Is there a better way to feel like you’re truly on vacation than by watching the sun set over the ocean with the sand between your toes? (Okay, maybe if you add a fruity cocktail in there.) Thankfully the United States has more than enough beach towns for you to explore, no matter where in the country you spend the rest of the year.
Newport, Rhode Island
While it was once the summer haunt for many of America’s wealthiest last names, Newport, Rhode Island’s many attractions are now accessible to all. From wineries and monumental mansions to art galleries and live music venues, this coastal New England town is a feast for the senses. Striking a delicate balance between its vast historical prominence and new contemporary attractions, any time spent there is sure to be enjoyable.
If you’re looking for a beach town where the main focus is sand, surf…and wild ponies, look no further than Chincoteague, Virginia. Together with the nearby Barrier Island of Assateague, these two islands, totaling less than fifty miles in length, rose to fame for being the subject of a children’s book, Misty, which was later turned into a television movie. Despite the notoriety, the small town has glitz and glam in short supply, but natural wonders in abundance. In addition to venturing to see the wild ponies who live on the island, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore Chincoteague offer many opportunities for fishing, biking, hiking, clamming, crabbing, and enjoying the great outdoors. Riding lessons are available, too, at the Chincoteague Pony Centre. Other attractions include the Assateague Island Lighthouse, a variety of festivals (one for oysters! one for blueberries!), Refuge Golf and Amusements where families can enjoy mini-golf, go-karts, and bumper boats.
Tybee Island, Georgia
With its beautiful white-sand beaches and charming clapboard houses, it might be easy to forget that quiet beach town Tybee Island is a located only half an hour from bustling Savannah. By land you can visit the two historic military forts on the small island or learn about the island itself at the Tybee Museum. By the water enjoy sailing, crabbing, fishing, and even swimming with bottlenose dolphins. Whether you’re in town for the Tybee Wine Festival, the Tybee Kite Festival, or the Tybee Island Pirate Festival, there’s plenty to keep a family busy at an island pace relaxed enough to feel like a vacation.
Boca Grande, Florida
Located on the Great Barrier Island of Gasparilla, midway between Sarasota and Fort Myers on Florida’s southwest coast, Boca Grande is the perfect place for a low-key getaway. The downtown area of this historic village is free of billboards, fast-food chains, and even stoplights, so nothing will distract you from the gorgeous surroundings. Boaters can explore 750,000 acres of estuary, and there are many tours available. Explore the island lighthouse, which over 100 years old at the Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum or head to the Gasparilla Maritime Museum of learn of the town’s place in history.
Galveston, Texas is another family-friendly beach town with a plethora of options to keep everyone happy. Whether you’re into tree sculptures, pyramids, amusement parks, or good old-fashioned sandy fun, this historic Texas town has has got you covered. If you plan in advance, you’ll be able to tour local art galleries during ArtWalk or watch a production at the Grand 1894 Opera House before dining at one of the many delicious restaurants the town is known for. But don’t worry if your timing is off. Galveston also boasts multiple museums and a charming Victorian castle called Bishop’s Palace in addition to more than 30 miles of beautiful beaches.
Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Michigan
While the Midwest might not scream beach town to many, don’t forget about the shores of the Great Lakes. Situated between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake, the Silver Lake Sand Dunes Area, which is comprised of the towns of Hart, Penwater, and Mears, have much to offer. Take an early-morning tour of Little Sable Lighthouse and then spend the day off-roading on the dunes before eating a picnic of local farmer’s-market finds and watching the sunset on the beach.
There are few places at picturesque as Carmel-by-the-Sea, a quaint European-style village with more than just great views. The downtown area features dozens of tasting rooms for nearby wineries, as well as exciting art galleries and delicious dining options. Pet-friendly Carmel Beach is known for its white sands, beach bonfires, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which allows for sightings of sea lions, dolphins, and whales from a comfortable spot on the shore. Those interested in architecture can take a day trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright House, while literature lovers can stop by the National Steinbeck Center.
A few miles from the Pacific Ocean and along the Columbia River, Astoria, Oregon is probably best known for being the setting of the movie The Goonies (you can still visit the house where scenes were filmed). It’s also the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, and as such it has a lot of history. Visitors can check out the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the Heritage Museum, and the Uppertown Firefighters Museum, which even has an interactive floor for children. There’s myriad trails and parks for hiking and exploring and a trolley tour to hop on when your legs get tired from the trek to the Astoria Column, a tower overlooking the Columbia River. The downtown area has breweries, wineries, restaurants, and coffee shops to sate whatever craving you’ve worked up outdoors.