When it comes to the country's most scenic and coveted coastlines, Americans tend to look west to California. But the East Coast is home to plenty of gems of its own. From family-friendly havens to wild party sands, don't miss these underrated Atlantic Coast hot spots.
The 20 Best Beaches on the East Coast
One of the best things about Cove Beach in Cape May is the lighthouse. The historic structure still lights up the beach to create oceanside enchantment each evening. It's a charming footnote to a full day of swimming, hunting seashells, and exploring the dunes. What's more, the entire town is a National Historic Landmark thanks to its exceptionally well-preserved Victorian buildings, built mainly during the late 19th century.
The Diamond State might not be the first to come to mind when planning a beach vacation, but Bethany Beach in the Delaware town of the same name more than fills the bill. The town is small and quiet, but the beach is expansive and has a boardwalk for picking up souvenirs or grabbing lunch. The waves can get big enough for surfing.
With 60 miles of beach, a subtropical climate, and one of the best boardwalks on the East Coast, Myrtle Beach is among the most famous summer destinations on the Atlantic. This something-for-everyone hotspot is a mecca for art enthusiasts, golf lovers, and even symphony aficionados.
When visiting Ocean City Beach, be sure to make time for the 3-mile boardwalk, with all its shops, rides, carousel, and places to eat. Bring the dog, too -- pets are allowed on the beach and boardwalk. Visitors may even spot a few dolphins. There are 10 miles of beaches -- all free -- and two are reserved for surfers. Fishing is permitted year-round, while horseback riding is allowed off season.
"Quaint" is the name of the game on the island of Duck, tucked away in the scenic Outer Banks. On one side of the island is the ocean coast; on the other is scenic Currituck Sound. The town's clean beaches span seven miles and are all walkable from the village center's sound-front park, restaurants, and shops.
Martha's Vineyard is one of America's classic summer beach colonies. It's known for hosting a who's who of celebrities and socialites, from the Kennedys to Reese Witherspoon, but is charming and low-key compared with the pomp and glitz of its East Coast celebrity beach rival the Hamptons.
Rehoboth Beach is especially popular with families. The beaches are clean and scenic, though crowded during peak season. The boardwalk, which runs a full mile, is hyped as another of the East Coast's best.
Leave sunbathing to the Southeast. Bar Harbor, which embodies New England's rugged coastline, is all about action and adventure. Rocky, rustic, and natural, the beach is nestled between the North Atlantic and the mountains, lakes, and rugged coastline of Acadia National Park.
The Daytona 500 is one of the most famous names in the world of automotive speed, but the "Original American Beach," as Daytona Beach bills itself, is surprisingly relaxing, carpeted with white sand that brushes against warm, bright blue water.
It had to be on the list: Miami Beach, haven for the rich and beautiful. Beyond imported sports cars and well-tanned eye candy, however, the beach is about as close as you'll get to the Caribbean without leaving the states, and surrounded by Art Deco architecture and tempting nightclubs.
This Hampton beach is secluded, clean, and fun -- lots of fun. It features miles of mostly empty dunes and the culture of Flying Point has allowed scantily clad beachgoers of both genders to roam, stay all night, and even light bonfires over the years.
From the bustling, boardwalk-lined beaches on the north end of the island to the secluded stretches of sand near a wildlife reserve on the south, Ocean City's beaches are clean, family-friendly, and bustling. On clear days, you can see Atlantic City, or at least what's left of it.
Chincoteague Island lures visitors and Virginians alike as an alternate to its better-known, more crowded cousin, Virginia Beach -- and better for its lack of high-rises, tourist bustle, boardwalks, and traffic.
Emerald Isle barred hotels along its coast and stayed pristine. Instead of lodging, this hideaway provides plenty of picnic areas, pavilions, and recreation spots right off the sand. It's also one of few hot spots that still allows beach driving during the busy season.
Savannah is the Hostess City of the South, and its signature beach is Tybee Island -- so well known for its cuisine that celebrity chef Paula Deen has a beach house there. Its nearby salt marshes teem with birds and other wildlife unique to the area.
The coastline is void of hotels and other human clutter, and reaching the beach requires walking a quarter-mile footbridge. The reward is pristine white sand and all the shells a collector can carry.
Jones Beach is less than 20 miles from New York City -- but a million miles away. Part of a state park by the same name, Jones Beach boasts 6.5 miles of white beaches made of raised barrier islands, the brainchild of legendary New York builder and planner Robert Moses.
Nags Head keeps its beaches clean and full through a dual program of sand relocation and public education on beach conservation called "leave only your footprints in the sand." The beach, a tourist hotspot, keeps it fun by issuing permits for pit fires on the beach.
Fire Island has been a haven for New Yorkers for generations, attracting an easygoing and unpretentious crowd of local surfers and tourists thanks not just to pristine beaches, but campings spots, hiking trails, the Sunken Forest, and famous Fire Island Lighthouse.
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