Every town along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Maryland offers its own take on summer fun at the shore. Whether your group members want to experience a quaint New England fishing village or a lively town filled with amusements, there’s a beach town to give them the summer of their dreams.
Here’s a look at seven of the best East Coast resort towns:
1. Bar Harbor, Maine
In this Down East part of Maine, the harbor and ocean still dominate the life, and lobster dominates the dinner plates. See the morning sunrise before anyone else in the country at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Guests can hike and climb in the park, or walk or drive the carriage roads. Head out to sea by boat or even foot, by walking to Bar Island at low tide.
Back on land, the center of town offers unique products in boutiques and craft breweries. The town used to attract some of America’s wealthiest on vacation; the Rockefeller Garden opens to visitors one day a week during summer.
The earliest residents of the community, of course, were Native Americans, and the Abbe Museum features the Wabanaki tribe’s culture. Other museums in town explore local history and the area’s natural history.
2. Hyannis, Massachusetts
Hyannis Port and Cape Cod lure Kennedys and commoners during the summer season. Walk the Hyannis Kennedy Legacy Trail and visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum in town. Enjoy the cliffs, sand dunes and beaches in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Follow the Walkway to the Sea from downtown Hyannis, past artists’ studios and public art displays, to reach the harbor. You can get glimpses of the Kennedy Compound from a boat tour, which offers the possibility of spotting wildlife as well.
The Hyannis harbor is also home to ferries heading to Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard. On the Vineyard, enjoy a whirl on the Flying Horses carousel and take pictures of brightly painted cottages. Nantucket is quieter; rent a bike to explore its cobblestoned streets and three lighthouses.
3. Newport, Rhode Island
The Gilded Age lives on in the glorious mansions of Newport. There’s no mistaking the wealth behind the “summer cottages” of the Astors, Vanderbilts and others who built these cliffside homes. Several mansions offer guided tours that show off rich finishes like platinum walls. You can also glimpse the homes from the Cliff Walk that runs for 3.5 miles along the coast.
Those aren’t the only historic buildings to explore in town; Touro Synagogue is the oldest Jewish house of worship in the country. The White Horse Tavern is America’s oldest restaurant and dates back to 1673.
The wealthy still bring their yachts to Newport, where the America’s Cup sailing competition was hosted for more than 50 years. Visitors can enjoy a sailing trip on America’s Cup contenders and winners. Land-based sports include tennis, polo and golf. Tennis fans will want to check out the International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum. The town is home to two major music festivals, the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival.
4. Montauk, New York
An easy drive from New York City, Long Island’s attractions extend past the Hamptons all the way to the town at the tip of the island. Montauk has the same sandy beaches and fresh fish without the exclusiveness and snobbery of the towns preceding it on the drive.
Beachfront activities go beyond sunbathing here. Ditch Plains Beach and Turtle Cove draw surfers, while stand-up paddlers and kayakers head to Fort Pond Bay. At low tide, beachcombers have their pick of shells and beach glass. You can even explore the beach on a horseback ride leaving from the country’s oldest working ranch.
The Montauk Lighthouse, authorized by President George Washington, still offers navigational aid to boaters. Visitors can climb to the top for 360-degree views of Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
Charter a boat for whale watching or fishing; the catch might include cod, pollock, bass and even edible sharks. Those who don’t enjoy fishing—or come back empty-handed—will find plenty of fresh seafood in the town’s restaurants.
5. Cape May, New Jersey
The raucous reputation of the Jersey Shore doesn’t apply to quiet, quaint Cape May. Known for its Victorian homes, the town retains an old-fashioned charm; the entire town is a National Historic District. Take a boat ride in search of dolphins, or climb to the top of the lighthouse to take in the ocean view. Turn your eyes to the sky at the Cape May Bird Observatory, which has programs featuring both sea birds and forest birds.
Visitors can explore the unique shops of the Washington Street Mall or take a tour of the town by trolley or horsedrawn carriage. The carriage is romantic at sunset, while the trolley takes a spooky turn for the nighttime ghost tour.
The beachside promenade draws visitors for strolling or biking. Cape May “diamonds,” a polished quartz found along the beach, make treasured mementos. Any of the local beaches will delight during the day, but head to Sunset Beach for an end-of-day spectacle.
6. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Leave room in your suitcases when you head to Rehoboth Beach; tax-free shopping in the town’s funky boutiques or nearby Tanger Outlets offers plenty of opportunity to fill that empty space. There’s plenty of empty space on the sandy beach as well, with room to spread out a blanket and enjoy the sun.
If there’s not enough water in the ocean, head to the waterpark at Jungle Jim’s for the lazy river, water slides and bumper boats equipped with water guns. There are dryer amusements at Funland, with gentle rides for the littlest travelers and thrill rides for those with more daring.
7. Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City, Maryland is all about fun in the sand, salt, and surf. With 10 miles of beach, there’s room to stretch out; strolling to your spot via the 3-mile boardwalk is half the fun. The boardwalk’s been called the best in America, and your stroll will be slow because of all the tempting taste treats along the way, including ice cream, funnel cakes, and traditional salt water taffy and cotton candy. You can also glide along the boardwalk via bike, rollerblades, or skateboards.
There’s an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and a formerly steam-powered carousel that dates back to 1902. Try your luck playing the arcade games. Linger on the beach after sunset for movies and concerts.
Leave the man-made attractions behind and head over to Assateague Island, with its wild ponies, only 15-20 minutes away. The island is a serene escape with a pristine, quiet beach. Eco-tours from a kayak bring sea-based wildlife to eye-level.
Fishers can try their luck from the pier, the bridge, or a boat; in this White Marlin Capital of the World, you might catch marlin, tuna, or mahimahi. Of course, seafood dinners featuring Maryland crab cakes can’t be beat.