Pack the Frisbee, swimsuits, and sunscreen for a tour of continental America’s best spots for sun and surf
With beach season officially under way, Fodor’s editors have put together a list of unbeatable beach scenes on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts. There’s something here for everyone — from lively spots with boardwalks or oceanfront amusement parks to quiet strands of pristine sand and calm surf.
On the Atlantic Coast
York County coast, Maine: U.S. 1 skirts a string of coastal towns, most notably Kennebunkport. All the classic elements are in place: clapboard houses, rocky shores, and lobster boats (not to mention ultrafresh lobster on local menus).
Cape Cod, Massachusetts: The breathtaking beaches on this curving peninsula are set among lovely New England villages full of shops and galleries to fill your days.
Nantucket, Massachusetts: This tiny island holds fancy restaurants, sumptuous B&Bs, chic clothing boutiques, and antiques shops. But the former whaling capital’s real riches are the vistas filled with shingled cottages, rolling beaches, windswept moors, and rambling wild roses.
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts: Up Island, country roads meander through woods and tranquil farmlands. Down Island are the busy hamlets of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown, where ferry docks, shops, and centuries-old houses line the main streets.
Atlantic City, New Jersey: In addition to the casinos that line the famous boardwalk, there are glitzy shows, great concerts, and nonstop nightlife. The town sits amid 127 miles of public beachfront on the New Jersey shore.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: These remote, uncrowded shores are perfect for watching wildlife or catching fish.
Hilton Head, South Carolina: High-end resorts and condo complexes feature country-club amenities along the wide beach.
Palm Beach, Florida: This community still bears the signs of its long history as a hideaway for the wealthy, in its exclusive shopping and stately mansions.
On the Gulf Coast
Grayton Beach, Florida Panhandle: With sparkling emerald waters, sand as soft and white as Southern biscuit flour, and sunsets that wow even longtime locals, this laid-back preservation-minded beach community is Florida’s best kept secret. Mark our words: it won’t be a secret for long.
St. Pete Beach, Florida: The area’s shallow, protected bays, easily navigable waterways, and miles of gulf-front public beaches make it a favorite of boaters and beachgoers. Head to unspoiled Caladesi Island State Park for a taste of what the whole area looked like before the first beach umbrella bloomed on these shores.
St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle: This pristine 9-mile stretch is the longest beachfront of any state park in Florida — it’s also one of the most spectacular. Sandy coves, salt marshes, scrub oaks, and pine forests lure migrating wildlife — keep an eye out for bald eagles and ospreys — and beach facilities, picnic areas, and a campground attract vacationing families.
Naples, Florida: Along soft white beaches, Naples teems with shopping and fine arts — and it’s still just a short drive from the untouched natural wonders of the Everglades.
On the Pacific Coast
Monterey Peninsula, California: Stunningly beautiful windswept beaches, superb restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and ocean-view golf courses make this area the perfect Central Coast getaway.
Huntington Beach, California: Surfers are drawn to this quintessentially Californian town’s waves, and landlubbers enjoy the lively pier.
Newport Beach, California: Upscale Newport has long sandy beaches, two long piers that jut into the ocean, and the Edwardian-era Balboa Pavilion, whose restaurant has a view of the yacht-filled harbor.
La Jolla, California: Palm trees tower over the beaches of this gracious town, whose sights include the La Jolla Caves and the underwater preserve at La Jolla Cove.