The entire east coast measures up to be about 2,069 miles. If you include beaches off the Gulf of Mexico, that number stretches to around 3,700 miles. In other words, we are pretty much spoiled for choice when it comes to great beaches on the east coast — you just have to know where to look. Want soft white sand and emerald waters? Done. Prefer hard-packed sand you can ride bikes on? You got it. Not sure if you want to party and get wild or have the beach to yourself? You can have both. Here are our picks for the best beaches on the east coast in the U.S.
1. Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida
Miami Beach may have built up a reputation as the South Florida beach, but times they are a’ changing, and Fort Lauderdale’s beautiful, hip beachfront is coming for the crown (it’s already got Blue Wave certification). While Miami Beach can be a bit much at times, the soft sands and sparkling waters of Fort Lauderdale Beach have a more relaxed and quieter vibe. It’s less about the scene, and more about the scenery — we especially love the sound of heavy waves crashing at our feet. A paved promenade runs along the back of the beachfront, making for perfect running, jogging, walking, biking, or skating conditions.
Our Fort Lauderdale Hotel Pick: Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa
Turns out, Georgia has been hiding over three miles of gorgeous beaches just off the coast of Savannah. Tybee Island is a barrier island comprised of three beaches: North Beach, Mid Beach, and South Beach. These sandy spots all have a personality of their own, from history to nature to a restaurant- and bar-filled area that gets about as lively as a sleepy beach town can get. Savannah residents have been taking laid-back beach vacations here for decades — so much so that the island was once known as Savannah Beach. Expect beautiful, natural beaches with grassy dunes, shallow waves, and even a few playful dolphins from time to time. You’ll also find a selection of unique shopping, a picturesque 145-foot colonial-era lighthouse, and over 200 different species of birds. Lifeguards watch over beachgoers, there are fun swing sets scattered around the beach, and restaurants, bars, and businesses on the island are almost all 100 percent local (read: no chains).
Our Tybee Island Hotel Pick: Hotel Tybee
This stretch of golden sand is a meeting point for the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. A lively boardwalk and family-friendly atmosphere are two of Virginia Beach’s biggest draws. At the Oceanfront, you’ll find a hubbub of vendors along the three-mile boardwalk, paved bike paths, live music, and several restaurants. The beach here is wide and flat, and the waves are usually big enough to attract some surfers. Over at Sandbridge Beach, the vibe is much more relaxed and less crowded, plus it borders the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The sand here is softer and there are a few small sand dunes. However, this calmer section of beach isn’t as well-equipped as the Oceanfront, so come ready to entertain, feed, and hydrate yourself.
Our Virginia Beach Hotel Pick: Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront
Many folks flock to Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach to get their sun and sand fix, but those in-the-know head to Kiawah Island. This 10-mile stretch of unspoiled sand is still somewhat a secret. Picture soft sand, dunes covered in beach grass, and a truly secluded vibe. Dogs are allowed year-round, and there are designated off-leash areas. You might also get lucky and catch a sea turtle walking up the beach. However, as with most things that seem too good to be true, there’s a catch: Beachwalker County Park is the only public beach on the island. Wild beach lovers will feel like they’ve hit the jackpot here, thanks to the natural landscaping of pine trees, magnolia bushes, marshland, and mighty oak trees. For a more traditional beach experience (that’s also beautiful), you’ll either have to cough up the cash to buy a place or book into the luxe Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort for access to their private beach.
Our Kiawah Island Hotel Pick: The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort
The Jersey Shore may not be known for its natural beauty, but Cape May is definitely the exception. We’re talking sand like sugar and a unique position that brings beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This beach is America’s O.G. seaside destination. If Cape May is known as the crown jewel of the Jersey Shore, then Cove Beach is king. A natural slope gives this laid-back beach a secluded feel, plus the sand is soft and the changing tides help shape the beach in different ways from day to day. Sunbathers have reported seeing dolphins in the water, but the best show in Cape May comes in the spring, when thousands of migratory birds fly in to take advantage of the buffet of freshly-laid horseshoe crab eggs on the beach. If you’re looking for something with a little more bling than beak, Sunset Beach is known for its beach diamonds — small pieces of naturally polished quartz hiding in the sand.
Our Cape May Hotel Pick: Sea Crest Inn
Florida’s Clearwater Beach shows up on nearly every list of the best beaches in Florida. It was also previously ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. There’s no doubt this beach is a stunner, but it also averages over 360 days of sun each year, making it a great choice all year round. It also boasts fine white sand, warm water temperatures (we’re talking bath-water warm in the summer), and a daily parade of sun-kissed bodies. There’s a little bit of everything here, from easy shelling opportunities to sand and water sports to phenomenal sunsets over the water. Daily raking helps to keep the sand looking spotless, and early birds can have their pick of beach chairs, cabanas, and umbrellas for rent. For a more social experience, check out the boardwalk and good selection of beachside restaurants and bars.
Our Clearwater Hotel Pick: Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa
Rehoboth Beach shines bright as one of the best beaches for good, affordable family fun. This sandy sanctuary is also a gay-friendly beach, and the mile-long boardwalk is home to a handful of gay-owned businesses. Most boardwalk vendors are local and purchases don’t incur a sales tax. In summer months, Rehoboth’s public beach throws organized events and sports activities that go from day into night. The boardwalk area bustles (especially at the Funland amusement park), but the beach itself is relaxing (and clean), and umbrellas and chairs are available for rent from private vendors.
Our Rehoboth Beach Hotel Pick: Boardwalk Plaza Hotel
The Hamptons are such a staple summer spot for societal New Yorkers that they’re practically NYC’s unofficial sixth borough. These South Fork beach villages have the perfect mix of sun, fun, and rosé. Southampton’s Coopers Beach has long been a favorite among Hamptons vacationers, and is somewhat seen as the crème de la crème due to its wide swath of fine, alabaster-white sand, romantic grassy dunes, and sparkling Atlantic waters. Even better, its secluded location combats cold currents, making the water a wee bit warmer than at other beaches in the area. However, don’t confuse secluded with secret. The secret has long been out on this beach, so expect crowds. Plus, half the fun of going here is to see and be seen. Food, drink, and beach chairs are available through private vendors.
Our Southampton Hotel Pick: Capri
Whether you just need a simple, quick cover-up for the beach or you’re headed to semi-casual oceanside dinner, this shirtdress has the versatility your already overpacked suitcase needs.
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