23 Most Charming Beach Towns in the United States

From California to Maine, these breathtaking beach spots are worthy of your next family vacation.

most charming beach towns america
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Mapping out your next family vacation, or just dreaming of ocean breezes far, far away? Say hello to a handful of the most charming beach towns across America. From California to Maine and every shoreline in between, each seaside locale melds small town glamour with the best coastal offerings. Think: downright delicious seafood, outstanding local shopping and boutiques, and no shortage of ocean-infused activities if you prefer staying busy to laid-back sunbathing. Breathtaking scenery also comes with the territory in every waterfront spot—and we don't just mean the crystal-clear beaches themselves. Pay a visit to Capitola, California, for example, and you’ll find the most vibrant, Italian-esque homes lining the beach. Or, head to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina for an incredible sightseeing boat tour. Whether you’re a history buff or ocean aficionado, expect to fall in love with any of these island-inspired areas, from known tourist destinations to smaller seaside gems. Book your travel plans ASAP, because these beautiful beach spots—featuring cozy accommodations, sandy beaches, and clear skies—are all absolute must-sees.

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best beach towns wrightsville beach
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Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Don't expect to sit idly in front of this seaside town's crystal-clear oceans—Wrightsville Beach is primo for active water sports, from surfing to paddle boarding. Summer visitors can also partake in the local farmer's market and enjoy live music on Sunday evenings outside Bluewater Waterfront Grill.

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best beach towns hilton head island
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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Not only can you get your golf or beach fix on the sandy shores of Hilton Head, but you can also soak up the island’s storied history and climb up the iconic Harbor Town Lighthouse, or enjoy a sightseeing cruise in nearby Savannah.

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best beach towns capitola california
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Capitola, California

Located right next to Santa Cruz (but without the bustle and crowds), Capitola boasts just 1.6 square miles and a lineup of delightfully vibrant oceanfront homes. Aside from the quaint beach, you'll also love scoping out the area's shopping scene. Bonus: Many local shops are dog-friendly, meaning your beloved pooch can come along for the ride.

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Traverse City, Michigan

This coastal city is a calm, sleepy lakeside residence—until thousands of visitors flock to its shores and wineries come beach season. In addition to offering standard seaside activities, Traverse City's climate is also perfect for its two booming crops—wine and cherries.

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores used to be a bit of a hidden treasure, but now the secret's out—more and more families are discovering its weekend getaway potential and heading to this town situated on the Gulf of Mexico. Find adventure, fun, and relaxation on its white-sand beaches, made of quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains.

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Chatham, Massachusetts

Don't be turned off by Cape Cod's popularity as a vacation destination—it's actually made up of multiple smaller towns, each with their own unique personalities. Chatham, located at the southeast tip of Cape Cod, is the perfect place to escape the crowds, thanks to its small town qualities (it's completely walkable) and its spectacular coastline.

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Ogunquit, Maine

This beach town's name actually means "beautiful place by the sea," so basically, it doesn't get better than Ogunquit when it comes to beach towns. Get ready to enjoy simple pleasures in this small, tranquil village—think glistening white sand, a small harbor, fishing, and a quaint New England town center.

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Tybee Island, Georgia

It's no surprise that this charming island is a popular vacation destination for residents of Savannah, one of our favorite cities in the South. Here, you'll find magnificent salt marshes and wildlife unique to southeastern Georgia.

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Beaufort, North Carolina

This seaside town is a maritime lover's dream come true—historically, it was a bustling port, which led to the influx of merchants, traders, and boat builders over the years. Today, it remains the perfect place for boating enthusiasts, featuring historical homes and a booming fishing industry.

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Long Beach, Washington

Properly named, the Long Beach Peninsula claims to be America's longest beach, stretching across 28 miles of sandy shore perfection.

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Key West, Florida

This island destination, located at the southernmost point of Florida, is known for its pastel conch houses and laid-back attitude. It's actually more popular for its coral reefs than its beaches, so take note, diving and snorkeling enthusiasts!

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Movement Six via Flickr Creative Commons
Cannon Beach, Oregon

Home to 363 miles of secluded beaches and sand dunes, visitors to and residents of this small town have the privilege of looking out over stunning mountain views in the distance.

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Chincoteague, Virginia

You won't see any high rise hotels or boardwalks on this fairytale island. Instead, prepare to fall in love with the wild Chincoteague ponies, who are free to roam across the Assateague Island National Seashore.

RELATED: 12 American Islands You Need to Visit Before You Die

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Artur Staszewski via Flickr Creative Commons
Newport, Rhode Island

Don't be fooled by the fact that Newport is known as a popular New England summer resort town—it's hiding loads of country charm! You'll find dozens of surviving colonial buildings alongside quirky restaurants and boutiques.

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Mr Silverblood via Flickr Creative Commons
York Beach, Maine

This Maine town's population more than triples come summertime, when visitors flood in to enjoy its natural beauty and seaside charm, with outdoor activities like deep sea fishing, kayaking, and exploring nature preserves.

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Mbtrama via Flickr Creative Commons
Cape May, New Jersey

Home to romantic bed and breakfasts and horse-drawn carriages, we think Cape May wins for the most charming place to stay on the Jersey Shore.

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Andrew Glavin via Flickr Creative Commons
Isle of Palms, South Carolina

This coastal city not only promises breathtaking views and family-friendly beaches, it's also committed to preserving the island's natural ecology. It regularly wins the Blue Wave Designation from the , which recognizes environmentally well-managed beaches.

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Harvey Barrison via Flickr Creative Commons
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Known for its fairytale-like architecture and quirky culture, Carmel is a picturesque beach town where practically everything is within walking distance.

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Aehdeschaine via Flickr Creative Commons
Rye, New Hampshire

This beach town, known historically as New Hampshire's first settlement, is the perfect spot for a quiet family getaway. It has the longest stretch of coastline of any coastal town in the state—and of course, the more pristine beaches, the better the summertime relaxation!

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Mystic, Connecticut

Founded as a shipbuilding center in 1654, Mystic is known for its quintessential New England charm. It's home to the world's largest maritime museum, the Mystic Seaport, and the Mystic Aquarium, both popular tourist attractions.

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Galveston, Texas

Dubbed the "" back in the 1800s, this city is still a popular tourist destination today. In addition to its beautiful beaches, Galveston's lush Moody Gardens are a popular place to visit, where you'll find tropical plants and a 10-story rainforest.

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Bob Mical via Flickr Creative Commons
Ocean City, Maryland

During the summer months, people flock to Ocean City to enjoy miles of picture-perfect beaches and a wooden boardwalk offering food, games, and shopping.

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Lewes, Delaware

Looking for sun, sand, and sea? Head to this quaint walking town and take in the beauty of nature, with its miles of beaches, nature trails, and bird sanctuaries.

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