There’s nothing quite like the feel of an ocean breeze as you relax on a sandy beach with a good book. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the warm sand on your toes and the sunshine on your face. Listen carefully, and you can almost hear the sound of waves crashing against the shore. A trip to the ocean is pure bliss.
Of all the possible road trip destinations across the U.S. (and there are indeed many), perhaps none are as compelling as a coast trip.
As if the water, waves, and beach were not enough, many of the great coastal towns lining eastern and western shores have even more to offer. Foodies will find the freshest seafood to enjoy — from lobster rolls to sushi. History lovers will wonder at the architecture and stories contained in some of the nation’s oldest port towns.
Even the hiking and biking trails in coastal cities and towns promise memorable bluffs, cliffs, and vistas to enjoy.
Not sure where to venture on your next road trip? Head to the U.S. coast — east or west — and explore one of these idyllic seaside destinations.
Looking for a Coastal Vacation? Try One of these 10 Spots
1. St. Michaels, Maryland
This small town on Maryland’s eastern shore makes for an ideal in-state road trip from Baltimore. It’s worth an out-of-state road trip, too!
St. Michael’s is a great seaside town for strolling, shopping, and exploring. It is also well known for its maritime history, which visitors can learn about at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. There’s lots of history to learn about here, if you’re so inclined. To get your bearings and learn as you stroll, walking tours are always a great way to get around. This way, you can be sure to see the most interesting sites and have fun while learning about a place’s past, present, and future.
Even if you don’t get to the museum, St. Michael’s scenic waterfront has plenty to offer, including family-friendly activities like boating, fishing, and kayaking. If you’re road-tripping, chances are you’re not pulling a boat behind you. Maybe you don’t even own a boat! Not to worry. Consider checking out local boat rentalsto log some time on the water! Renting a boat can be costly, but you might find it’s worth it as it’s a great way to get on the water and make memories.
And remember: this is the place to enjoy Maryland’s famous blue crab. Dig in at one of the many established seafood eateries in town.
Washington DC / Capitol KOA Holiday
2. Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine, is an old town with a young heart. The city is situated on a peninsula that extends into Casco Bay. There’s so much to do here: stroll the cobblestone streets of the Old Port, Portland’s historic district with its working fishing wharves and converted warehouse now bustling with unique restaurants and shops. Or, visitors can explore the Western Promenade, a public park atop a bluff with fantastic river and mountain views.
Portland would be a great road trip from Boston (about two hours) or New York (about four hours)… with plenty of bonus beaches and cities to see along the way. Read these suggestions comparing an inland road trip from Boston to Portland versus a coastal route.
After seeing the sights in town, and maybe hiking the magnificent shoreline, you’ll be ready to tuck into a delicious lobster roll or sit back with a dozen delectable oysters.
3. Newport, Rhode Island
This New England locale has been a popular summer resort town for generations … and for good reason! The quaint, old town along the shore is iconic. Your tour begins as your drive the serene and impressive Ocean Drive: picture ten miles of impressive coastline as you traverse a serene, winding road.
A quick stroll down Newport’s cobblestone streets, past surviving colonial buildings and leafy boulevards, and you will be transported to another time and place. You can romanticize life within one of the “13 original colonies” life before returning to the present-day to shop at a quirky boutique or dine at one of the many fantastic restaurants.
What could be more relaxing (or New England) than embarking on a Lighthouse and Mimosa Cruise? Newport has it. Off the water, the town also offers trolley tours and Gilded Age mansion tours (this was the playground of the ultra-wealthy after all), and the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk (don’t forget the camera!).
Oh, and if all of that still has you saying, “What’s next?” Just drop in at one of the many breweries, wineries, and/or music festivals in town.
4. Chincoteague, Virginia
Step inside a fairytale on this east coast island. Chincoteague Island is known as the “Gateway to Virginia”. It is a special and unique place to spend some time.
The first and most crucial thing you should know about Chincoteague is that it is the site of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to the famous Chincoteague Wild Ponies: small, shaggy, wild horses that run unabashedly along the beach. They have adapted to the island environment over many years by eating dune and marsh grasses.
Ponies aside, there are so many things to love about Virginia’s only island resort. Despite being easily accessible from major cities, this location offers a peaceful atmosphere free of skyscrapers, busy stress, and dreaded traffic. It serves as the perfect retreat for some R&R by the shore, where you can soak up the incredible sunsets above Chincoteague Bay. If it strikes your fancy, hop on a bike or even into a kayak to take in the island from a new perspective.
5. Tybee Island, Georgia
A charming island to explore just thirty miles outside of equally charming Savannah, Georga, Tybee Island is lush with salt marshes and warm, gentle waves. These beaches are just right for swimming, building sandcastles, finding the perfect seashells, and taking an epic nap.
After your epic nap, choose an adventure like a kayak tour (or race), hop on a jet ski, or take a surf lesson. Or, you can rent a bike and explore the entire island on two wheels. In that case, don’t miss Tybee Island Lighthouse – billed as Georgia’s “oldest” and “tallest” lighthouse. During the War of 1812, the lighthouse was used as a signal tower to warn nearby Savannah of a possible attack by the British.
Another neat thing you can do here is marvel at (and purchase) one of the many hand-made art pieces and souvenirs created by local artists.
Tybee Island is a laid-back place with that perfect mix of attractions: lots of history (dating back to the Revolutionary War), exciting nightlife, mouth-watering seafood, and a hefty dose of Southern hospitality.
6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is another classic road trip destination on the Atlantic Coast and an awesome place for a family trip. The beach’s claim to fame is the Grand Strand — 60 miles of gorgeous beachfront. But the town is also beloved for its golf courses, amusement parks, and dolphin tours. Lastly, road trippers love Myrtle Beach for its super fresh seafood.
Beyond the shores, enjoy a glass of wine on the porch at La Belle Amie Vineyard, or sip a microbrew at New South Brewing. If you’re into the quirky, you’ll want to pop by the rice museum (which is crazy cool) in the historic downtown and a sprawling flea market where you can hunt for vacation treasures.
The best months to splash around in the Atlantic and lie on the South Carolina beach are June through August, though fun can certainly be had all year round.
Myrtle Beach KOA Resort
7. St. Augustine, Florida
How about venturing to the oldest city in the U.S.? A city that also happens to have fabulous beaches? The modest-sized St. Augustine sits snug on the northeast coast of Florida. St. Augustine Beach and nearby Crescent Beach are both regulars on “best beach” lists for their soft “sugar white” sand. And both have a great reputation for lounging, swimming, and fishing.
Come for the beaches, and stay for the Spanish colonial architecture ala The Cathedral Basilica and St. Augustine’s Old Jail, dating back to 1891.
Another popular location you’ll want to explore is Anastasia Park, a protected wildlife sanctuary and a great place for finding sea shells and bird-watching.
If you have little ones, Johns County Ocean Pier has volleyball, a playground, and a children’s splash zone. Neighboring Ocean Hammock Park has a nature trail as well as a sea turtle nesting site.
8. Key West, Florida
Down at the southernmost tip of Florida, Key West has its own brand of magic. The area is not so much known for its beaches as it is for its network of coral reefs. So pop on a snorkel and flippers, and experience this awesome underwater ecosystem.
After your dip, you’ll want to explore the very laid-back, pastel town. Some can’t-miss stops in the Keys are Ernest Hemmingway’s haunts and home, including the polydactyl (six-toed) cats that live here, Cuban coffee and eats joints, and the Historic Key West Cemetary. It’s a fun place to wander the streets (along with the wild chickens), either on foot or by scooter. Make sure to stroll Duval Street.
Key West also has great nightlife (again, Duval Street).
Many say the sunsets at Mallory Square in Key West are the most beautiful you’ll ever see, which is why it’s the site of Key West’s Sunset Celebration. As the sun goes down, restaurants and bars gear up for an evening of fun, and street performers give a great show. The feeling is one of fun, beauty, and adventure.
Sugarloaf Key / Key West KOA Holiday
9. Half Moon Bay, California
A journey to Half Moon Bay in Northern California will have you pinching yourself. Half Moon Bay is in San Mateo County, California, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. Many say the landscape here resembles the Scottish Highlands — with rocky jagged cliffs and cresting waves. A bit off-shore, the natural wonders continue with dramatic Redwood trees.
Guests will find many public, private, and state beaches to enjoy on Half Moon Bay. A word of warning, though, swimmers should study the tide before heading into the water, and go with a buddy if possible. The area is known for strong rips and high tides — hence why it is such a popular surfing destination. Mavericks, just north of HMB, is the place to catch the biggest wave.
Besides enjoying a picnic, suntanning, and playing on the beach, other popular attractions here are a game of golf on a coastal golf course, the Gray Whale Cove Trail, and The California Coastal Trail.
Did we mention you can see various species of seals and sea lions here from December through March; and catch gray whales on their migration south?
Seriously, what more could you want from a coastal town?
10. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
There are few oceanside destinations as storybook as Carmel-by-the-Sea (Carmel for short) in Monterey County, California.
It’s a town of artists, dreamers, and sun lovers. The picturesque town is very walkable and bikeable, with many (extremely) scenic spots and places to enjoy shopping, great food, and wine and take in Tudor-style architecture. In the streets of Carmel, flowers abound.
First things first, the beach. Carmel Beach lies at the end of Ocean Avenue. Its silky white sand and foamy waves beneath a still blue sky are dreamy. If it’s a scenic hike you’re after, Point Lobos State National Reserve is as good as it gets, and you might even see seals, sea lions, otters, and migrating gray whales.
Carmel is about 2.5 hours from San Francisco. Hot tip: if you haven’t realized it yet, this place is stunning, which is why tourists flock to Carmel on the weekends. Come during the week to enjoy the beach, restaurants, strolls, and views without the weekend crowds.
Finally, while you’re road-tripping to Carmel, don’t miss the 17-mile scenic loop drive between Monterey in the north and Carmel in the south. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie as you wind through Pebble Beach and Lone Cyprus under the California sun.
Need a little help choosing your next road trip destination? Why not head to a coastal beach town? Many towns and cities by the ocean are extremely walkable and have a ton of things to do whether you’re traveling as a single, couple, with friends or family.
And, of course, you can do nothing at all but lay on the beach and listen as the waves lap against the shore. That part is encouraged!
From California to Maine, you’ll find that each coastal town has its own unique flavor and claims to fame. Some of these places have been built on hundreds of years of shipping and trade. Most all retain their jaw-dropping natural bluffs, shores, and beaches, which you have to see to believe.
Whether your road trip tour leads to the east or west, you can’t go wrong settling somewhere with an ocean breeze.
Leslie, a.k.a. Copy Girl, is a copywriter who gets butterflies from telling stories through words.
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