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6 Great East Coast Beaches

Craving sun and sand on the Atlantic? These beach towns offer that and more.

Craving sun and sand on the Atlantic? These beach towns offer that and more.

While the cities remain hot and sticky, many East Coasters are dreaming of surfing, sand castles, and salty air. If you’re looking to take a break from the million-degree weather, grab some flip-flops and a towel and head to one of these underrated gems.

Driftwood Beach

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. (Courtesy Georgia DOED)

This state park, on a barrier island off the southern coast of Georgia, is a great place to spot sea turtles, read a book in a hammock, and ride 20 miles of bike paths. For an ideal day, head to Driftwood Beach, on the island’s north shore, which is covered with massive hunks of driftwood and mangled preserved trees. Score a wooded campsite at the Jekyll Island Campground, where you can walk to the beach from your tent.

Cooper’s Beach

Southampton, New York

Playing with gulls on Cooper's Beach. (Courtesy Discover Long Island)

Cooper’s Beach, on the east end of Long Island, is only about 500 feet long, but it makes up for its small size with perfect white-sand solitude. You’ll have to pay $40 to park (free if you show up on bike), but it’s the only public beach in Southampton, a town filled with multimillion-dollar summer homes. Grab picnic supplies from the Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe, and stay at A Butler’s Manor (from $340), a five-room inn with two-course breakfasts.

Cape Charles Beach

Cape Charles, Virginia

Watson's Hardware in Cape Charles. (Courtesy Virginia Tourism)

Cape Charles is the kind of place where old-timey locals sit in rocking chairs in front of the hardware store and toddlers wade in the shallow waters of Chesapeake Bay. Go for a kayak tour that ends at a winery, and don’t miss the live music and clam chowder at Shanty Seafood. Stay at Hotel Cape Charles (from $165) for outdoor showers, cruiser bikes for rent, and sunset views from your loft.

Reid State Park Beach

Georgetown, Maine

Walking along Maine's Reid Beach. (Courtesy Maine Tourism)

You don’t often find golden sandy beaches in Maine, except at places like Reid State Park. At this state-owned beach, located on Georgetown, an island accessed via bridge from the town of Bath, you’ll find grassy dunes, buried sand dollars, cold-water surfing, and views of the lighthouses on Seguin Island. After the beach, grab a lobster roll at the end of the road at Five Islands Lobster Co., and spend the night at Gray Havens Inn (from $150), a 13-room bed and breakfast with ocean views.

Folly Beach County Park

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach Pier and beach from above. (Courtesy Visit Folly)

You can surf, kayak, and paddleboard at Folly Beach, a quaint beach town ten miles from Charleston, set between the Atlantic Ocean and Folly River. When conditions are good, you can surf waist-high waves at the Washout. Ocean Surf Shop has everything you need, including reliable surf reports. Afterward, fill up on mahi tacos at Chico Feo, and pitch a tent at the 643-acre James Island County Park, or get an oceanfront room at Tides Folly Beach Hotel (from $255), just steps from the pier.

Wingaersheek Beach

Gloucester, Massachusetts

Summer sunset at Wingaersheek Beach. (Gabrielm199/Wikimedia)

In this seaport town an hour from Boston, you can romp around in tide pools, climb boulders, and swim in calm, clear water. At low tide, you can walk on a sandbar a half-mile into Ipswich Bay. When in Gloucester, wait in line for brunch at Sugar Magnolia’s, dig into a lobster at a cove-side picnic table at the Lobster Pool in nearby Rockport, and spend the night in a nautical-themed room at the Beauport Hotel (from $279).

Filed To: Travel / Massachusetts / New York / Maine / Lodging / Georgia / Virginia / Beaches
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.


(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.