America’s Must-See Beach Towns

From Oregon to Florida, five sandy shores you can dig your toes into this summer.

By Aarti Virani

Coronado, California

From whale-watching to boogie boarding, there’s a little something for everyone on this lovely peninsula. Though its leafy lanes, outdoor cafés and bungalows give Coronado a cozy vibe, it’s hard not to be taken with the town’s main attraction, the 125-year-old Hotel Del Coronado, which has housed former presidents and monarchs. You can explore the rest of Coronado on a 90-minute guided walk with Coronado Tours (619-435-5993; coronadowalkingtour.com; tours, $12 a person). Along the way you’ll stop at castles and a sugar baron’s mansion, all the while getting Old Hollywood gossip.

Sanibel Island, Florida

There isn’t a single traffic light on this laid-back barrier island on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Instead, visitors rely on bicycle paths to wander past the mom-and-pop shops that line the town’s main street, Periwinkle Way, or on kayaks to explore the island’s mangrove-lined estuary. Thanks to the isle’s east–west orientation, its 15-mile shoreline is strewn with rare seashells (there are about 250 varieties in total) brought by the Gulf Stream, which flows to the North. You’ll spot many a determined beachgoer doing the “Sanibel stoop” as they comb the coast for pristine sand dollars.

Scenic Sanibel Island.
Scenic Sanibel Island. (Istockphoto)

Tybee Island, Georgia

Just shy of four square miles, this Southern hideaway is known for its uncluttered beaches and candy-colored oceanfront cottages. A mere 18 miles from Savannah, Tybee in the 1920s drew crowds for its pulsing jazz scene, remnants of which live on in music joints around town. Whether you’re setting out on a dolphin tour, taking in a panoramic view of North Beach and its Civil War fort from the island’s colonial-era lighthouse or enjoying the family-friendly Pirate Fest held each autumn, you’re bound to fall for the isle’s quirky charms.

Ogunquit, Maine

With its rocky coastline, rolling sand dunes and brisk Atlantic waters, it’s no wonder this beach community is named for a word that means “beautiful place by the sea” in Algonquian. Ogunquit was once an artists’ colony and is still home to one of the longest-running theaters in the country. While the area’s star player is its postcard-perfect beach, tourists also come for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (321 Port Rd., Wells; 207-646-9226; fws.gov), a 9,000-acre expanse in neighboring Wells that offers a quartet of hiking trails, and Perkins Cove, a cluster of boutiques and restaurants in the heart of town, accessible by a button-operated footbridge.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Portland’s city slickers regularly flock to this rugged resort town for views of Haystack Rock, a dramatic 235-foot basalt monolith that’s the largest of its kind on the Pacific Coast. In the summer Haystack’s tide pools teem with starfish, pelicans and puffins, and the town hosts an elaborate sand-castle contest in June (now in its 52nd year). There are other adventures to choose from as well, such as hiking or surfing. The wide-open beach and strong seaside winds make for great kite flying. And when you’re ready to head indoors, you can sip a pale ale and feast on fresh crab in any one of Cannon Beach’s three microbreweries.

Cannon Beach's iconic Haystack Rock.
Cannon Beach’s iconic Haystack Rock. (Istockphoto)
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: May 2016