Summertime’s desire for sea breezes and the saltwater rushing over your toes is powerful stuff. When the beach draws you in, you might just think about going “anywhere.” There’s a strong case to be made for seeking out America’s charming small beach towns, where an easygoing atmosphere and gorgeous seaside views create an intoxicating mix. But if you’re looking for something with a little more kick, there are some terrific big coastal cities that offer everything from vibrant nightlife to high-end fare.
To help you narrow your search, we’ve rounded up the best of the US’s coastal hotspots. From Ocracoke in the Outer Banks to San Diego and everything in between, these 25 cities will transport you to a place where sand and surf are never too far away. Some spots are obvious. Others might surprise you, but don’t be fooled by their laid-back reputations. They’re all unfailingly charming and a lot of fun to visit.
Long known as a “New England beach town,” Boston is home to some of New England’s finest beaches. The family-friendly South Boston beaches are popular with locals, but if you’re looking for more privacy, head to the serene Dorchester Waterfront. It’s great for picnicking and kayaking, plus it offers spectacular views of downtown Boston. Summer is a popular time so be prepared for crowds.
While most people will tell you to visit in summer, Fall is also a lovely time to explore these waterside parks. Temperatures are mild and the leaves are turning colors making the views that much more picturesque.
Newport Beach, CA
Nestled along 40 miles of coast on Southern California’s Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach is one of the United States’ best-known seaside playgrounds—and unsurprisingly of its priciest (hello, mega-mansions), so if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, check out Dana Point. It gets overlooked by tourists and is often referred to as the “forgotten coast.”
Newport Beach offers an eclectic mix of boutique shopping, upscale dining, and plenty of lively bars and nightclubs, all with incomparable water views.
San Diego, CA
With 70 miles of coastline dotted with unique neighborhoods, San Diego has something for everyone—and it’s not just about the beaches! Take in some sun at Coronado Island or head inland to Balboa Park where you can explore one of California’s largest urban green spaces (it’s home to 16 different museums). And when your feet break from the sand?
Murrells Inlet, SC
This charming little town is a great place to while away for an afternoon or even a few days. The Clean Marina of Murrells Inlet is the only full-service marina on the Intracoastal Waterway south of Myrtle Beach, and it deploys a high-speed skimmer boat designed to clean its gorgeous beaches right from the water. You can take a self-guided kayak tour, too—just make sure you get here early before all the good spots are taken. So you should definitely consider living in Murrells Inlet.
Charleston’s historic waterfront district offers up boutique shopping and top-notch dining experiences along with truly spectacular views across Charleston Harbor at pretty much any time of day. Plus, are plenty of exclusive private clubs and hotels offering guests access to the area’s many beautiful beaches.
The city’s famous food scene is equally impressive. From oysters and crab cakes to barbecue and seafood, there’s no shortage of delicious eats to try.
Ocracoke is a small island off the North Carolina coast. It’s been inhabited since Native Americans first arrived over 10,000 years ago. Today, visitors come to experience the laid-back vibe of this tiny community. There’s nothing like walking down Main Street and seeing old houses dating back to the 1800s.
There are lots of fun things to do on the island including hiking through the woods, biking around the island, taking a ferry ride to see the wildlife, fishing, and exploring the local history museum.
Cape May, NJ
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City, Cape May is the perfect destination. This quaint beach town is located on the Atlantic Ocean and features a variety of activities to keep you busy. Whether you’d rather relax on the beach or go surfing, you’ll find what you need here.
You can walk along the boardwalk and enjoy the ocean breezes, or visit the nearby lighthouse. Or, if you prefer, you can rent a bike and cycle around the scenic streets of Cape May.
Boca Raton, FL
Located in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton was once considered the wealthiest neighborhood in America. Nowadays, it’s still very affluent but also boasts some of Florida’s most luxurious homes and resorts.
It’s easy to spend a whole day wandering the shops and restaurants of downtown Boca Raton. But if you’re looking for more adventure, hop on a golf cart and drive out into the surrounding countryside.
Sanibel Island, FL
Sanibel Island is known as “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” Located in Southwest Florida, this barrier island is home to pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and a rich cultural heritage that dates back to the late 1700s.
Explore the island by bicycle, horseback, or golf cart. Visit Fort Myers Beach, where you can shop and dine in style. Or, head north to Shell Mound Park, which has one of the best shelling opportunities in the country.
Tampa is often referred to as the “Winter Olympics” because of the number of events held each year. And when winter rolls around, the city transforms itself into a bustling hub of activity.
Whether you’re looking for culture, fine dining, or just a way to work off all that winter weight you’re carrying, Tampa has something for everyone.
Hillsborough River State Park is just one place you can visit while you’re here. This unique park is located along the river and offers up an awesome combination of history, wildlife viewing opportunities, environmental education programs, and recreational.