10 Quaint American Beach Towns to Visit
There is a striking dichotomy among beach towns around the world. There are those that offer manic nightlife scenes, loud music, and parties until dawn. Then there are those that draw a tamer crowd, focusing on history, relaxation, and idle time.
These 10 little beach towns cater to a quieter frame of mind. Each offers an abundance of sun- and sea-focused activities while also providing visitors with a comfortable haven in which to unwind from the stresses of everyday life. Next time you’re planning a beach vacation in hopes of achieving some inner clarity, look into visiting one of the following peaceful getaways.
1. Tybee Island, Georgia
Georgia isn’t the first state that comes to mind for Americans hearing the word “beach,” but this state’s southeastern coast along the Atlantic is both rich in historical value and rife with scenic ocean landscapes. Southern Living raves about Tybee Island, calling it “the perfect beach town” and “the All-American hamlet.” Charming and quiet, with a population of just 2,990, Tybee Island is a quick 30-minute drive outside of Savannah. While in town, be sure to visit the Tybee Lighthouse, first constructed in 1736.
2. Pacific Grove, California
The BBC notes that Pacific Grove — tucked near larger beaches like Monterey and Pebble Beach — is “more famous for its butterflies and stray deer than its tourists.” The beaches at Pacific Grove lend themselves particularly well to water sports such as kayaking and surfing. It may be small, but the town has more bed and breakfast options than any other coastal town between San Francisco and Los Angeles, plus all the delicious, fresh seafood you can eat. What else could you possibly need on your next seaward escape?
3. Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington
Travel and Leisure has only good things to say about the beach getaway of Friday Harbor, located among Washington’s San Juan Islands. Mild temperatures and towering pines make this destination a welcome change of pace from the typical beach town, and it caters especially well to those vacationers who would prefer to stay active over simply being a beach bum. Kayaking and touring the quaint downtown district will keep visitors busy, and should you choose to go whale-watching, it’s more than likely you’ll sight of one of the local orcas.
4. Ogunquit, Maine
Yankee Magazine recently named Ogunquit as the Best Beach Town in New England, citing the village’s proximity to the beach at all ends and its overall walkability. Water temperatures here can be bracing, but for a town whose name translates to “beautiful place by the sea,” visitors are willing to make that sacrifice. While you’re in Ogunquit, be sure hike the coastal Marginal Trail (1.5 miles), and stop off to see the craftwork of local artisans in the downtown district. Don’t leave before enjoying some of Maine’s famous fresh lobster at Arrows, where co-owners Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier were named Best Chefs of the Northeast in 2010.
5. McClellanville, South Carolina
Located less than an hour’s drive away from gorgeous historical Charleston, McClellanville offers a unique brand of Southern hospitality to its visitors. Coastal Living named McClellanville one of the “happiest seaside towns” in the U.S., also referring to it as a “dream town.” This town has widespread appeal, from its quiet and resort-free beaches to its 350,000 acres of sprawling natural preserves.
6. Sunset Beach, Hawaii
Another one of Travel and Leisure’s Best Little Beach Towns, Sunset Beach is one of the world’s surfing capitals. In the summer, however, “the wave-riding frenzy ebbs,” transforming the town a placid and lush hideaway along the North Shore of Oahu. This is the perfect escape for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports for vacationers of all kinds.
7. Saugatuck, Michigan
Coastal Living named this former lumber town, bordering the shores of Lake Michigan as well as the Kalamazoo River, as one of its Happiest Seaside Towns of 2014. While it may be a far way from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, there is no shortage of beach activity to occupy village visitors. Seemingly modeled after a Norman Rockwell painting, Saugatuck sends tourists back in time: A visit to the quaint village offers a boardwalk, waterfront parks, a hand-cranked Victorian ferry (rides are $1), and old-fashioned sodas and malts at Saugatuck Drug Store. There are also two wineries and a brewery located nearby for those who wish to indulge.
8. Rockport, Texas
This town is a popular for “winter Texans” — that is, northerners who flee the harsh winters of their hometowns for a warmer clime. Rockport is located about 30 miles north of Corpus Christi. Rockport is a Texas sweet spot in that it offers all the quiet luxuries of an idle beach town life while also being conveniently located near to big city attractions. While here, writes Travel and Leisure, “Visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, stunning beaches along nearby Matagorda Island, and a 1,000-year-old oak known simply as ‘the Big Tree.’”
9. Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California
Coastal Living compares the sweet seaside resort of Avalon to a Mediterranean getaway. Located approximately 20 miles off the southern California mainland, Santa Catalina Island is accessible by ferry. Avalon comprises less than 3 percent of this island. The town centers around a large harbor surrounded by beaches, boats, and piers. Home to 3,500 year-round residents, this is the closest place to an untouched beach paradise you can get: Cars are restricted, so the most noticeable noise around here is the inoffensive whir of passing golf carts. This walkable town boasts coastal scenery, a botanical garden, and a golf course — overall, a relatively undeveloped haven from the outside world.
10. Chatham, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Massachuetts’ Cape Cod offers much in the way of quaint seaside towns, and Chatham is among the most beloved. Another one of Coastal Living’s Happiest Seaside Towns, Chatham is located at the elbow of Cape Cod’s bent-arm geography. The village is home to quaint New England architecture, and cozy, narrow streets peppered with family owned shops, restaurants, and other businesses. While here, check out the historic Chatham Lighthouse.