The Most Beautiful Seaside Towns in America
Whether you're in search of a charming village situated on a harbor or a luxury resort property on the beach, there's a perfect coastal destination for every traveler. Discover the unique beauty of these smaller seaside towns across America.
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Carmel By-the-Sea, California
Located on California’s Central Coast, Carmel Beach is one of the most picturesque locales in the United States. The Scenic Bluff Path is a beautiful walking trail with views of the rugged coastline and soft white sands of Carmel Beach below. It’s also a hot spot for surfers, and the views are even more spectacular from the water extending from Pebble Beach to the north and Point Lobos in the south. In town, visitors and locals alike can wander the streets lined with English cottages and Mission-style architecture. Shop at upscale international or locally-owned boutiques or visit one of the town’s notable art galleries.
Cape May, New Jersey
This picturesque town on the Jersey Shore is America’s oldest seaside resort. Cape May is also listed as a National Historic District with more than 600 well-preserved and colorful Victorian buildings. Spend days on one of the best beaches in the country, browse the boutiques at Washington Square Mall, or sample local wines at Willow Creek Farm & Winery. Head to Sunset Beach for their nightly tribute to our veterans every summer evening while watching the sunset over the ocean.
Nantucket translates to “faraway place” in the Wampanoag language and, you’ll feel worlds away when visiting this chic island getaway. Located 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, the island was once the hub of a thriving whaling industry. Walk the charming cobblestone streets lined with beautifully restored homes and boutiques. Surfers and those who appreciate quiet, windswept beaches should head to the Cisco, Surfside, and Miacomet on the south side of the island. Bring your Nantucket reds for an evening out with a spectacular sunset at Brant Point Grill in the White Elephant Hotel. Traveling as a couple? Check out the 10 most romantic islands in the United States.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Leave the bustling beaches of Fort Myers behind and head south to Sanibel and her sister island, Captiva. These low-key barrier islands are known for their pristine beaches, an abundance of shells—in fact, it’s one of the 15 best beaches for seashells around the world—and commitment to preserving the natural beauty and wildlife of the islands. Take a dolphin or sunset cruise or explore the more than 6,400 acres at the J.N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge offers tram tours, or you can drive, ride a bike, or take a kayak excursion. Afterward, head to Blind Pass Beach, where Sanibel and Captiva meet, to capture the best sunset.
St. Michaels, Maryland
St. Michaels is located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay. The small town is rich in maritime history, and one of the highlights of a visit is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. This impressive collection of artifacts and vessels includes the Hooper Bay Lighthouse and a working shipyard. Stroll along picturesque Talbot Street with its Colonial-era buildings and colorful storefronts. Splurge on accommodations at the Inn at Perry Cabin, an iconic luxury resort, after you arrive by water from Annapolis onboard a Hinckley Talaria 55 yacht while sipping champagne. Here’s how every state, including Maryland, got its name.
Stonington is located at the tip of the Deer Isle on Penobscot Bay. It’s south of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and 86 miles north of Portland. The small coastal fishing village is known for its extensive lobster fleet of more than 300 boats, the largest in the state. It’s not a big tourist destination, and it’s off the beaten path, but that adds to the Downeast charm. We’re dreaming of a stay at the Inn on the Harbor, watching the boats head out at sunrise and dining on lobster in the evening at Stonecutters Kitchen.
Cape Charles, Virginia
Located on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay, the historic town of Cape Charles was one of the first areas colonized in North America. Cape Charles Town Beach runs along Bay Avenue, and it’s the only public beach that doesn’t have an access fee on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The quaint downtown area has an eclectic mix of interesting shops along Mason Avenue and the boutique property, Hotel Cape Charles. For a room with a view, visitors should stay at The Northampton Hotel and for spectacular sunsets, have cocktails and casual bites at The Shanty.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach is situated 90 miles northwest of Portland on the Oregon coast. The views along this stretch of coastline are breathtaking with Haystack Rock standing 235 feet above the sandy beach as the most recognizable landmark. Visitors staying in one of the upscale oceanfront resorts can easily stroll to the village with its lively art scene, Cannon Beach Distillery, and chef-owned restaurants serving locally sourced ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. Cannon Beach is also close to Ecola State Park, a perfect destination for surfing, tidepooling, and wildlife viewing—head there in winter or spring to catch the migration of the gray whales.
Jamestown, Rhode Island
The quiet coastal town of Jamestown is located on Conanicut Island in Narragansett Bay one mile west of Newport. The enclave has retained much of its original charm and feels more like a rural village with farms, cows grazing on lush green pastures, and a windmill. Narragansett Avenue is the main shopping street. The town is also known for exceptional food markets serving fresh meats and locally caught seafood like cod and lobster. Head to the beach at Mackerel Cove, go paddleboarding at sunset, or enjoy the magical views of the sailboats moored in Narragansett Bay. Read about this city in Rhode Island that has the sweetest nightly ritual to cheer up sick kids in their local hospital.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, this historic coastal area is best known for the Wrights Brothers’ first flight on Kill Devil Hills. As one of the oldest communities in the Outer Banks, the original village has retained much of its charm and today remains a laid-back vacation destination. There are hotels, but many of the accommodations are private rentals. When visitors have had enough sun and surf on the beach, Kitty Hawk Woods, a 1,824-acre maritime forest, marsh, and scrub swamp to view the local wildlife and birds is a must-see for anyone who loves nature. This would be a great getaway for couples.
Located on central Washington’s Pacific Coast, Seabrook is an oceanfront master-planned community. The New England-style homes and cottages sitting above Moclips Beach make for an idyllic setting. Market Street is a must see with its local boutiques, wine shop, ice cream parlor, and restaurants for a slice of Americana. Then, spend time relaxing by the firepit at Horseshoe Park. The community is designed so that everything is just a short walk or bike ride away. Rent one of the more than 200 homes and bring your pup as Seabrook is pet-friendly, just like these 12 other beaches across North America.
Anna Maria Island, Florida
This barrier island located along the Gulf of Mexico is just 20 minutes from the town of Bradenton on the west coast of Florida. Anna Maria’s unspoiled sandy white beaches and sparkling turquoise waters are the highlights of this laid-back destination with an old Florida feel that earned a spot on our list of the 25 best beaches in the United States. We’re dreaming about spending days building castles in the sand or relaxing on the beach in this picturesque seaside town. Keep an eye out as the wildlife is abundant with manatees, dolphins and turtles nesting from May to October. Birding enthusiasts will appreciate the Bald Eagles, pelicans, osprey, and seagulls.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Located on the east coast of South Carolina, Beaufort is a small town with a rich history intertwined in the Old South’s past. The streets are lined with antebellum and Civil War homes and stately oak trees draped in moss. Another favorite spot: the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park and the shop along Bay and Carteret streets. History buffs will appreciate the Beaufort History Museum. If you’re able to visit, plan to stay in one of the romantic B&Bs or inns—the Rhett House Inn is a favorite. As the sun goes down, head to Saltus River Grill for waterfront views and Lowcountry specialties. Beaufort ranks as the most charming small town in South Carolina—find out the hidden gem in your state.