The phrase “sun, sand, and surf” immediately conjures up an expanse of pristine white beach, glistening blue-green water cresting into frothy white waves, and the dazzling brightness of a hot summer sun. And, for a lot of people, those images are directly associated with the Pacific Coast. But those people don’t know about the best beaches on the East Coast.
In part because they’re less ubiquitous than California beaches, these little pockets of paradise tend to have a calmer, less showy flavor. If the West Coast is Marilyn, the East is Jackie. In fact, the famed Kennedy compound is a waterfront property on one of the best East Coast beaches on this list. Keep reading to find your next summer escape.
Myrtle Beach is smack in the middle of what’s known as the Grand Strand in South Carolina. This continuous stretch of beach spans over 60 miles from the Little River to Winyah Bay. On top of year-round sunshine (it gets 2800 hours annually), Myrtle Beach is known for its shopping. It’s the biggest shopping destination in the state of South Carolina and one of the biggest in the Southeastern U.S. So, if you want a day to let your tan set indoors, check out Coastal Grand Mall or Myrtle Beach Mall.
Fun fact: Myrtle Beach has had a “thong ordinance” in place since the ‘90s. So, if you want to bust out a skimpy bikini while you’re in S.C., visit one of the nearby beaches on the Grand Strand to avoid fines or even jail time—yikes.
Pristine white sand, picturesque lighthouses, and a romantically curving coastline make Cape May one of the best East Coast beaches—and one of the best coastal views in the country. But it isn’t just a beach town. One of the things that makes Cape May special is its rich historical culture.
After nearly burning to the ground in 1878, the city was reconstructed, which has left it with an abundance of Victorian-era architecture totally unique in the U.S. The entire city was actually designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. That’s why Cape May is an ideal destination for someone who wants both leisure and learning in their vacation experience.
Because of its gorgeous weather year-round, Virginia Beach has become a destination for all kinds of outdoor activities—from hiking excursions to coastal food tours. VB isn’t just one of the best East Coast beaches—it’s one of the most diverse, too.
The weather makes Virginia Beach a sports-lover’s dream. It plays host to the annual East Coast Surfing Championships in August and the North American Sand Soccer Championship in June. And, as the northernmost location on the East Coast where certain subtropical and tropical plants will reliably grow, it’s also a hub for ecotourism. The budding naturalist can visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and explore one of their eco-adventures for whale-, bird-, and dolphin-watching.
Cape Cod has over 500 miles of easily accessible beaches, so there’s something for everyone in this Northeastern haven. Hyannis, Massachusetts is a major tourist destination in its own right, as well as being the transport hub of Cape Cod, with links to Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard, and home to the Kennedy compound.
Since the compound is still in use by the family, it isn’t open to the public. But history buffs can visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and walk the Hyannis Kennedy Legacy Trail. The self-guided trail tour goes through downtown Hyannis, making it a great way to learn more about the town itself.
It’s easy to spend a day or two taking in Hyannis’ historical and picturesque highlights, then take a ferry to historic Nantucket to see its famous lighthouses, or a quick flight to Martha’s Vineyard to hike the Aquinnah Cliffs.
So, next time a beach getaway is on the horizon, give one of these top East Coast beaches a try. California isn’t going anywhere.