Best Beach Towns In The US: Top 5 Coastal Getaways, According To Travel Experts

Nestled along the picturesque coastlines of the United States, the nation boasts an array of charming beach towns that capture the essence of relaxation and coastal allure. From the vibrant shores of California to the quaint elegance of Cape May, New Jersey, known for its Victorian architecture and serene beaches, the best beach towns in the U.S. offer a diverse tapestry of experiences that embody the quintessential American seaside escape.

Did you know spending time by the water can actually reduce your stress levels? Research confirms time by the water is good for your mental and emotional wellbeing. There’s plenty of research showing how living near green spaces and enjoying nature can make you happier, but it turns out that adding some water to the mix can make that effect even greater. A new study of 299 participants shows that walking along a canal or riverbank can boost your mental health. The blend of both blue and green space eases anxiety and relieves stress, according to a team at King’s College London.

And it’s not just the water that will leave you feeling refreshed. Another recent study reports that people who travel frequently tend to be happier than those who rarely take a vacation. In a survey of 500 people, study author Chun-Chu “Bamboo” Chen from Washington State University examined the impact of traveling on long-term emotional wellness. The results reveal people who regularly take trips of at least 75 miles from their home are about seven percent happier than respondents who rarely travel.

Believe it or not, you don’t have to catch a flight to the Caribbean to have an enjoyable beach vacation. Whether you’re in the mood for a quaint small town or a bustling beachside city, there’s plenty of options to explore. To help kickstart your search, StudyFinds scoured expert reviews on the best beach towns in the U.S. This list includes the most frequently recommended spots, but be sure to let us know in the comments if you’ve got a favorite that we missed!

The List: Best Beach Towns in the U.S., According to Experts

1. Provincetown, Massachusetts

If you love quaint New England downtowns and sandy beaches, you’ll love Provincetown. This town boasts gorgeous nature, from ocean views to forest fun, making it a perfect fit for all kinds of outdoor activities. “Perched on the tip of Cape Cod, this sleepy town with only about 3,500 year-round residents swells to six times that during the high season,” says Travel + Leisure. “Provincetown pulls in its bohemian-spirited summer crowd with a winning combo of stunning natural scenery, 19th-century houses, and an everyone-is-welcome cultural scene.”

A home in Provincetown, Massachusetts
A home in Provincetown, Massachusetts (Photo by Nik Guiney on Unsplash)

“Provincetown, situated at the far tip of Cape Cod in intensely beautiful surroundings including vast sand dunes and more than 30 miles of beaches, is known for its especially warm welcome to people of all types,” boasts Trips to Discover. “Enjoy sunbathing on tranquil Herring Cove, strolling the sands of Race Point Beach, and exploring the colorful downtown area with everything from great seafood shacks and fudge shops to art galleries, grand mansions, and fine eateries, bookstores, and coffee houses. This top Cape Cod destination is also a great spot for whale watching.”

History buffs will also fall in love with Provincetown’s prominent place in American history. As TravelMag explains, “It was here in November of 1620 that the Pilgrims, aboard the Mayflower anchored in what is now known as Provincetown Harbor and signed the Mayflower Compact, which was to form the basis of law for the Plymouth and Cape Cod region thereafter. Provincetown’s 252-foot-tall (77m) Pilgrim Monument commemorates this.”

2. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

With a lively boardwalk, striking beaches, and colorful sunsets, Rehoboth Beach is summer in a town. Packed with activity during the summer months, a trip to Rehoboth Beach is sure to delight. “This town, equally as popular with families from D.C. as it is the queer community, is a charming slice of Americana,” claims PureWow. “Dubbed the ‘Nation’s Summer Capital,’ a packed boardwalk filled with food, games, and fireworks—on celebratory weekends like the 4th of July—are just part of the charm. Wide sandy beaches, idyllic summer rentals, varied corridors of shopping, tasty dining options, plus plenty of parks make Rehoboth a must-visit.”

“Rehoboth Beach, along with Dewey Beach to the immediate south, form the backbone of Delaware’s celebrated beaches. Known for their cleanliness, William Penn designated the beaches to the north of the city as a public space way back in 1682,” explains TravelMag. “Rehoboth Beach’s boardwalk is one of the East Coast’s best, and a number of times a year it becomes the focus for one of Rehoboth Beach’s annual festivals, including the jazz, independent film and the Sea Witch festivals, with the latter hosting parades, costumes and dancing.”

No matter who you’re traveling with, there’s plenty for all ages in Rehoboth Beach. “Rehoboth Beach has been a local favorite for a long time. But now, the word is getting out and the area is becoming increasingly popular,” notes Travel Awaits. “It’s easy to see why: It has perfect, unobscured views of the Atlantic Ocean, a delightful (and happening) boardwalk, and great shopping for all ages. For something totally different, check out the nearby Delaware Seashore State Park. The 2,825-acre park is practically a boater and fisherman’s paradise.”

3. Cannon Beach, Oregon

You’ve probably seen a picture of Cannon Beach, even if you don’t know it. This town is home to the striking view of Haystack Rock, an attraction that draws the admiration of locals and tourists alike. “With Haystack and many other stacks scattered around the shoreline, Cannon Beach is one of the most striking and recognizable destinations in the state,” notes Travel + Leisure. “Miles of beach offer a peaceful backdrop for swimming, walking, kayaking, and bird-watching. Time your visit to Hug Point (framed by cliffs and misty old-growth woods) for low tide, when the ocean recedes to reveal caves and marine life. Forward-thinking regulations have kept overdevelopment and chain commerce in check, helping the town preserve its under-the-radar vibe.”

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon (Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

“At once abuzz and sleepy, Cannon Beach is home to one of Oregon’s most recognizable icons: Haystack Rock, which rises from the Pacific like the centerpiece of a titan’s rock garden. That Goonies-famous landmark might be the postcard star, but tiny Cannon—with its dog-thronged beaches, smattering of restaurants, wealth of breweries, and overabundance of galleries—is bursting at the seams with treasures,” says Thrillist. “This is a highly walkable slice of West Coast pleasures, where the waterfront is dotted with cabin rentals and micro hotels that beg for extended stays. Here, you’ll feel like a local after all of five minutes.”

If you love the forest just as much as you love the ocean, Cannon Beach is the coastal town for you. “Imagine all the beauty of that heavily wooded, Pacific Northwest town from Twilight combined with a beach setting, and you’ve got yourself Cannon Beach,” explains PureWow. “Known for its rugged coastline, amongst many other things, exploring the tidepools on the vast beach and staying after sundown for an oceanside bonfire is a favorite pastime. The quaint downtown of Cannon Beach can fill an afternoon with shopping and dining, but one of the best things to do here is just to relax and watch the waves crash against the coast.”

4. Cape May, New Jersey

Looking to feel transported to a charming vintage world? Plan a vacation to Cape May, New Jersey. “Set on the southernmost edge of New Jersey, Cape May is a perfect destination for beach lovers with a penchant for history and architecture. The town is filled to the brim with textbook Victorians — cottages, hotels, summer homes — and the vibe is appropriately vintage,” says Travel + Leisure. “Stroll the brick sidewalks (or take a horse-drawn carriage tour) to see colorful gingerbread architecture and poke in the mom-and-pop shops for saltwater taffy and local finds.”

Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey
Lighthouse in Cape May, New Jersey (Photo by rod m on Unsplash)

“It’s no secret that this seaside resort town boasts exquisite beaches—around 2 miles of them, to be exact. Must-visit attractions include the Washington Street Mall (a hub for shopping and dining), Cape May Point State Park (where you’ll find the Cape May Lighthouse), South Cape May Meadows (a coastal nature preserve that’s a popular spot for birding), and the Cape May Promenade (which is lined with retro-esque establishments like candy stores and arcades),” lists TripSavvy. “Architecture enthusiasts will also appreciate the handful of ornate homes featuring Victorian design elements. The centuries-old Congress Hall, with its sunny yellow façade, is the perfect place to stay while in town.”

For those who love to admire beautiful homes, Cape May has no shortage of architectural eye-candy. As PureWow explains, “located at the southernmost tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a delightful town filled with Victorian-era history. But that’s not the only style in this beach town, which is an architecture buff’s dream: It also houses Eclectic, Queen Anne, Colonial, Italianate, Gothic Revival and French Second Empire-style dwellings.”

5. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Another town that feels like another world (or at least another country), Carmel-by-the-Sea feels largely untouched by time. It has remained small, cozy, and classic, even as the rest of California develops around it. “Small and quaint x 1000, Carmel-by-the-Sea proudly displays its Spanish colonial roots in the smallest details, from Spanish tilework to cottages seemingly plucked from a fairy tale,” says Thrillist. “Soak up California’s coastal beauty—winding hiking trails, cypress trees, and pristine white sand beaches—as you wander this pleasantly walkable, transportive village where, for two years in the ’80s, Clint Eastwood served as mayor.”

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash)

“By the early 1900s, charming Carmel-by-the-Sea was already the preferred getaway for creative types. Even through decades of tourism and celeb-induced limelight (Jack London was an early fan, and Clint Eastwood is just one of its former thespian mayors), Carmel-by-the-Sea has held fast to its small-town charm,” claims Travel + Leisure. “The small, walkable downtown feels out of a fairy tale; its streets are cobbled and lined with shops, galleries, wine-driven restaurants, magical 1920s cottages, and tucked-away gardens and courtyards. To see Carmel’s wind-chiseled cliffs and lovely white-sand coves, head to the town’s Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel River State Beach, and Garrapata State Park.”

Planning a romantic getaway? Make sure Carmel-by-the-Sea is on your list. “Carmel-by-the-Sea, a former artists’ colony on Monterey Bay, may be the ideal beach town for romance. Enjoy the blissful sounds of the waves crashing into the rocks and snuggling up with your loved one by a bonfire along the shore as well as indulging in one of the many wine tasting venues downtown,” suggests Trips to Discover. “You’ll also find a multitude of romantic eateries with gourmet cuisine and ocean views as well as high-end shops and jewelry stores like Tiffany & Co. A wide array of accommodation options perfect for setting the scene for romance also await, including the chateau-style L’Auberge Carmel and Mission Ranch, an old dairy farm saved from developers by the city’s most famous former mayor, Clint Eastwood.”

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