Are you looking to recharge your batteries with a much-needed beach vacation? With almost 100,000 miles of shoreline, choosing where to stay around the United States can be pretty difficult. Thankfully, travelers who are dreaming of sugary beaches, top-notch dining, crystal blue waters and endless sunshine can find everything they’re looking for in these beautiful small beach towns in the United States. Best of all? You don’t need a passport to visit any of them!
The Best Small Beach Towns in the USA
1. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
With romantic storybook-style architecture, a thriving art scene, and fabulous boutique shops, the small beach town of Carmel-by-the-Sea is on everyone’s bucket list – and with good reason!
Thanks to the epic weather, the majestic landscapes of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and the eclectic food, Carmel is perfect for solo travelers and families alike.
This stunning little town is also home to Carmel Beach, a relaxing spot where you can watch the surfers take on the waves. Don’t miss Scenic Bluff Path, a pristine pathway along the coastline where you’ll enjoy some incredible views.
2. Cape May, New Jersey
The United States has a beach that suits everyone. But, if you’re looking for a wonderful destination where you can go swimming, boating, fishing, bird-watching, antique shopping, wine tasting, and be surrounded by history, then head to Cape May!
Cape May, New Jersey, is the perfect escape where solo travelers, nature-enthusiasts, families, and artists can relax, explore, and unwind without feeling completely disconnected from the world. There are boardwalks, beaches, film and jazz festivals, art shows, and historical landmarks like the impressive Emlen Physick Estate, a Victorian house/museum that is known as the “the original haunted house” of Cape May.
In fact, Cape May is a registered National Historic Landmark thanks to its over 600 Victorian-style houses and picturesque cottages. Cape May is an easy day trip from Philadelphia, so if you love history, you can explore the beach and the city all in the same trip.
If you’re staying in Cape May, check out the secluded Higbee Beach, a scenic spot at the end of New England Road. But be careful! There are no lifeguards on this off-the-beaten path beach and the tides can get pretty dangerous.
3. Lake Forest, Illinois
I would be remiss if I failed to mention our former hometown. Located thirty miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Forest may not be on many tourist radars, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Lake Forest beach requires a day pass, but beachgoers can swim, paddle, kayak, or even try sailing from the beach. There’s a fabulous playground for kids and a walking path along the sand.
After spending time in the sun, head to town and grab a treat from Sweet’s, check out the bookstore, or sit in the town square and simply watch the world go by. We highly recommend staying at The Deer Path Inn, a beautiful award winning boutique hotel in the middle of town.
4. Captiva Island, Florida
There are tons of small beach towns in Florida, but we are partial to Captiva, the sister island to Sanibel. Beaches here are quieter than Sanibel, but have the same soft sugar sand and seashells. Active families can enjoy golf, tennis, fishing, kayaking, and even snorkeling. All ages will love this beach vacation.
Stay at South Seas Island Resort which offers an amazing array of family activities. There are bicycles available for use as well as guided nature walks and water sports. The kids will never want to leave!
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5. Niantic, Connecticut
East Coast beach goers flock to Niantic, Connecticut. This charming seaside village offers less-crowded beaches, scenic sea landscapes, and plenty of outdoor recreation.
Enjoy a nice stroll down the lovely main street, right across from Long Island Sound, a tidal mouth of a larger river where the tide meets the stream. Grab lunch on the way to the Niantic Bay Boardwalk and take in the views while you sit on a bench and chat with the locals.
6. Port Aransas, Texas
Port Aransas is known as the “fishing capital of Texas” so everything here revolves around spending time on the water. Located on Mustang Island, you’ll need to take a ferry or drive to get there. Take a dolphin watching boat tour, head out deep sea fishing, or rent dune buggies to ride on the sand. Plan on renting a vacation rental in Port Aransas since that’s the best way to have a true family beach vacation.
7. Assateague Island, Maryland
Assateague Island woos visitors with its pristine sandy beaches and hundreds of “wild horses” and ponies who call this incredible place home. You won’t find traditional beach town staples like a boardwalk here, but you’ll be surrounded by over 300 species of birds, diverse marine-life, seashells, and of course – its world renowned “wild horses”. According to local legend, some folks believe the horses are descendants of a group of steeds who survived a shipwreck on the island. There are plenty of beach vacation rentals near Assateague Island.
8. Del Mar, California
This Southern California beach town is perfect for a family getaway. Located in San Diego county, Del Mar is perfectly situated between La Jolla and Solana Beach with views of the Pacific Ocean. Spend time hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve, shopping in downtown, or just relaxing at the beach. Be sure to catch a sunset overlooking the ocean. It will take your breath away! For a luxurious stay, book a room at L’Auberge Del Mar which is right across the street from the beach.
9. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Every year, thousands of travelers head to the artsy and sophisticated, Rehoboth Beach. Have a blast under the sun in this Atlantic Coast town or take a stroll in the lovely boardwalk. This is where the action is with little shops, restaurants, and knick-knacks. If you’re traveling with kids (or love amusement parks) visit the Funland Amusement Park that’s full of rides, arcades, and games for all ages.
10. Fish Creek, Wisconsin
Fish Creek is located on the peninsula that juts out from Wisconsin, with Green Bay on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. This area is referred to as Door County, and it’s one of the best summer getaways in the US. Visitors to Fish Creek can hike or bike in Peninsula State Park, check out the shops and the art galleries, or simply enjoy the local restaurants. During the summer in Door County there are endless festivals, orchards for fruit picking, lighthouses and even a drive-in movie theater. Book a vacation rental in Door County or plan on staying at White Gull Inn, one of our personal favorites.
11. Camden, Maine
Are you a big art enthusiast? Then you’ll love Camden, Maine, a scenic beach town that looks straight out of an oil painting. Camden is also home to the Camden Opera House, which offers a variety of events and live shows.
Outdoor lovers should spend an afternoon walking around the hiking trails throughout Camden Hills State Park. And don’t forget to take in the spectacular views of the Camden Harbor. This lovely beach town is also a hop, skip and a jump away from Rockport, a town that has inspired artists from all over to head to the shores and recreate the beaches as works of art.