14 Top-Rated East Coast Beaches
When many dream of a beach vacation, they envision the sparkling turquoise waters of the Caribbean or the palm-tree-laden, sugary sand beaches of Hawaii. Others may fantasize about beaches that are further afield in exotic locales like Bali or Tahiti. Turns out we should be focusing our vacation lenses a little closer to home-on the East Coast of America.
Some of the nation's best, cleanest, and most inviting beaches line the sandy shores of America's East Coast. From the spectacular beaches in Massachusetts to enticing Florida hot spots, the East Coast is peppered with award-winning vacation destinations that are perfect for a romantic or family-friendly beach getaway.
Have extra time to spare? Why not take an East Coast road trip. That way, you can visit multiple beaches along your route. For ideas on the best places to visit by the sea, 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.
South Beach 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-rated beaches in the state.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Miami Beach: Best Areas & Hotels
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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.
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.
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 also houses 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 a 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 with 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.
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. 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, 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.
Insider's Tip: Pack sandals or water shoes, as the sand can feel quite gritty with broken shells and rocks.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Nantucket: Best Areas & Hotels
9. 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 $5 an adult and $3 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.
10. 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
11. 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 top-rated 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: Where to Stay in Cape May: Best Areas & Hotels
12. 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 area's best, 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.
13. 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?
Insider's Tip: Parking can be challenging as the day progresses, so aim to arrive early.
Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Rhode Island
14. Siesta Key Public 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 Public 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 besides going to the beach? Find inspiration for your next trip with our article on the Best Outdoor Adventures in West Virginia. Try your luck trout fishing in North Carolina or West Virginia. Hit the hiking trails in New Hampshire or explore Acadia National Park. Wondering what to do in winter along the East Coast? Have a read through our list of the Top Ski Resorts on the East Coast.