12 of the Best Beach Vacation Spots in the U.S.
12 of the Best Beach Vacation Spots in the U.S.

One of the best things about a great beach vacation? You don’t need a passport. There are plenty of exotic, exciting, and secluded beaches right here in the U.S. and the size and scope of the country allows for diverse experiences on either coast. Whether you’re hoping to ride big waves, lay above the sand in a hammock, or explore sea caves, there’s a domestic beach for you to explore. Here are 12 of our favorites to get you started.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Aerial of  beach at sunset, including the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, SC.
Credit: Jack Siman/ Shutterstock

Brimming with Southern charm, Kiawah is a barrier island southwest of Charleston, South Carolina. Luxurious resorts, an eclectic mix of vacation rentals, and world-class golf courses line Kiawah’s 10-mile beach. These accommodations boast private beaches (most on the island are private), which only guests can use. Spend a day fishing on the Atlantic Ocean by renting a boat from the nearby Bohicket Marina, or take a guided nature tour via paddleboard, kayak, or speed boat to encounter dolphins and other local wildlife. After working up an appetite on the water, head into town for a bite. There is no shortage of food options on Kiawah, from laid-back seafood joints to fine dining at the Forbes Five-Star rated Ocean Room at the Sanctuary.

Kūmimi Beach, Hawaii

Traditional Hawaiian fishpond at Kumimi beach, Molokai, Hawaii.
Credit: Travel Pix/ Alamy Stock Photo

Unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of Hawaii at Kūmimi, also known as “20 Mile Marker Beach,” which boasts some of the best snorkeling conditions on the island. This undeveloped beach is located on the west coast of Molokai, which is much slower-paced than the nearby islands of Oahu and Hawaii. Due to Kūmimi’s remoteness, most visitors will stay in Kaunakakai, the largest town on the island (and home to Hawaii’s longest wharf). To get to the beach, a stunning 40-minute coastal drive along Kalanianaole Highway is required. This stretch offers tremendous views of the Molokaʻi Forest Reserve and the Pacific Ocean. Here, the journey is half the fun. Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by Kūmimi’s golden sand and calm waters, where encounters with “honu” (Hawaiian green sea turtles) and manta rays are common.

Destin, Florida

Coastal waters around Destin, Florida.
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The “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” is situated on Florida’s Panhandle along the “Emerald Coast,” a region nicknamed for its shimmering turquoise waters. Destin is home to some of the best saltwater fishing in the country, where it earned its nickname. Aside from fishing for red snapper (a local favorite), the warm Gulf of Mexico is perfect for swimming and watersports, especially jet skiing and parasailing. When it’s time to come ashore, plenty of fun activities line the beaches. Harborwalk Village boasts restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment fit for the entire family. For an experience only found in Destin, head over to Crab Island, which is only accessible by boat (rentals are available). Hundreds of boaters gather on a shallow sand bar to socialize, relax on a float, or grab a bite from one of the floating food vendors.

Long Beach Peninsula, Washington

North Head Lighthouse and beach at Cape Disappointment State Park.
Credit: Eugene Kalenkovich/ Shutterstock

Long Beach Peninsula is ideal for beachgoers who enjoy the sun and sand but not the heat. Temperatures hover in the upper 60s all summer on the shores of Washington. Visitors might notice a sign over the boardwalk proudly promoting the “World’s Longest Beach.” While it isn’t technically the longest (it’s the world’s longest beach on a peninsula), it boasts a 28-mile stretch of sandy beaches. Every August, the Washington State International Kite Festival brings a colorful display of dazzling kite performances. This is also a drive-on beach, making traveling with the family more manageable; you can set up right next to your vehicle. Crabbing, clamming, and fishing are popular here, with annual festivals, fishing charters, and plenty of local seafood restaurants.

Monterey, California

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For a domestic beach vacation that provides unparalleled beauty paired with sophistication and culture, Monterey has it all. With 99 miles of spectacular California coastline in Monterey County alone, it’s also the perfect destination for any kind of beach-related activity. Surfers and swimmers alike flock to the region to catch the rolling Pacific waves, while divers gravitate towards the kelp forests off the coastline. Animal lovers can take advantage of dog-friendly beaches, such as Carmel Beach and Asilomar State Beach, while whales are often spotted from Lovers Point. Whether it’s a weeklong vacay or a weekend getaway, the town of Monterey is a good home base, with restaurants, hotels, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to pass the time on a foggy morning.

False Cape State Park, Virginia

Large concrete marker that is painted with Virginia's Southern most State Park in False Cape State Park.
Credit: Kyle J Little/ Shutterstock

Despite being just 20 miles south of the hustle and bustle of Virginia Beach’s boardwalk, False Cape State Park is a serene area of marshes and untamed beaches just waiting to be explored. Its name comes from its reputation as a 19th-century ship graveyard. Navigators often confused it for nearby Cape Henry, and their ships would run aground in its shallow waters. Accessing this remote park requires some work, but that is part of the adventure. Visitors must park on the north end at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (a haven for birdwatchers). From there, access to the beach is only via bicycle, kayak, boat, or on foot. It is one of the few undeveloped areas of coastline in the state, spanning six miles until reaching the border with North Carolina. Although the beach is secluded, oceanside campsites, biking trails, kayak launches, a visitor’s center, and other facilities are available.

Ogunquit Beach, Maine

People on a small beach in Ogunquit, Maine.
Credit: Ethan Shaw/ Alamy Stock Photo

The white sand beaches of Ogunquit might look tropical, but they’re located in New England, just 45 minutes south of Portland, Maine. The guarded beach is on a sandy, undeveloped peninsula and is divided into Ogunquit Beach and Footbridge Beach (which tends to be quieter). Just over the bridge is downtown Ogunquit, which means “Beautiful Place by the Sea” in the native Algonquin language. The charming town boasts colonial New England architecture, rose bush-lined streets, quaint inns, welcoming cafés, boutique shopping, art galleries, and museums, including the Ogunquit Museum of American Art. Cruises to see nearby lighthouses or whale watching are other popular activities here. When the sun goes down, head back from the beach and enjoy live music and other entertainment at the local bars and restaurants, where fresh lobster rolls and big bowls of seafood chowder are served.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Photo by Jason Schronce/Shutterstock.

Famous for its spacious beaches, sandy dunes, and picturesque lighthouses, the Outer Banks is a classic beach vacation destination. Located off the coast of North Carolina, the chain of barrier islands is dotted with different towns, most of which provide vacation rentals, kitschy shops, and village marinas. Referred to as “OBX” by the locals, the Outer Banks offers plenty to do on the water, with fishing, surfing, and windsurfing drawing visitors to the coast. Its pristine beaches also provide a healthy habitat for wildlife, including the wild ponies of OBX. Believed to be the descendants of shipwrecked Spanish mustangs, these wild horses can be spotted roaming the region’s northernmost beaches.

Fire Island, New York

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Another barrier island located across Long Island’s Great South Bay, Fire Island is sought after by New Yorkers looking to escape the concrete jungle. Since Fire Island is filled with various rental communities, it also makes for a great domestic beach vacation. From families to lively singles (including a thriving LGBTQ scene), each Fire Island community has its own distinct personality that attracts beachgoers of all types. In addition to the 32 miles of continuous sandy beach along the Atlantic, this National Seashore is home to the Sunken Forest, an otherworldly preserve that’s hidden behind the dunes. Since vehicles are not permitted on most of the island, cruiser bicycles with large baskets are requisite for getting around, adding to the island’s laid back vibe.

Bandon’s Beaches, Oregon

Photo by Bob Pool/Shutterstock

For a more rugged beach vacation, Bandon’s Beaches combine the wild beauty of the Oregon coast with the adventure and charm of the Pacific Northwest. Consisting of a network of sandy beaches off Route 101, Bandon’s Beaches are filled with rocky outcrops, tidal pools, and caves, making it an ideal spot to explore the coastline. Snapping photos of Bandon’s iconic rock formations or viewing the elaborate sand artwork created during low tide should also be on your to-do list. Year-round, kayakers frequent the beach’s marshes and estuary, both of which are spectacular for bird watching.

Sanibel Island, Florida

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Sanibel Island is proof you don’t need to travel far to find a beachy paradise. Located 17 miles from Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast, Sanibel is connected to the mainland via a roadway bridge, making it easy to get to by car. At 15 miles in length, the sandy beach runs the entirety of the island’s western coastline, providing incredible views of the Gulf of Mexico’s turquoise waters. The island’s relaxing, coastal feel is appealing for visitors who want to spend their vacation in a hammock by the beach. For more active visitors, Sanibel offers plenty to do on the water, with boating, fishing, and snorkeling excursions available from local companies. And since Sanibel runs perpendicular to the mainland, its beaches are teeming with exotic shells, making it a top vacation spot for beachcombers.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

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Derived from the Wampanoag word for “faraway place,” Nantucket Island isn’t easy to reach. Once you get there, however, you’ll be happy you made the trip. With plenty of beaches to choose from, Nantucket is just the spot for anyone who wants to spend their vacation in the sun, sand, and sea. In addition to the beach, the 14-mile island is filled with 35 miles of bike trails that are frequented by beachgoers, as parking on the island can often prove difficult. Biking is also one of the best ways to see the island, from cycling through the cedar-shingled village of Siasconset to watching the sunset at Brant Point Lighthouse. On rainy days, a visit to Nantucket’s Whaling Museum is in order, followed by shopping at the local island boutiques or strolling through the historic district’s cobblestone streets.

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