K.C. Dermody / Apr 11

Best Beach Getaways in the U.S.

K.C. Dermody / Apr 11

While many travelers like to escape winter’s cold by heading to Caribbean beaches, if you want to enjoy the sun and the sand without the need for a passport during the warmer months of the year, you’ve got lots of options. There are over 12,000 miles of coastline in the U.S. with numerous options whether you want to head to the West Coast, the East Coast, or the exotic shores of the Hawaiian Islands. The very best beach getaways in the U.S. not only include beautiful sands but offer other opportunities for relaxation and fun. 

What to Pack, Beach Essentials:

Siesta Key, Florida

Photo by Anthony Castelli

Siesta Key is home to Siesta Key Beach, which is often ranked among or at the top of lists of the most beautiful beaches in the entire country. Located along the Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota, it boasts brilliant turquoise water with the main part of the beach featuring three miles of white sand. It’s so soft it’s almost like powdered sugar. Made up of 99 percent crushed quartz, no matter how hot it is, you won’t burn your feet. In addition to swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing, and fishing, visitors can take dolphin-watching and a variety of other boat tours. 

Siesta Key also offers a free trolley that will get you anywhere you want to go for convenient shopping and dining. If you’re here on a Sunday morning, the Siesta Key Farmers Market is a must. A myriad of fun beach bars await as well, including the Siesta Key Oyster Bar known for its happy hour, tropical cocktails, island-inspired dishes, and live music.

San Diego, California

Photo by Gordan Shumway on Unsplash

You’ll find another one of the best beaches in the U.S. on the West Coast in San Diego. Coronado Beach is located on Coronado Island, a legendary stretch near downtown with the mineral mica in the sand that makes it sparkle like gold under the almost always sunny skies. A popular stop on the Old Town Trolley Tour, it can also be easily accessed via a water taxi or the Coronado ferry. Once there you can build sandcastles, comb for shells, paddleboard, surf, swim, or just sunbathe. At low tide, there are tidepools to explore at Coronado Central Beach, with all sorts of life, such as hermit crabs, sea anemones, and starfish. While in San Diego you can enjoy a wealth of other attractions too, from the world-renowned San Diego Zoo and theme parks to a booming brew scene and over 70 golf courses.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Photo by Julie Canfield on Unsplash

If you’ve always wanted to learn to surf or you’re looking to improve your skills, Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina is one of the best spots on the East Coast. A surfer hotspot, it was named one of the world’s best surf towns by National Geographic among a list that includes California and Hawaii beach towns. It offers a four-mile-long stretch of powdery sands at Wrightsville Beach Park, and some of the world’s top pro instructors can be found here. With the water temperature in the low 80s during the summer, you won’t even need a wetsuit. If surfing isn’t what you had in mind, this is a great place for standup paddleboarding on the Intracoastal Waterway. Activities on land are numerous too, including cycling the Wrightsville Beach Loop Trail. The town itself offers many independent boutiques, surf shops, and eateries.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Photo by Justin Fisher on Unsplash

Hilton Head Island is home to many beautiful beaches, including Coligny Beach, often rated among the top stretches in the United States. Located at the end of Pope Avenue, it’s very popular with lots of facilities, including benches for relaxing, a water fountain for splashing around in, swings, gazebos, showers, and restrooms. Umbrellas and beach chairs are available for rent too. Plus, it’s close to many shops and restaurants that are spread in and around Coligny Plaza. Driessen Beach Park is another option with a picturesque boardwalk to stroll while Burke’s Beach is ideal for surfing. 

When you need a break from the sand, you can take a Segway tour, ride a pirate ship, or explore museums like the Coastal Discovery Museum. It’s focused on Hilton Head’s ecological and cultural history, including the flora and fauna. Located on a 68-acre property, Honey Horn, you’ll also find scenic trails to walk, gardens, and a butterfly habitat.

Panama City, Florida

Photo by Charles Schuett on Unsplash

Panama City attracts countless beach lovers with its 27 miles of sugary white sand, including Panama City Beach. It has a lot more to offer than its former reputation for drawing college students on Spring Break. Anyone who wants a wide range of activities and a lively setting will enjoy it here. Divers can rent gear here to explore what’s often called the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South.” Paddleboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, and watching for bottlenose dolphins are all popular too. 

If you want to enjoy more untouched natural beauty, take a boat excursion to tranquil Shell Island, an undeveloped 7-mile-long barrier island that can only be reached by water. It’s a peaceful place to sunbathe, swim, and perhaps spot sea or loggerhead turtles. It’s also possible to witness other wildlife in their natural habitat at St. Andrews State Park. It’s a migratory stopover for many butterfly and bird species, including great blue herons and snowy egrets.

Santa Cruz, California

Photo by Uliana Koliasa on Unsplash

Back on the West Coast, Santa Cruz is the quintessential California beach town. It’s famous for its waves that attract surfers from across the globe, but there are a ton of other things to do here too. On the long, sandy beach you can soak up the sun, play volleyball, build sandcastles, and more. It fronts the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with lots of rides, including rollercoasters, carnival-type games, a huge arcade, delicious eats, and more. Be sure to walk to the end of the Santa Cruz Wharf to see the sea lions that hang out on the rafters below. 

In the summer it can get very crowded at the main public beach and boardwalk, so if it gets to be too much, a drive about 20 minutes north along the coast will bring you to Greyhound Rock Beach. It’s not accessible for strollers with a rather steep, dirt path that will bring you to the sand, but that keeps it from getting too busy. Plus, you can climb Greyhound Rock for a perfect vantage point to watch for whales and dolphins.

Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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You might be surprised to learn that the Atlantic framing the beaches in Cape Cod gets warm in the summer making it comfortable for swimming at around 72-73 degrees Fahrenheit. Provincetown sits at the northern tip of Cape Cod where you’ll have access to 40 miles of pristine sandy beaches that are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Enjoy the sun and the surf as well as some of the best whale watching in New England. The town itself has been an artist colony for over a century and is known for its many quirky characters, art galleries, fudge shops, seafood shacks, and fine-dining eateries.

Like lighthouses? One of the best and most remote in Cape Cod can be found here, Race Point Light. The only way to get there is to walk the 1.75 miles (each way) but it’s worth it for the scenic views. There are 15 other lighthouses on the Cape if you want to do some “lighthouse hopping.” 

Maui, Hawaii

Photo by Kenneth Oh on Unsplash

Maui is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire state of Hawaii (and the country). They’re typically much less crowded than what you’ll find on the busier island of Oahu, like famous Waikiki Beach. If you want to spend most of your days on and around the sand, snorkeling, or swimming, it’s best to plan your trip between May and September when the water is calm and the weather is more consistent, with much less rain and wind than in the winter. That’s the season to visit for watching the humpback whales that make their journey here to mate, while the females give birth and raise their young. Odds are you’ll still get to enjoy some sunny beach days too. No matter when you visit, don’t miss Makena Beach in Makena State Park with its silky soft sand, crystal-clear aquamarine water, and epic sunsets.