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10 Best Beach Towns to Visit in the United States

It’s the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and you’re probably dreaming of your next beach vacation. If you’re looking to get away to a coast, here are some the best beach towns in the United States.

1. Sanibel Island, Florida

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Image by Jan Butchofsky

There is something special about Sanibel, Florida. Located in the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles from Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is a place to see the sunset without leaving the east coast. Both Sanibel and its neighbor island, Captiva, are popular locations for beachgoers who prefer a quiet setting.

Things to Do: Sanibel Island is a great location for fishermen, birdwatchers, and outdoor lovers in general. Play a round of golf or a game of tennis during your stay, or hop on a bike to take in the beautiful sights of the island. With 24 miles of beaches and family-friendly activities, there’s a little something for everyone. For a unique addition to your visit, be sure to stop at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Must-Stop Photo-Op: Check out Lighthouse Beach Park, located on the southern tip of Sanibel Island. The lighthouse was built in 1884 and is definitely worth the trip (go during sunset to get a really breathtaking photo). Animal lovers should check out the J.N. “Darling” National Wildlife Refuge to photograph some beautiful plants and animals.

2. Provincetown, Massachusetts

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Image by Atlantide Phototravel

Located on the northern tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Provincetown—or P-Town, as many call it—is an “oasis on the cape.” Provincetown is known for celebrating freedom of expression and is popular among artists and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Provincetown is also home to the oldest continuous art colony in the United States. 

Provincetown is 60 miles out to sea, making it a unique vacation destination in Cape Cod. The city on the cape has over 400 years of history.

Things to Do: Provincetown offers year-round opportunities to get away from daily life. Known for its eclectic arts and food scene, you’ll never go hungry or be bored in P-Town. Head to one of the numerous art galleries or take in theater performances in the evenings. As a part of Cape Cod National Seashore Park, many of the beaches in Provincetown are considered to be some of the best in the country. You can also hike a nature trail or go for a bike ride.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: If you’re heading to Provincetown between the months of April and October, sign up for a whale-watching tour for a chance to view whales in their natural habitat. Because of P-Town’s location on the cape, you’re also likely to get a stunning view of a sunset or two during your visit.

3. Malibu, California

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Image by Posnov

Malibu offers 21 miles of stunning scenery, which you can view from the beach or while driving along Pacific Coast Highway. With both public and private beaches to choose from, Malibu has plenty of options. If you’re heading to Malibu for your next vacation, check out the Beach Report Cards to know what’s happening at each location along the shore.

Things to Do: Malibu is a surfer’s dream, and there’s a lot of other stuff to do, too. . If you’re an avid hiker or a wine connoisseur, consider a Malibu Wine Hike. If you’re looking for a fun family camping experience, visit Leo Carrillo State Park and camp on the beach.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: Stop in for a photo-op at El Matador Beach. As the most popular beach in Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, El Matador offers picnic tables and dream-like trails that will lead you through beautiful rock formations, rock arches, and sea stacks. El Matador Beach is a popular spot for professional photographers.

4. Cannon Beach, Oregon

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Image by Photography by Deb Snelson

Named one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world by National Geographic, Cannon Beach is a must-visit for nature lovers and beachgoers. Along with waterfalls and marine life during low tide, Cannon Beach also offers hiking, arts, and music festivals, and the opportunity to go to Tillamook Lighthouse, all just 90 minutes outside of Portland. Cannon Beach is a small beach town with open spaces, beaches, and wetlands for you and your family to enjoy.

Things to Do: Head to Cannon Beach during low tide to explore the tide pools, especially near Haystack Rock. Grab something to eat and drink at one of the many breweries,  head to one of the art galleries, or go on an outdoor walking art tour.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: Cannon Beach offers opportunities to see puffins during the spring and whales during their winter and spring migration seasons. It wouldn’t be a trip to Cannon Beach without taking a photo of Haystack Rock.

5. Cape May, New Jersey

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Image by Richard T. Nowitz

New Jersey has a number of great beaches, but there is something truly special about Cape May. Known as America’s Original Seaside Resort, Cape May offers a rich history and diverse styles of architecture. Unlike other Jersey Beach destinations, Cape May is open year-round and offers special activities during every season.

Things to Do: The summer season is jam-packed with activities in Cape May—from concerts to craft festivals. Cape May is a small, walkable city with plenty of excellent outdoor activities (including the beach). You can also head out to the Naval Air Station and Wildwood Aviation Museum, which was once an active dive-bomber squadron training facility. 

Must-Stop Photo-Op: Dolphin and whale watching are incredibly popular in Cape May. The Cape May Whale Watcher has been running its 110-foot boat since 1993 to watch dolphins and whales as they migrate through Cape May, Wildwood, and Atlantic City. Visit the Cape May Lighthouse and walk up the 199-step spiral staircase to get stunning aerial views of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay.

6. South Padre Island, Texas

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Image by Jeff R. Clow

South Padre Island is located on the Texas Gulf Coast and is the top surfing destination in the state. It’s also known for being one of the most family-friendly beaches in the United States. 

Things to Do: South Padre Island is a lot of fun. If you love fishing, South Padre is a great, year-round location, whether you’re interested in nearshore, offshore, or surfcasting. It’s a popular spot for young beachgoers to spend spring and summer break, but even if partying isn’t your thing, there is a busy summer schedule full of art classes and concerts.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: If you’re a birder or you want to see an alligator, spend some time at the South Padre Island Birding Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary to see birds, butterflies, and other coastal flora and fauna. If ‘gators aren’t your cup of tea, head to Sea Turtle Inc. for the opportunity to learn about rehabilitating sea turtles and possibly even watch a sea turtle release.

7. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

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Image by C Louis Creations

Rehoboth Beach is an excellent beach town for summer fun. Originally founded by indigenous people from the Delaware area, the beach town continued to grow as European settlers arrived in the U.S. colonies and during the Revolutionary War. 

Things to Do: Head to Delaware Seashore State Park and take in the beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. Hop in a kayak and explore Rehoboth Bay, or go fishing and take part in the traditional Delaware pastime. Since there’s no sales tax in Delaware, peek into some of the eccentric shops on the mile-long boardwalk.  Iconic eats in the area include Bottle & Cork and the Starboard. If you’re there for Halloween, go to the SeaWitch Festival.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: About 20 minutes inland is Lavender Fields Lavender Farm with over 300 years of history. The farm is a stunning botanical garden with over 2,000 lavender bushes. 

8. Hilton Head, South Carolina

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Image by Rachid Dahnoun

Hilton Head in South Carolina is home to one of the top 10 family-friendly beaches in the United States. The beaches here are known for being home to loggerhead sea turtles, and, if you’re there at the right time, you can even see them hatch. Though the island has become a prime beach vacation spot, the island works hard to sustain its wildness.

Things to Do: Hilton Head Island is an outdoor paradise. From bike tours to kayak fishing trips, there are many excellent opportunities to enjoy nature. Take a guided tour of the island or take in some history via a Gullah Heritage Trail Tour. Be sure to get in a game of golf as well.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: Walk on (top) of the water by visiting the Harbour Town Pier and take in the scenic views of the ocean. Go dolphin or alligator watching on the Calibogue Sound. The Harbour Town Lighthouse is another scenic place for a photo op.

9. O’ahu, Hawai’i

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Image by Allan Baxter

O’ahu is known as “the Gathering Place,” and as Hawai’i’s third largest and most diverse island, O’ahu offers big cities and beautiful surfing towns.  Here, there is a beautiful relationship between the natural landscape and the local culture. If you are planning to visit Hawai’i, please find a way to give back.

Things to Do: When you visit Hawai’i, look into their mālama (giving back) program. Volunteer at a beach cleanup or a reforestation day. When you visit O’ahu, there are a number of ways to get out and explore. Go parasailing for aerial views of the island, take a hike, or go snorkeling. Whatever you choose to do, it is sure to be absolutely beautiful.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: If you want a breathtaking, aerial photo-op, sign up for a helicopter tour. Soar over volcanoes and Kona coffee farms or take in the beautiful sunsets during golden hour each evening. There are so many opportunities to explore the natural world in O’ahu, and much of it is still uninhabited.

10. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

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Image by Laurie Chamberlain

The U.S. Virgin Islands are truly gorgeous. St. Thomas is known for its rich culture and laid-back lifestyle. With so many opportunities to eat and explore, a few days in St. Thomas won’t feel like enough. 

Things to Do: Visit Coral World Ocean Park for an opportunity to meet a dolphin or sea lion. If you’re an art lover, visit the Camille Pissaro building to learn more about the Danish-French painter who grew up on the island.

Must-Stop Photo-Op: If you want to get up close and personal with marine life without snorkeling or diving, visit the Coral World Ocean Park’s Underwater Observatory Tower and watch the sharks swim by in their natural habitat. You can also take a ride on the Skyride to the top of Paradise Point, where you’ll be able to see the boats in the marina, as well as Historic Downtown Charlotte Amalie.

Where are you going for your next beach vacation? Tell us in the comments.

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