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The 20 Best Beaches on the East Coast

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Focus More on Experiences
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Sand Hollers

When it comes to the country's most scenic and coveted coastlines, Americans tend to look west to California or even as far as Hawaii. But the East Coast is home to plenty of gems of its own for a family vacation with the kids or a couples getaway. We looked to online reviews from beachgoers and local guides, took into account sights to see, available activities, and overall beauty to bring you the best beaches along the East Coast that are worth a visit. From family-friendly havens to wild party sands, and from Maine down to Florida, don't miss these underrated Atlantic Coast hot spots. 

Related: From Southern California to Washington: The 20 Best Beaches on the West Coast

Cape May, New Jersey
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Cove Beach | Cape May, New Jersey

One of the best things about vacations to Cove Beach in Cape May is the lighthouse. The historic structure still lights up the beach to create oceanfront enchantment each evening. It's a charming footnote to a full day of swimming, hunting seashells, and exploring the dunes for the kids. What's more, the entire New Jersey town and seaside resort — located at the end of the Cape May Peninsula — is a National Historic Landmark thanks to its exceptionally well-preserved Victorian buildings, built mainly during the late 19th century. Hotel accommodations in Cape May can get pricey, but with a bit of digging and advance planning, reasonably priced rentals can be found.

Related: 20 Beach Vacation Spots Where Time Stands Still

Bethany Beach, Bethany, Delaware
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Bethany Beach | Delaware

The Diamond State might not be the first to come to mind when planning an East Coast beach vacation, but Bethany Beach in the Delaware town of the same name more than fills the bill. The town is small and quiet, offering plenty of privacy, but the beach is expansive and has a boardwalk for picking up souvenirs for the kids or grabbing lunch. The waves can get big enough for surfing.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

With 60 miles of beach, a subtropical climate, and one of the best boardwalks on the East Coast for long summer vacations, South Carolina's Myrtle Beach is among the most famous summer destinations on the Atlantic to visit. A something-for-everyone hotspot, Myrtle Beach is a mecca for art enthusiasts, golf lovers, and even symphony aficionados. 

Related: 40 Best Boardwalks in the United States

Ocean City Beach, Ocean City, Maryland
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Ocean City Beach | Ocean City, Maryland

When visiting Ocean City Beach, be sure to head to the 3-mile boardwalk, with all its shops, rides, carousel, and places to eat, there's plenty of things to do for the whole family. Bring the dog, too — pets are allowed on the beach and boardwalk. Visitors may even spot a few dolphins, which is always a special experience. 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. 

Related: 20 Summer Vacation Spots Where Pets Are Welcome

Duck, North Carolina
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Duck, North Carolina

"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 7 miles, and are all walkable from the village center's sound-front park, restaurants, and shops. The beautiful and charming island destination offers plenty of peace and privacy for families and couples. While there's only one hotel, The Sanderling Resort, you'll find plenty of seaside rentals. 

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
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Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Martha's Vineyard is one of America's classic summer beach colonies, and is just a short boat ride from Cape Cod. Its 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. On Martha's Vineyard, you'll also find a wide variety of beaches, including large sandy shores perfect for larger families; quiet coves and calm waters that are great for little kids; and even hidden destinations for those looking for a bit of privacy and a secret getaway.

Related: 22 Places to Hang Out Where You're Most Likely to See a Celebrity

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach is especially popular with families, especially those looking for a seaside day trip from Dover or elsewhere in Delaware. 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 and offers plenty of activities for the kids, eclectic shops for parents, and restaurants for the whole family. Whether you're looking for a weekend getaway or a longer stay, there are usually plenty of affordable summer rentals and oceanfront condos to be found on Airbnb. 

Bar Harbor, Maine
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Bar Harbor, Maine

Leave sunbathing to the Southeast. Bar Harbor, which embodies New England's rugged eastern coastline, is made for family vacations with a bit of action and adventure. Rocky, rustic, and natural, the beach is nestled between the North Atlantic and the mountains, lakes, and rugged coastline of Maine's Acadia National Park.

Related: Amazing Seafood Shacks to Visit in Maine and Across America

Daytona Beach, Florida
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Daytona Beach, Florida

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. The boardwalk offers plenty of entertainment for kids and adults, while some families might prefer to relax on the beach, hit the open water with a boat rental, or enjoy live music at the bandshell. Those looking for an upscale destination and a bit of privacy might opt for the Daytona Beach Resort or The Shores Resort and Spa, but more affordable oceanfront hotel options and rental properties can be found as well. And if you're having trouble finding enough variety to keep the family entertained, Disney is just a short drive away, and Tampa just a little further.

Related: 26 Ways to Do Disney on a Budget

Miami Beach, Florida
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Miami Beach, Florida

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, you'll find 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. If you're looking for a more remote and peaceful experience, consider driving or renting a boat to head down to Key Largo or even Key West.

Related: Where to Go for a Budget-Friendly Summer Vacation in All 50 States

Flying Point Beach, Southampton, New York
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Flying Point Beach | Southampton, New York

This Hampton beach is secluded, clean, and fun — lots of fun. The relaxing destination 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. It's easy to block out the rest of the world within just a few short hours after arriving.

Related: Where to Go for a Budget-Friendly Summer Vacation in All 50 States

Ocean City, New Jersey
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Ocean City, New Jersey

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 perfect for a day trip to the Jersey shore. On clear days, you can see Atlantic City, or at least what's left of it.

Chincoteague Island, Virginia
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Chincoteague Island, Virginia

Chincoteague Island lures visitors and Virginians alike as an alternative to its better-known, more crowded cousin, Virginia Beach — and better for its lack of high-rises, tourist bustle, boardwalks, and traffic. You won't want to miss the wild ponies of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which are sure to amaze the kids and adults alike. And while it may be a quieter destination than Virginia Beach, there are still plenty of activities for a family vacation, including boat rentals, water sports, and beautiful hikes. Depending on how long your visit to Virginia will be, you'll also find a range of well-priced hotel accommodations, bed and breakfasts, long-term rentals, and campsites.

Emerald Isle, North Carolina
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Emerald Isle, North Carolina

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.

Tybee Island, Georgia
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Tybee Island, Georgia

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. Tybee Island's nearby salt marshes teem with birds and other coastal wildlife unique to the area. Activities for families include the Tybee Island Lighthouse Museum, the Fort Pulaski National Monument, and the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Families looking for another beautiful vacation spot may consider heading further south to Jekyll Island.

Bowman's Beach, Sanibel, Florida
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Bowman's Beach | Sanibel, Florida

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, perfect for long walks and all the shells a collector can carry. 

Folly Beach, South Carolina
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Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach gives Southern California a run for its sun. The average temperatures are 85 degrees in summer, 65 in fall, 75 in spring, and 55 in winter. Many online reviewers also prefer Folly to the more widely known Hilton Head Island further down the coast, thanks to a more laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere, its proximity to Charleston, and reasonably priced hotel options and oceanfront rental properties. The beaches are expansive, the sunsets painted, and landmarks include a local lighthouse and a pier, parts of which are scheduled to close for two years for rebuilding, possibly starting this September.

Jones Beach, New York
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Jones Beach | New York

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 and one-half mile of bay beach, the brainchild of legendary New York builder and planner Robert Moses. You'll also find great surf fishing at the west end the park, as well as a boat basin, and undeveloped areas perfect for families looking to spot migratory birds and native plants.

Nags Head, North Carolina
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Nags Head, North Carolina

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, New York
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Fire Island | New York

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 the island's pristine beaches, but campings spots, hiking trails, the Sunken Forest, and famous Fire Island Lighthouse.