The Best U.S. Beaches on the East Coast

The Best U.S. Beaches on the East Coast

You will learn about:
  • The diversity of eastern coastline
  • Which location fits better your needs
  • Everything else you need to know about eastern beaches

47 min – Estimated reading time

The Best U.S. Beaches on the East Coast

The Best U.S. Beaches on the East Coast

Introduction

The eastern United States is known for many landmarks, including its diverse coastline. From Maine to Florida, the eastern shorelines offer a range of different views, activities and wildlife to enjoy. Whether you’re looking to visit a picturesque lighthouse, look for shells, sun on the sand or hit the waves with some watersports, the beaches on the east coast are some of the best. No eastern summer vacation is complete without a trip to the local beach and the coastline has a haunting and serene beauty in the winter as well. In Florida, it’s beach time all year long and with 825 miles of beaches, there are plenty of spots to choose from.

Depending on where you travel, you’ll be treated to views of jagged rocks, steep cliffs, smooth sand and waters in deep blue, emerald, turquoise and teal. There are thousands of beaches and swimming holes to choose from. To narrow down your options, we’ve created a list of some of the best beaches to visit during your trip to the east coast. The spots included in this list are extremely diverse, offering you the chance to customize your trip based on your preferences. Grab a pen and get ready to take notes – better yet, download and take us with you – here are some of the best beaches on the east coast. 

Maine

Kennebunk Beaches, Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport is a charming Maine town known as a getaway area for the family of President George Bush, and it also boasts miles of beaches. Kennebunk Beach has a combination of sand and rocks, making it a great destination for sunning and observing tiny marine creatures in the tidal pools and around the large granite rocks. It may be difficult to find parking nearby so be sure to arrive early in the day to snag your spot. Permits to go on the beach are required until mid-September, after which you can stroll without limitations. The land is flat and it is a lovely stroll, especially in the morning during the fall and winter months when it is uncrowded.  When the seas are rough, this is a popular place for surfers, but wetsuits are recommended since the water is cold, even during the summer.

One part of the beach is called Mothers’ Beach because there is a large sandy area well set back from the water. It is far enough to be safe from enthusiastic toddlers yet close enough for supervised bathing, making it a popular destination for families with young children. There is plenty of room to lay out your towels and chairs to sun, build sand castles and dip your toes in the water. 

When you are done beachgoing, check out the Maine Foodie Tour and sample some of the delicious lobster and chowder of the area while learning about the culinary history of Kennebunkport. The tour starts at Dock Square and goes through to the lower village of Kennebunkport. Cape Porpoise is a quiet fishing village where you can get fresh caught lobster, tour the lighthouse and rent a bicycle or kayak. Historic bed and breakfasts are plentiful and a wonderful way to get the flavor of the area. For a seafaring adventure, you can book a spot on the Rugosa Lobster Tour and lend a hand hauling lobsters, or take a calmer tour on a schooner along the coastline.

Massachusetts

Moshup Beach, Martha’s Vineyard

Located on Martha’s Vineyard, an island about 50 miles southwest of Cape Cod, Moshup Beach (sometimes referred to as Aquinnah Beach) is a great place to relax and get away from it all. Many New England residents have been going to Martha’s Vineyard for decades, and this particular beach gives you a taste for Massachusetts culture while also avoiding the usual crowds of other tourists. Be aware that this is a clothing optional beach, so you can expect to encounter some nudity.

After driving to the Aquinnah Cliffs, located on the western side of the island, it’s a short hike down to this half-mile section of beach. There, far from most of the tourists and travelers who fill the other beaches on Martha’s Vineyard, you can take a stroll, sunbathe or swim. Bodyboarding is another popular pastime on Moshup Beach.  If you want to do something more active, you can explore the Aquinnah Cliffs themselves, which have various hiking and biking trails worth experiencing.  When nature calls or you’re ready for something to eat, you can find restrooms and quality restaurants around the Aquinnah Cliffs. Experienced visitors recommend trying out Faith’s Seafood Shack & Sushi Bar or Dreamcatcher, sandwich shops both known for their great lobster rolls and other seafood options.

While many people love coming to Martha’s Vineyard during the summer (June to September), this also means the island gets pretty packed during this time. Experienced visitors recommend coming during spring (April to May), fall or winter (December to March), where prices are lower for lodging and other services. Keep in mind that Martha’s Vineyard is very cold during the winter season, and some restaurants and other services only open during the summer season. So, if you have certain attractions you really want to see, remember to do your research before coming. 

Moshup Beach is a public beach, so you must bring your own surfboard and other water equipment. While you’re free to explore the Aquinnah Cliffs, they are part of a Native American reservation area, so be courteous and follow any signs about restricted sections. While the red clay that makes up the Cliffs is beautiful, please respect local ordinances and avoid taking any samples home as souvenirs. 

If you decide you want to explore the surrounding towns, be sure to check out local landmarks such as the Edgartown Harbor Light in nearby Edgartown. Come at the right time of year and you can see seasonal exhibits such as the historic Thomas Cooke House, filled with artifacts from one of Martha’s Vineyards’ early families. The Carriage Shed, which houses several whaling ships and other historic vehicles, is another great spot worth seeing.  If you’re looking for something more cultural, check out an indie film at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, see some Native American artifacts at the Aquinnah Cultural Center or see some local artwork at the Night Heron Gallery and similar venues. Annual events include Grand Illumination Night at Oak Bluffs, usually held in late August, and the Vineyard Artisans Festivals, which are held several times throughout the year.

Kalmus Beach, Hyannis

Located on the southeastern shore of Hyannis, known as the vacation spot for the Kennedy family and other celebrities, Kalmus Beach is a great place to experience the best of Cape Cod.

Once you reach Hyannis (or leave from your residence within the city) and get on Ocean Street, you can find Kalmus Beach fairly easily. If you need landmarks, just remember it’s in the same area as Bismore Park and the Black Cat Tavern. This long section of saltwater shoreline has two sections. The harbor-facing section gives you great views of Lewis Bay, space for swimming and flying kites, as well as just walking along the shoreline to collect seashells. The ocean-facing section gives you room to surf, kite-board and windsurf (many windsurfers come from miles away to ride the waves at Kalmus Beach). If you prefer to stay dry, take a walk along the beach looking for exotic seashells or fly a kite. If you like looking at ships, you may enjoy taking a walk through the nearby Lewis Bay. When you’re ready to change your swimsuit, feel free to use the public restrooms and showers at the nearby beach house. The beach house also houses the Kalmus Beach Snack Bar, which is known for its excellent lobster rolls and sandwich options. If you’d rather eat somewhere you can sit down indoors, check out the nearby Black Cat Tavern or family-friendly options such as Pizza Barbone and the Sea Street Café. If you decide you want to try other beaches in the neighborhood, drop by the Veterans Park Beach (known for its nearby John F. Kennedy and Korean War Memorials) or Hyannis Port Beach (known for its large shoreline and the nearby Four Seasons ice cream shop). 

While Kalmus Beach is open throughout the year, most people visit during the summer season (May to August). Once Labor Day rolls around, the lifeguards go off duty and the crowds die down. So, if you want the summer experience but the smallest crowds, come near the end of August. Remember to bring your own windsurfing and other water sport gear unless you want to pay higher prices in Hyannis stores. 

Hyannis has plenty of well-rated hotels you can use during your stay, such as the Cape Cod Harbor House Inn or the Waterfront Cottage. If you like boat rides, take a tour with Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises or take your kids searching for treasure on the interactive Pirate Adventures cruise. Even when you’re tired of the beach, Hyannis has plenty of attractions you’ll enjoy. If you want to do something educational during your visit, feel free to check out the nearby Cape Cod Maritime Museum, the Toad Hall Classic Sports Car Museum or the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. For curios, drop by Gallery Artrio or the nearby Antiques Center of Yarmouth. Hyannis also has annual events you may enjoy, including the Father’s Day Car Show in June and the Spectacle of Trees in December.

Jetties Beach, Nantucket

Nantucket repeatedly shows up on lists of the best beach towns in the United States, so it’s hard to say which of its beaches tops the list. Jetties Beach, located on Nantucket’s northern side, is one of the better ones with its many family-friendly activities and its ideal location. 

Once you arrive on Nantucket, it only takes a short bike ride or walk along Bathing Beach Road to reach Jetties Beach. At the road’s end, you’ll find a beach perfect for swimming, sailing or simply getting out a rental beach chair and enjoying the sun. There are plenty of shells and the water is not as cold as at some of the beaches on Boston’s North Shore. 

If you like beach sports, try out Jetties Beach’s tennis courts, volleyball areas or skate park. The nearby playground area is a great spot for kids who don’t like swimming. After you’re done swimming for the day and you’re ready to change out of your swimsuit, there are restrooms and showers nearby you can use. When you’re ready for a bite to eat, get some seafood or a sandwich at the Sandbar at Jetties Beach Bar & Restaurant. This restaurant also hosts weddings if you decide you want to tie the knot on a beach. Come during the summer season and you may get to see the annual Boston Pops concert held on Jetties Beach. 

While Jetties Beach is open throughout the year, the Sandbar at Jetties Beach Bar & Restaurant and some of the beach’s other services are only open during the summer season (May to September). Remember to bring your own sailing and other water sports equipment if you’re coming during a different season. If you enjoy the beach but really want to do some fishing during your stay, rent or charter a boat with one of the several local companies and try your hand at catching striped bass, tuna and other fish species. Some of these companies also provide ecology tours where you can go seal or whale watching. 

If you’d like to do some outdoor activities without getting back into the water, check out the various biking trails around Nantucket. You can also try the rock climbing and high ropes courses at Strong Wings Adventure School or go hiking in one of the local parks. Nantucket also has plenty of local attractions, such as the J.J. Clamps miniature golf course or year-round ice skating at Nantucket Ice. If you’re looking for something more educational, check out the Whaling Museum, the Maria Mitchell Association Aquarium or take one of the guided walks through Nantucket’s historic district. If you decide you want to eat lunch somewhere other than on the beach, try some of Nantucket’s local restaurants, such as the Nantucket Bake Shop (known for its famous Nantucket Portuguese Bread) or the SeaGrille (known for its excellent seafood options). Nantucket also has various annual events you may want to experience, such as the Nantucket Film Festival in June or the Nantucket Christmas Stroll in December.

New York

Main Beach, East Hampton Village

Located on the shores of East Hampton Village, a prestigious area on the southern side of Long Island, Main Beach has been a favorite spot for New York residents for years.  

Once you get on Main Street in East Hampton (parking is limited, so you may want to walk there), it’s fairly easy to find Main Beach. Just keep going until you reach the street’s end and see  the pavilion. There are plenty of things to do when you reach this white sand shoreline. Surfers, paddle-boarders and kayakers love this area. If you haven’t done either yet, there are multiple places you can take lessons. You can also take part in kayak or paddleboard tours with other enthusiasts. As you’d expect, swimming is also a great pastime on this beach, and pet owners love walking their dogs along Main Beach. There are plenty of clean public restrooms nearby. 

The local snack shack, known for its excellent lobster rolls, is just one of the many places you can get a good bite to eat in the area. Other restaurants include East Hampton Point, a highly recommended spot for romantic dinners, and Sam’s Restaurant, known for its pizza and family-friendly options.

Main Beach is open from Memorial Day (May 28) to the end of September, so be sure to plan in advance. Experienced visitors recommend coming earlier in the season, when the number of visitors will be smaller. You can stay in various hotels and other residences in East Hampton Village, but if you’re bringing children, be sure to research which places allow kids before you make reservations. Keep in mind that parking is limited on the beach and on surrounding streets, so it may be best to walk to the beach or ride with a friend. You can rent water sport supplies from Main Beach Surf and Sport, or bring your own if you prefer. 

If you decide you want to try a different beach, check out surrounding beaches such as Two Mile Hollow (which has a somewhat larger parking lot) or Wiborg Beach (which gives you a nice view of the nearby Maidstone Club). If you decide to add some touring to your schedule, be sure to check out the nearby mansions at Lily Pond or walk through the forests of Northwest Woods. 

Or you may want to see some local landmarks. In that case, check out the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, the home frequented by renowned painter Jackson Pollock. If you like colonial history, you should drop by Mulford Farm, an English colonial farmhouse built in 1680 and one of America’s best-preserved farmhouses from that period.  You can also catch a theater show or an art exhibition at the Guild Hall, which showcases different kinds of art throughout the year and regularly hosts guest speakers. The East Hampton area also hosts various annual events, such as the OLA Film Festival in November.

Coopers Beach, Southampton

Coopers Beach is in the South Fork part of Long Island and is often listed as one of the best beaches in America. The beautiful white sand beaches with beach grass are backed by a row of historic mansions. The parking lot, located on Dune Road, costs $50 per day during the summer (May to September) and you should have no trouble finding a space. If you don’t want to pay that much for parking, you can park in town and take an Uber or the free shuttle to the beach or get there before 9:30 AM.

The beach has full facilities, including concession, a bathhouse and chair and umbrella rentals. There is plenty of area for lounging, sunning and playing since the beach is deep from dunes to water. It tends to be uncrowded since it is a bit remote and it is clean of both garbage and seaweed. Use caution when swimming as the waves can be rough and there are sometimes riptides. If you happen to be there on a Sunday during the summertime, you can often enjoy live music on the beach. Other popular activities include surfing and power boating (within designated areas). You may even be able to participate in a sand castle building contest.

After you have changed out of your bathing suit and dusted the sand off, head into town for some upscale shopping and food. Hildreths, the oldest department store in the country, has been in the same location for over 100 years and sells gifts, furniture, lamps and other items, mostly for the home. Tate’s Bake Shop on North Sea Road is famous for its selection of cookies, scones and other delicious treats. For a more formal and pricey dining experience, try the Plaza Cafe on Hill Street, where seafood is the specialty.

For a dose of culture, stop at the Southampton Arts Center. In addition to various exhibits, the Arts Center has a shade-dappled sculpture garden and a selection of activities and events for every age group. Once the sun sets, mingle with the locals at 230 Down, a basement bar/restaurant that features a karaoke night, great food and friendly people. If you are adventuresome, join the Polar Bear Plunge in December.

New Jersey

Cove Beach, Cape May

While Cape May has plenty of beaches worth visiting, Cove Beach (also known simply as “The Cove”) is one of the most convenient. Located on the southwestern side of Cape May, Cove Beach gives you all the pleasures of visiting the beach without taking you too far away from urban amenities.   

Once you leave your hotel or other residence in Cape May, it’s easy to find Cove Beach. Just head west down Beach Drive until you reach the Cove Restaurant. After you arrive, you have plenty of options. Surfing is a particularly popular activity at Cove Beach, and many surfing fans make a point to go there every year. Swimming, bodyboarding and kayaking are also worth trying at this beach. Locals have commented that just walking along the beach can be a fun experience, since the beach’s sand shifts all the time and can make the area totally different from one year to the next. This also means that unusual objects show up on the beach all the time, making it a fun spot for souvenir hunters. 

Locals also recommend coming during the morning or evening to see the flag raising and lowering at nearby Cape May Lighthouse. If you come on the weekends, you’ll likely get to witness a wedding on the beach. You can use the multiple public restrooms (or “Comfort Stations,” as the locals call them) along the beaches or within Cape May. You can also wash some of the sand off in the open-air showers along the beach shorelines. 

When you decide you want a bite to eat, you can get clam chowder and other great seafood choices at the nearby Cove Restaurant & Seaside Deck or go for something more exotic at the nearby Cape Orient Chinese Restaurant. If you decide you want to check out a different beach, Cape May has plenty of other options to choose from, including Poverty Beach (which has free parking) and Higbee Beach (a great place to walk your dog).

While Cape May beaches are open throughout the year, you’ll experience the largest crowds during the summer (June to August). If you want to avoid crowds, experienced locals recommend coming during the fall (September to November). Keep in mind that some restaurants and attractions are only open during the summer season, so be sure to do your research before coming. Remember to get a seasonal beach pass if you plan to use any of the beaches around Cape May itself. Beaches within wildlife preservation areas, such as Higbee Beach, do not require a pass, but have less access to restrooms. 

If you want to check out Cape May culture, see one of the shows at Cape May Stage or admire the many Victorian buildings (known as “Victorian gingerbread houses”) throughout the city. You may also enjoy annual events, such as the Exit 0 International Jazz Festival or the Cape May Film Festival, both held in November. 

Maryland

Ocean City Beach, Ocean City

Ocean City Beach is not just adjacent to the town, but is really a part of it, with no walls, parking or dunes between the shop-lined street and the sand. Be prepared for quite a walk to the water, though, since the beach itself is quite deep. It is also long, with ten miles of nicely maintained and flat sand, perfect for sunbathing and walking. Surf fishing is allowed, as long as you stay at least 50 yards from anyone on the beach or in the water. There is no charge to use the beach, although you may need to pay for parking in town. Visitors enjoy surfing, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and the beach is a perfect beach getaway for families with children. During the summertime, you and your kids can participate in free activities such as fireworks shows, Sundaes in the Park, beach dance parties, Family Beach Olympics, movies and concerts. Adults, teens and older children may enjoy renting a paddleboard, canoe or jet ski.

There is a three-mile boardwalk, if you are ready to take a walk, run or tram ride. At night, the boardwalk has rides, arcades and other family fun. There are over 200 restaurants to choose from, serving casual fare such as pizza and crab cakes to fine dining and brew pubs.

The beach is open from 5:00 AM to 10:00 PM. The Ocean City Beach Patrol is there for safety and there are also lifeguards. For the lifeguards to have a clear line of vision to the water, beach umbrellas and other beach accessories are not allowed within a specified distance of the water. There are two designated surfing areas plus a section of the beach along the inlet. There are multiple public restrooms available along the beach as well as public rinse-off stations. Beach wheelchairs are available at designated locations from Memorial Day to Labor Day on a first come-first served basis.

Other unique activities include taking a ghost tour of historic downtown and checking out the famous Assateague wild ponies just nine miles away from Ocean City. Ocean City has events in every season: Springfest in May, Sunfest at the end of September, Oktoberfest in October and Winterfest in December. They also have fireworks for New Year’s Eve and the Penguin Swim to raise money for the local hospital.

Virginia

Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Virginia Beach

Located on the eastern side of Virginia Beach, a city that frequently appears on lists of great beach cities, the Virginia Beach Oceanfront gives you the perfect combination between urban and oceanfront attractions.

Once you arrive in the city of Virginia Beach, you can easily reach the boardwalk by traveling to 40th Street. Three miles of shoreline stretching from 40th Street to Rudee Inlet, Virginia Beach Oceanfront has plenty of available activities. You can swim, surf, wakeboard or kayak along the shore. If you like fishing, try your luck at catching some wahoo or bluefin tuna off the 14th Street Fishing Pier. 

There are a variety of public restrooms available along the Oceanfront, as well as in the numerous restaurants and hotels along the Boardwalk. More than anything else, the boardwalk is what has made this beach so famous. Lining the beach’s full length, it has dozens of venues you can choose from, including restaurants (such as Waterman’s Surfside Grille), hotels (such as Barclay Cottage Bed and Breakfast) and carnival-style attractions (such as the Virginia Beach Amusement Park). 

Beach Street USA supports live music events throughout the year, so if you come at the right time, you may find a free concert on the boardwalk or the beach itself. While you may be distracted by the entertainment while on the beach or boardwalk, be sure to gaze out to the water and see if you can spot some dolphins frolicing in the waves. If you want something more athletic, hop on your bike and hit the biking lane to get a fast tour of its many statues and monuments. A must-see attraction is the bronze statue of King Neptune on 31st Street.

Experienced travelers recommend visiting the Virginia Beach Oceanfront during the summer (May to September), when you can experience the best festivals and attractions. Keep in mind that like most beaches, this is also the time when the most visitors come to Virginia Beach, so you’ll experience lots of crowds and higher prices. If you want lower prices but still a good experience, come during the spring (April to late May), since the crowds really pick up on Memorial Day. Be sure to bring your own surfboard or water sports gear unless you want to pay local prices to rent or buy them. 

If you want to see some local landmarks beyond the famous boardwalk, be sure to check out the Cape Henry Lighthouse and historic homes such as the Adam Thoroughgood House and the Francis Land House (which have both been standing for over 200 years). To find out about people who’ve contributed to Virginia history, check out the Virginia Legends Walk along 13th Street Park. If you come from mid-May to late September, you can visit the Old Beach Farmers Market. 

Virginia Beach has various cultural centers you can visit, such as the Military Aviation Museum near the Virginia Beach Airport or the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. There are plenty of annual events you can enjoy, such as Latin Fest in June or the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival in October.

North Carolina

Nags Head Beach, Nags Head

One of the most popular locations in North Carolina’s Outer Banks region, Nag’s Head surrounds the town of the same name. People have visited and enjoyed Nag’s Head shoreline ever since the town became a tourist destination in 1850.

Once you reach Nag’s Head, about a six-hour drive east from Charlotte or just under two hours south from Norfolk, Virginia, you can reach the beach from a variety of streets (some, such as Eighth Street and Bonnet, are wheelchair-accessible). Once you reach the 11 miles of shoreline, there are plenty of possibilities. You can go swimming, snorkel to explore shipwrecks, go sailing or kayaking or simply walk along the beach and watch for dolphins. Buy a fishing pass and you can try your luck at the Nags Head Fishing Pier, where you can find Spanish mackerel, flounder and dozens of other fish species common in the Outer Banks. 

When you need to change your swimsuit, use one of the various public restrooms along the beach (you can also find showers around Nags Head Pier and other locations on the beach’s north side). When you decide you want something to eat, check out the various restaurants near the beach, such as Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant and Blue Moon Beach Grill, both known for their seafood and sandwich options. If you decide you want even more beach, you can always visit the nearby Cape Hatteras National Seashore, known for its bird-watching and surfing opportunities.

While Nags Head and other Outer Banks locations are great to visit during the summer season (June to August), those are also the times that they experience the most visitors. If you prefer a quieter trip, many locals recommend coming during the fall (September to mid-December), when temperatures are still warm enough that you can swim. Remember to bring your own surfing and other water sport gear if you don’t want to buy it when you arrive. 

If you want to explore the surrounding area, be sure to check out Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home of one of North Carolina’s last remaining sand dunes. Contact a vendor and you can take hang-gliding rides over the dune. You can also go sandboarding if you get a permit first. There are camping sites at Kill Devil Hills and along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If you like historical landmarks, you can always go to Bodie Island Lighthouse, which has been in use since 1872. Other notable attractions include the Nags Head Golf Links, live music at the Fish Heads Bar and Grill and art shops along “Gallery Row.” The towns around Nags Head have their own attractions, such as the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. You may also enjoy visiting the nearby town of Kitty Hawk, known as the area in which the Wright Brothers developed the first working airplane. Schedule your visit correctly and you can also come for annual events such as the Outer Banks Seafood Festival, held every October, or the Kites with Lights event held every November in Kitty Hawk.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore spans three islands on the Outer Banks: Hatteras Island, Bodie Island and Ocracoke Island. It is a national park, so there is absolutely no development anywhere in sight, just unspoiled nature. Walk along the nearly 70 miles of beach or park yourself on the powdery sand. Building sandcastles, flying kites and looking for seashells are some other popular activities. 

Since there are no restaurants nearby, you will want to bring your own food, whether a daytime picnic or hot dogs and s’mores to roast around a beach bonfire. Fires are allowed from 6 AM to 10 PM, November through April, and only in designated areas where sea turtles do not nest. You will need a free beach fire permit. You can picnic in the Buxton Woods Picnic Area in the forest shade while getting a beautiful view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

There is plenty of parking and beach access throughout the park, including ramps. Off-road vehicles are only allowed in some parts of the beach with a permit. If you love lighthouses, you are in luck; there are three within the park. Anglers will appreciate the abundant marine life and fisheries along the Bonner Bridge Pier. There are multiple camping sites within the park and since there are no lights from populated areas, Cape Hatteras is one of the best places to stargaze. 

Wildlife is everywhere, including a herd of wild ponies on Ocracoke Island and over 400 species of birds. Cape Hatteras is also a nesting spot for sea turtles from May through September. You can explore the barrier island by hiking one of three trails. The Buxton Woods Trail and the Hammock Hills Trail are short walks of less than a mile each, while more experienced hikers may want to try the Open Ponds Trail, a 9-mile hike round trip.

South Carolina

Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island

Located on the shore of Kiawah Island, which is about 15 miles south of Charleston, Kiawah Beachwalker Park gives you an affordable area to relax while still being close to the exclusive properties that make up the rest of the island. 

Once you arrive on Kiawah Island, you can find Kiawah Beachwalker Park on the island’s western shore. Just drive south down Beach Drive until you reach the very end of the road. Be sure to keep an eye out for road signs that refer to the beach as “Beachwalker County Park,” an alternate name. From there, you’ve got 11 miles of shoreline perfect for swimming, surfing, kayaking, canoeing or just walking your dog along the beach. If you’re into biking, feel free to bring your bicycle and try it on the unusually bike-friendly sand. If you’d rather just sit on the beach and read, you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas through Island Beach Services. Birdwatchers will enjoy dropping by the nearby St. Sam’s Inlet to get a look at Wilson Plovers and many other bird species that live in the area. When you’re ready to get out of your swimsuit, you can use the public restrooms and showers near the beach. 

Hungry? Grab a bite at the nearby snack bar or cook your own cuisine on one of the beach’s grills and eat at one of the picnic tables nearby. Alternatively, you can drop by any of Kiawah Island’s various high-quality restaurants, such as the Atlantic Room or West Beach Cantina.

While Kiawah Beachwalker Park is open throughout the year, some of its amenities and services are only available during the summer season (May through September). Lifeguards, the snack bar and rental beach chairs or umbrellas stop operating by the time October starts, with varying schedules (sometimes available during weekdays, sometimes available during weekends) until that time. Once you decide which time you want to come, you’ll know whether to bring your own beach chairs and water sport equipment. You can also rent kayaks and surfboards from Tidal Trails throughout the year. 

If you decide you want to explore the rest of Kiawah Island, you’ve got plenty of options. You can take ecology tours to see dolphins, alligators and other local wildlife through Kiawah Recreation or Tidal Trails. If you like fishing, charter a boat through one of several services and try your hand at catching black sea bass, redfish and other species. 

For a little activity, you can get a few golf rounds or a game of tennis in at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. The Kiawah Island Golf Resort has two tennis clubs (one open through the year, the other open seasonally). If you come at the right time you can enjoy some of the region’s annual events, such as Charleston’s Harvest Festival in November or Kiawah Island’s Bach Festival on the Islands event in March.

Myrtle Beach

On the southwest side of the city of the same name, Myrtle Beach is easily the best-known section of the Grand Strand, a 60-mile section of beaches that spans the east coast. This location and its surroundings provide plenty of opportunities for summer fun as well as activities in other seasons.

Once you leave your hotel or other residence and head south down Ocean Boulevard, you’ll eventually reach a section of shoreline next door to the Myrtle Beach International Airport. From there, the choice is yours. If you follow safety policies and come at the right time of year, you can go parasailing, surfing, kayaking and jet-skiing. Get a South Carolina fishing license and you can try your hand at catching black sea bass, king mackerel and various other fish species. Swimming is also a popular option, as is scuba diving to explore shipwrecks or marine life. Remember to bring your own surfing and sailing equipment and to check out local regulations about which areas allow their usage.

If you get tired of sand, you may enjoy walking along the 2nd Avenue Pier, an important part of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk since 1936.  The various restaurants along the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk as well public restrooms and showers located in nearby Huntington and Myrtle Beach State Park provide opportunities to change out of your swimsuit. If that’s not close enough to your location, you can also use the public restrooms in “CanAm Alley” (between 10th and 12th Avenue North) or between Withers Alley and Ocean Boulevard. 

When hunger strikes, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk has plenty of restaurants to choose from, including the Pier View Open Air Bar or the Pier View Restaurant along 2nd Avenue Pier. If you decide you want to try a different beach, check out the nearby Surfside Beach or North Myrtle Beach. Surfside Beach has its own pier and various affordable rental homes in which you can stay. North Myrtle Beach gives you easy access to Avista Resort and other vacation areas. 

While you can find the most attractions and major events by coming to Myrtle Beach in the summer (June to August), you will pay the highest rates and have to put up with the biggest crowds. Locals recommend visiting during the fall (September to October) if you’re looking for less crowds and lower rates. Spring (March to May) is another popular option, although you will experience more rain if you come during this season and it may be too cold to swim.  

There are fun things to do in town as well. Check out the shows at the Carolina Opry or Alabama Theatre, or enjoy some dinner theater entertainment at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. Myrtle Beach has plenty of annual events, including the World Famous Blue Crab Festival in May and the Aynor Harvest Hoe-down in September. If athletic activities are more your thing, check out the races at Myrtle Beach Speedway or a baseball game at the Ripken Experience.

Georgia

Tybee Island Beach, Tybee Island

Located on the shore of the town of the same name, Tybee Island repeatedly shows up on lists of the best beaches to visit in Georgia.Once you reach the town of Tybee Island (which is about a 30-minute ride from Savannah, Georgia), you have two beach sections to choose from. The southern section gives you closer access to the town’s hotels and other attractions. The northern section gives you more of a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for walking along the beach and watching for dolphins.  

During the summer season, you may also get to look at some sea turtles and their nests. Regardless of which section you visit, you can have a good time swimming, kayaking and surfing. Remember to bring your own surfing and other water sports gear unless you want to pay local prices when you arrive. When you want to get a bite to eat, stop by the nearby Sugar Shack for some sandwiches, a hamburger or its excellent ice cream options. If you decide you want to eat at somewhere other than the Sugar Shack, check out the seafood restaurants (such as Sting Ray’s Seafood or the Dolphin Reef Oceanfront Restaurant) or family-friendly options (such as 80 East Gastropub or Lighthouse Pizza North). 

Those who want more of a guided experience can take an ocean tour through Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours or Sundial Charters. Many visitors also enjoy dropping by the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, which gives kids the chance to see and touch various sea plants and animals.  Marine biologist Dr. Joe Richardson leads ecology tours where you can hunt for fossils and learn about tidal pools and other common ecological features on Tybee Island.

While many people recommend visiting Savannah and the surrounding area during late spring and summer (March to July), this is also the time that Tybee Island experiences the most crowds and the highest hotel prices. Experienced travelers recommend coming during “the shoulder season,” September to November, just after the summer crowds have left. Keep in mind many of the area’s biggest festivals and other annual events happen during the summertime, so consider what you want to experience and schedule your trip accordingly. 

Once you’re ready to get out of your swimsuit, you can do so at the public restrooms at Tybee Pier, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and several other locations.  If you decide you want to see some other shores along Tybee Island, check out Back River Beach near the 18th Street South Jetty, another great location for swimming and walking. 

Perhaps, after a day at the beach, you decide you want to explore some of the local landmarks. In that case, be sure to drop by the Tybee Island Lighthouse or the nearby Fort Pulaski National Monument on Cockspur Island. Tybee Island also has annual events you can enjoy, such as the Tybee Island Irish Heritage Parade in March or the Annual Festival of the Arts in October.

Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island

Driftwood Beach is consistently voted one of America’s most romantic beaches and is a common locale for weddings. In fact, there is no charge to hold your wedding there but it is available on a first come, first served basis. Local vendors can supply rental chairs and other items as needed. 

Located at the northeastern tip of Jekyll Island, Driftwood Beach features a number of weathered, sculptural uprooted trees and other driftwood. Visitors find that these uniquely shaped trees create an interesting backdrop to photos at any time of day, but particularly during the spectacular sunsets. Try to time your visit to low tide or an outgoing tide if possible, since at high tide, the beach shrinks significantly.

The beach starts at the Clam Creek Picnic Area and goes to the Villas by the Sea Resort and is only a short walk from the Jekyll Island campground. The beach is family friendly and pet friendly. Parking requires a permit but is free, and there is an $8 daily fee to access Jekyll Island. Since it is an island, Jekyll Island has plenty of other nearby beaches to explore, each with its own feel. East Beach is a popular destination, with its wide unspoiled expanse that is perfect for beach activities, biking and water sports.

Kayaking is a great way to explore the nature and beauty of Jekyll Island. Local outfitters rent kayaks for independent exploration or as part of guided tours as well as paddleboards. Marinas around the area have boats for rent for relaxing on the water or fishing for kingfish, cobia or snapper. A Georgia fishing license is required.

When you are done with the beach, explore the rest of the island through the Jekyll Island Trail System and then stop by the National Historic District, which includes the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. This hotel was a private club, considered to be the most inaccessible club in the world, frequented by members such as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer and William Vanderbilt among others. There are several food choices here as well including The Wharf waterfront seafood restaurant, The Pantry for grab-and-go food or the Grand Dining Room for romantic fine dining.

Avid golfers have a selection of golf courses to choose from including the Brunswick Country Club, Heritage Oaks Golf Club and the Jekyll Island Golf Club. For family fun, check out the Neptune Park Fun Zone or the Massengale Park playground, which is shaded and has beach access. Cultural events abound at the Historic Ritz Theatre or the Brunswick Actors Theatre. In January and February, shop for unique art at the Island Treasures art festival. Sample all kinds of food at the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits Festival in November or get your fill of Christmas lights at the Holly Jolly Jekyll festival at the end of December.

Florida

Apollo Beach at Canaveral National Seashore, New Smyrna Beach

The Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic coastline in Florida and is a must for beach- and nature-lovers. It is located in the middle of Florida’s east coast on a barrier island between Daytona Beach and Melbourne and consists of three distinct beaches: Apollo Beach, Playalinda Beach and Seminole Rest. Intrepid campers can camp out at one of several primitive campgrounds throughout the Mosquito Lagoon islands with a reservation, or stay at a hotel on the mainland near New Smyrna Beach.

The Canaveral National Seashore is a national park and is large and diverse, with 58,000 acres of beaches, hammock and wooded areas, making it home to many species of fish, sea turtles, birds and other animals. Apollo Beach is the northernmost beach and is the best one for sightseeing and activities. Enter at the north entrance and park in one of five parking lots; these tend to fill up quickly on weekends so arrive early or visit during the week.  The last parking lot, lot 5 provides access to a clothing-optional beach, so avoid this area if unprepared for nudity.

The beach itself is flat and perfectly suited for walking, swimming and fishing. Visitors enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding and canoeing around the islands. Surf anglers like to arrive early and set up their poles near lots 2 and 4 where there are sandbars that trap fish on outgoing tides. Bait is available for sale at the only bait shop in Bethune Beach, about a mile from the park entrance. Fly fishers cluster around the fishing pier near Eldora Road or near Turtle Mound and clamming for clams and oysters is permitted in marked parts of the lagoon.

There is no development in the park itself, so unless you’ve brought a picnic lunch, you will need to leave the park to eat. New Smyrna Beach has a number of dining choices including the Norwoods Restaurant and Treehouse which has a wine bar and The Garlic Italian restaurant. For more casual fare, try Steve’s Famous Diner in Oak Hill.

Delray Beach

Delray Beach, located in the city of the same name, is a relaxed blend of beach fun with amenities since the village’s downtown area is right there on the ocean. While there is development including hotels, restaurants, bars and shops across from the beach on the other side of A1A, there are no buildings on the beach side of the road. Rent a chair, chaise lounge or cabana to relax and sunbathe or play a pick-up game of beach volleyball. The sand is deep and wide here, giving you room for lounging, shelling, building sandcastles or walking.

Certain areas of the beach are designated for specific activities including swimming, surfing, volleyball, sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling, kite flying, Frisbees and paddleball. Stand up paddle craft can only be launched at the north and south ends of the beach and paddleboarders must stay at least 150 yards from the shore and away from swimmers.

Many of the beach entrances have showers, bicycle racks, towel racks and drinking fountains with bottle fillers. There is on-street metered parking, but these spots fill up quickly. Get there early or get a beach parking permit which is good for several nearby city-owned parking lots. Lifeguards are on duty from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM from the end of September through mid-March. The beach is accessible to visitors in wheelchairs via access mats at Atlantic and A1A, beach wheelchairs and a limited number of surf chairs.

When you are done with your beach activities, there is plenty to do a short walk away. Atlantic Avenue, the main street of downtown Delray Beach, is right there and has all kinds of shops, bars, casual and fine dining and sometimes live music to enjoy. Atlantic Avenue is known for great food. Grab a piña colada at the Sandbar on A1A, munch on a burger at BurgerFi steps away from the beach or watch the sunset at the chic 50 Ocean waterfront restaurant. Nearly any cuisine you crave is only a block or two away. Saturday mornings between October and May, browse the Delray GreenMarket for food and crafts, participate in holiday festivals and activities in December, buy some art at the Downtown Delray Beach Festival of the Arts in January or watch your favorite tennis players at the Delray Beach Open. 

Miami Beach

When you think of Florida, how can you not think of Miami? This tropical oasis has everything you need for a memorable beach trip – palm trees, white sand, clear blue water and some of the best nightlife on the eastern seaboard. 

This coastal island community is easily accessible from northern and southern causeways, both of which take you across idyllic blue waves before you reach the main strip. Miami Beach is one of the only places where bass-busting reggaetón music naturally intertwines with Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The long strip of beach is within walking distance from many hotels, restaurants and clubs. The northern section of Miami Beach (also known as North Shore) features beautiful landscapes and wide-open spaces, most notably found in Lummus Park. Many locals enjoy taking a walk through the North Shore and catching the breeze blowing in from the sea. 

Meanwhile, the southernmost section of Miami Beach, known as South Beach or SoBe, is more famous for cruising Ocean Drive by segway or sunbathing with a chilled daiquiri in hand. Many of the pastel-colored buildings in South Beach near the ocean were built in the 1920s and 1930s in the Art Deco style and have been updated with modern amenities (like air conditioning). The Miami Beach boardwalk winds through South Beach, offering guests a leisurely stroll or bike ride while taking in the Art Deco scene and it is common to see scantily-clad people rollerblading or biking along the beach. 

Miami Beach is open year-round thanks to South Florida’s ideal climate and weather patterns, but keep in mind that the busiest season usually occurs during spring break and in the winter months. The population of Florida grows tremendously from November to March, due in part to the “snowbirds” who flee the northern United States and Canada in search of warmer weather. 

Be sure to bring your own swimming, snorkeling or paddle boarding gear if you don’t want to purchase or rent it at the beach. If your goal is to simply relax and catch some rays, you can bring your own gear or rent umbrellas and chairs at several points along the strip. Many resorts along Miami Beach offer drink and food services as well (for a price), so if you don’t want to pack your own cooler, you’re in luck. 

Speaking of food, when you get hungry on Miami Beach, your only problem will be deciding where to eat. Take a walk down Collins Avenue to find Sazon Cuban Cuisine, a local favorite renowned for its live music and outdoor party space. For more casual fare, stop by Big Pink any time (they’re open until 5:30 a.m.) for diner-style burgers and shakes. 

Water sport activities are widely available along the beach, including parasailing, windsurfing, jet-skiing and snorkeling. When you’ve had enough of the ocean, there’s no end to a number of other famous local attractions. Just down the road sits the Miami Seaquarium, one of the oldest aquariums in the United States. You can see everything from dolphins and killer whales to sea lions and turtles. If shopping is your game, hit up Lincoln Road Mall, a pedestrian-only strip of chic stores, cafes and restaurants. You can also catch great live music on the weekends. Notable annual events include Art Basel in December and Miami Music Week in March. 

Sanibel Island and Captiva Island

If you love finding beautiful and unique seashells, you must visit Sanibel Island. Sanibel Island and its companion, Captiva Island, are unique because unlike most barrier islands, they have an east-west orientation rather than north-south, meaning that their shores are home to the maximum numbers of small sea creatures and capture the most shells.

Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are on Florida’s gulf (west) coast, about 20 miles southwest of Fort Myers. The sand on the gulf coast is markedly different from that on the east coast, or really, anywhere else in the continental US. It is very white and has a powdery texture, making it soft and, near the water, a good walking surface. Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel is the most famous shelling beach but really any beach on one of these beautiful islands is a wonderful destination. Enjoy the sun and sand all day by swimming, relaxing, shelling or fishing. Kids will love the shells and looking for starfish and crabs. 

There are plenty of places to stay in the area, from rustic campgrounds to charming cottages to upscale hotels. You can stay at one of several hotels in Sanibel’s southern shore or rent a cottage in south Captiva. Off the islands, the closest hotel is the Marriott Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa just on the other side of the causeway. Dining choices abound, especially along Periwinkle Way on Sanibel, where you can find MudBugs Cajun Kitchen, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, the Island Cow and Jerry’s Foods where you can pick up picnic foods.

Development is limited to half of the area on the islands, so the beach and surrounding areas are pristine. There are, however, plenty of sidewalks, bike paths and recreational trails to explore. On the east end of Sanibel Island, you can take photos of the 100-year-old lighthouse or fish along the pier. Bonita Beach is where you should head if you are looking for activities like playing volleyball or riding jet skis. There is food right on the beach at Doc’s Beach House. If you rent a boat from a local marina, you can see exotic tropical fish living in one of a number of nearby artificial reefs created by sunken ships and even a bus.

Since these beaches are on the west coast of Florida, you get to see not only the gorgeous oranges, reds, pinks and yellows of the sunset but the sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico. Many observers applaud the best sunsets as they gather on the beach or pier. Catch the Sanibel Shell Festival in March and the Holiday Nights Celebration in December.

Clearwater Beach

The Gulf Coast of Florida is one of the only places in the entire U.S. where you can see beaches white as snow. The gorgeous white sand in Clearwater Beach attracts thousands of tourists annually. A far different scene from the eastern beaches of Florida, it is known for being more laid-back and relaxed. With just one visit, you’ll see why hordes of snowbirds make Clearwater Beach their winter home. 

Clearwater Beach is just a short drive from the mainland. The strip spans nearly three miles and is accessible via the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. As you cross over onto the peninsula, you’ll be treated to tropical views comparable only to those of the Caribbean. Take your pick of resorts, hotels and motels, or stay in nearby Tampa for access to other exciting activities. Clearwater Beach is best known for its swimming opportunities and miles of sandy white shores. Take a short day trip to Caladesi Island, just off the north end of the beach, for sunbathing, beachcombing and amazing angling opportunities. Or, head to the bay area to take a cruise and watch for dolphins while taking in the sights and sounds of peaceful Clearwater Beach. There’s a good chance you’ll see many beach volleyball games happening on the beach, as Clearwater is famous for tournaments year-round. 

You can visit Clearwater Beach any time of year, but it becomes extremely busy during the winter months of November to March. Many residents of northern states flock to the Gulf Coast in the winter to escape the snow and ice. Aside from the busy winter season, the Gulf Coast is known for being quieter and more relaxed in comparison to, let’s say, Miami or Fort Lauderdale. 

Clearwater Beach is perfect for all types of water activities, including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing and parasailing. If you don’t want to lug your own beach chairs and umbrellas, don’t worry – rentals are available along the strip. Clearwater Beach is also famous for its fishing excursions. Several charter companies and private residents offer tourists the chance to drop a line for hours at a time. 

Or, perhaps you’d rather work on your swing. Play a round of golf at one of several world-class courses around the Clearwater Beach area. When your stomach starts growling but you’re not ready to quit the beach just yet, walk over to Barefoot Beach House, where shirts and shoes are optional, for some cheap eats and ice cream. Or, head over to Crabby’s Beachwalk Bar & Grill for mouth watering seafood, steak and sandwiches. 

If you’re looking for other fun activities in the Clearwater Beach area, plan a day trip to Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see aquatic life of all sizes. The Moccasin Lake Nature Park, a 51-acre nature preserve with multiple hiking trails and boardwalks, is also close by. Annual events in the Clearwater area include John’s Pass Seafood Festival in October and the Clearwater Super Boat National Championship in September.

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