America’s Most Underrated Beach Towns
Miami, Santa Monica, Maui… You'll find some of the world’s most pristine sandy stretches (IOHO) across the States. If you’ve already crossed off the big-hitters, consider the country’s less crowded coastlines. Here, the seven best under-the-radar beach towns in America, from sea to shining sea.
Chelsea is Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and photographer. When not home eating her way through NYC, she's gallivanting across the globe, sailing the coast of Croatia or hiking the peaks of Peru. Her superpowers include booking flight deals and sleeping in small plane seats.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
If Seaside is Oregon’s Atlantic City (think packed boardwalks and kitschy souvenir shops), then Cannon Beach, just 15 minutes south, is its Cape Cod. Charming shingled shops line the main street: White Bird Gallery is the town’s oldest fine arts studio and highlights Pacific Northwest artists; Cannon Beach Book Company sells beach reads; and Dragonfire displays blown-glass trinkets. The five-mile beach is home to Haystack Rock, a 235-foot outcropping that’s often surrounded by a low-lying fog. Here, kids splash around in tide pools looking for sea creatures as the waves rolls in. On sunny days, join the locals for a pint of pale ale at Public Coast Brewery, then come evening, curl up by the library fireplace at Stephanie Inn, a cozy maritime-inspired stay further down the shore.
Sure, Panama City and Miami may be the go-to beach spots in the Sunshine State, but Jacksonville is having a renaissance that’s not to be overlooked. The city has 22 miles of sugar-soft beaches to spend your days and more than 30 reefs off the Atlantic for divers to explore. Ladies can even grab an all-female surf lesson with companies like Saltwater Cowgirls (run by two women, one a Marine vet). When you want a dose of city life, head inland to the Doro District, a revitalized downtown area that’s transformed 20th-century industrial warehouses into craft beer distilleries—Manifest Distilling and Intuition Ale Works among the favorites. Next door, Jackson Jaguars owner Shad Khan is developing the Northbank neighborhood into a $2.5-billion, 70-acre riverfront entertainment sector with a hotel, marina, concert venue, convention center, and retail space—all surrounding the football stadium.
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Block Island, Rhode Island
There’s no better place than The Block for a family-friendly summer getaway. A far cry from Nantucket’s sceney shores, this low-key spot off the coast of Rhode Island claims 17 miles of free public beaches, punctuated by rugged ocean bluffs and historic 18th-century lighthouses. You can’t go wrong with any of the quaint inns or B&Bs, but we’re partial to Hotel Manisses, a Victorian-style stunner with clawfoot tubs and sweeping views of popular Ballard Beach. For a quieter stretch of sand, skip town and follow the local surfer dudes to Mansion Beach to catch some swells. When hunger strikes, seafood is the way to go. Choose between the fresh shucked oysters at Dead Eye Dick’s, the buttery lobster rolls at The Beachhead, or the clear broth clam chowder at Kimberly’s. (Just make sure to save room for a mudslide sundowner at The Oar.)
Traverse City, Michigan
The landlocked state of Michigan has a gorgeous lakefront that allows midwesterners an easy beach trip—without having to hop a flight. Make Traverse City your home base as it’s got incredible under-the-radar vineyards. Start your wine weekend along Old Mission Peninsula with the Water to Wine kayak tour of Grand Traverse Bay, then dive into tastings at Brys Estate and Left Foot Charley before a beachside gourmet picnic spread of pan-seared Whitefish or asiago polenta topped with asparagus and sautéed Pinot Grigio shrimp. There are more than 50 other nearby vineyards to continue day-drinking (one of which is owned by Madonna’s family). We particularly love the Italian villa-esque Mari Vineyards and Rove Estate, known for their knockout Rieslings, live music, and sweeping sunset views over the Leelanau Peninsula.
Long Beach, Washington
Long Beach lives up to its name, featuring a 28-mile strip of sand along the Pacific. The charming town offers waterfront activities such as kite flying (best paired with a visit to the World Kite Museum), geoduck and razor clam digging (both Pacific Northwest specialties), and horseback riding along the flat, windswept strand. For lunch, grab a sloppy hoagie to go (the Big Kahuna with steak, grilled onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese is a must) at the roadside Surfer Sands sandwich shack, and eat it on the boardwalk while you watch the windsurfers breeze by.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Just a quick half-hour drive from Savannah, Tybee Island has all the trappings of an Americana idyll. There’s the historic 18th-century lighthouse; the wide, romantic beaches (as seen in Nicholas Sparks’ chick flick, The Last Song); and the 1891 Tybee Pier. Nature lovers should spend some time in the Tybee National Wildlife Refuge, a 400-acre sanctuary opened by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the late '30s. Afterwards, tuck into a seafood feast—we’re talking low-country shrimp boil and blue crab stew—at the Crab Shack before feeding your leftovers to the resident alligators hiding under the riverfront deck.
Port Aransas, Texas
Texas may not seem like the first choice for a beach getaway, but the Lone Star State’s 350 miles of coastline beg to differ. Port Aransas is the main hub on Mustang Island, a protected cove of tide pools, hiking trails, and car-free beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. The only time you’re likely to see crowds here is during quirky events like the annual Texas SandFest, a three-day sand-sculpting competition that began in 1997. Otherwise, you’ll spend more time communing with the animals, whether it’s dolphin-watching from the Roberts Point Park observation tower, kayaking with Redfish on the Lighthouse Lakes Trail, or spotting roseate spoonbills at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.
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