Looking for the right east coast beach for your family’s summer vacation? Do you want Maine’s rugged beauty? Or Florida’s sandy shores? It’s not easy to decide, since the Atlantic coastline stretches for over 2,000 miles! Here are 15 east coast beach vacation spots to consider for your summer getaway.
You can find some of the most beautiful beach destinations along the Atlantic coast of the United States. They’re popular summer vacation spots for families. Many have boardwalks with amusement parks, arcades and candy shops. Others are more laidback, if you’d like a quieter seaside holiday. Frankly, I don’t think you can make a bad decision. But, if you’d like some help choosing, here’s a rundown on 15 of the top east coast beaches.
1. Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Old Orchard Beach has welcomed vacationers for over 170 years. What keeps them coming back? Seven miles of beach, for one thing. Throw in the shops and restaurants on the Old Orchard Beach Pier. Then top it off with the Palace Playland arcade. If you’re thinking Old Orchard Beach is just for the kids, think again. Since it’s only a ½ hour drive into downtown Portland, adults traveling without kids can beach by day and then sample the city’s vibrant food scene at night.
Open Suitcase Tip: Want a quieter Maine beach experience? Try Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth. It’s got all of the Maine nature dazzle, without crowded razzle, if you catch my drift.
2. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Sure. It’s a bit of a hassle to get to Martha’s Vineyard (equal hassle for Nantucket), but it’s worth it. I’m a lifelong fan of Cape Cod but I’m glad I finally got myself off the peninsula to find out why everyone raves about MV.
I was smitten with my first glimpse of the island’s historic whaling port, Edgartown.
Then, there are the beaches. Head to Gay Head Beach in Aquinnah to see the famous pink cliffs. Or, if you’ve got littles, let them splash about in the calm waters off of Menemsha Public Beach.
3. Westerly, Rhode Island
Westerly is a great beach town if your family is looking to do more than sun and surf. Head to the Watch Hill section, home to a picturesque lighthouse and the grand Ocean House resort hotel, which is worth a visit even if you can’t afford the room rate. Or spend a day at the nearby Mystic (CT) Seaport and Museum.
4. The Hamptons, New York
If you’ve got a young adult in your family, he or she might be a fan of MTV’s “Summer House.” Head to the beach towns on the South Fork of Long Island where the show is set.
Gawk at multi-million dollar homes with private beaches. Shop the adorable, boutiques located on Southampton’s Main Street and be prepared for celebrity sightings in bougie area restaurants.
Montauk – nicknamed “The End” because it occupies the far eastern tip of the Island – is my favorite Hamptons town, particularly in shoulder season. It’s cheaper and not overrun with weekenders.
5. Sandy Hook, New Jersey
Why do I like Sandy Hook? It’s the closest Jersey Shore beach to my house. And, if you live in NYC, you can hop a ½ hour ferry to the beach. Operated by the federal government, Sandy Hook offers waves, crowds and a city skyline view.
Concessions are minimal. Pack your provisions before leaving home or stock your cooler at a WaWa on NJ Route 36 before heading into the park. And bring the family bikes. Sandy Hook has an 8.7 mile long multi-use path.
6. Asbury Park, New Jersey
Ah, the Jersey Shore. I’m fortunate to live within striking distance of New Jersey’s beach towns when the mood for sand and surf strikes. When I want a classic shore experience, I head to Asbury Park. After a long period of decline, the town’s enjoying a renaissance. It’s got upscale restaurants with ocean views. And you can book a room at one of the many recently restored historic resort hotels.
Open Suitcase Tip: Plan your visit around the event calendar at the legendary Stone Pony music club. It’s where Bruce Springsteen rocketed to fame. It’s got a large oval bar, a small stage and draws a wide variety of musicians.
7. Rehoboth, Delaware
Delaware is small, but mighty, especially when it comes to beaches. You can head to Dewey, Bethany, Fenwick Island or the granddaddy of them all, Rehoboth. Like Ocean Grove, New Jersey, Rehoboth was originally established as a Methodist summer camp in 1873.
Entry to the town is via a one way in, one way out loop. Traffic can be a nuisance. Stay at one of the oceanfront hotels or look for a house rental that’s an easy walk to the beach, boardwalk and attractions.
8. Ocean City, Maryland
First things first. There’s an Ocean City, New Jersey, and an Ocean City, Maryland. The Jersey town is tame. It’s popular with South Jersey and Philly locals. The Maryland Ocean City is THE destination for families spending a week at the beach.
Besides the sand and surf, Ocean City has one of the top-rated boardwalks in the US. That means salt water taffy, arcade games and rides, rides, rides! Throw in famous Maryland crab cakes and a good time’s guaranteed.
9. Virginia Beach
When I was a kid, a rite of passage was to return from your summer vacation with a “Virginia is for Lovers” t-shirt. Of course, the word lovers was symbolized with a heart, so the shirt met school dress codes!
That was a loooong time ago, but Virginia Beach remains a super fun family beach destination on the east coast. The oceanfront beaches are exactly as expected – wide and wonderful – and there’s a three-mile boardwalk to explore. Book one of the resort hotels on Atlantic Avenue and walk to the beach each day.
Want a house rental and a more laidback Virginia Beach experience? Sandbridge is a short drive south and a world away from the Oceanfront district’s bustle. Enjoy serene sunrise walks or sunset kayak paddles.
10. Outer Banks, North Carolina
For years I wondered what the initials “OBX” stood for. Many of my fellow moms had stickers plastered on the backs of their minivans. When I finally put two and two together and realized it was the abbreviation for North Carolina’s Outer Banks, I was relieved. And excited. Because we’d planned to spend our summer family vacation there.
If you’re planning a family reunion and need a big summer beach house, the Outer Banks is for you. We stayed in Corolla, near the wild horse beach. Our house was an easy, one block walk to the beach.
11. Tybee Island, Georgia
Tybee Island is my happy place, probably because I’ve made very fond family vacation memories there. The vibe is laidback, the beaches are wide and there are plenty of restaurants and activities to keep family members of all ages busy.
The attraction for me is that Savannah’s a quick drive away. So when I’m tired of sand and surf, I can shower and head into town for a little shopping or a cup of tea at the Gryphon tea room.
12. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Got golfers in your family? Myrtle Beach is a wonderful family beach destination to consider. Rent a golf view villa; the beachgoers will need to drive to the sand. Or, stay on the water and send the golfers out each morning.
The teens in your family will demand a trip to Broadway at the Beach – perhaps every night! The premier entertainment district in Myrtle Beach has restaurants, attractions, mini golf and more.
13. St. Pete Beach
The calm waters and soft sandy beaches of Florida’s Tampa Bay are perfect for families with young children. St. Pete Beach has dozens of resort hotels to choose from; the Tradewinds Resort hotels are a popular choice for families.
Prefer something a bit more upscale? Head slightly further south to the big pink Don Cesar hotel and prepare to be pampered.
14. St. Augustine, FL
With 42 miles of beach, St. Augustine pretty much guarantees plenty of room to spread out on the sand. Every type of lodging is available: vacation home rentals, resort hotels, B&Bs and campsites. Plus you can drive on the beach. Say what? Check out the local’s guide for access points and permit info.
Downtown St. Augustine is full of museums, galleries, restaurants and shops. Bringing Grandma and Grandpa on your beach vacation? They might be interested in taking a sip from the legendary Fountain of Youth.
15. Key West
When talking about east coast beaches, we can’t exclude the last stop. Key West is walkable and wonderful. Little kids will enjoy a trip to the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory as much as they like building sand castles on Smathers Beach.
Going to Key West with high schoolers? Visit Ernest Hemingway’s house to make the pages of “The Sun Also Rises” come to life. The city’s nightlife is a draw for our young adult children. They can stay out as late as they want…and walk home.
The town’s restaurants can get crowded and wait times can be long. If your family runs “hangry,” plan to eat at off hours.
Want more info about great east coast beach destinations?
Old Orchard Beach, Maine | Amusingplanet.com
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware | Thecentsiblelife.com
Nantucket, Mass | Massvacation.com
Asbury Park, New Jersey | Departures.com
Newport, Rhode Island | Treatsandtrendsblog.com
Outer Banks, North Carolina | Femmefrugality.com
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina | Wavesvillage.com
Hilton Head, South Carolina | Shelbydillonstudio.com
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina | Travelingmom.com
Destin, Florida | 365atlantatraveler.com
Cocoa Beach, Florida | Floridarambler.com
Key West, Florida | Wanderlustyle.com
Got a Favorite East Coast Beach Town? Tell Us More!