16 Best Beaches in the USA for Vacation & Day Trips

Beach with cottages at Nags Head in the outer banks. North Carolina

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Fresh air, lapping waves, sun kissed skin; who is ready to discover the best beaches in the USA? From underrated beach towns to popular coastal escapes, white sandy beaches to unusual stony shores, this guide details where to plan your next beach getaway in the US.

We’ve also included family-friendly beaches and livelier vacation ideas for big kids.

Have you missed your favorite beach in the USA? Tell us in the comments!

You may also like our dedicated beach packing list, which has a free usable checklist, and our guide to the best beaches to visit in December if you are planning a winter getaway.

Best Beaches in Northeast USA

1. Play in the Surf at Plum Island Beach

This barrier island in Newburyport, Massachusetts is a family-friendly beach town perfect for rare bird-watching, exploring a pristine wildlife refuge, and playing in the incredible waves of the Atlantic.

Named after the beach plum shrubs that grow in the dunes, beachcombers find this area an exciting spot for shells.

Mad Martha’s Island Cafe is a must for strong coffee, creative breakfast dishes, and vibrant beach décor before you spend the day at the shore.

Visit the North Point beach to escape the worst of the crowds and to lounge at one of the prettiest beaches in the US!

Note: Be mindful that this area gets Greenhead Flies around July so pack long layers and bug spray or avoid this summer month for a pleasant experience.

2. Explore One of the Only Jasper Beaches in the World!

Head to Howard Cove in Machiasport, Maine to experience a beach so rare, you’d have to travel to China to find the only other one like it.

Though most people prefer soft sand over rock beaches, these jasper rocks create a beautiful and peaceful sound like music as they jostle with each wave that washes ashore.

Many people claim to hear the rocks almost singing while they explore this beach—you really can’t miss this experience.

Jasper Beach is a geologic wonder and a local’s secret, which makes it one of the most secluded beaches in the US!

3. Head to Misquamicut Beach with the Family!

Rhode Island has some of the best beaches to visit in the US, but most tourists pick the more popular beaches of Cape Cod or the Hamptons—head to Westerly, Rhode Island to escape the worst of the crowds!

Misquamicut Beach, a half-mile stretch of sand and sea with lots of bathrooms, changing areas, vigilant lifeguards, and great food options make this beach one of the best family beaches in the US.

This beach also has wheelchair accessibility and shade gazebos for anyone who needs a break from the hot sun.

Locals and tourists alike love the Windjammer Surf bar for its fresh seafood, cold beer, and fun live entertainment!

Best Beaches on the East Coast

4. Lewes Beach for Family Fun

There’s no denying that Delaware has some of the best beach towns in the US and while Lewes is one of the smallest, it is ideal for families as the bay waves are pretty calm.

Entry is free and there are restrooms at the beach.

Unlike its neighboring beach towns, Lewes doesn’t have a built up boardwalk but there are restaurants close by such as Big Oyster Brewery, Half Full and On The Rocks Dockside Grill.

Lewes, Delaware bench on beach

Other things to do in Lewes include visiting Cape Henlope State Park to hike and cycle, hopping aboard the ferry to Cape May in New Jersey and day tripping to Rehoboth, Dewey, Bethany Beach.

Since Lewes, is the ‘first town in the first state’, it makes sense that the community puts on a firework display for July 4th which makes Independence Day Weekend a busy time to visit.

Check out our guide to the best places to visit in May for more Memorial Day Weekend ideas.

Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes

5. Look no Further than Atlantic City Beach if you’re Ready to Party

Atlantic City Beach in New Jersey goes almost undisputed as one of the best party beaches in the US.

It is a classic destination for fun-loving travelers, with free beaches, giant casinos, a thriving nightlife, and 24-hour liquor licenses, this beach is a must for your next beach party destination.

Don’t miss out on the world famous Steel Pier Amusement Park with thrilling rides, delicious food stands, and a Ferris wheel that looks over the entire city at its top.

Steel Pier at Atlantic City, New Jersey

6. Spot Wild Horses at the Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island in Maryland is a national seashore, which means it is specially reserved by the federal government for public use and enjoyment.

This beach is perfect for all kinds of outdoor recreation, like kayaking, crabbing, birdwatching, fishing, biking, and hiking.

The 37 mile stretch of the island features white sands, the famous Assateague Lighthouse, and sprawling dunes and marsh ecosystems, making it one of the most underrated beaches in the US.

If you’re lucky on your outdoor adventures, you can catch the Blackfin Food Truck and enjoy a local favorite—the Coastal Poke Bowl!

You may also like our guide to the best East Coast lakes.

Horses at Assateague Island National Seashore, a barrier island in Maryland

7. Visit the Classic Kitty Hawk Beach on the Outer Banks this summer

The Outer Banks have some of the most famous beaches in the USA for a reason: more than 100 miles of shorelines bordering most of the North Carolina coast, gorgeous, sprawling beaches, and a unique local culture.

Kitty Hawk Beach and the surrounding town is a perfect beach getaway in the USA, rich with tradition and history—it is the location the Wright Brothers chose to conduct all their aviation experiments in the early 1900s.

For a refreshing treat, try any of Big Buck’s Homemade Ice Cream‘s (3810 N Croatan Hwy) 51 homemade flavors, like Hazelnut Cappuccino!

Take advantage of this glorious Outer Banks stretch of white sand beaches by day tripping to other areas like Nags Head, Pea Islands Beach and Coquina Beach.

Beach with cottages at Nags Head in the outer banks. North Carolina

Best Beaches in South USA

8. Swim in the Gulf of Mexico at Biloxi Beach

Located at the center of the southern edge of Mississippi, Biloxi Beach is known for its 26 miles of soft sand and gentle waters.

There are access points to the beach all along the coast, and is easily accessible from Highway 90.

Biloxi is known for its fabulous casinos, so once you’ve had your fill of the sun and surf, take a chance and play at Treasure Bay Casino!

9. South Padre Island Beach for Florida Waters in Texas and Night Life

Located right on the southern border of Texas.

South Padre Island is located right on the southern border of Texas and is a spring break destination for students.

Known for its clean waters and tropical climate, this beach enjoys the same longitude as Fort Lauderdale.

The Laguna Madre Bay is a “hyper-saline” bay which means it has a lot of salt in the water.

Other things to do a South Padre include water sports, Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Mexican influenced food.

Find out more in our Texas beaches guide.

Sunset at South Padre Island Beach in Texas

Best Beaches in the Southeast United States

10. Enter a Fantastical World at Driftwood Beach

You will be totally amazed when you see the arrangement of driftwood and trees scattered across Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

They are gnarled, bent over, and exposed to decades of the elements, making these unique trees both beautiful and like something out of a story book.

The soft sands and gentle waves are some of the best parts of this secluded beach.

There are a few access points to Driftwood Beach along North Beachview Drive, where you’ll also find ample parking and even a campground, should you decide to stay overnight!

Read more | Best beach towns on the East Coast.

Jekyll island, Georgia beach

11. Visit Nanny Goat, the Best White Sand Beach in the US

Look no further if you’re on the hunt for an incredible white sand beach in the United States.

Nanny Goat Beach on the southern tip Sapelo Island, Georgia can be challenging to get to, but its quiet shores and soft white sands will be well worth the travel.

The beach is only accessible by a 30-minute ferry ride, so make sure you check the timetable of departures on Georgia’s Dept. of Natural Resources website.

Its coast features one of the largest live-bottom reefs in the Southeast, undisturbed natural dunes, and five different ecological zones.

12. Spot dolphins at Mitchelville Beach

Mitchelville Beach on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is a beach loved by locals.

Instead of a tropical scene, the beach is surrounded by massive oak trees draped with Spanish moss, thick forests with amazing wildlife, and is frequently visited by dolphins!

It’s almost always quiet, which makes it perfect to spend the day searching for seashells, animal tracks in the sand, and other treasures washed up on the shore by the sea.

Do the self-guided tour of Mitchelville Freedom Park to learn about the formerly enslaved sea islanders of Hilton Head.

Hilton Head has been designated a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists; the trails are a great way to explore the island at your own pace.

Visit the Coastal Discovery Museum to see giant oak trees, wander through the butterfly gardens, learn about Hilton Head’s historical figures, and more.

Learn more about all of the free things to do in Hilton Head, SC.

13. Explore the Only Undersea Park in the US

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo, Florida is a truly unique, must-visit beach.

Spanning over 70 nautical miles, visitors love exploring the special Florida mangroves and the colorful, lively coral reefs.

Get a glimpse of the coral reefs on a glass-bottom boat tour, or by snorkeling or scuba diving; this kind of experience makes the Coral Reef State Park a top US beach destination.

Swim under water to get a glimpse of Christ of the Deep aka Christ of the Abyss by Guido Galletti.

Christ of the Deep also features in our guide to the best islands to visit in December.

Underwater statue Christ of the Abyss by Guido Galletti

Picnic on white sand under the best palm trees on any beach in the US or swim on Canon Beach, which features a shipwreck just 100 feet into the water.

Take a day trip around the lower Florida keys stopping at Bahia Honda State Park and the popular sundeck restaurant, Sunset Pier at Key West.

Aerial photo Sunset Pier Zero Duval Street Key West Florida USA

Best Beaches in USA West Coast

14. Lounge with the Locals at Pfeiffer Beach

If you visit one beach on the West Coast, make sure it is Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, California.

This beach is off the beaten path, accessed only by an unmarked road called Sycamore Canyon Road off Highway 1.

Besides the incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, this beach features purple sands, towering redwood trees, and dramatic rock structures jutting up from the waters.

Catch the sun setting through the small west-facing opening in the magnificent Keyhole Arch and explore the rich tidepools at the north end of the beach.

These unique features make Pfeiffer Beach one of the most beautiful beaches in the USA.

Pfeiffer also made it to our top beaches to visit in winter list!

Plan a day trip to the famous Bixby Bridge which features in the TV series, Big Little Lies with Nicole Kidman and Zoe Kravitz which is 16 miles north of Pfeiffer Beach.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is another 15 miles along the coast but worth adding to your itinerary if you like art-filled US beach towns.

Check out our romantic US destinations guide for details.

Bixby Creek Bridge Big Sur. California

15. Head to Cobble Beach in Oregon if you miss the East Coast

The Northeast US might be well-known for its quant beach towns and lighthouses, but Cobble Beach in Newport, Oregon rivals New England.

The cobblestones that make up the shore are weathered stones from a lava flow millions of years ago, but in the present day, they shift in unison with the waves, making the whole beach shimmer in the sun.

Cobble Beach is one of the best places in the United States to explore tide pools.

You won’t want to miss the sea anemones, urchins, and starfish at low tide!

The best feature of the beach, though, is the 1873 Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which is easily accessible via a short walk up Yaquima Head.

You may also be interested in our guide to beach towns on the Oregon Coast for more dreamy ideas.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Newport Oregon.

16. Swim in the Clearest Water in Hawaii

Though the Hawaiian Islands are well beyond the West Coast, they definitely needed a spot in this list of the best beaches to visit in the US.

Lanikai Beach in Oahu, Hawaii is the best beach in the US with clear water, and is ranked as one of the best beaches in the world.

Hawaii Map

The water here is perfectly turquoise blue, and it extends for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see.

Be aware that parking is extremely difficult, especially in the peak seasons and over the weekends.

Plan ahead by traveling with your group in a single car or arranging to be transported to and from the beach for your visit!

Hanauma Bay in the south of Oahu also comes highly rated making Oahu home to many of the top US beach destinations.

Blue ocean. sandy beach and cliffs of Hanauma Bay at Oahu in Hawaii.

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