18 Top-Rated East Coast Beaches
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When the weather turns warm, there are few better things to do in the US than visit an East Coast beach. Whether you live close enough to drive to one of the region's best beaches (hello, Jersey Shore) or have to hop on a flight (what's up, Miami Beach), a visit to these soft, sandy stretches is more than worthy of a weekend or, better yet, a week-long beach vacation.
Some of the nation's best, cleanest, and most inviting beaches line the sandy shores of America's East Coast. Take that, Hawaii! From the spectacular beaches in Massachusetts to enticing Florida hot spots to Block Island's golden gems, the East Coast is peppered with award-winning beach vacation destinations that are perfect for a romantic or family-friendly getaway.
Many of the East Coast's best beaches can be easily accessed (some for free) by foot from nearby parking lots. Why not plan an East Coast road trip, so you can see multiple of the region's best beaches at once? For ideas on where to spend your next sunny day at the shore, read our list of the best East Coast beaches.
1. South Beach, Miami, FL
Let's be honest, Miami's South Beach is about as far as you're going to get from a quiet East Coast beach vacation. People flock here for the vibrancy and non-stop action. They're not looking for a secret enclave to curl up in with a good book. People-watching tops the list of things to do on this diverse beach.
From celebrities to bikini-clad roller-skaters to "beautiful people" who dress to be seen, it takes all sorts to keep the heart of this vivacious beach pumping. Ocean Drive is peppered with slow-moving cars filled with passengers gawking at the scene.
With more than seven miles of wide beaches covered with soft, white sand, you're sure to find a perfect spot to catch some rays. That said, be prepared to encounter crowds, especially on a beautiful day. This oasis in the midst of thriving Miami is a go-to spot for pretty much every tourist in town.
Ocean Drive is also where you'll find top restaurants dripping with diners who crave a beachside view with their cool drinks and tasty meals.
SoBe, as it's referred to by locals, is well known for its Art Deco district, which bursts with amazing architecture, a slew of restaurants, and trendy shops that will put a dent in your wallet. Not a fan of crowds? Florida is widely known for its beautiful beaches, so you may want to try one of these other top beaches in the state.
For those who like to enjoy a bit of action on their beach day, volleyball nets are set up just north of South Beach, in Lummus Park, just off Ocean Drive near 12th Street. There's a playground here, too, perfect for kids in need of a break from ocean waves.
Insider's tip: If you're hoping to enjoy a bit of peace on Miami's most popular beach, arrive early in the morning (between 8 and 9am is best), when you'll have most of the sand to yourself.
2. Fort Lauderdale Beach, FL
A quieter, more low-key version of South Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach also provides visitors with over seven miles of sparkling white-sand beaches (two miles of which are watched by lifeguards). That's plenty of space to walk, run, build sandcastles, or throw a ball around. Plus, the invitingly clear water is perfect for swimming, surfing, body boarding, and jet skiing, not to mention snorkeling and scuba diving.
Fort Lauderdale Beach is lined by a rollerblade-friendly boardwalk, as well as a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and cafés. Be prepared to be entertained-street performers and outdoor musicians abound.
Fort Lauderdale Beach Park is located at 1100 Seabreeze Boulevard. It offers a slew of picnic tables, shade-giving palm trees, restrooms, and outdoor showers.
Head up towards the north end of the beach and visit Hugh Taylor Birch State Park. Known locally as Fort Lauderdale's "Central Park," this peaceful green space offers a welcome respite from the busy city and shaded walking trails to escape the hot sun. You can even rent a canoe and paddle along the mile-long freshwater lagoon. Insider's Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for turtles.
The park also offers a restaurant with a large outdoor patio and access to nearby Hollywood Beach.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Fort Lauderdale
3. Virginia Beach, VA
Virginia Beach is a classic East Coast beach resort town. Located at the intersection of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this bustling spot will both relax and entertain its visitors.
Where else can you kayak with dolphins in the morning and dine on smokin' good BBQ at night? Insider's tip: Beach Bully Open Pit Bar B Que is conveniently close to the beach and offers tasty fare that's finger-licking good.
Walk or bike along the three-mile concrete boardwalk, play beach volleyball, or head out fishing. You'll be surprised by the beach's cleanliness-it's groomed nightly.
When you're sick of dealing with sand in your swimsuit, head to the Military Aviation Museum, where you'll find impeccably preserved (and working) military aircraft dating back to World Wars I and II. You'll be hard-pressed to find friendlier or more knowledgeable volunteers.
Kids will love the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. In addition to housing thousands of sea creatures, the center is also home to an impressive adventure park, complete with a zipline through an aerial forest.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Virginia Beach, VA
4. Myrtle Beach, SC
Searching for an East Coast family beach vacation? Look no further than Myrtle Beach. It's got a little bit of everything to please even the pickiest of beachgoers.
Visitors are greeted by more than 60 miles of sprawling coastline, offering a ton of space to spread out, play on the beach, or catch a few rays. But that's not all this famous beach has to offer.
Kids (and those who require a higher level of entertainment than a lazy day on the sand provides) will go out of their minds with excitement over the multitude of options in this area.
There are theme parks, a Ripley's Aquarium, the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel, and Hollywood Wax Museum, to name a few. Plus, Family Kingdom Amusement Park, an old-fashioned park with over 30 rides is centrally located on Ocean Boulevard. No wonder this is known as one of the best beaches for families.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Myrtle Beach for Families
5. Coligny Beach, Hilton Head, SC
When it comes to awesome beaches, South Carolina offers some stiff competition. Where Myrtle Beach is crowded, popular, and exciting, Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island is a perfect beach for couples looking to unwind.
It's also family friendly. The water at Coligny is so shallow, you'd need to walk about 30 feet from shore before you hit more than three feet of water. Kids will love boogie boarding, body surfing, and jumping the waves.
They'll also fall in love with Coligny Beach Park (located off Coligny Circle at the end of Pope Avenue). Complete with synchronized water jet fountains, swings, rocking chairs, and a gazebo, you'll have a tough time tearing them away.
Parking is free-yay! So that leaves you with more money to spend on ice-cream or seafood at one of the restaurants in Coligny Plaza. Forgot to pack a chair? The best place for beach rentals (of everything from umbrellas to aqua cycles to sailboats) is Shore Beach Service.
Insider's tip: Low tide presents endless fun for grownups and kids alike. Tidal pools make it easy to find crabs, sand dollars, and starfish. But remember: leave everything as you found it - those creatures want to stay in their original homes.
6. Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, MA
Cape Cod and beautiful beaches go hand in hand. One of the most-visited spots on the globe, this idyllic, arm-shaped peninsula is home to multiple pristine beaches. Coast Guard Beach in Eastham is arguably one of the most spectacular.
This popular beach is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and features expansive marshlands, dramatic dunes, and sweeping vistas-all of which combine to make this a perfect place to escape reality. Throw in a boardwalk, soft sand, crashing waves, and volleyball, and you've got yourself a vacation. Keep your eyes peeled for seals. They like to play (and sleep) nearby.
Another bonus: Coast Guard's big waves are perfect for surfing (with your body or a board). Those visiting with kids will need to keep an extra close eye on them, though. The water is cold, and it can get rough. Plus, there can be sharks in the area.
On-site parking is only available for residents, but a free shuttle operates every five to 10 minutes from Little Creek parking lot on Doane Road. Since dropping off and picking up is prohibited at this beach, the shuttle is your best option.
Insider's tip: Not a fan of crowds? The farther you walk, the less likely you'll be to have your view impeded by umbrellas.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cape Cod: Best Areas & Hotels
7. Menemsha Beach, Martha's Vineyard, MA
Menemsha, the quaint fishing town attached to this picturesque beach, only strengthens its charm. A working fishing harbor can be seen from the quiet shore, providing visitors with an up-close view (and sometimes smell) of fishermen unloading their catch.
Located in the town of Chilmark, the beach's proximity to fresh fish means you'll have one of the tastiest seafood meals of your life at one of the local markets or restaurants. Take it to-go and settle in for a tasty picnic. Larsen's Fish Market on Basin Road is not to be missed.
Smaller and rockier than other beaches on this list, Menemsha Beach provides unbeatable views of Cuttyhunk and the other Elizabeth Islands. It also offers one of the best sunset views on Martha's Vineyard.
Another plus: Lifeguards are on duty, restrooms and amenities are on hand, the water is shallow, and waves are small, making this a great beach for families. That said, the water's quite chilly, so pack extra towels or sweatshirts.
Insider's tip: Scavenger hunt time! The first to spot the sculpture of the Swordfish Harpooner wins. Hint: it's near the sand dunes by the parking lot. Speaking of parking lots, this one gets crazy, so aim to get there early.
8. Block Island Beaches, RI
Block Island is utterly charming, an idyllic retreat perfect for stressed wanderers looking to step back and enjoy nature. While it may be small–it is situated in the country's smallest state–Block Island is packed with beauty, charm, and some of the most spectacular beaches on the East Coast.
In fact, Block Island boasts 17 miles of pristine beaches–doesn't sound so small now, does it? Quaint lighthouses dot the coast, while the soft, sandy shores are backed by protected dunes and rolling bluffs. Not surprisingly, Block Island is home to many of the best beaches in Rhode Island.
Crescent Beach is a popular spot to spend a summer day. About two and a half miles in length, this pretty beach stretches from Old Harbor to Clay Head on the island's east coast. At its center lies "Town Beach." This is where you'll find the concessions, facilities, lifeguards, and rentals for everything from beach chairs to water sports equipment.
The secluded Mohegan Bluffs Beach is worthy of a visit, but you'll have to be up for a climb. This rocky, tranquil beach, situated at the base of the towering Mohegan Bluffs (they're about 200 feet tall), rewards visitors with optimal swimming and surfing opportunities.
On the way down, the trek along 141 steps doesn't feel so bad. The way back, however, can feel like a slog, especially after the sun has zapped your energy. Wear comfy shoes!
9. Ocean City Beach, NJ
Ocean City Beach is one of the best beaches for families on the East Coast. A star on the Jersey Shore, this New Jersey beach is packed with fun attractions, which make spending a day here one of the best things to do in New Jersey [LINK TO MY NEW ARTICLE].
From riding the Ferris Wheel at Gillian's Wonder Pier to flying down roller coasters at Playland's Castaway Cove, the popular Ocean City Boardwalk offers sun worshippers a slew of ways to stay entertained throughout their day on the beach.
If you're hoping to surf, you can do that, too–at Waverly Boulevard, 16th Street, and the beaches that lie south of 36th Street).
When hunger hits, as it tends to do when you're frolicking in the waves and running along the sand at the beach, there are plenty of options for tempting your tastebuds on the Boardwalk. Everything from pizza to frozen custard to seafood to fresh fudge are available year-round.
Accommodations: Where to Stay in Ocean City, NJ
10. Jetties Beach, Nantucket Island, MA
Watching the sun set over the windswept beaches and sand dunes of Nantucket is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences on the island. Jetties Beach is a local favorite, easily reached after a quick bus ride from Broad Street (outside the Whaling Museum).
Clean and beautiful sand complements crystal-clear water that's begging you to jump in. Perfect for families, this beach boasts a nearby playground, and the waves are gentle enough to make swimming a breeze. Another bonus: the water's warm. The sandbar runs out quite a distance, so the shallow water means kids can play safely even farther out from shore.
When hunger hits, visit The Sandbar at Jettie's Beach, an open-air restaurant situated perfectly on the beach. Grab a grilled fish sandwich, burger, or another tasty snack. Be prepared: the prices are steep, which is likely a reflection of the awesome view.
Love fishing? The waters surrounding Nantucket are teeming with striper, bluefish, and bonito. Grab your gear, rent a boat, and head out.
11. Atlantic Beach, NC
Another family-friendly hot spot, Atlantic Beach is one of the best beaches in North Carolina. The beach's premier status is mostly due to its south-facing, sheltered locale, which boasts smaller surf and warmer water than other local beaches. On a warm day, kids can bodysurf, swim, and snorkel offshore without turning into ice cubes.
As for the sand, it's lusciously soft and white, ideal for building sandcastles, especially if you embark on your creation a little closer to the water where the sand is wetter and sticks together more easily.
The Atlantic Beach Boardwalk is often busy with people-watchers, dog walkers, and visitors hoping to take in the view without getting stand stuck between their toes.
Behind the beach lies the town of Atlantic Beach, a popular area bursting with shops and restaurants eagerly catering to their sand-loving guests. Atlantic Beach also boasts multiple parks, fishing opportunities, and three popular trail loops to guide visitors through the town.
Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in North Carolina
Read More: Best Coastal Towns in North Carolina
12. Huntington State Park, SC
Looking for a cheap family beach vacation on the east coast? With over 100 campsites to choose from, Huntington State Park on Huntington Island offers visitors an up close and personal (not to mention affordable) way to experience the beach. Admission is $8 an adult and $4 for kids between six and 15 years of age. Those under age five are free.
Each site comes complete with water and electrical hookups, as well as showers and bathroom facilities. Plus, they have a playground. For an extra $2, you'll gain admission to the Huntington Island Lighthouse, the only lighthouse in South Carolina that's open to the public.
Over 130 feet above the ground, the lighthouse offers a lovely panoramic view of this Atlantic coast beach and nearby forest. Be warned: You'll have to climb 167 spiraling stairs to be rewarded with the incredible vista.
Insider's Tip: With over one million tourists visiting the park each year, Huntington State Park is a popular East Coast vacation spot, especially in the summer. So, the earlier you book, the better.
13. Cocoa Beach, FL
Located on Florida's famed "Space Coast" (so named for its close proximity to Cape Canaveral), Cocoa Beach is one of Florida's most affordable beach getaways. The charming restaurants and unique shops won't break the bank, like many you'll find further south (we're looking at you, South Beach).
Another major bonus: skyscrapers won't block your view, and you won't be plagued by traffic noise from crowded streets. Instead, Cocoa Beach offers captivating vistas, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, and a quiet environment to help ease the stresses of your everyday life.
Worried you'll get bored? Don't. This adorable East Coast beach town offers all the wind and water sports you'll need and boasts impressive waves for surfing. The closest beach to Orlando, Cocoa Beach is a popular day trip for theme-park goers.
It's also a stone's throw away from the Kennedy Space Center, where kids and grownups alike can be wowed by NASA's latest launch and learn how astronauts prepare for a mission.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Cocoa Beach
14. Cape May Beach, NJ
Fishing, swimming, and boating, oh my! There's so much to do at Cape May Beach in New Jersey. That's right, we said New Jersey. It may not be the first place you think of heading on an East Coast beach vacation, but the 127 miles of coastline on the Jersey Shore (made famous by the MTV show of the same name) are hard to beat, especially during the summer. In fact, there are a ton of vacation-worthy beaches in New Jersey.
Cape May Beach is particularly charming and beautiful. Adorable bed-and-breakfasts and picturesque Victorian homes line the nearby streets. This pristine beach is located at the southernmost point of the state and offers more than just a relaxing place to quiet your worries. Restaurants, shops, art shows, and water sports abound, as does the well-loved sport of people-watching.
When you need a break from the sun, head to the Cape May County Park and Zoo. The Cape May Fireman's Museum is also worth a visit. It's free and features an antique fire engine from 1928.
Insider's tip: Beach tags are required from 10am to 5pm on all Cape May City Beaches from Memorial Weekend through Labor Day. Visit the Beach Tag Office at any beach entrance. Kids under 12 are free.
Accommodation: Best Resorts in Cape May
15. Main Beach, East Hampton, NY
Who doesn't want to head to the Hamptons this summer? While luxuriating in the perfect, clear (but hot and somewhat crunchy) sand, you'll likely brush elbows with some of New York's elite. Television, film, and music stars love whiling away the hours on the Hamptons' impeccable shores. You never know who you'll see.
Main Beach, one of the best beaches in the Hamptons, is located in East Hampton. It has a lifeguard, as well as amenities like bathrooms, a pavilion, and a reasonably-priced snack bar.
The water is the type of refreshing that leaves goosebumps, and the waves are quite powerful, so hold on to your kids. The main reason people come here, though, is to gawk at the incredible mansions that lie behind the dunes lining the shore.
Insider's Tip: Parking by the beach is permit only, but there's a nearby lot that will set you back about $25. On weekends, there are few spots available, so get there early.
16. Easton's Beach (First Beach), RI
The largest beach in Newport, Easton's Beach lies at the start of the town's biggest tourist attraction-the Cliff Walk. The raised path, which takes you past some of New England's most famous (and impressive) mansions: The Breakers, Rosecliff, Beechwood, and Marble House, also offers unbeatable views of the Rhode Island Sound. Beware: the path disappears at times, leaving you to make your way on potentially slippery rocks.
A bit rocky in parts, this predominantly white-sand beach runs three quarters of a mile in length and features a well-kept boardwalk. As with most fun beaches, Easton's Beach offers a snack bar, beach rentals of everything from chairs to boogie boards, and a shop selling all those things you forgot you needed (sunblock anyone?). Did we mention the 1950s carousel? Who wouldn't want to travel back in time on a painted horse?
17. Kennebunkport Beaches, ME
Kennebunkport is one of the most charming small towns in Maine. A maritime beauty, this sweet spot is flanked by pristine beaches.
Kennebunk Beach has been dubbed one of the best beaches in Maine for good reason. Also known as "Mother's Beach," this vast expanse of sand is soft and clean, an ideal beach for families. It also boasts a fun outdoor playground. Lifeguards are on duty here and at nearby Gooch's Beach from mid-June through early September, but if you're looking for concessions and facilities, you won't find them at either location.
Mother's and Gooch's Beaches do have port-o-potties from July through Labor Day. Gooch's Beach is about three miles long and has beautiful views of Timber Island.
Middle Beach connects to Mother's and Gooch's and runs along Beach Avenue. It has a rockier base than the wide, soft sandy shore found at Kennebunk and Gooch's.
Beach passes are required if you're hoping to park at the beach. You can purchase a visitor's pass from the kiosk at either beach (Gooch's, Middle, or Mother's) or Town Hall. Dogs are allowed on the beach before 9am and after 5pm from June 15 through Labor Day, or any time from the day after Labor Day to June 14th.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kennebunkport, ME
18. Siesta Key Beach, FL
Although it's not technically on the East Coast, Sarasota's Siesta Key on the Gulf of Mexico is a winner, and it has been for years. The reason it keeps topping the list of the best beach towns? Siesta Key Beach.
This beach getaway is fronted by the most breathtakingly crystal-clear water-it's so turquoise you can't help but jump in. The shimmering white quartz sand has also been voted some of the softest in the country.
A charming beach town, Siesta Key is flanked by colorful bungalows and adorable shops in Siesta Key Village. It's also one of the best beaches to visit with kids; the sand never gets too hot (which helps protect little feet), and it's home to new and improved playgrounds to keep little ones busy. Another bonus: that nice clear water is shallow for quite a distance from shore, making it ideal for families.
Insider's Tip: Every Sunday evening, starting about an hour before the sun sets, you can catch the Siesta Key Drum Circle perform on the sand. We dare you not to dance!
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Sarasota
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Things to Do on the East Coast: This area of America is full of vacation and adventure possibilities. Looking for things to do in summer in addition to going to the beach? How about a camping trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Try your luck trout fishing in North Carolina. Want to get active? Hit the hiking trails in New Hampshire or explore Acadia National Park.