The 10 Best Beach Towns in the U.S., Ranked
Forget waking up at dawn to save your spot or navigating through crowds on Main Street. These coastal destinations are all about empty stretches of sand, activities for everyone, and ocean-view rooms that don’t break the bank.
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
In the United States, a beach vacation often means squeezing your towel onto a packed, noisy stretch of sand. But if you know where to look, you can find solitude without having to travel to the Caribbean. Our picks here aren’t the coastal hubs you already know about. They’re charming, under-the-radar spots with sprawling, empty stretches of shoreline, low-key lodging, and an I-wanna-be-here-now vibe. If you’d rather stay in a rustic bungalow with ocean views than a flashy megaresort on the water, these are the seaside destinations for you.
10. Port Townsend, Washington
Located two hours via ferry from Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula, the sleepy seaside enclave of Port Townsend, Washington, comes alive during the warmer months. Hiking in Olympic National Park isn’t far, but you’re coming for a beach getaway, this hideaway delivers. Fort Worden Historical State Park is a former army base a mile from downtown that has 12 miles of trails, bike and kayak rentals, a fishing dock, a campground, and two miles of sandy coast with views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Kayak among orcas in Port Townsend Bay, or walk the beaches at low tide for a view of the Point Wilson Lighthouse. Sail Port Townsend offers two-hour afternoon sailboat cruises. Post up in one of three private suites downtown at The Washington (from $179) and you’ll be a few blocks from the water.
9. Biddeford, Maine
The old mill town of Biddeford, 20 minutes south of Portland, is quietly becoming a new coastal alternative to Maine’s more popular beach towns. Former mill buildings are being transformed into modern-day breweries and shops, like the renovated Pepperell Mill, a former textile mill along the Saco River that’s now filled with restaurants, artist’s lofts, and Banded Brewing. There’s also the Lincoln, in the former Lincoln Mill, which will soon be home to a new 33-room boutique hotel, restaurant, and rooftop pool and bar. For time in the sun, choose from Fortune’s Rocks Beach, Middle Beach, and Biddeford Pool. Elements has coffee, books, and craft beer, and you can’t beat breakfast at the Palace Diner. You’ll get a view of the ocean from your room at Cape Arundel Inn (from $224), in nearby Kennebunkport.
8. Sapelo Island, Georgia
You won’t come to Georgia’s Sapelo Island for fancy dining or nightlife—there are no restaurants on the island, though a few locals do offer cooking services—but exquisite beaches, outdoor adventure, and truly getting away are what you’re after. Accessible via ferry and about an hour from Savannah, this 12-mile-long largely undeveloped barrier island feels remote, but there’s plenty to do here, ranging from birding to shrimping. Take a guided tour of the historic Reynolds Mansion, or walk along Nanny Goat Beach or Cabretta Beach on the southern edge of the island. Groups can stay at the Reynolds Mansion (from $850 for up to 25 people) or the Cabretta Campground (from $35). Otherwise, book a well-appointed cottage from Sapelo Island Birdhouses (from $155).
7. Bandon, Oregon
Bandon, four hours south of Portland on Oregon’s southern coast, has easygoing beaches and stunning ocean views. Towering rocks dot the coastline, including the iconic Face Rock, where, as legend has it, you can hear a woman’s voice in the wind if you listen closely. Nearby, ride over 22 miles of purpose-built mountain bike paths on the Whiskey Run Trails through Coos County Forest. Pick up applewood-smoked cheddar cheese at Face Rock Creamery, fish and chips and clam chowder at the Bandon Fish Market, and local pinot noir at Alloro Wine Bar. Every room at Windemere on the Beach (from $165) has an ocean view, or book this two-bedroom oceanfront A-frame on Airbnb (from $155).
6. Rockport, Massachusetts
An hour north of Boston at the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula, the coastal village of Rockport, Massachusetts, is easy to get to but feels quiet and uncrowded. Stroll the locally owned gift shops on the small peninsula of Bearskin Neck, and make a quick detour for a photo in front of the iconic replica of a historic red fishing shack known as Motif No. 1. Grab lobster rolls and fried pickles at the Lobster Pool, where you’ll dine at picnic tables overlooking Ipswich Bay. Explore tide pools and rock bluffs in Halibut Point State Park, or splay out on a towel on Front Beach or Back Beach, the latter of which is a popular launching point for scuba divers. Rent a kayak from North Shore Adventures to paddle from Rockport to Thatcher Island, about a mile off shore, where camping is allowed from June through August. Eagle House Motel (from $116) has affordable rooms steps from Front Beach.
5. Chincoteague, Virginia
You’re more likely to spot a herd of wild horses than a high-rise hotel in Chincoteague, a seven-mile-long Atlantic island off Virginia’s eastern shore. Chincoteague Island Outfitters delivers whatever beach gear you need, from boogie boards to cornhole, and Assateague Tours offers guided sea kayaking outings. NASA has been launching small rockets from a nearby island since 1945, and you can learn more about that at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. Dinner is a dozen raw oysters (or lightly breaded and fried, Chincoteague-style) at Don’s Seafood, while dessert is a scoop from Island Creamery. The Refuge Inn (from $109) has its own herd of ponies and a distant view of the Assateague Lighthouse.
4. Block Island, Rhode Island
You’ll take a high-speed ferry from the mainland to reach Block Island, a serene isle 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island that’s home to more than 70 species of migratory songbirds in the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. Once you’re there, enjoy more than 17 miles of public beaches. Watch the sunset from Charlestown Beach, accessible via a dirt road on the west side of the island, or head to the often-empty and rocky Vaill Beach on the south coast. DiamondBlue Surf Shop rents surfboards, SUPs, and beach chairs. The newly renovated Block Island Beach House (from $505) overlooks Crescent Beach and has a bar and café that serves up waterside treats like watermelon and grilled corn.
3. St. George Island, Florida
You cannot beat the miles of undeveloped beaches on this 22-mile-long barrier island off north Florida’s Gulf Coast, a quiet alternative to the state’s flashier beach resort destinations. Island Adventures rents bikes to pedal the cyclist-friendly roads and pathways. Stroll the beach or hike the trails in St. George Island State Park. The St. George Inn (from $112) has pet-friendly rooms near the water; otherwise, stay on the mainland at the sleek Gibson Inn (from $199) in the town of Apalachicola, where you must get a drink at the hotel’s historic Parlor Bar.
2. Cambria, California
The charming central California coastal town of Cambria, four hours south of San Francisco, makes for a great weekend getaway or stopover during a Highway 1 road trip. Nearby Hearst Castle has been closed due to the pandemic and road repairs but is finally slated to reopen this spring. Explore the tide pools on Moonstone Beach, which are filled with brightly colored sea anemone and sea stars. Stay at White Water (from $259), a lodge that opened just steps from the ocean in 2020, or pitch a tent at the ocean-view campsites at Hearst San Simeon State Park (from $35), a few minutes to the north. Grab a brunch of waffles and smoothies in a tucked-away alley at the Hidden Kitchen, then head to the beginner-friendly surf break in Cayucos, a low-key town 20 minutes south.
1. Paia, Maui
Most people pass through Paia as the last stop before the Road to Hana, a scenic coastal highway on Maui’s North Shore that passes through rainforests and waterfalls. But it’s worth making this laid-back bohemian beach town a destination of its own. You won’t find towering resort hotels here. Instead, you’ll see plenty of kitesurfers and windsurfers launching from the famed Ho’okipa break, yoga studios and artsy shops lining main street, and sandy enclaves at every turn. Start your day at Paia Bay Coffee, go for a stroll along Baldwin Beach, then dine on crepes or curry at Café Des Amis, capped off with locally made scoops next door at Artisan Ice Cream. The Paia Inn (from $399) is housed in a historic building in town. If you’re on a budget, the Aloha Surf Hostel has beds starting from $52 or private rooms from $147 and offers free guided tours for guests.