Once temperatures start rising and the sun shining, vacationers head toward the water. While the beaches of Mexico and the Caribbean are popular picks, we really love some of the adorable beach towns in the U.S. If you're looking for more of a quiet escape than a party-filled getaway, we've rounded up eight quaint beach cities that not only ooze charm, but also provide enough to do and see to keep travelers happy.
Hotels in this story
Where to Stay: Vanderbilt Grace
A 100-year-old mansion built by the Vanderbilt family, Vanderbilt Grace is now a modern, 33-room luxury hotel. Rooms are beach chic, the dining is first-class, and the location is prime; a spa and two swimming pools are also available for guests.
Different from the “Jersey Shore” image that MTV portrays, Cape May is an adorable beach town almost as far south as Washington, D.C. It has loads of Victorian B&Bs and quaint shops selling saltwater taffy, frozen custard, and antiques. The family-friendly town is very walkable and activities range from parasailing and paddleboarding to brewery or lighthouse tours.
Where to Stay: The Southern Mansion
Ideal for a romantic getaway (no kids under 10 allowed), The Southern Mansion has Victorian-style guest rooms with antique beds and cozy fireplaces. A gourmet breakfast is included in the price and beach chairs are available for guests to borrow. The popular Washington Street Mall, a three-block pedestrian concourse of local restaurants, chain shops, and art galleries, is just a six-minute walk away.
Carmel-by-the-Sea, or simply Carmel, is a quaint city along the California coast — just off of the scenic Highway 1. The town is nestled in between rocky coastal cliffs and tall pine trees, and walking through the downtown area feels like stepping into a coastal fairytale land. Unique boutiques, restaurants, and bars line the streets, making this area highly accessible by foot. The city has long been an artsy hub and numerous galleries can be found here.
Where to Stay: L’Auberge Carmel
For a charming hotel to match the town, look no further than L’Auberge Carmel. The property is housed in a 1929 building, built around a courtyard area filled with potted plants and a fountain. The 20 rooms have high-quality bedding, and beautiful modern bathrooms with heated floors (some have deep soaking tubs). It also has a popular restaurant.
Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island has a population of around 500, though it can bring in around 15,000 tourists during its peak season. Approximately 75 percent of the island is part of Mackinac Island State Park, filled with lush forests, ample wildlife, and trails perfect for hiking or biking. The town has outlawed the use of motor vehicles since 1898, so you’ll be transported back in time with horse-drawn carriages or buggies as your mode of transportation.
Where to Stay: Grand Hotel
Built in 1887, the 390-room Grand Hotel is a destination unto itself. It has a 220-foot-long swimming pool, two nine-hole golf courses, and a full schedule of children’s activities during the summer. The hotel also hosts a five-course dinner in the hotel’s Main Dining Room, which maintains a strict formal dress code in the evening — that can make it feel all the more special.
Along the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, St. Pete Beach is about 45 minutes southwest of Tampa. It has a population of around 10,000 but is known mainly as a travel destination thanks to its year-round sunshine. Walk through the sand, kayak in the water, or head to one of the cute cafes for a typically simple and relaxed beach town retreat.
Where to Stay: Postcard Inn
For a unique, beachfront stay, the mid-range 196-room Postcard Inn is a great option. The hotel stands out from area resorts with surfer-chic decor that creates a hip and casual vibe in both the rooms and public spaces. Rooms have whimsical surfer-stye decor, and prices are reasonable compared to those at nearby hotels.
The summer home location of President George H.W. Bush, Kennebunkport is about a 90-minute drive north of Boston. Located along the coast, the town was incorporated in 1653 and has since become a popular destination for its beaches, boutiques, and ample recreational activities available. Whale watching, art gallery tours, and horseback riding can all be enjoyed in this quintessential New England beach town.
Where to Stay: The White Barn Inn
Part of the exclusive Relais & Châteaux properties, The White Barn Inn is technically in Kennebunk, but close to all the sites in Kennebunkport. It’s one of the more luxury options, but with 26 gorgeous rooms, a great spa, an outdoor pool, and a highly acclaimed restaurant, it’s worth the price.
A lovely, quiet vacation spot, Hilton Head is less commercialized than the other popular South Carolina locale, Myrtle Beach. The coastal town has renowned golf courses, excellent restaurants, and plenty on- and off-land activities for both couples and families to stay busy. Boating is a major pastime and bottlenose dolphins can often be seen swimming about. The Audubon-Newhall and Sea Pines Forest Preserves also have ample wildlife to be spotted between polo matches, lobster rolls, and bicycling.
Where to Stay: Main Street Inn & Spa
Well-suited for romance, Main Street Inn & Spa is a quiet property at the edge of the lush Hilton Head Plantation. It boasts gorgeous grounds, 33 large rooms with elegant colonial decor, and a pretty pool area. There’s no on-site restaurant, but a free breakfast and evening wine hour are included in the rates.
Where to Stay: The Ocean Lodge
The Ocean Lodge is a four-pearl hotel sporting 45 rooms and suites that include working fireplaces, kitchenettes, and some ocean views. Its waterfront location, cookies and organic coffee in the lobby at all hours, and free continental breakfast, make the hotel a popular choice for families.
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