Kick off your flip-flops and feel the sand between your toes. Make summer vacation memories in quintessential East Coast beach towns, from cozy New England harbors to Southern barrier islands and sizzling hot Miami. Stroll beaches and nostalgic boardwalks, see postcard-worthy lighthouses, and eat just-caught seafood on the waterfront.
Compared to the West Coast, East Coast beaches have gentler waves, far fewer rocks, and additional tourist activities. Big cities are almost always nearby. Fourteen different states make up the East Coast (vs. three on the West Coast), which creates a much greater diversity of cultures, cuisines, and vibes. You can also explore unique historic attractions, including centuries-old lighthouses, military forts, and cute colonial towns with cobblestone streets.
Looking for the best beach destination for your next vacation? Discover technicolor sunsets, powdery sands, and spectacular seaside scenery at these amazing East Coast beach towns.
Ocean City, MD
Retro Wonderland with Old-Fashioned Boardwalk
Wander along Ocean City’s wooden boardwalk to find all the elements of the ultimate family vacation. This three-mile strip is lined with carnival games, roller coasters, and old-school arcades – all set against a tidy, sugar-sand beach. Zoom around on a jet ski, go fishing for white marlin, or hop on a tour boat to Assateague Island. Cruise down the boardwalk on a leisurely bike ride, stopping to grab some French fries or cotton candy. Cheer for quirky street performers, splash around at the water park, and fly a kite on the beach. Play golf overlooking the frothy Atlantic and ride a 100-year-old carousel. A family town at heart, Ocean City is a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the simple magic of the beach.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Lively Hotspot with Endless Amusements
Discover 60 miles of clean, white sand at Myrtle Beach, along with an abundance of theme parks, water parks, live entertainment, and golf courses (over 100 in all). It’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular beach destinations in America. Cool off in the water or go fishing, sailing, and surfing. Ride a banana boat, try windsurfing, and scuba dive to shipwrecks. Perched in the middle of the Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach buzzes with action and excitement – ideal for families. Everything is conveniently close at hand, including outlet shopping, oddball museums, and an award-winning aquarium.
Cape May, NJ
Vintage Retreat with Victorian Charm
Quaint and quiet, Cape May was America’s very first seaside resort. Much of the town’s Victorian gingerbread architecture still stands, with stately mansions overlooking a picture-perfect beach (keep your eye out for celebrities). Hunt for seashells in the soft, golden sand or get wet surfing, parasailing, and stand-up paddle boarding. Cape May was settled by fishermen in colonial times, and still offers excellent fishing adventures in the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. Snap selfies at historic lighthouses and go birdwatching on the coast. Tour craft breweries, enjoy wine tastings, and take a carriage ride in the village.
Virginia Beach, VA
Boardwalk Getaway for Family Fun
Escape to a classic American beach town with a kid-friendly atmosphere and a modern, carnival-like boardwalk. It stretches for 40 blocks with thrill rides, arcade games, funky souvenir shops, fun restaurants, and oodles of family entertainment. Virginia Beach feels safe and relaxed. Although it’s stacked with high-rise hotels, it’s easy to seek out tranquil parks, wildlife preserves, and natural escapes. Cast a line on the old-fashioned fishing pier or hit the water for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and dolphin-watching trips. Build sandcastles on the wide, clean beach or head away from the coast to find awesome golf courses, cool historic landmarks, and peaceful trails for hiking and biking.
Atlantic City, NJ
Vegas on the East Coast with Beaches
Established as a health resort in the 1800s, Atlantic City is now known for its fabulous casinos, flamboyant live shows, and world-renowned boardwalk. While the glamour may have faded since its glory days, this just adds to the nostalgia – and there’s still plenty of glitz, gambling, and good times to be had. Surfing, fishing, kayaking, parasailing, and windsurfing are popular pastimes, although most visitors prefer the casinos over the waves. Almost everything is within walking distance of the boardwalk, the oldest one in America. You can shop for days and catch the biggest bands and comedy acts. More diverse than many other New England beach spots, Atlantic City appeals to the dreamer within.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Cozy, Cosmopolitan Town with Eclectic Allure
With just enough quirkiness to keep it interesting, this colonial hamlet boasts one of the cleanest beaches in the country. It’s tiny population surges in the summertime as sun-hungry New Englanders flock to the quaint boardwalk, kiddie fun parks, and fancy seafood restaurants. You won’t find chain stores or kitschy souvenir shops here, but you will find tax-free shopping at one-of-a-kind boutiques and the weekly farmer’s market. Meander along tree-lined streets past artsy cottages and ornate Victorian buildings. Be wowed on a dolphin watching cruise and go fishing, surfing, and kayaking. Rehoboth Beach also features free summer concerts and buzzing nightlife, including a thriving LGBT scene.
Tybee Island, GA
Sandy Southern Beaches & Historic Americana
Situated just 30 minutes from Savannah’s antebellum mansions and Spanish moss, this blissful barrier island features both ocean and river beaches. Low-key Tybee is a great place for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. Head to the vintage Tybee Pier on busy South Beach for terrific people-watching, fishing, and jet skiing. Prefer a little peace and quiet? Watch for dolphins and migratory birds at North Beach, home to a soaring colonial lighthouse that dates back to 1736. Tour historic forts and indulge in catch-of-the-day seafood, from blue crab stew to tasty fried shrimp.
Hilton Head Island, SC
Easygoing Yet Elegant Island Paradise
Explore sparkling beaches, posh fine dining restaurants, and phenomenal oceanfront golf courses on this eco-friendly barrier island. Found just across the Port Royal Sound from Savannah, Hilton Head is a top-notch playland with white sand and celebrated five-star resorts. It’s upscale but still laid-back, quintessential Lowcountry with to-die-for seafood and down-home charm. There’s something for everyone along the island’s 12 miles of pristine beaches, including dog-friendly hangouts, seashell-strewn tide lines, and hard-packed sand for riding bikes. Visit Hilton Head’s red and white striped lighthouse, yacht-filled marina, and lush natural preserves.
Bar Harbor, ME
New England Haven on Mount Desert Island
Crack into a lobster on the waterfront and watch the wooden schooners glide under clear blue skies. Encounter ice cream parlors, art galleries, and a special kind of magic in this captivating seaside town. A popular stop for cruise ships and leaf-peepers, Bar Harbor is the gateway Acadia National Park’s dramatic scenery and outdoor adventures. If you’re looking for a sandy beach, you’ll have to drive into the park. But Bar Harbor is the island’s the main hub for lobster boat tours, fishing charters, and sailing excursions. Book a rock climbing expedition or rent a bike to cruise over historic bridges and carriage roads.
Glamorous, Year-Round Beach Scene
Miami’s famous coastline features 35 miles of sun-splashed beaches, including family-friendly playgrounds, romantic coves for kayaking, and white-hot party epicenters for the young and the beautiful. Miami is by far the largest city on this list, and it offers an endless variety of vacation activities. Relax or be social. Try high-octane water sports or take an afternoon snooze on the sand. Go fishing, surfing, or sailing. It’s not just Miami’s beaches that are diverse – the city’s multicultural, Latin-infused personality gives it one-of-a-kind color and flair. So does the smokin’ hot nightlife and sherbet-colored art deco architecture in South Beach. With world-class museums, shopping, and dining, Miami is a not simply a beach town – it’s an epic beach metropolis.