,” a packed boardwalk filled with food, games, and fireworks—on celebratory weekends like the 4th of July—are just part of the charm. Wide sandy beaches, idyllic summer rentals, varied corridors of shopping, tasty dining options, plus plenty of parks make Rehoboth a must-visit.
Just a half block from the beach, this contemporary, stylish townhouse is just half a block to the beach, but you should book fast as summer rentals in Rehoboth disappear quickly.
Editor’s note: Please remember to follow all social distancing guidelines and local travel recommendations.
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