The best beach vacations in the United States

The most beautiful beaches across the U.S. for a perfect coastal escape.
Man walking on the coast in Maine.
The deck of a vacation rental overlooking the beach in Gulf Shores.

Historic and charming shorelines on the East Coast, lively white sand beaches along the Gulf Coast, and picturesque, laidback oceanfronts hugging the West Coast—the United States holds no shortage of beautiful beach vacations. If you’re looking for a breathtaking coastal getaway, skip the high-priced international airfare and saunter out among the glittering shorelines stateside instead. Once you find the right backdrop for a romantic weekend or a spacious stretch of sand for your family vacation, add to the fun with amenities like direct beach access, pools, boat docks, or hot tubs.

Our list of best beach vacations factors in accessibility, cleanliness, crowds, things to do, and the greatest spots for unique and scenic views along the three coastlines. Ready to dig your toes into the sand? Your next trip awaits.

East Coast Beach Vacation Destinations

The Hamilton Cottage, a vacation rental overlooking the beach in St. Simons Island.

St. Simons Island, GA

Step onto powder-white sands along Coastal Georgia. St. Simons Island is known for its stunning natural stretch of sand and quiet beaches. It is the largest barrier island of Georgia’s Golden Isles and neighbors Little St. Simons, famous for its unspoiled beauty and thriving coastal habitats; accessible by boat at the Hampton Marina. Nearby, you’ll also find Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, another Georgian go-to. The area attracts families, historians, and writers, who flock to St. Simons’ tranquil ocean breezes for inspiration, relaxation, and a chance to see sea turtles. Enjoy the canopy of Spanish moss on a bike ride along Riverview Park, dig into some delicious southern cuisine, and tour historic sites like Fort Frederica National Monument.

An overhead view of vacation homes in the Outer Banks.

Outer Banks, NC

When it comes to beautiful beaches, North Carolina has a lion’s share of spots to choose from. The Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands stretching over 175 miles long, is particularly popular for its collection of wide, uncommercialized shorelines. While the area maintains a serene, laid back atmosphere, each coastal village has something different to offer. You’ll find wild Spanish Mustangs along beaches in Corolla, kite-flying, hiking, and hang-gliding in Nags Head, and lighthouse views along Cape Hatteras National Seashore. With spacious, family oceanfront homes and cozy cottages, the Outer Banks is a go-to place for family reunions and romantic honeymoons.

The receding tied during a sunset on Wells Beach.

Wells, ME

Serene and relaxing, Wells Beach and Drake Island Beach are two of New England’s top beaches for a little R&R. Both beaches have lifeguards on duty at posted hours and allow dogs from 6 P.M. to 8 A.M. Head out in the morning to catch the sunrise, collect a few shells, or try your hand at surfing. In the evening, explore the tide pools at low tide or grab a fresh seafood dinner for a picnic on the sand dunes. In the surrounding towns of Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, you’ll find clam shacks, antique stores, and plenty of options for sailing excursions.

Gulf Coast Beach Vacation Destinations

Birds eye view of Clearwater, Florida.

Clearwater, FL

Few things are as inviting as Clearwater Beach’s emerald waves. Given its sugar-white sands and warm ocean waters, it’s no surprise this beach is frequently listed as one of the most beautiful beaches, including by USA Today in 2023 and Trip Advisor in 2019. Looking for an indulgent, romantic getaway? Luxuriate under sunny skies with nearby fine dining restaurants, spas, nightlife, and shopping centers. If you’re traveling with kids, stop by Clearwater Marine Aquarium or book a day of fun on the water with Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. Clearwater Beach not only offers stunning ocean views, but it is also just a 45-minute drive from Tampa, so you can enjoy a bit of everything on your beautiful beach vacation.

Lounge chairs overlooking the beach in South Padre

South Padre Island, TX

South Padre Island, Texas’ only tropical island, boasts white sand beaches and 277 days of annual sunshine. This barrier island has become a popular spot for its pristine sands, frequent dolphin sightings, abundant activities, and nightlife. Pack your beach vacation itinerary with visits to one nature center and amusement park after another, or go with the flow and lounge in the sand. Nearby Padre Island holds the title of the Longest Undeveloped Barrier Island Seashore in the world and is a common home base among sea turtles and migratory birds, so bring a pair of binoculars with your beach towels.

Dauphin Island, AL

Pirate history, pristine beaches, and peak relaxation—Dauphin Island makes for a perfect family beach vacation. Alabama’s stretch of the Gulf Coast gives way to sparkling waves and soft, sandy beaches. The remote, kid-friendly atmosphere makes it a hit with families who want to connect with the coastal wildlife, as the surrounding area includes a bird sanctuary, historical sites, and the Alabama Aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Nearby Orange Beach is known for its water sports and beach music festivals. Between activities in town, stretch out along the ocean, build a sandcastle, or book a dolphin cruise.

West Coast Beach Vacation Destinations

cannon beach, or

Cannon Beach, OR

As one of the most famous and beautiful beach vacations of the Pacific Northwest, Cannon Beach is undoubtedly one-of-a-kind. The beach, just an hour and a half drive from Portland, is nestled between the evergreen-covered mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Take your pick of ocean view cabins, cottages, and family homes as you explore the area’s stunning landscape, natural attractions, and coastal small-town charm. Haystack Rock, a rock formation frequented by seasonal puffins, is an iconic landmark of the area and a must-see, as well as its lively tide pools below. Tour art galleries in town, head out on a hike through the temperate rainforest, or catch up on some reading by the sand dunes.

private hot tub with ocean views from Fort Bragg, CA

Fort Bragg, CA

Fort Bragg, along California’s scenic northern coast, promises picturesque getaways and breathtaking views around every corner. Among its quiet sea cliffs, wine country, and redwood forests, you’ll find Glass Beach. The beach, adjacent to MacKerricher State Park, draws visitors to its unique, colorful sea glass shoreline. This trash-to-treasure phenomenon occurred over many years as broken shards of glass from an old nearby dumpsite were crushed down and smoothed over by the ocean. As a result, you can visit this top-searched beautiful beach, set out for a stroll, and enjoy the view of waves lapping against vibrant pebbles of all shades (though, as a note, collecting sea glass from the beach is illegal). While Glass Beach may not be the typical, swimmable, white sand beach, its stand-out scenery is absolutely worth a visit.

La Jolla, CA

Offering the same laid-back, warm-weather relaxation the west coast is known for, La Jolla adds the benefit of gorgeous coastal nature reserves and a pinch of opulence. The Southern California town is situated just a 20-minute drive from San Diego, where busy city streets calm to breezy beachside avenues, lined with impressive oceanfront villas, beach gear rentals, and fresh fruit smoothie shops. La Jolla’s dramatic coastline is home to many ocean-view walking trails, the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, sea caves, and families of sunning sea lions. Unroll your beach towel along the golden sands, watch for surfers or a passing pod of dolphins, wade into the warm waves for a swim, and leave your worries behind in the air of easy living.

Beach vacation inspiration