With more states spanning the coastline than its western counterpart, the best east coast beaches in the USA, reaching from ruggedly charming Maine down to the tropical climes of Florida, offer style and substance to rival the most famous west coast beauty spots.
So whether you’re embarking on a road trip or making a beeline for the beach, here’s our pick of vacation spots on the Atlantic coast.
1. Menemsha Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Calm waters lap the shore of the peaceful haven of Menemsha Beach in Massachusetts, which boasts sprawling views of the Elizabeth Islands and surf ideal for relaxed swimming. Head here to collect sea glass and watch fishing boats come into the small village harbour.
Make sure you stay for sundown, as Menemsha Beach is most stunning come early evening, when it's one of the best spots to catch sunset on the island. With style and romance, it's the perfect spot for couples. Bring a bottle of wine, pick up a lobster picnic from one of the convenient seafood shacks, and bundle together on a blanket to await dusk in quintessential New England style.
Where to stay: There are some fantastic holiday-home options near Menemsha Beach, most of them large enough to accommodate couples with children. Dream on the Beach, with light floor-to-ceiling windows, and Dream on the Beach, cheerfully decorated and located right on the shore, are our picks.
What to see and do in the area: There's plenty to do on Martha's Vineyard. A great place to start is by booking onto a full island tour showcasing some of the island's highlight sights. Be sure to spend time in Edgartown, with its white clapboard houses and clutch of excellent museums. Or, for a meal to remember, make for Oak Bluffs, with its charming gingerbread cottages.
Sunset at Menemsha Beach © Mihalachi Alin/Shutterstock
2. Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York
For a day, swap bustling Manhattan for the retro seaside glamour of Brooklyn’s Coney Island. Here you will witness a diverse slice of New York City’s inhabitants lapping up the gaudiness whilst guzzling hot dogs and cotton candy.
Thrill seekers can get their screams on any number of roller coasters, or survey the shore from atop the 150ft tall Wonder Wheel. It's a great option for anyone with kids. When the sun shines, crowds flock to this vast beach to feel sand between their toes and cool off in the ocean. On gloomy days, the beach and amusement parks lining the boardwalk take on a more desolate air – which is oddly just as appealing.
Where to stay: To soak up the atmosphere of Coney Island, you could base yourself anywhere in New York City, though bedding down in Brooklyn would be even better. If you fancy a hotel with all the facilities, try the William Vale, with a stunning sky-high roof terrace – with superlative views – and a rooftop swimming pool. Families, meanwhile, should plump for the boutique Hotel Le Bleu. It's soundproof rooms are great for anyone with small children, and they can usually provide extra cribs/beds (dependent on availability). For an overview of all the city's areas and the best accommodation, check out our comprehensive guide to where to stay in New York City.
What to see and do in the area: You could spend an entire week in New York and still just scratch the surface. A cruise around the city harbour is a good way to get a feel of the layout, while a visit to the viewing platform at the One World Observatory will give the chance to survey the city from a whole other perspective. There are several must-see sights in New York, from visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to marvelling at masterpieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and paying your respects at Ground Zero. Whatever you decide to do, save time to savour the city's superlative food joints.
Coney Island coaster © Pixabay / CC0
3. Cape May, New Jersey
One of the USA’s oldest seaside resorts, Cape May in New Jersey is resplendent with history and offers an evocative dose of old Americana to vacationers. With its lengthy beach, perfectly preserved Victorian clapboarding and plentiful lobster rolls (arguably the east coast staple diet), it's among the best beach vacations on the east coast.
If you’re tiring of the sun/surf/swim formula, wildlife lovers will relish the nature trails that lead from the beach to Cape May Point Lighthouse, which are open to the public to explore. The town offers a welcoming atmosphere for strolling and shopping, with the brightly coloured "gingerbread" houses providing a picturesque setting throughout summer or winter.
Where to stay: If old Americana is your thing, there are several historic hotels to book in Cape May. Congress Hall has overlooked the Atlantic coast for more than two centuries, while the Southern Mansion is decked out in so much antique furniture you'll feel you've taken a step back in time. More active visitors should book to stay at Casablanca B&B, where free bikes are provided.
What to see and do in the area: The simple pleasures are the ones to enjoy in Cape May, whether that's wandering around and marvelling at its quaint Victorian architecture – its buildings adorned with cupolas, gazebos, balconies and "widow's walks" – or chowing down on freshly caught local lobster. Walking to the iconic lighthouse should be on anyone's list, while taking a boat out to spot whales and dolphins is an unforgettable experience.
Cape May Lighthouse © Pixabay / CC0
4. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida
A beach famed for the quality of its sand must surely be worth a mention on any "best beaches" list. Fine and white, the sand of Siesta in Flordia is often described as having the consistency of powdered sugar. Unlike other beaches, quartz contributes to 99 percent of the sand here – and to beautiful effect. In addition, waters are calm and clear: superb for swimming and paddle boarding. In fact, the calm conditions make this one of the best east coast beaches for families, too.
Where to stay: The Sea Spray Resort is perfect for families, with an outdoor pool, family rooms and BBQ facilities. If you'd rather a place of your own, try The Lookout by Beachside Management, a chic modern apartment with air-con and a private pool.
What to see and do: Dolphin and whale watching trips are on offer, but if you have keen eyes, these beautiful creatures are often visible from the shore, where you can enjoy the view and tropical breeze from the leisure of your lounger. Sarasota itself was once home to a famous circus; take a circus history tour to learn all about its colourful origins.
Siesta Beach © Suncoast Aerials/Shutterstock
5. Cumberland National Seashore, Georgia
The undeveloped island of Cumberland National Seashore in Georgia is a breathtaking destination for wildlife buffs and those of a more adventurous nature hoping to escape crowds. Although bikes are available to hire on the island, you must bring all your supplies with you, a proviso that discourages many. So if you can brave the lack of convenience, you’re in for a truly memorable day at the beach.
Where to stay: Camping is only permitted on the island's five campgrounds. There are designated campsites at Sea Camp and Stafford Beach, while you'll find wilderness camping at Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise and Brickhill Bluff. Visit the National Park Service website for more information.
What to see and do in the area: Biking and hiking are the primary activities here, as well as wildlife spotting. Home to a number of wild horses easily spotted roaming the pristine sands, along with wild turkeys, deer and even (in the fresh water ponds) alligators, this park makes an exciting retreat for a few nights beachside camping.
Cumberland National Seashore © iofoto/Shutterstock
6. South Beach, Miami, Florida
Welcome to Miami, a city bursting with cultural swagger and vivacious Latin vibes. This metropolis fuses artsy panache with a tropical climate, and South Beach (the so-called American Riviera) pulses with activity from dawn until dusk, drawing in surfers, sun worshippers and scenesters alike.
The architecturally renowned Art Deco district and instagram-worthy palms of Ocean Drive makes this beach a win for holidaymakers looking for something edgier, with a heady dose of glitz and glamour.
Where to stay: There are places to stay in Miami to suit every taste and budget. If you're after those intoxicating Latin vibes and want to stay in Little Havana, check into leafy Life House. Meanwhile, if you're after a place where you can cook for yourself, plump for Krymwood Flats, a collection of apartments each with its own kitchen and TV area. For a complete overview of Miami's areas and accommodation options, see our comprehensive guide to where to stay in Miami.
What to see and do in the area: Miami is bursting with attractions and activities. From water sports – think: jet ski rides, parasailing and tubing – to touring Key West, walking through the murals of the Wynwood Walls and hunkering down to some superlative food in little Havana, there's enough on offer to keep every type of traveller happy.
South Beach © Pixabay / CC0
7. Beachwalker County Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Without the crowds and usual tourist garb, this unspoiled islet can give the illusion that you’re holidaying on your own private beach; indeed, ten miles of inviting sandy dunes ensures sun-seekers won’t have to hunt long for a secluded pitch. The water here is calm enough for beginner surfers, and lessons are on offer for all abilities.
Where to stay: Opting for a bed at Andell Inn will allow you to relax on Kiawah Island in ultimate comfort. There's a wrap-around lakeside patio, a saltwater pool and rooms ranging from queen to presidential suite. Book into Sea La Vie if you'd rather a whole, lagoon-side house to yourself.
What to see and do in the area: Aside from relaxing and surfing on the island proper, take advantage of the fact that you're just a stone's throw from picturesque Charleston. Soak it up on a carriage ride of the historic district or a harbour cruise. Or – for something a little bit different – book onto a bone-chilling ghost tour.
Beachwalker County Park © Matthew Kazmierski/Shutterstock
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Top image: Miami Beach, South Beach, Florida © Mia2you/Shutterstock