By Jessica Thiefels
There’s just something about a beach vacation that calls to all of us. In fact, a recent study by Statistic Brain cites that 45 percent of Americans take a vacation every year, and 45 percent of those vacationers head to the coast for days filled with sand and surf. Must be something about the salty air, fresh breeze, and a fresh-caught seafood dinner.
With everyone clamoring to get to the beach, the key to a relaxing stay is finding an area where you can truly relax away from the hustle and bustle of other tourists. Lucky for you, there are plenty of stunning beach towns full of history and charm that are waiting to be discovered. Check out our list of beach towns for your next beach vacation.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Are you looking for southern charm without the crowds? Beaufort, North Carolina is home to the infamous pirate, Blackbeard, and the town hosts a ‘Pirate Invasion’ festival every year that highlights the town’s history of piracy.
If you’re not a history buff, don’t worry. This charming North Carolina beach town is still a great spot for your next beach vacation: “With its quaint, tree-lined downtown and colorful history—populated by fishermen and even a fair share of pirates—this Inner Banks town [has plenty of] small town charm,” says Katrina Brown Hunt, freelance travel writer and Travel + Leisure contributor.
Beaufort is also a great place to enjoy classic southern cooking. Check out The Beaufort Grocery for their delicious takes on favorites like shrimp and grits, and pecan pie.
Vacation homes in this area: Beaufort, NC
Cape Cod is home to a seemingly unlimited amount of beautiful ocean views, but that comes with crowds. Chatham combines the beauty of Cape Cod with the relaxation you’re craving.
There’s plenty to do in this New England beach town, and more sites than just the ocean:, “Wherever you go in Chatham, you’ll see lovingly restored homes, inns, shops, and historic sites—some dating back to the town’s founding more than 300 years ago,” says Dee Young, author of Cape Days: Your Go-To Cape Cod Guide.
Don’t forget to take a Beachcomber Boat Tour to see the seals or explore North Beach and visit Lighthouse Beach for a relaxing beach day.
Vacation homes in this area: Chatham, MA
Gearhart is often mistaken for its bigger neighbor Seaside, which makes it one of the Oregon coastline’s hidden gems. “This quaint and quiet beach town makes the perfect getaway year-round,” says Eileen Garvin, nature enthusiast and Travel Oregon contributor.
Garvin recommends Gearhart Golf Links for those who like to spend a day on the golf course; in this case, the oldest golf course in Oregon. For a little beachside adventure, try digging for razor clams or visiting the Gearhart Necanicum Estuary to watch the birds migrate. Have all those activities left you famished? Try the Pacific Way Café and Bakery for fresh seafood as well as other lunch and dinner options.
Vacation homes in this area: Gearhart, OR
There’s something for everyone in this Oceanside town, including the stunning waters you always hope to find at your destination: “If you’re in Destin, the beach is hard to miss. These emerald waters and white sandy beaches attract visitors from far and wide,” says Caroline Rogers, Southern Living contributor. Rogers also recommends trying some of the local cuisine, like crab cakes at Beach Walk Café or dessert at Laginappe.
This is also the perfect place to enjoy a family activity you’ve likely never tried before: deep-sea fishing—and it’s so much more than you might first assume: “A deep sea fishing charter in Destin, Florida is more than just a saltwater fishing trip. It’s a time when life-long bonds are created between family members, friends, and even strangers," according to the guide, Planning The Greatest Deep Sea Fishing Adventure of Your Life.
The best part, though, is the views: "With emerald green water, white sand, and blue skies as a canvas, the scene is set to make memories that will build and encourage groups to see life through the eyes of the ocean."
Vacation homes in this area: Destin, FL
Chincoteague Island is a barrier island, right off the coast of Virginia, known for its population of wild horses. Its landscape and wildlife are beautiful and well-preserved thanks to its status as a National Wildlife Refuge.
If you take your beach vacation to this Virginia island, you’ll be able to enjoy the beach unfettered by the boardwalk: “The refuge is so clean and magnificently unspoiled that when beach-goers are gone at the end of each day, you'd be hard-pressed to find evidence that human beings had been there at all,” says Stacey Sykes, Forbes contributor.
She continues, “Chincoteague is not for everyone, but for those who seek a beach vacation devoid of crowds and sensory overload, there's no better place to be.”
That’s not to say that there’s nothing to do in Chincoteague. Sykes also recommends sailing, wild pony watching, and sampling some of the best seafood on the east coast.
Vacation homes in this area: Chincoteague, VA
Carmel-by-the-Sea, or simply ‘Carmel’ to locals, provides the perfect combination of galleries and scenery. It’s tucked in the craggy coastline of northern California and is known for exceptional shopping. But there’s more to this artists’ town than meets the eye.
Tripsavvy contributor Betsey Malloy suggests visiting Point Lobos State Reserve. “If all this small-ish state park had to offer was some great hikes and a dramatic shoreline rockscape, it would be worth a visit. Add the offshore wildlife which includes sea otters and harbor seals, and it becomes almost magical,” says Malloy.
Don’t forget to check out Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch restaurant for pre-beach brunch or post-hike dinner. Make some time to visit the historic Mission San Carlos de Borromeo to experience all of its Spanish charm.
Vacation homes in this area: Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan
The Silver Lake Sand Dunes is a gorgeous town set right on the lake share, nestled between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. “The state park is a destination for boating, golfing, hiking, four-wheeling and more. But the soaring dunes are what really make Silver Lake top notch,” says Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Huffington Post contributor.
In between sunning yourself and splashing around in the lake, try a local pastime: riding the dunes. Michigan.org’s guide, Things to Do at Silver Lake Sand Dunes: The Ultimate Pure Michigan Guide suggests that you can rent sand buggies or go sandboarding: “The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are the only sand dunes east of the Mississippi River where visitors are allowed to drive private motorized vehicles over the shifting landscape,”
Vacation homes in this area: Silver Lake Sand Dunes, MI
Bursting with New England charm, Rockport is the perfect place to sit back, relax, and try some of that delicious Maine lobster. “The tiny coastal village of Rockport, Maine, may be easy to overlook, situated as it is between the better-known towns of Rockland and Camden. But if you’re heading to Maine’s Midcoast, this is one stop you certainly want to add to your itinerary,” says Brenda Darroch, New England Today contributor and author of Rockport, Maine: A Charming and Historic Harbor Town.
Darroch recommends Waterman’s Beach Lobster for some of the best shellfish in the state. Once you’ve finished cracking claws, head over to the monument of Andre the performing Seal, Rockport’s most famous former resident.
Vacation homes in this area: Rockport, ME
To the Beach!
If you’re planning your next relaxing beach trip, look no further than these eight charming towns. You’ll enjoy sunshine, regional food, unique activities, and best of all: a little bit of peace and quiet.