Beloved Seaside Villages Perfect for Vacationing

Port Townsend, WA.


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Port Townsend, WA.

Water Therapy

Many of us are feeling that a proper vacation is long overdue. The ocean beckons, but we really want to avoid the predictable — and the crowded. Read on for a tour of coastal destinations "less traveled," places perhaps a bit off the beaten path but still full of that enduring by-the-sea charm (and yes, we stretch that definition in a few cases to include gems along bays, gulfs or sounds). 

Related: 34 Amazing East Coast Beach Houses to Rent

Carmel by the Sea
S. Greg Panosian/istockphoto

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Wait a minute… are you in California or Europe? Carmel-by-the-Sea gives visitors the sense of both. This Pacific coastal destination (yes, Clint Eastwood was once its mayor) packs a lot into its 1 square mile, complete with the feel of a European village. Visitors delight in a myriad of scenic vistas, performing arts venues, historic sites, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Events also abound, including the annual Fourth of July Celebration, the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue in August, and the 61st annual Sandcastle Contest slated for Sept. 17. 

Related: Amazing West Coast Beach Houses to Rent

Aerial view of the sunset over North Wildwood sea wall

North Wildwood, New Jersey

"Location, location, location" isn't just the catchphrase when buying real estate. This little city — that word is used loosely — is a prime spot for a Southern Jersey shore getaway. Adjacent to the more bustling, sometimes-raucous Wildwood, and just a hop from Cape May and its Victorian-era architecture, North Wildwood is not short of its own attractions. These include a stretch of the famed Wildwood boardwalk, a panoramic beach and surf fishing access, free summer "Concerts Under the Stars," a coastal path popular for strolling and jogging and the historic Hereford Inlet Lighthouse, which features elaborate gardens and a gazebo and also hosts special events.     

Related: The 20 Best Beaches on the East Coast

Boardwalk to Boat Dock in Salt Marsh

Pawleys Island, South Carolina

Found on the barrier island of the same name, Pawleys Island is easily accessible — but a world away — from Charleston (70 miles). Noted for its beaches and dunes, the town proper features a historic district with homes dating back to the 18th century. If recreation is the goal, swimming isn't the only option. Visitors will find golf, tennis, fishing, boating and crabbing. Nearby destinations also include Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve. As the Pawleys Island site notes, "Pawleys continues to be known for its shoeless, carefree, laid-back lifestyle, which includes crabbing in the adjacent creeks, fishing, the stories of ghosts, the rope hammocks and the unspoiled, unsophisticated, casual, delightful stretch of wide beach and sand dunes."   

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The Coquille River Lighthouse on the coast of Oregon

Bandon, Oregon notes that, "Most towns on the Oregon coast can rightfully stake a claim as a 'great destination,' but Bandon takes that game to a new level." It explains why: "What is there to do in Bandon? Rent a crab pot and head down to Weber's Pier. Eat fresh-caught fish at one of three dueling seafood shacks. Play a round of golf at Bandon Dunes. Visit the Coquille River Lighthouse and comb for rocks on Bullards Beach. Sample local beer, cider and rum. See some of the most ambitious public art projects in the Pacific Northwest." We think that about sums it up, though the official Bandon site also notes there is also cycling, hiking, beaches, birding and "10 square blocks of shopping, dining, history, art, culture and outdoor recreation" in Old Town Bandon. Pack your bags.

Artistic abstract arches made out of twigs in a tropical botanical garden.
Joni Hanebutt/istockphoto

Vero Beach, Florida

This city along Florida's "Treasure Coast" features a barrier island with acclaimed Atlantic Ocean beaches. Atlanta magazine noted Vero Beach offers, "the perfect mix of relaxation, adventure, and local hospitality." A noted arts destination, Vero Beach's off-ocean attractions include shopping and dining, art galleries, the McKee Botanical Garden, museums including the Vero Beach Museum of Art (check out "Picasso, Matisse & Friends: Drawings from a Private Collection," starting Sept. 17) and performing arts including ballet, symphonies, opera, and theater. Those seeking more action-oriented adventures can take a seaplane ride, rent a bike or kayak, visit an aquarium or simply dip in the ocean.

Small Town Street in the evening, Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Chatham, Massachusetts

Found on the southeast tip of Cape Cod, this Atlantic Ocean town features, of course, a wealth of beaches. Historically a fishing community, Chatham's contemporary attractions include gift and art galleries, restaurants (seafood, of course, but much more) and also historic destinations including the picturesque Chatham Light (still in operation), the Chatham Railroad Museum, housed in a stunningly restored 1887 railroad depot and the Monomoy Island National Wildlife Refuge. A sweet sidebar: Chocolate lovers have been patronizing the Chatham Candy Manor (what a great name) since 1955.   

Related: 25 Candymakers With Treats Almost Too Pretty to Eat

Sharkys Ocean Shores, Washington

Ocean Shores, Washington

Go fly a kite … you can here, as this small coastal destination is noted for its expansive Pacific beach. Horseback riding is also welcomed, and you can also paddleboard on the adjacent canals. Traditional amusements are featured, along with biking, fishing, golf, water sports, bird watching, entertainment, galleries, shopping including antiquing and dining. Whew! Less than three hours from Seattle, this popular vacation spot is also known as a great weekend getaway. As its tourism site invites: "Music, art, parades, dancing, quilts, picnics, and festivals make the Coast an exciting place to be, any season of the year." And be sure to pose at Sharky's, said to be the most-photographed store in the area, since you walk through a giant shark jaw to enter the gift/souvenir shop.   

Related: Amazing Places to Take a Selfie in All 50 States

picturesque Mermaids Cafe in Kapaa, Kauai

Kapa'a, Hawaii

Sure, Hawaii is a tourist paradise, but there are still some off-the-beaten path gems, such as this charmer situated at the base of Nounou Mountain on Kauai. An area once filled with pineapple and sugar cane plantations, Kapa'a now warmly welcomes visitors. The popular Kinipopo Shopping Village offers numerous dining options and charming shops, some which feature products made by local craftspeople using traditional materials. You can also rent equipment for water skiing and kayaking to enjoy the beaches. For those who like organized events, there's a monthly celebration in Kappa Old Town featuring live music, local crafts and food.  

Related: Amazing Hawaii Beach Houses to Rent

Herring gull in front of White Island

Rye, New Hampshire

New Hampshire, "The Granite State," has less than 20 miles of coastline — but it sure knows what to do with it. New England Today notes that, "While it might not have the fanfare of Hampton or the bustle of downtown Portsmouth, Rye (sandwiched right between the two on Route 1A) offers the stunning ocean views, beautiful beaches, delicious seafood, and easy access to nature that many look for when planning a peaceful seaside escape." The area's wetlands and marshes inspire many an artist, but a charming town square and two public beaches draw the most attention. Sit-down restaurants vie with seafood shacks to keep your belly full, while whale watching, fishing and a nearby Odiorne Point State Park offer other options for filling those sunny days.    

Related: 20 Things You Never Knew About New England

Sunset at Chesapeake Martime Museum in St Michaels Maryland

St. Michaels, Maryland

Okay, yes, we know the Chesapeake Bay isn't an ocean, but we bet you'll feel a bit of "seaside charm" visiting this sophisticated destination that's an easy drive from Baltimore or Washington, D.C.  Charming shops, elegant lodgings and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and its 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse are all draws, not to mention an abundance of options for sampling the area's famed crabs. The event calendar is also full with the Antique & Classic Boat Festival in the summer, plus frequent ghost walks, and a weekly farmers market that's open Saturdays from April to November.   

Related: The Best Things to Do in Baltimore

View of downtown Lewes Delaware from drawbridge featuring canal water, flowers and boat
Dana Dagle Photography/istockphoto

Lewes, Delaware

Since we're fudging our parameters a bit, we'll also spotlight this historic gem along the Delaware Bay. Charming boutiques and galleries, fine dining and a truly artistic/historic feel make this an ideal spot for a charming day trip or longer stay. Lewes' own plus nearby beaches (Cape Henlopen State Park, Rehoboth Beach) offer bay and ocean access for swimming, fishing and more. Fill your days in Lewes admiring the bay's vintage lighthouses; touring its history museums including the picturesque Zwaanendael Museum; visiting a nearby brewery, vineyard or lavender farm; or taking a water-taxi eco tour or sunset cruise. Lewes is also a prime spot to venture to nearby outlet shopping, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and countless regional destinations.

Afternoon Shadows at Cape Charles Beach

Cape Charles, Virginia

Some 10 miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, this family friendly beach destination — away from the hubbub of Virginia Beach — on Virginia's Eastern Shore features a free public beach and an historic district. As the Virginia tourism site notes, "the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay, clean and refreshed by our proximity to the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean," offer calm waters for a serene escape. Boating, fishing and sunset dolphin kayak tours are on offer, as are ice cream, galleries and the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center.

Beaufort North Carolina-Tall ship sailboats in the harbor on a sunny day

Beaufort, North Carolina

Once ranked "America's Coolest Small Town" by readers of Budget Travel Magazine, among other honors, this is an Inner Banks destination full of Southern charm, Old-World appeal and plenty of maritime history. Part of the state's Crystal Coast, Beaufort has inspired many a visitor (plus author Nicholas Sparks who's set novels here) and has a history of pirates (Blackbeard's original ship was discovered in the Beaufort Inlet), ports and sailing ships. Modern-day visitors can walk the waterfront boardwalk, visit the Olde Beaufort Farmers Market, participate in the historic society's "Old Homes" tours and attend an old-fashioned Fourth of July parade. Shops, galleries, outdoor dining and the North Carolina Maritime Museum round things out with flair.    

Related: 40 Iconic and Beautiful Boardwalks Across the Country

Old lighthouse at the Cockspur island

Tybee Island, Georgia

Wide sandy beaches, a pier and pavilion, and memorable sunrises and sunsets distinguish this barrier island and small city some 20 minutes from Savannah from just another beach town. A bicycle-friendly destination, there are 3 miles of beaches, music and film events, surfing, boating and a vibrant arts community. For those who like simple pleasures, be sure to check out the Cockspur Island Lighthouse, the smallest lighthouse in Georgia.    

Related: 18 Spectacular Lighthouses Across America

Eastport, Maine
Eastport, Maine by Kim Carpenter (CC BY)

Eastport, Maine

Talk about island living. Eastport is a small coastal city composed of islands. The easternmost city in the United States, Eastport is one unique destination. As VisitMaine notes, it's right across the bay from New Brunswick, Canada, in a region "notorious for its ripping tides and powerful currents. These features have given birth to a rare phenomenon — reversing falls in nearby Pembroke. The churning water kicks food to the surface, supporting rare forms of aquatic life and attracting seals and eagles at high tide — great for whale watching." Plenty of nearby beaches and a penchant for quirky festivals (the annual Great Sardine and Maple Leaf Drop kicks off the new year), this area is also noted for its history — its once-bustling sardine canning industry, dozens of buildings on the National History Registry and as home of America's only remaining stone-ground mustard mill, Raye's Mustard Mill.

Biloxi Bay Bridge

Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Visit "The City of Discovery," and you'll see why it's so named. This historic (1699) Coastal Mississippi ("The Secret Coast") destination not only has white-sand beaches but also features a quaint Main Street that's home to centuries-old oak trees and is dotted with boutiques and eateries. The small-town appeal has a decidedly artistic bent, with its art association representing more than 300 artists. Public art is also featured, including the 120-foot Bridge Mosaic Mural. All in all, the community is one that balances its lively nightlife with family friendly charm.       

Related: 22 Small Towns with Vibrant Art Scenes

Coastal Alaska

Sitka, Alaska

So you're not looking to loll on a beach with a cocktail in your hand? Then perhaps Sitka might be a welcome coastal alternative, a famed port accessible only by air and sea that's become a cruise-ship destination. Independent travelers, though, savor it for its natural beauty, recreational opportunities (hiking, kayaking, canoeing), wilderness adventures (Fortress of the Bear at Tongass National Forest, Alaska Raptor Center, Whale Park) and history (St. Michael's Cathedral, America's oldest Russian Orthodox Church), attractions (Sitka Sound Science Center and its aquarium) and more.     

Related: 21 Places to Safely See Wild Animals Up Close

Main Street in Winter

Spring Lake, New Jersey

Do not expect to see Snooki here. Spring Lake is as far from the cheesy "Jersey Shore" experience as can be. No, it's a quieter coastal destination that drips vintage charm. Elegant boutiques and galleries line Third Avenue, its main thoroughfare, with fine and casual dining, a theater, stunning historic homes and a scenic lake with an evocative wooden bridge rounding things out. Oh, the beach? Another charming element that's lined with a 2-mile noncommercial boardwalk (how refreshing!) dotted with gazebos and pavilions, harkening back to an earlier era.    

Related: Vintage Beach Photos From Summers Past

Scenic Road on Edisto Island near Charleston

Edisto Island, South Carolina

One of South Carolina's Sea Islands, Edisto Island is a destination filled with a stunning coastline — and plenty of history, explored at Edisto Island Museum. Attractions and activities abound, from the classic beach experiences at Edisto Beach State Park (and hiking on its Spanish Mount Trail) to eco tours, fishing, golf, cycling — and for the brave, a visit to the Edisto Island Serpentarium, devoted to the world of reptiles. For authentic local flavor, check out King's Farm Market, part of a seven-generation family farm, for Key Lime pie and sweet corn and pick-your-own strawberries. (Side note: "Delicious Miss Brown," the Food Network show, is filmed at host Kardea Brown's own Sea Island home).

Rockport, Texas

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

"Oyster. Crabs. Shrimp." That's one way this destination's official site gets potential visitors' attention. The other is to list some 100 things to do in this Gulf Coast location that proves there's an alternative to the party vibe of spring break hotspot Padre Island. Among the choices are the mile-long Rockport Beach, the Fulton Mansion & Education History Center (an 1870s French Second Empire home of a famed cattleman), the Texas Maritime Museum, galleries, shops, outdoor adventures and plenty more.

Related: 23 Amazing Gulf Coast Beach Houses to Rent

Perfect tourist destination of Mendocino Village, CA

Mendocino, California

This Northern California jewel, a few hours north of San Francisco, is a natural wonderland that offers the proverbial something for everyone, from beaches to forests. When not taking in the splashes of the Pacific Ocean, visitors can explore the area's redwoods, attend theater or visit Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a 47-acre oasis that's the nation's only oceanfront botanical gardens. says it's the "only town on the California Coast that is designated as an Historical Landmark," established in the 1850s with New England-inspired architecture, from sprawling Victorian homes to quaint cottages (TV fans will note Mendocino stood in for Cabot Cove, Maine, in "Murder, She Wrote"). Of course, there's also plenty of shopping, dining and other cultural activities.     

Related: In Full Bloom: Gorgeous Botanical Gardens in All 50 States

Westerly, Rhode Island

Westerly, Rhode Island

Westerly certainly has a pedigree, settled by English colonists in 1661 and now home to pop star Taylor Swift. All kidding aside, this shore town is a destination not only for those visiting its beaches, Narragansett Bay and the Rhode Island Sound but lots more. As its site notes, "The beaches are just the beginning," and area attractions include the five-star Ocean House hotel, a downtown with plenty of shopping, dining and nightlife and options for countless outdoor activities. Visitors also take advantage of Westerly's proximity to the Connecticut border to make day trips to Mystic Seaport and several casinos.

Grand Isle LA Causeway
Wikimedia Commons

Grand Isle, Louisiana

Camp out or simply spend the day at Grand Island State Park, beaching on the barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. Known as a "sportsman's paradise," this tiny oasis is noted for its world-class fishing and birding. As the state's only inhabited barrier island, it also offers a wealth of photo ops, endless beaches and plenty of options for seafood, caught by you or served up in any of a number of establishments.

Westport, Connecticut

Westport, Connecticut

This tony town along Connecticut's Gold Coast — a little over 50 miles from New York City — might not be considered a typical seaside village at first. But it is indeed bordered by the Long Island Sound, offering "postcard-worthy beaches" (says, such as Sherwood Island State Park. The waterside theme continues with the picturesque Saugatuck River meandering through the heart of its sophisticated downtown, a charming destination of winding streets filled with boutiques and restaurants. A state-of-the-art library, a venerable theater and more make celeb-fave Westport a handsome destination with a nod to the nautical.

panoramic view of scenic houses in the small village of Amargansett in the Hamptons.

Amagansett, New York

Face it, the Hamptons (aka New York City's summer playground) isn't a secret. But visitors can tailor their destination to their expectations. Amagansett might prove a winning option for those definitely not seeking "party central." It's no surprise Amagansett's name is derived from the Native American words for "place of good water" as this is a hamlet of East Hampton, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Long Island Sound and several bays. A Hamptons "personality" piece on notes that Amagansett is the "destination for beach lovers, not showboaters." And, adds, "Heading east from East Hampton, the village of Amagansett feels a bit removed from the hum of the larger villages to the west. The vibe is also more bohemian…" Sure, no Hamptons town is going to be deserted, but Amagansett might provide moments of peace.

Carpinteria Coast Stairs

Carpinteria, California

This oceanside city east of Santa Barbara has quite a slogan — "The World's Safest Beach," thanks to its propensity for gentle waves. Sure, it has areas to surf, but for the most part, it's calm waters free of riptides. And those waters feature sea lions and seals, with tidepools sporting starfish, sea urchins, octopuses and crabs. Beyond swimming, sunning and surfing, visitors can check out Carpinteria Harbor Seal Preserve and Rookery, Tar Pits Park, Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park and the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History. Shoppers will also want to check out Linden Avenue, where there's an old-fashioned charm.

Jensen Beach Bridge Florida USA crossing Indian River on a cloudy and windy day
Julie Deshaies/istockphoto

Jensen Beach, Florida

Have you been to the "Pineapple Capital of the World"? Jensen Beach, on Florida's East Coast was once known by that nickname — and its history remains a part of this quiet retreat known for its top shopping and "seafood-intensive" fine dining (as notes). Expect bright colors on quaint cottages — and plenty of hospitality. Fans of the active getaway will delight in boating and fishing, which are complemented by beautiful beaches ideal for scuba diving, sailing, skiing and surfing. You may even spot a sea turtle.

Port Townsend, WA.

Port Townsend, Washington

"Washington's Victorian Seaport & Arts Community" is anchored on the Olympic Peninsula, offering miles of beaches but much more. Home to two National Historic Landmark districts, the artistic sensibilities of this community are palpable. There are museums and galleries, independent shops and gourmet goods, all set against a backdrop of hundreds of Victorian buildings and homes. A strong restaurant scene rounds out the offerings, making it no surprise that USA Today proclaimed Port Townsend "Victorian paradise in the Pacific Northwest."

Shark Fin Cove. One of the best beaches in all of California. Sightseeing Place
Mindaugas Dulinskas/istockphoto

Davenport, California

"Beautiful, isolated beaches with stunning cliffs," says one writer on TripAdvisor of Davenport Beach. Billed as an alternative to the crowds of Santa Cruz, prime attractions of Davenport — a seaside town and onetime whaling village along Highway 1 — include Davenport Landing Beach, scenic Shark Fin Cove (with its evocative sea cave), and Swanton Berry Farm. You can also check out the moody remnants of Davenport Pier, an artful scene popular with photographers, especially at low tide.

shops on main street

Stone Harbor, New Jersey

Stone Harbor sits on the southern portion of Seven Mile Beach, an Atlantic Ocean barrier island. It's a quietly sophisticated destination with a vibrant shopping district of boutiques, art galleries and charming eateries. The panoramic beach stretches some 40 blocks, offering plenty of ocean access. Nature lovers will delight in attractions such as The Wetlands Institute or the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary – or simply walking the beach and observing nature's bounty. The town is also a short drive from many other resort destinations including Cape May, the Wildwoods, Ocean City and Atlantic City, all ideal for a day or evening jaunt. As Stone Harbor proclaims — talk about hometown pride — it's "the Seashore at its best."

South Bristol, ME- Christmas Cove
Wikimedia Commons

Christmas Cove, Maine

The site Greetings from New England with Love put Christmas Cove on its 2021 list of "10 Coastal Towns in Maine That are Hidden Gems," calling it "a haven of quiet harbors and secret beaches." We are so intrigued. Said to also be an oyster destination, the area features cafes and "fish joints" and working wharfs for that true seaside feel. If you really want to escape, this may be your place. (Oh, and, by the way, its name is a nod to Capt. John Smith anchoring on the site in December of 1614).     

Related: 20 Amazing Seafood Shacks Across America