With more states spanning the coastline than its western counterpart, the best east coast beaches in the USA 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.
The information in this article is inspired by the Rough Guide to The USA, your essential guide for visiting the USA.
The United States have stunning nature and lots of attractive destinations to visit. Choose the best option for a holiday from this list of the most beautiful places in the USA.
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 to this one of the best beaches on the east coast 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 the 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.
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 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 a clutch of excellent museums. Or, for a meal to remember, make for Oak Bluffs, with its charming gingerbread cottages.
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 the 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. If you like the local vibe, check out Brooklyn hotels in our guide to the best area to stay in New York City.
For an overview of all the city's areas and the best accommodation, check out the list of options 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 you 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.
Looking forward to experiencing East Coast? Our 15-day tailor-made tour is a perfect opportunity to visit 4 of the most iconic East Coast cities.
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 tired 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.
What to see and do in the area: The simple pleasures are the ones to enjoy in Cape May, whether that's marvelling at its quaint Victorian architecture or chowing down on freshly caught 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.
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 per cent of the sand here – and to a beautiful effect. In addition, the 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.
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.
Planning a beach holiday in Florida? Check our list of the best beaches in Florida.
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.
The island is currently inaccessible to visitors due to the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. To follow updates on the situation visit the National Park Service website.
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.
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 along with wild turkeys, deer and even alligators, this park makes an exciting retreat for a few nights of beachside camping.
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 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 make this beach a win for holidaymakers looking for something edgier, with a heady dose of glitz and glamour.
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: There are plenty of different options for spending time. You can enjoy an airboat ride and wildlife show at Everglades Holiday Park or marvel at the Miami skyline as the sun sets on a Biscayne Bay cruise. Or you can explore the Famous Key West.
Myrtle beach is the obvious option for tourists visiting South Carolina, but Beachwalker County Park (south of Myrtle) is a real treasure.
Without the crowds and usual tourist garb, this unspoiled islet can give the illusion that you’re holidaying on your own private beach. Ten miles of inviting sandy dunes ensure 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.
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.
Myrtle Beach is an unmitigated stretch of commercial seaside development twenty miles down the coast from the North Carolina border. Predominantly a golf centre and family resort, it’s packed during mid-term vacations with students drinking and partying themselves into a frenzy. Fans of elaborate water parks, factory outlet malls, funfairs and parasailing will be in heaven.
The widest stretch of sand is at North Myrtle Beach, a chain of small communities centring on Ocean Boulevard. South of Myrtle Beach lies Murrells Inlet, a fishing port with lots of good seafood restaurants and Pawleys Island.
What to see and do in the area: Georgetown near Myrtle beach has a serious historical background. The Rice Museum in the Clock Tower tells of the Low Country’s long history of rice cultivation and its dependence on a constant supply of enslaved Africans. There are also displays of local heroes such as Ruby Forsythe, who taught at the region’s little one-room schoolhouse for 53 years.
The rich history of Tybee Island dates back to the 1800s when Fort Screven and Fort Pulaski served as integral parts of America’s Coastal Defense systems. Today, thanks to the Tybee Island Historical Society, many of the landmarks are preserved and highlighted by informative markers. The historic Fort Screven district showcases a variety of opportunities to soak up some of the island’s history while enjoying the tropical surroundings.
North Beach encompasses Tybee's portion of Highway 80 all the way to 2nd Avenue. Home to such a large portion of the island, this area of Tybee boasts a wide range of historic attractions, unique eateries, funky shops and, of course, sandy beaches.
What to see and do in the area: North Beach visitors can experience a variety of water adventures from deep sea fishing to fast airboat rides. The list of saltwater thrills is impressive, to say the least. Head to Tybee Island for a delicious lunch, a dolphin cruise, and ocean-view photo opportunities.
The massive resort of Virginia Beach has grown to become the largest city in the state, with nearly half a million people. Although the oceanfront commercial activity can be a monument to tackiness, the relaxed atmosphere actually leads some to stay longer than planned. The city’s focus is its long, sandy beach, lined with hotels and motels, and backed by a boardwalk strip of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Virginia Beach is also a major surf centre, hosting the East Coast Surfing Championships in late August. The beach is the site of dozens of high-spirited annual festivals, few better than the American Music Festival, which draws big-name artists to jam on the sands over Labor Day weekend.
What to see and do in the area: High-tech exhibits and an IMAX theatre are featured at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, which explores all things aquatic, including tanks devoted to sharks, rays, sea turtles and jellyfish.
With an entrance five miles west of Virginia Beach the woodland of First Landing State Park was the site where the first English settlers touched land in 1607 before moving on to Jamestown. it’s Virginia’s most popular state park, good for boating, cycling and camping, with a beach on the Chesapeake Bay.
A few miles up and down the coast from Virginia Beach are some beautiful and peaceful stretches of golden sand. To the south lies the nine-thousand-acre, four-mile-long Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Stretched out over most of Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park is the most visited natural place in Maine. It’s visually stunning, with all you could want in terms of mountains and lakes for secluded rambling, and wildlife such as seals, beavers and bald eagles.
The one and only sizeable beach, five miles south of Bar Harbor - Sand Beach. It’s a gorgeous strand bounded by twin headlands, with restrooms, a parking lot and a few short hiking trails. The water, unfortunately, is usually arctic.
What to see and do in the area: You can explore the rich foliage, stunning vistas, and scenic lookouts of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine with this self-guided driving tour or indulge on a 3-hour culinary walking tour.
Maine is famous for its lobster industry more than any other state. While there, don't forget to visit one of the best lobster places on our list.
Hampton Beach is a village district, census-designated place, and beach resort in the town of Hampton, New Hampshire, United States, along the Atlantic Ocean. Hampton Beach is in Rockingham County, about 15 miles (24 km) south of Portsmouth. The community is a popular tourist destination and the busiest beach community in New Hampshire.
Ocean Boulevard, the main street along the beach, includes a boardwalk, many shops and businesses, several seasonal hotels, and the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, which hosts national acts in the summer.
What to see and do in the area: Hampton beach provides its visitors with dozens of different things to do. You can rent a scooter at Hampton Beach Scooter Rentals, or head straight to one of the casinos. Participate in Hampton Beach Yoga or take a tour arranged by the Hampton Historical Society.
With more than ten miles of broad Atlantic beach and hordes of visitors, Ocean City is Maryland’s number one summer resort, accessible across the Eastern Shore. There’s a lively, three-mile-long beach boardwalk, along which are numerous fast-food and trinket vendors hawking their wares, and a pair of amusement parks with the usual carnival-style thrill rides.
What to see and do in the area: Take a trip down memory lane in Berlin, Maryland's charming historic town on a food tour. Enjoy an informative culinary journey while you taste your way through the revitalized Main Street. Also, Ocean City is a fisherman's paradise, providing wonderful fishing opportunities over hundreds of square miles.
Ocean City offers a lot of free family activities such as movies on the beach, concerts and even a dance party.
Block Island, nestled in the Atlantic 12 miles from coastal Rhode Island, offers the vacationer what does not seem possible anymore - simple relaxation in a startlingly beautiful place. The Island is famous for its miles of free public beaches, sparkling clear waters, dramatic bluffs, preserved open spaces, and fun-filled activities for visitors of all ages.
What to see and do in the area: You can choose from a wide range of island rentals depending on what kind of vehicle you prefer for exploring the island. Bikes, cars and scooters are available. There are also lots of tours Block island can offer: by land, by air or by sea.
Driving into Bethany Beach you’ll be greeted by the intimate shops leading you to a quiet sense of calmness. You breathe in the ocean air, and you can suddenly feel that this is your coastal home away from home. Bethany is the kind of place that's perfectly suited to beach-house gatherings of extended families, who find their sunny days filled with an endless array of do-as-you-please activities.
What to see and do in the area: Visit South Bethany Seafood Market which is open for takeout from noon to 8 pm. There are also plenty of bars and restaurants in the area. The Bethany Surf Shop located in the quaint town of Bethany Beach offers a wide variety of surf, body, and skimboards, apparel, and accessories as well as commemorative T-shirts, surf tours and rentals.
There’s a reason former presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and George “W” Bush summer in genteel Kennebunkport – it’s beautiful, historic and full of great places to eat.
The best beach in these parts is Goose Rocks, about three miles north of Dock Square (the town centre) on King’s Highway. It’s a premium stretch of expansive sand, though you will need a permit to park here ($15 daily, $50 weekly). Neighbouring Kennebunk is home to a trio of attractive beaches; permits for these (from $16 daily, $52 weekly) can be purchased at kiosks on-site.
What to see and do in the area: as far as spending time Kennebunk can offer you a bunch of water tours on kayaks or luxurious catamaran sailings. If you are interested in history, we suggest you visit St. Anthony's Monastery, Saint Ann's Church or First Families Kennebunkport Museum. Also not to forget about some popular hiking destinations.
One of the most celebrated slices of real estate in America, Cape Cod boasts a dazzling, three-hundred-mile coastline with some of the best beaches in New England. A slender, crooked peninsula, it’s easily accessed from the region’s snug villages, many of which have been preserved as they were a hundred or more years ago.
After the bustle of Cape Cod’s towns, the Cape Cod National Seashore really does come as a proverbial breath of fresh air. These protected lands, spared by President Kennedy from the development further south, take up virtually the entire Atlantic side of the Cape, from Chatham north to Provincetown. Most of the way you can park by the road, and strike off across the dunes to windswept, seemingly endless beaches.
What to see and do in the area: Displays and movies at the main Salt Pond Visitor Center, on US-6 just north of Eastham, trace the geology and history of the Cape. A road and a hiking and cycling trail head east to the sands of Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach, both of which offer excellent swimming.
Inspired by the best beaches on the east coast? Read our list of the best beaches in the USA to find more ideas for your perfect beach holiday.
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