Summer is beach season. From Miami to Los Angeles, people are flocking to America’s coastlines for some fun in the sun. Overall, 371 million people visited a beach in 2015, according to the United States Lifesaving Association, and for 14% of people surveyed by travel website Luxury for Less, a beach is a must when choosing a vacation destination. But at the country’s most popular beaches you’re likely to find yourself fighting with other travelers for a parking space and a spot on the sand. For a more peaceful experience, you’ll need to seek out one of America’s underrated beaches.
Head to South Padre Island, Santa Monica, or Waikiki and you’ll be enjoying the surf and sand with thousands of other tourists and locals. For some, the crowds are part of the fun, but if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, you can find it — and you don’t have to head to a remote island in the South Pacific to do so. We’ve tracked down 10 great underrated beaches you need to visit this summer.
1. Sunset Beach, Huntington Beach, California
A trip to Southern California wouldn’t be complete without some time in the sand, but the beaches in L.A. and Orange County, including Venice Beach and Newport Beach, are among the most crowded in the U.S., according to Travel & Leisure. While your chances of finding a totally secluded spot in the Los Angeles area are slim, you’ll find thinner crowds at Sunset Beach, which is tucked between the more popular Bolsa Chica and Seal Beaches, according to the Orange County Register. The only downside? There’s no parking lot, and spots on the street can be tough to come by, according to Yelpers.
2. South Haven, Michigan
You don’t have to head to the coast to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation. With 3,000 miles of shoreline, visitors to the Wolverine State have their pick of beaches to chose from, including the seven in South Haven, on the shores of Lake Michigan. The vibe is quaint and charming — there’s a 100-year-old lighthouse, concession stand serving locally made ice cream, and plenty of white sand. Best of all, you’re far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, but with Chicago two hours away and Detroit a three-hour drive, these underrated beaches are still close enough for a quick weekend getaway.
3. Cedar Grove Beach, New York
Subway-accessible beaches in New York City like Coney Island and the Rockaways are packed during the summer months. But Staten Island’s Cedar Grove Beach is less well known. The city’s newest beach is on the site of an old beach bungalow colony and has only been open since 2011. Cedar Grove is smaller and less crowded than its busier neighbors, Midland Beach and South Beach, and features views of the Manhattan Bridge. Plus, parking is free, which is good, since this beach is harder to reach via public transit than some others in the city.
4. Vilano Beach, Florida
Bypass Miami and South Beach for the more tranquil environment at Vilano Beach, just north of downtown St. Augustine, Florida. Fodor’s named it one of the state’s best under-the-radar beach towns in the Sunshine State. Driving is allowed on the white sands and strong waves make it a good spot for surfing.
5. Goose Rocks Beach, Maine
Vacationers flock to Kennebunkport, Maine, in the summer, and the small town’s beaches are predictably packed. But at Goose Rocks Beach a few miles down the road the crowds aren’t as thick, according to USA Today, which named this three-mile stretch of sand one of the best underrated beaches on the Atlantic coast. An offshore barrier reef protects the pretty but no-frills spot, which doesn’t have lifeguards or other amenities.
6. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
More than 14 million people visit South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach every year. If you’re prefer a more low-key trip, drive 1½ hours north to Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina, just outside of Wilmington, travel website Orbitz suggested. The four-mile long, family-friendly beach is perfect for sunbathing, and when you’re done working on your tan, you can try your hand at surfing or kayaking in the intercoastal waterway.
7. Sunset Beach, Hawaii
In the winter, big wave surfers make Oahu’s Sunset Beach their home, but in the summer, this spot on the island’s north shore clears out, making it the perfect spot for a Hawaiian getaway, according to Travel + Leisure. Take advantage of the season’s calmer waters and go snorkeling, or simply relax and enjoy the stunning sunset that gave this beach its name.
8. Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
If the highly commercialized South Padre Island isn’t to your liking, pay a visit to South Beach on Padre Island National Seashore. Padre Island is home to the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, making it perfect for those who are looking to get away from it all. Primitive on-the-sand camping is free at South Beach. Developed sites with ocean views at the nearby Malaquite Campground are just $8 per night.
9. Newport, Oregon
If your favorite part of summer involves curling up with the latest beach read, you’re going to love Newport, Oregon. There’s a bookstore on almost every block in this coastal spot, which Sunset magazine named one of the best unsung beach towns in the west. Temperatures in the summer typically don’t climb much higher than the mid-60s, so if you’re looking to catch some rays, this may not be the place, but the natural beauty of the Oregon coast more than makes up for the slightly chilly temps.
10. North Beach, Lake Willoughby, Vermont
Freshwater beaches tend to get overshadowed by their showier, saltier ocean counterparts, but lake swimming has its charms (no sharks, for one). Lake Willoughby’s North Beach, “despite its clear water and spectacular view, is almost empty” in the summer, Yankee Magazine reported. Underground springs feed the lake, which makes for clear and cool water for swimming, according to the Burlington Free Press.
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