America's 25 favorite beach towns

By Barbara Noe Kennedy
July 17, 2018, 2:36:22 PM EDT

It isn’t summer without a trip to the beach.

The sand is golden, the pace is slow, and at least five ice cream shops are within easy reach. That’s the life of a beach town, whether its vibe is funky, historic, trendy, or serene. So what are you waiting for? Here are some of America’s favorite beach towns.

1. La Jolla
WHERE: California

1 La Jolla

(PHOTO: / Brett Shoaf)

In a state made for beaching, La Jolla (derived from joya, the Spanish word for “jewel”) offers the whole package. There are beautiful white-sand beaches, to be sure, but its tony village is filled with seafood restaurants, upscale boutiques, sophisticated cafés, art galleries, and even a playhouse co-founded by actor Gregory Peck back in 1947. Stroll along Girard Avenue and Prospect Street, peeking into Warwick’s (an indie bookstore), Legends Gallery (with paintings by Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss), and other one-of-a-kind shops. Be sure to time it so you catch the sunset from shimmering La Jolla Cove (where you’ll also find the famous seals and sea lions).

2. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
WHERE: Alabama

2 Gulf Shores, Orange Beach

(PHOTO: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism)

Here’s a two-for-one. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are two little beach towns sitting on a sublime stretch of sand along the Gulf of Mexico. And while they’ve got all the beachy amenities (including fab seafood restaurants), this region is also a nature lover’s dream. There’s a 28-mile flat, paved biking and hiking trail through Gulf State Park. You also have a zoo; dolphin cruises (best at sunset); and multiple mini-golf courses, including the Wharf in Orange Beach. Come during one of the many festivals, including the Hangout Music Festival, with three days of music on the beach; the National Shrimp Festival; and the Hangout Oyster Cookoff.

3. Ogunquit
WHERE: Maine

3 Ogunquit

(PHOTO: Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism)

Beachy cottages set against a sparkling blue sea provide the epitome of New England perfection. A turn-of-the-century artist colony and fishing village, Ogunquit still possesses an artsy vibe with galleries (including the Ogunquit Museum of American Art) and the long-running Ogunquit Playhouse putting on Broadway-worthy shows. The best way to soak up its wild-sea-coast views (and perhaps set up your own canvas) is to stroll Marginal Way, a paved footpath running from the harbor to Ogunquit Beach, meandering past tangled bayberry and bittersweet bushes and pink and white sea roses along granite cliffs.



Nearby Perkins Cove has a lovely little harbor, complete with a draw-footbridge.


4. Chincoteague
WHERE: Virginia

4 Chincoteague

(PHOTO: John Williams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) / Flickr)

The island resort town of Chincoteague offers something no one else can: adorable wild ponies roaming its beach (which are actually horses, just small from their salty-marshland diet). Anyone who’s familiar with the child’s story Misty of Chincoteagueknows that Marguerite Henry wrote the whole story right here, based on her real-life story of attempting to raise a wild filly. You can stay at Miss Molly’s, where, in 1947, Henry researched the tale. Spend long days at the beach, kayaking, and fishing, and enjoy fresh regional seafood at many local restaurants (try Bill’s Seafood Restaurant).

5. Cape May
WHERE: New Jersey

5 Cape May

(PHOTO: Craig Terry/Cape May County Tourism)

Cape May may be the nation’s oldest seaside resort, dating back to the 1790s, but it’s no ancient relic. This charming beach town thrives, with pristine beaches, upscale restaurants and shops along Washington Street Mall, a full roster of year-round events and festivals, and even wineries popping up nearby. But what this town does best is its meticulously restored, garden-adorned Victorian houses—more than 600 of them, today occupied by romantic B&Bs, restaurants, and boutiques. The horse-drawn carriages carrying couples down the picturesque streets do not look out of place.

Cape May is on the Atlantic Flyway, with all kinds of feathered visitors during spring and fall migration. The Cape May Bird Observatory hosts the annual World Series of Birding in spring (among other activities).

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