10 Underrated East Coast Getaways
If you can cast aside thoughts about Boston, NYC, and Washington D.C. for a minute, you'll discover there's pristine Atlantic coasts, small yet fierce culinary scenes, and quaint boutique sleeps to be found in some of America's lesser-known corners. These 10 underrated East Coast getaways top this season's list.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Aiken, South Carolina
Aiken is an equestrian-obsessed town; it hosts two annual steeplechases, houses a thoroughbred training track, and organizes polo matches across a handful fields. But long before its horse heyday, the town’s warm climate had already made it a choice escape for many Northerners, including the Astor and Vanderbilt families. To start your trip off with instant Southern charm, take a driving detour along South Boundary, also known as the “Avenue of the Oaks,” to ogle at the natural green awning before heading 10 minutes down the road to Hopelands Gardens. The 14-acre public garden is cut with meandering paths that usher you under romantic 100-year-old live oak and cedar canopies. As for good eats, the kitchen at The Willcox doesn’t disappoint; picture a locally-sourced American menu with dishes like salmon fillet paired with butternut squash miso puree, crispy wonton, Napa cabbage pear slaw.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Rife with seaside villages and home to one of America’s favorite roadside attractions—the infamous/enormous L.L. Bean Boot—Maine is a playground for New Englanders. Ask any out-of-towners where they’re staying, though, and they’ll probably list popular cities like Portland, Ogunquit, or Bar Harbor. Meanwhile, in York County, a handful of mom-and-pop clam shacks, a stilted wooden pier, and an old-timey amusement park unfold across seven miles of Atlantic surf in a tiny town not many talk about: Old Orchard Beach. The seasonal summer colony pleases little tikes with the seaside Palace Playland, while parents are more taken by Bayley’s Lobster Pound. Just a 10-minute drive from the pier, the OG spot invented the lobster roll and has been at the forefront of Maine’s seafood scene since starting operations in 1915.
Nantucket, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard—you know ‘em and you love ‘em (for good reason). But beyond Massachusetts’ most sought-after summer colonies, a whole slew of under-the-radar coastal towns delight locals and in-the-know visitors; Chatham being just one of them. The quaint beach town is the dictionary definition of classic New England with an iconic lighthouse and a boutique-lined Main Street with all sorts of nautical-themed fares (try The Mayflower if you’re in search of trinkets). Chatham Bars Inn puts you within walking distance of everything, and Cape Cod-style rooms are kept extra cozy with crisp white linens and furniture, wide plank floors, and shuttered windows.
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Sag Harbor, New York
Hiding in the shadow of surfer-chic Montauk and Kardashian-frequented Southampton, the postage-sized hamlet of Sag Harbor is all Americana. Once a thriving whaling port and writer’s colony (residents included John Steinbeck, George Sterling, E. L. Doctorow, and more), the village is an amalgam of white picket fences, perfectly-manicured boxwood hedges, and beautifully-kept colonial houses. Keeping with Sag Harbor’s preferred theme, the all-season Baron’s Cove charms with nautical interiors—namely pineapple wallpaper, pom-pom fringed curtains, old-timey maps, Ralph Lauren fixtures, and baby blue accents—and a heated saltwater pool. Make use of the resort’s complimentary cruisers and ride about five minutes down historic Main Street to catch a true farm-to-table breakfast at Estia’s Little Kitchen.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
We could argue all day (and night) that New Hampshire itself is underrated, but we’ll resist and just go to battle on behalf of Portsmouth in particular. Follow along as Granite Staters commute to the seacoast for the annual Prescott Park Arts Festival—a summer celebration full of music, art, theater, and dance performances that take place in a 10-acre waterfront park on the Piscataqua River. Guests who stay overnight have more than a couple worthwhile options, but the Ale House Inn is just down the block with views of the Old Harbor and the converted brewery warehouse welcomes travelers with local Smuttynose suds. As for food, Portsmouth has emerged as one of New England’s fiercest culinary scenes. At industrial Row 34, locally sourced seafood and beer attract a hearty crowd; don’t miss the $1 oyster happy hour which runs until 5 p.m. daily.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Part of North Carolina’s Inner Banks, Beaufort—not to be confused with SC’s city of the same name—is as endearing as small towns come. Just a short ferry ride away from the wild horses of Shackleford Banks and the lighthouse-marked coast of Cape Lookout National Seashore, there’s so much to do in the area, but what’s in town is worth seeing first. Saturday mornings are best spent at the Olde Beaufort Farmers’ Market. Neighbors, little kids, and plenty of puppies convene outside the Carteret County Historic Courthouse to shop seasonal produce, locally-grown flowers, and original artworks. Snack all you want there, but if you leave jonesing for an innovative Crystal Coast meal, you’ll find it at Aqua. Known for flavorful, regionally-inspired tapas and an extensive wine menu, the spot feels “big city” thanks to options like sesame-seared tuna bento boxes and crab and pineapple Napoleon.
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Newport, Rhode Island
If you harbor some sort of Gatsby infatuation, then look no further than Newport, RI—an East Coast getaway fond of Gilded Age mansions and annual sailing regattas. Make time for a tour of the estates; two of the most famous being The Breakers—the Vanderbilt’s Italian Renaissance-style abode, and Rosecliff—a Versailles-modeled number which once belonged to a silver heiress. Retire at The Chanler at Cliff Walk and you can pretend to be a mansion owner, too. The sumptuous, antique-filled inn was built in 1873 for an Astor, and it comes with dramatic Atlantic Ocean views. If you hit the town on a weekend, well-spent Saturdays and Sundays include BYOB brunch at CRU Cafe (think Croque Madames, Irish smoked salmon, and Charleston chicken and biscuits).
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Outside of native Delawareans and locals from neighboring Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the traditional summer resort town of Rehoboth Beach remains unbeknownst to many. But with 30 miles of coast, a highly scenic boardwalk, surprisingly sophisticated eats, and an aesthetically-pleasing days-gone-by vibe, it’s worth checking out. Head first for the beach and boardwalk to putz around with arcade games, munch on salt water taffy, and maybe even catch a free concert at the bandstand. For a meal that isn’t candy-coated, fried, or both, Salt Air Restaurant & Bar works with a locally inspired menu of seasonal produce, sustainable seafood, and organic meat. From-scratch dishes include Cider-braised boneless short rib (with cheesy butternut squash grits, charred Brussels sprouts, baby carrots, and pineapple white vinegar reduction) and Eastern Shore crab cakes (with chili and garlic green beans, cheddar and horseradish mashed potatoes, and chili remoulade).
Teensy three-square-mile Berlin has collected quite a few accolades over the years, including various “America’s Coolest Small Town” titles. And in fact, the setting for Runaway Bride and Tuck Everlasting, does dole out charm—just look to historic Main Street, lined with brick buildings which enclose modern-day candy counters, antique shops and coffee joints. The artsy community is also home to the A&E District which hosts 2nd Fridays full of author signings, open galleries, and restaurant tastings. Once you’ve exhausted your in-town options, you can also day trip to Assateague State Park (just eight miles away) to catch sight of the famous feral horses.
Little Compton, Rhode Island
The town of Little Compton was laid out by settlers of Plymouth Colony in 1682. Skip forward a couple centuries, and this becomes apparent as any walk through town will reveal an original commons and 17th- and 18th-century buildings like a Quaker meeting house, town hall, schoolhouse, and church, all now tended to by a tight-knit community of less than 5,000 residents. Keep with LC’s low-key culture and opt for as relaxing of a stay as possible. Go for a tasting at Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyards, take a caffeine and gallery break at The Art Cafe, or lay down a towel at South Shore Beach.
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