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12 Best Beach Towns on the East Coast

From the rocky shoreline of New England down to the flat beaches of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, the Eastern Seaboard is a region that shines its brightest in the warmer months. As temperatures increase, many travelers make the journey to their favorite East Coast beach towns to soak up the restorative, nostalgic nature that comes with salt water, sand, and good old-fashioned summer fun.

“East Coast beach towns have a certain distinct charm that you have to experience yourself to fully embrace,” says Katie Cosgrove, the director of sales and marketing at Ashore Resort & Beach Club in Ocean City, Maryland. “These towns tend to be more laid back, with an appeal for every type of traveler — whether it’s families, beach week groups looking for nightlife, couples looking for a getaway, and everyone in between.” Plus, she adds, most of these destinations are relatively close to larger cities — like Savannah, Richmond, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City — which “makes for a quick and easy getaway for urban dwellers.”

With summer right around the corner, we had a few local experts, including Cosgrove, share their picks for the best beach towns on the East Coast. See which ones made the cut below. 

Kennebunkport, Maine

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According to Natalie Kurtzman, a travel advisor at Fora, you’ll want to head to Maine for “wide sandy beaches, amazing food (homemade blueberry pie and fresh lobster are a New England rite of passage), and charming towns.” While there are several beach towns to choose from, Kennebunkport is her top pick. She recommends starting your vacation by checking into Hidden Pond, where you can stay in cottages and bungalows, and then spending a day at Goose Rocks Beach. “A visit to the area requires a stop at Mabel’s Lobster Claw for — you guessed it — lobster and their award-winning blueberry pie,” she adds.

Newport, Rhode Island

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“Newport is filled with amazing history and incredible food,” says Caroline Broome, founder and designer of Tillie, a Palm Beach-based fashion brand. While some beach towns veer toward cute and kitschy, Newport is all about the glamor; if you’ve watched The Gilded Age on HBO, you may remember the mansions, the cocktail parties, and all of the social drama between Manhattan’s elite as they enjoyed summers in Newport. Modern-day Newport still holds onto that level of glitz, with several luxury hotels welcoming travelers to the seaside destination. Broome recommends staying at the historic Castle Hill Inn, but there’s also The Chanler at Cliff Walk, The Brenton Hotel, and The Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection. During your stay, be sure to check off all of the classic Newport activities: Go sailing, explore the 3.5-mile scenic Cliff Walk, and visit the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Montauk, New York

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As New Yorkers know, the train ride out to the very end of Long Island can be stressful (particularly if you’re joining the throngs of people leaving Manhattan on a Friday). Montauk, however, is worth the four-hour ride and ensuing hassle — and there are even pockets of quiet, if you know where to look. It’s a bit more rugged than some of the other towns in the Hamptons, and I find that to be a significant part of its appeal. There’s a rustic-meets-luxury charm to the town, which you’ll experience at Crow’s Nest, a bohemian hotel with both rooms and cottages. Or, if you want to take it up a notch, spend a long weekend at Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, where 158 rooms and suites overlook the ocean. If it’s your first time out East, I also recommend visiting the Montauk Point Lighthouse, indulging in a lobster roll at Duryea’s, and getting some dinner essentials at Gosman’s Fish Market.

Chatham, Massachusetts

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“Chatham feels so nostalgic, with the evening bandstand concerts and the charm of Old Cape Cod,” says Kurtzman. “I spent time in Chatham as a child and have some of the fondest memories at Oyster Pond Beach and strolling Main Street.” If you’re traveling with a family or a larger group, you may want to opt for a quintessential Cape Cod beach cottage for your stay. But for those hoping for a more romantic or luxurious stay, she recommends Chatham Bars Inn: “The inn has one of the best spas in New England if you’re looking to sneak away for some quiet time. Plus, you can walk into town, which is such a highlight.” Between beach trips, bike rides, and popping into the t-shirt stores, galleries, and boutiques on Main Street, check out two of Kurtzman’s can’t-miss Chatham staples: local watering hole The Chatham Squire and Chatham Candy Manor.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

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Nantucket has its own brand of island magic — one created by foggy weather, blooming hydrangeas, cobblestone streets, lobster rolls, and stunning oceanside homes. “There is so much to love [on the island], but a few of my favorites include dining at Cru, Lola 41, and The Nautilus. For a special meal with gorgeous sunset views, go to Galley Beach. A visit to Cisco Brewers is a must — and this is well paired with grabbing picnic items for the beach at Bartlett’s Farm,” says Kurtzman. The beach scene is also notable (her favorites are Surfside Beach and Jetties Beach), and there are several top-tier hotels to book for an extra-luxe getaway.  “To stay, I love the White Elephant for its location, great accommodations (especially great for families), and amazing service. I also love The Nantucket Hotel for the location and amazing kids programs,” she says.

Ocean City, Maryland

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“Ocean City, Maryland is by far my favorite East Coast beach town. I grew up going to Ocean City with my family, and I couldn’t be happier to now call this beach retreat home,” says Cosgrove. “I love that you can get a little bit of everything… easy beach access, family activities, great seafood, and vibrant nightlife.” Some beach towns may be sleepy, but Ocean City is the opposite; there are amusement parks (Trimper Rides and Jolly Roger Amusement Park), mini golf courses, playgrounds, piers, and plenty of dining options to keep you full and energized. “Aside from our new signature restaurant [at Ashore Resort & Beach Club], Tide Room, I’d recommend visitors also check out The Hobbit and Liquid Assets, which has a great wine selection. Plus the downtown boardwalk and Thrasher’s famous french fries are not to be missed,” she says.

Duck, North Carolina

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For families who “love a mix of adventure and relaxation,” Cosgrove recommends Duck, a beach town in the Outer Banks. With one of the best beaches in North Carolina, this is the type of town where you can really kick back and take it easy. If you prefer to spend your vacation days on the move, take a spin around the beach town on a bike (you can rent one from Duck Cycle), head out on the water with Nor’ Banks Sailing & Watersports, or get your steps in while exploring the Duck Town Park and Boardwalk. And if you end up craving something sweet? Duck delivers. “One of my absolute favorite places to go is Duck Donuts,” says Cosgrove, “They make incredible hot donuts made to order.”

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

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Broome calls Sullivan’s Island “one of the most lovable, laid-back beach towns in the South,” and it’s not hard to see why. Just a short drive from downtown Charleston, the 2.5-mile-long island is a local favorite, thanks to its proximity, easy beach access, and number of incredible restaurants — including The Obstinate Daughter, Sullivan’s Fish Camp, and Poe’s Tavern. “The homes here are swoon-worthy, and the beach is extra wide, making for incredible views and endless beach walks,” she adds. Pro tip: Rent a bike from Sealand Adventure Sports to explore both Sullivan’s Island and neighboring Isle of Palms. 

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

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If you’ve traveled to Hilton Head Island even just once, you know it’s the kind of destination that feels like home the moment you arrive; it’s just that special. “Travelers will love Hilton Head’s great long stretches of beaches and historic touches — it’s also a really great beach town for those who love walking and biking,” says Cosgrove. An easy weekend trip from Savannah, this part of the Lowcountry boasts more than 12 miles of sandy beaches, 30 golf courses, and endless ways to spend a long, leisurely day. Watch the boats arrive at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina, learn about the island’s history from a Gullah Heritage Trail Tours guide, search out dolphins with Dolphin Discoveries Nature Tours, or pick up fresh seafood at Hilton Head Farmers Market.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

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Broome, who got married on nearby Sea Island, names St. Simons Island one of the best East Coast beach towns — a title given due to its perennial appeal. “[I] love that this destination is a wonderful place to visit year-round. There is always something festive going on with activities for the whole family,” she says. In the summer, East Beach beckons; in the off-season, visitors can still enjoy the scenery on a bike ride along the St. Simons Island Trail System, pop by the St. Simons Light House Museum, or fill up on the famous pancakes at Palmer’s Village Cafe. During the holidays, a visit to The Cloister is paramount (although you’ll need to be a guest — or have a dining reservation — to get on Sea Island).

Tybee Island, Georgia

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When the summer heat descends upon Savannah, locals flock to Tybee Island, where the wide beaches offer a reprieve from the humidity. It’s an extremely family-friendly destination that offers something for everyone. For the history buffs, there’s Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse; the adventure seekers can paddle out on the open water with Sea Kayak Georgia; and nature lovers will appreciate the unparalleled access to wildlife with Captain Derek’s Dolphin Adventures. Come mealtime, there’s no need to get dressed up. In true beach town form, Tybee Island is extremely casual — whether you’re dining at Breakfast Club (my personal favorite), The Crab Shack, or Salt Island Fish and Beer.

Palm Beach, Florida

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East Coast beach towns come in all shapes and sizes, and Palm Beach, Florida is certainly one of the most glittery — and photogenic.  “Filled with endless style and abundant sunshine, Palm Beach is an oasis that feels a bit like stepping into a postcard,” says Broome. “With breezy palm trees, blooming flowers, and beautiful colors around every corner, the inspiration is endless.” The 18-mile-long barrier island is known for its high-end shopping along Worth Avenue, historic landmarks (the Flagler Museum), and an impressive roster of hotels; both The Breakers and The Brazilian Court Hotel are centrally located in town. Following a pool day or a ride on a beach cruiser, stop by Buccan Sandwich Shop for a quick lunch, followed by drinks at HMF or Florie’s at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach.

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