The Ultimate East Coast Beach Road Trip

Nantucket lighthouse

Raymond Forbes, LLC

As summer unfurls in full force and road trips are trendier than ever, why not traverse the entire East Coast, making some of its most famous beaches your main stops? Start off in Miami before making your way through the Carolinas, the mid-Atlantic, and New England, stopping for swims in iconic beach regions like the Outer Banks, the Jersey Shore, the Hamptons, and Cape Cod along the way. From South Beach to Hilton Head to Asbury Park, this itinerary will have you experiencing some of the best beaches on the Eastern Seaboard.

01 of 12

Miami Beach, Florida

South Beach, Miami Beach

 YinYang/Getty Images

The vibrant city of Miami Beach, which is actually a narrow island near Miami, is known as one of the most iconic beach destinations in the U.S. Its most famous beach is indisputably South Beach, thanks to its preserved Art Deco buildings, vast swaths of sand, and vibrant nightlife. Swanky bars, restaurants, hotels, and boutiques line the shoreline, and a boardwalk spans the entire length of the beach. Recommended beachfront hotels include the eco-friendly 1 Hotel South Beach, the artsy Faena, and the historic Delano, a prime Art Deco example. Grab a bite at Joe’s Stone Crab, Stiltsville Fish Bar, Taquiza, or the Time Out Market food hall. For a late-night cocktail, stop by Bar One or the Regent Cocktail Bar, and for old school vibes, Mac’s Club Deuce will satisfy.

Beyond the Beach

Be sure to eat your way through Little Havana, the area where many Cuban immigrants make their home, and Little Haiti, where many Haitian immigrants live; see the Wynwood mural walls and art galleries (and get some jerk chicken at Palatino Jamaican Restaurant while you’re there); and stroll through the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Biscayne Bay.

Continue to 2 of 12 below.
02 of 12

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida

 SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

About 4.5 hours north of Miami lies St. Augustine, the oldest inhabited city settled by Europeans in the United States. Founded in 1565 by Spanish settlers, St. Augustine is full of history. But it also happens to have 42 miles of pristine beaches, including St. Augustine Beach, with its picturesque fishing pier. Eat at St. Augustine's oceanfront restaurants like Salt Life Food Shack and Sunset Grille, and there are accommodations for all budgets, from camping at the St. Augustine Beach KOA to condo and vacation home rentals to the luxury Casa Monica Resort & Spa, part of Marriott's Autograph Collection.

Beyond the Beach

History lovers will have a blast here, and the Castillo de San Marcos fort and Fort Matanzas are must-sees. You can also stop by Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth and the historic 1874 St. Augustine Lighthouse.

Continue to 3 of 12 below.
03 of 12

St. Simons Island, Georgia

St. Simons Island, Georgia

 Getty Images

After driving north for about an hour and 15 minutes, you’ll cross into Georgia. Just before you reach St. Simons Island, about an hour later, make a stop at Jekyll Island, which is home to one of the most picturesque driftwood-filled beaches in the country. Both islands are part of the Golden Isles of Georgia, just off the mainland and accessible by causeway. Picture moss-covered live oaks arching over roadways, rolling golf courses, charming Southern villages, and of course, long stretches of sand and sea—East Beach is a must—and you’ll have a good idea of SSI. To the east and across another causeway is Sea Island, which is a resort with 5 miles of private beach, a beach club, tennis center, yacht club, three championship golf courses, and multiple accommodation options, making it a great place to spend the night.

Beyond the Beach

Explore the island via bicycle by following the St. Simons Island Trail System, and rent a kayak to discover the rest of the Golden Isles. If you’re a history buff check out the Bloody Marsh Battle Site, the circa 1872 St. Simons Island Lighthouse, and arrange for a historical tour of the Gullah and Geechee communities through the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition.

Continue to 4 of 12 below.
04 of 12

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

 

Sean Pavone/Getty Images

In about two hours, you’ll arrive at the South Carolina barrier island, Hilton Head, which is about 30 miles northeast of Savannah. Even though it’s the state’s largest barrier island, it’s only 5 miles wide and 12 miles long, and most people ride bikes to get around—the island has an extensive bike path network. Be sure to catch some rays at the popular Coligny Park Beach, or if you like a quiet scene, try Alder Lane or Burkes Beach. There are plenty of large resorts like Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort and the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, but if you prefer something quieter, a vacation rental house is probably your best bet.

Beyond the Beach

Learn about South Carolina’s lowcountry and gullah history and culture at the Coastal Discovery Museum and enjoy the area’s natural beauty at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Later, chow down on authentic gullah cuisine at one of the two Ruby Lee’s locations, or enjoy seafood at Skull Creek Boathouse.

Continue to 5 of 12 below.
05 of 12

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Getty Images 

Just before you cross into North Carolina, you’ll arrive in Myrtle Beach, one of South Carolina’s most popular and crowded beaches. While it has plenty of tackier attractions like water and amusement parks, chain restaurants, and shopping malls, it’s also home to 60 miles of gorgeous beach, known as the Grand Strand. Check out Surfside and its pier for a family-friendly stretch, the Golden Mile for a hotel-free zone, or hit the sand near 82nd Avenue for the gay beach. To save money on pricey resorts, book a campsite at Myrtle Beach State Park for excellent beach access or rent a house.

Beyond the Beach

Discover the salt marsh ecosystem via kayak or rent Hobie Cat sailboats. Walk down the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, stopping to hear live music and sip drinks along the way or stroll down the lively Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. And save room for some authentic barbecue at True BBQ, owned by locals Joseph and Sheila Evans.

Continue to 6 of 12 below.
06 of 12

Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Wright Brothers Memorial Kitty Hawk

 Getty Images

North Carolina’s Outer Banks is home to some of the state’s best beaches, complete with impressive dunes, wild horses, and epic waves. Made up of several barrier islands that jut off the coast, the Outer Banks has several towns worth checking out, but Kitty Hawk is a favorite—and it’s the closest town to the Wright Memorial Bridge that you’ll need to cross from the mainland. The beaches of the Outer Banks are known for being low-key, with few beachfront activities, hotels, and restaurants. Instead, the focus is on enjoying the miles of sand and ocean. There are a handful of hotels in Kitty Hawk, but renting a vacation home is the more popular option here.

Beyond the Beach

If you like to hike, head to the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve or climb to the top of the massive sand dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park—you can even go hang gliding there. See the site of the Wight Brothers’ famous first flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and learn about the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island through a live reenactment.

Continue to 7 of 12 below.
07 of 12

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Connor E. Bell/Getty Images

It’s a five hour stretch to Delaware, but when you arrive in Rehoboth or one of its neighboring beach towns like the quiet Bethany or party central Dewey, it will be well worth it. The beaches are often crowded, but if you manage to get away from the bustling boardwalk, things get calmer. Rehoboth Beach is known for being LGBTQ-friendly, and it also caters to families. There’s a mix of accommodation options, from chain hotels to vacation rental homes of all sizes to inns and guesthouses, many of which are gay- and lesbian-owned.

Beyond the Beach

The Rehoboth boardwalk is full of local favorites like amusement park and arcade Funland, which has been around since 1962; Candy Kitchen for sweets and ice cream; Thrasher’s for freshly fried French Fries, and Grotto Pizza, which has a pizza style all its own thanks to its iconic swirl of sauce on top. And of course, the area’s famous Maryland blue crabs abound at tons of seafood spots. On a rainy day, check out the nearby outlets for shopping, or go on a tour of the Dogfish Head Brewery, which includes a tasting of several brews of your choice.

Continue to 8 of 12 below.
08 of 12

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Asbury Park, Jersey Shore

Getty Images 

An East Coast beach trip wouldn’t be complete without a stop on the notorious Jersey Shore, and Asbury Park is a classic. While the beach itself isn’t necessarily the nicest one you’ll come across on this road trip, it’s one of the most fun cities, with a bustling boardwalk, plenty of tasty restaurants, and burgeoning art scene. If you’re keen to splurge, book a stay at the Asbury Ocean Club, an imposing highrise that opened in 2019 with a sophisticated design, stunning pool deck, and uninterrupted beach views. For a little more funk, The Asbury hotel has a bustling rooftop bar, music venue, and a bowling alley for endless entertainment.

Beyond the Beach

Forever intertwined with Bruce Springsteen, the boardwalk and town have several live music venues (beyond the famous Stone Pony), and it’s a popular tour stop for many musicians. Stroll along Cookman Avenue for boutique shopping (check out Glide Surf Co., Holdfast Records, Antique Emporium, and Rebel Supply Co.) and excellent dining—try Brickwall Tavern, Taka, or Ada’s Gojjo a few blocks away.

Continue to 9 of 12 below.
09 of 12

Amagansett, New York

Amagansett, New York, the Hamptons

  Joseph Trentacosti/Getty Images

The Hamptons are a must for anyone determined to see the country’s best beaches, and Amagansett is quintessential Hamptons. A quaint village, pristine shoreline, and discretion are the hallmarks of any Hamptons town, and Amagansett more than delivers. It’s also located adjacent to Montauk, the easternmost point in New York State, as well as close to Southampton, East Hampton, and Bridgehampton, offering access to all the area’s famous towns but with a more low-key vibe. Locals love Indian Wells Beach, but you’ll need to either bike or walk there if you can’t procure a parking permit. Atlantic Beach is usually more crowded because it offers daily parking for $25, and it also has the Beach Hut, where you can get snacks and sandwiches. If you can’t find a rental house, the Roundtree hotel opened in 2020 with individual cottages as well as rooms and suites.

Beyond the Beach

Amagansett is small, so there’s not a ton to see and do besides relaxing on the beach, but a visit to the Amagansett Square is worthwhile. Shops and restaurants surround the impeccably landscaped lawn in the center; get lunch from the original Hampton Chutney or Wolffer Kitchen, coffee from Jack’s Stir Brew, or picnic materials from Cavaniola’s Gourmet Cheese. The Hamptons are also known for their extensive farmland, so if you see a roadside stand, stop for some fresh produce—Balsam Farm Stand, Amber Waves Farm Market, and the weekend Amagansett Farmers Market are all excellent options. Driving east to Montauk is worth the trip; head to Montauk Point State Park and peep its famous red and white lighthouse.

Continue to 10 of 12 below.
10 of 12

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island

 Marianne Campolongo/Getty Images

Newport is known for its Gilded Age mansions, sailing, and sweeping New England beaches. While walking its famous Cliff Walk will give you epic views of the ocean, if you want to settle in for a day at the beach you’ll have plenty of options. Popular Easton’s Beach (also known as First Beach) is at the start of the Cliff Walk, while Gooseberry Beach is in a cove along tony Ocean Drive and usually has calm water. There’s also a small beach inside Fort Adams State Park. Newport has plenty of high-end boutique hotels (try Castle Hill Inn for a splurge), but Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina, a large resort on its own island, is perfect for families. For something more design-forward, The Wayfinder is a just-opened independent hotel that highlights local makers.

Beyond the Beach

Touring some of Newport’s famous mansions is perfect on a rainy day; there’s the Vanderbilt’s the Breakers, Rosecliff, Marble House, and many others that are open to the public. Many contend that the best way to see Newport is from a boat along the Narragansett Bay and there are plenty of sailboat tours and charters to choose from. For your lobster roll fix, try Belle’s Cafe in the shipyard or get a classic chowder from the Black Pearl on Bannister’s Wharf. But if you need a break from fish, head to Mission for classic hamburgers, hot dogs, and the best French fries in town.

Continue to 11 of 12 below.
11 of 12

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

 Getty Images

Cape Cod is quintessential New England beach, and Nantucket offers a taste of island living along with it. While you must take a ferry to Nantucket (cars are allowed) since it’s an island, there are plenty of beaches for everyone: Children’s Beach and Jetties Beach are perfect for those with littles, Brant Point is walkable from town, and if you want big waves check out Surfside or Cisco. If you’re looking for a party scene, Nobadeer is popular with the college set, or for quieter beaches, try Sconset and Great Point on the eastern side of the island. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny to spend the night here, and camping is not allowed on Nantucket. The White Elephant Nantucket, The Wauwinet, and the Nantucket Hotel & Resort are larger luxury options. At the same time, Greydon House, Jared Coffin House, Hotel Pippa, and 76 Main are all quintessential New England guesthouses.

Beyond the Beach

Sailing is a Nantucket pastime, but if you prefer to stay on land, a visit to the Whaling Museum is a must for learning about the history of the island. Stroll the cobblestone streets and admire the classic cedar shingled buildings that line them. Have a seasonally focused dinner at Straight Wharf restaurant or the Provisions sandwich shop from the same owners. Head to the Juice Bar for ice cream—best eaten inside one of their freshly made waffle cones.

Continue to 12 of 12 below.
12 of 12

Ogunquit, Maine

Ogunquit, Maine

Getty Images 

The farther north you go, the colder the Atlantic gets, making Ogunquit, on Maine’s southern coast, the perfect final stop. The white sand at Main Beach makes it a favorite, and there are amenities like restrooms, umbrella rentals, and plenty of outdoor restaurants. For a quieter experience, try Footbridge Beach, which is best accessed by walking across a footbridge (hence the name) that goes over the Ogunquit River. Wells Beach is a barrier beach that’s seven miles long, and there are amenities near the Mile Road parking lot. For an affordable stay, book a room at Juniper Hill Inn, the Milestone, or Studio East Motel.

Beyond the Beach

Go for a walk along Marginal Way, a picture-perfect three-mile walking path with sweeping coastline views and a lighthouse that leads to the quant fishing village of Perkins Cove. For evening entertainment, catch a show at the famous Ogunquit Playhouse summer theater or check out the gay nightlife. While in Maine, make sure to eat some lobster—Lobster Shack and Ogunquit Lobster Pound are both classics.

Was this page helpful?