10 Great East Coast Beach Vacations
The best beach vacations on the East Coast are a matter of opinion, but 10 of them have obvious appeal.
- Nantucket, Massachusetts
- Cape May, New Jersey
- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
- Bethany Beach, Delaware
- Ocean City, Maryland
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Nags Head, North Carolina
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Hilton Head, South Carolina
- Tybee Island, Georgia
Their appeal attracts millions of visitors to them each year for the sake of sun, sand, and entertaining things to do.
East Coast beach destinations from Massachusetts to Georgia have several features in common. They are local and regional hotspots and tend to attract the most visitors from the nearest three or four states. But they also attract visitors from far away states and even other countries.
Visits skyrocket during the summer months of June through August, according to local tourism agencies. Tourists without young children in school go to these beaches in May or September to avoid crowds and find cheaper hotel rooms. But they also experience cooler weather.
The East Coast has dozens of major beaches and hundreds of smaller ones. The following 10 are known for their popularity and wide variety of things to do. Many of them draw more than 1 million visitors a year.
East Coast Beach Poll
What is your favorite big beach on the East Coast?
1. Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is more remote than most major beach destinations. Visitors usually take a one-hour high-speed ferry to get there.
The population swells from 15,000 to 60,000 people during the summer, according to the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce.
The island is 14 miles long and three to five miles wide. It has 10 beaches and 31 miles of bike trails. Other forms of recreation include hiking, fishing, birding, and sailing.
Because of summer crowding, visitors will find it often makes more sense to park their cars at Hyannis, take the ferry and rent bikes or cars on the island.
2. Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May attracts more than 12 million people a year with an 82 percent return rate, the Cape May County Department of Tourism says.
It competes with Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach as one of the biggest and most popular beach destinations on the East Coast.
Nearly 75 percent of the visitors come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. Another 16 percent come from Canada, Maryland and Washington D.C. About 86 percent visit during the summer, the tourism department says.
Besides the beach, favorite attractions include nature activities, the boardwalk, wineries, and the Cape May County Park and Zoo.
3. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Delaware has 30 miles of oceanfront including nine public beaches. Rehoboth is a major destination for visitors from the mid-Atlantic states, especially New Jersey.
Outdoor recreation lovers will find many chances to interact with nature. Cape Henlopen State Park lies just to the north of the beach and Seashore State park lies just to the south.
Rehoboth has a Tanger Outlet for shopping fanatics. The Junction and Breakwater Trail is a six-mile hiking and biking attraction that connects the town of Lewes with Rehoboth Beach.
4. Bethany Beach, Delaware
Visitors to Rehoboth can take Route 1 Coastal Highway south through Seashore State Park to reach the town of Bethany Beach. It lies only about 10 miles south of Rehoboth.
The narrow strip of land that Seashore occupies is a barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean on the east side and Rehoboth Bay on the west side. The park is popular for its beaches.
Bethany has a boardwalk, bandstand, farmer’s market, and nature center. It has a population of only about 1,000 people and is an option for anyone who likes more quiet locations.
5. Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City is a major beach destination for families in the likes of Cape May, Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach.
It attracts more than 8 million visitors a year with 10 miles of free public beaches, 200 restaurants, 18 golf course, a three-mile boardwalk and 9,500 hotel rooms, according to the Ocean City, Maryland, Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city itself has only about 7,000 residents.
Also like Virginia Beach and Myrtle Beach, Ocean City has many entertainment venues such as small-scale amusement parks and other paid attractions. Like other major beaches, it has a lengthy boardwalk for walking, riding or taking a tram.
During the summer, free outdoor events take place almost every day, the Ocean City Convention and Visitors Bureau says.
6. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is the top beach destination in Virginia and draws more than 13 million people every year.
It is known for its miles-long boardwalk and entertainment venues. The venues include Virginia Aquarium, Chrysler Museum of Art, and First Landing State Park.
The beach also has many major events throughout the year including some that attract more than 100,000 visitors. The Virginia Beach Neptune Festival is one of the largest in Virginia.
The beach is home to the largest city among these 10 destinations with a population of about 500,000 people.
7. Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head and similar destinations on the Outer Banks have a unique style that reflect more beachfront homes and fewer hotels than other destinations.
Major attractions are few. They include Jennette’s Pier, Bodie Island Lighthouse, and Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Nags Head has much in common with Rehoboth and Bethany Beaches in Delaware. It gives access to many miles of beach that lie along a series of barrier islands.
The area consists of a series of small towns. It is the exact opposite of Virginia Beach and appeals to people who like quiet, simple vacations.
8. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Myrtle Beach has several features in common with Virginia Beach besides the long gray-white sand beach.
It also draws 13 million visitors a year and offers a healthy number of entertainment venues near the beach. One of the most visible is the 200-foot-tall Skywheel.
Myrtle Beach has a population of only about 30,000 people. But the huge number of hotels, restaurants, retailers, and miniature golf courses make it look much bigger.
9. Hilton Head, South Carolina
Hilton Head island is a planned community that lies 200 miles to the south of Myrtle Beach and just above the border with Georgia.
It has nine public beaches, more than a dozen golf courses, and 55 miles of paths for walking and cycling. The historic city of Savannah GA is a 30-minute drive away.
The island is more appealing to older adults or families that like quiet vacations. It has few major entertainment venues like Ocean City, Virginia or Myrtle. It falls into the same category as Rehoboth and Bethany.
10. Tybee Island, Georgia
Tybee Island is only about 10 miles south of Hilton Head over the George border. It is only 12 miles away from Savannah.
The island, also known as Savannah Beach, is a barrier island with three miles of beach.
The island has about 1 million visitors annually with nearly half of them from Georgia, according to Armstrong State University.