Top Rated U.S. Beach Vacation Destinations

family at La Jolla beach

Hitting the beach for vacation is an annual ritual for some while a new experience for others. Whether it’s your first trip or fiftieth, it’s filled with expectations of sandy feet, salty sea air, relaxation and fun. Set up your beach chair on the quintessential Pacific coast, add a dash of city flare along the Eastern Seaboard, or travel to the southernmost point in the continental United States. Each destination provides family fun, sightseeing activities, beachcombing, sunset watching, good eats, and sandcastle building delight. You can get your fill of ice cream treats, laughter, and relaxation in abundance. Regardless of the coast or latitudinal degree, time in these US beach destinations will add magical moments to your memory bank. Feel the grains of sand run over your toes and take in the medicinal benefits of salt air and vitamin D at these fun-filled US beach destinations.

West Coast

Santa Monica, California

If you’re heading to Los Angeles or spending time at Disneyland®, hit the shores of Santa Monica for a beachside retreat. Only a short walk, car ride or jaunt on public transport, this city hosts year-round sunshine and a famous seaside pier. Known for its beachfront setting and walkability, Santa Monica offers visitors a plethora of outdoor activities with easy access to other attractions in southern California. Join in the fanfare as you enter the pier where historic Route 66 officially ends and make your way across the boards. Take in the smell of the sea, the crash of the surf, the sight of the famed Ferris wheel, and scents of delicious food. And don’t forget the views from the end of the pier as far as the eye can see.

For sightseeing opportunities, head to Third Street Promenade set a few blocks back from the beach. Stroll through the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets viewing the buskers, listening to music, stopping for a coffee or cold-pressed juice, or shopping the endless display of stores along the way. If you’re feeling up for a great walk or bike ride, head directly towards the cement footpath as it winds its way to the markets of Venice Beach. Regardless of the season, thousands of visitors flock to Santa Monica for its beachside community.

San Diego, California

Beaches and coastlines are staples for a San Diego visit. This coastal city offers beachgoers sand options aplenty and experiences galore. Take a walk in the sand at Coronado or stroll the boardwalk of Mission Beach. Consider a visit to the state beaches of Carlsbad or the piers of Oceanside for a unique experience. Surfing in the Pacific Ocean and peaking over the cliffs of Sunset and the bluffs of Torrey Pines should be on any adventure traveler’s itinerary. For tons of history, seemingly endless sights, and picturesque city views, take a San Diego SEAL tour. This unforgettable tour traverses water and land. For those who’d like to stick to land, see the sights aboard Old Town Trolley.

couple at Coronado Beach

“America’s Finest City” is set in the southwest corner of the United States with close proximity to the country’s southern border. With arguably the best annual weather in the entire country, San Diego’s temperate climate calls for outdoor activities around the clock and easy access to the ocean and sand. With the laid-back vibe of this West Coast city, bathing suits, flip-flops, sunscreen, and a light jacket are all you need. To avoid the city’s marine layer termed ‘May grey/June gloom’ by locals, the best times to visit are September-November and March-April.

Northeast Coast

Boston, Massachusetts

If you’re headed to New England for a vacation, consider the northeast corridor to combine city and surf. Chowdah (chowder), lobstah (lobster) and beah (beer) are words bantered around when discussing Boston. Throw in beaches and you’ve got a complete vacation. The city alone holds a lifetime of history, blends architecture with design, houses endless markets, hosts a historic marathon, and boasts heaps of universities within and around its limits. Constitutional history abounds with a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum while sports fans glimmer with glee cheering on their Red Sox in the presence of Boston’s historic ballpark’s green monster. Whether you follow the city’s painted red line and walk the Freedom Trail, take in the sights through the Old Town Trolley, spend an afternoon at Faneuil Hall or let your taste buds lead you through Little Italy, the city promises treats for all ages.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum guests throwing tea overboard

Many city beaches are attainable by public transport, like the ‘T’ as it’s called by locals. Revere Beach and other local beaches are complete with sun, sand, piers and summer entertainment and make for an easy short day trip. A longer day trip takes you to Ipswich’s Crane Beach or searching for whales off the coastline of Gloucester. Or you could make like a true Bostonian and head to the Cape. Summer is high season at the beaches of New England. Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod are widely known, world-renowned destinations ready and waiting for you. Take a ferry, soak in the view from the water and listen as the sounds of the Cape draw you in. With beautiful resorts, excellent restaurants, highly acclaimed chefs, and often well-known celebrities summering at the Cape, this peninsula south of Boston is a haven for vacationers.

Long Beach, New York

Less than one hour from New York City lies a beach town filled with sandy stretches of coast, unending surf and a newly renovated boardwalk supporting the daily footsteps of thousands. Here, flip-flops and swimwear are the attire of the season. High season is July and August when school is out of session, lifeguards are in and summer is in full blast. Hop on the Long Island Rail Road from New York’s Pennsylvania Station and ride till the end of the line. Long Beach is waiting for you.

Park Boulevard runs through the center of town, playing host to heaps of restaurants, ice cream shops and local boutiques. Twice a week a Farmers’ Market full of local vendors pops up in front of City Hall, sharing delights from pickles to pasta, cookies to coffees and fresh fish to friendly faces. Summer in Long Beach kicks into high gear around Memorial Day when bright orange lifeguard stands line the beaches, surf camps are out in full force and food trucks set up shop at the boardwalk’s “Shoregasboard” offering a daily dose of delicious. There’s yoga on the beach, weekend movies in the sand, seaside trapeze lessons and a west-end nightlife scene. Nosh on a bagel at the Long Beach Bagel Café, pizza at Gino’s, or head to Marvel for a flavorful ice cream treat.

Southeast Coast

St. Augustine, Florida

Known as the “Nation’s Oldest City,” this northern Florida city is located a convenient distance from other favorites such as Orlando. With centuries-old history as well as over 40 miles of beautiful beaches, this vacation hot spot has something for everyone in your group.

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine and its surroundings are filled with history, architecture and outdoor fun. Between the landmarks, restaurants and heritage stemming from various places around the globe, this city boasts exploration on all levels. Whether you’re looking for views of the Atlantic or those of Florida’s Intracoastal, they’re both here to enjoy. Check out the Castillo de San Marcos fort, learn about the country’s Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse, or see the famed art collections at the Lightner Museum. Wind the cobblestone streets, learn the rich history, enjoy a coffee at a quaint café, hang with the locals or shop with the tourists – no matter your fancy, you can find the vacation for which you’re looking.  And if you can’t decide which historical point of interest or quirky attraction to visit first, take an Old Town Trolley tour for an overview of St. Augustine’s most popular and can’t-miss experiences.

St. Augustine view of Matanzas River and Castillo de San Marcos

Lucky for beach lovers, there are plenty of sites to choose from in St. Augustine. Whether you choose a dog-friendly locale or humans only, shell-filled or one with outstretched sand, state parks or public beaches, the sand and sea are here for you. Fish, dive, sail, surf, wander, stroll, beach comb, eat and enjoy. Pack your beachwear, colorful accessories and favorite nighttime attire and head to the east coast of Florida for a fun-filled and relaxing beach vacation.

Key West, Florida

If you’re looking for crystal clear waters, sunset parties, a laid-back spirited vibe, hopping nightlife or relaxing days at the beach – it’s here in Key West. Stroll Duval Street for cafes and ice cream with the family, spend the day on a fishing expedition, wander the art galleries to chat with artists about their creations or whittle away the hours with the nightly arts festival and colorful sunsets at Mallory Square. The attitude is easy, the skies are filled with sunshine and the beaches are open for business. The eclectic mix of history, artistry, military and tourism make for a place filled with color, life and a thriving culture. For a historical overview and lay of the land, hop aboard Old Town Trolley as it travels through the city and to over 100 of the island’s most popular attractions.

Key West trolley and beach

As the Southernmost City in the continental United States, Key West is home to sunset celebrations, tropical island flavor, unique entertainment, interesting people and extensive sand. If you’re searching for less crowded beaches, head to Key West between March and May. It’s then that many of the snowbirds have returned north and the humid and rainy months have yet to begin. Blend your relaxing ensembles with nightlife apparel, throw in a comfy beach wardrobe and you’re ready to go.