Sand, seafood, and stellar sunsets aren’t enough to make a beach town amazing. In order to be an amazing beach town, the town itself has to be just about as cool as its beaches. From the Pacific coast to the Gulf to the Eastern seaboard, we’ve rounded up the beach towns that were popular with our readers in 2021. Beaches range from powdery white sand to dramatic bluffs, while the coastal towns offer plenty to see and do. Here are the 17 beach towns that topped our readers’ travel lists this year.
1. Siesta Key, Florida
Our readers voted Siesta Key as the Best Beach in the U.S. in TravelAwaits’ 2021 Best of Travel Awards. Our writers love it, too. That’s probably because in addition to powdery white sand beaches made of quartz, this gulf-side barrier island offers everything from kayaking and boating to fine dining and day drinking. Spend the day shelling, then savor succulent crab as you watch the stellar sunset.
2. Charlevoix, Michigan
This quaint Michigan beach town offers some of the best beaches in Michigan. Located where the waters of Lake Michigan, Lake Charlevoix, Round Lake, and the Pine River Channel meet, Charlevoix boasts beaches on both the great lake and inland lake. This charming Midwest town was named one of the best small towns in our 2021 Best of Travel Awards.
3. Duck, North Carolina
One of the best beach towns on the Outer Banks, Duck’s beautiful beaches stretch seven miles along the Atlantic. The shallow waters of Currituck Sound border its west side, offering many ways to play as well as stunning sunsets. This quaint southeastern beach town is also home to fabulous restaurants, including the world-famous Duck Donuts.
4. Westerly, Rhode Island
From private beaches to state parks, Westerly and the surrounding area is home to some of the prettiest beaches in New England. In addition to sparkling ocean waters and long sandy barrier beaches, sumptuous local seafood, gorgeous vistas, and coastal adventures make this Rhode Island small town a perfect summertime getaway. It also makes for a great place to kickoff a leaf-peeping road trip in the fall or to conclude a coastal Rhode Island road trip in the spring.
5. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
Your classic East Coast beach, Hampton Beach is filled with the aromas of fried food, suntan lotion, and salty air. The water is chilly, but the beach is wide, with a boardwalk that’s loaded with fun things to see and do. This New Hampshire town makes for a great beach stop on a road trip from Boston, Massachusetts to Bangor, Maine. The charming small town is also a wonderful place to watch fireworks on the beach on the Fourth of July or sample seafood during the annual Hampton Beach Seafood Festival.
6. Orange Beach, Alabama
Just a hop, skip, and jump from Gulf Shores, Alabama, this affordable beach destination is family-friendly, with plenty of things to do and places to eat. The nearest airport is in Pensacola, Florida, but most people arrive via road trip on Alabama State Route 59 (Gulf Shores Parkway). Miss the famous Gulf Coast heat and humidity by visiting in February for the Orange Beach Seafood Festival.
7. Long Beach, Washington
From flying kites and clam digging to beachcombing and bicycling, this hidden gem along Washington state’s Long Beach Peninsula offers tons of activities for the whole family. Birdwatch, camp, and tour historic lighthouses. Visit during the third week of August for the annual world-renowned Washington State International Kite Festival, a week-long kite celebration and competition.
8. Wailea, Maui, Hawaii
One of the most stunning places to explore on Maui, Wailea is most known for its five gorgeous, crescent-shaped beaches and its incredible golf courses. Looking to invest? It’s also one of the best places to buy a beach house!
9. Carmel-By-The-Sea, California
One of northern California’s most charming seaside towns, Carmel-by-the-Sea (or just “Carmel” for short), can be found on the Monterey Peninsula. Situated just a couple of hours south of the Bay Area, it makes for a wonderful day trip from San Jose and San Francisco, whether it’s for a weekend getaway or to celebrate another trip around the sun. It also makes for a fabulous pit stop on a PCH road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
This California coastal town is also one of our readers’ favorite quaint towns. In addition to quiet, white sand beaches and sea otters, this upscale enclave features gourmet dining and one-of-a-kind shopping.
10. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
One of the best places to explore along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Bay St. Louis lies between New Orleans and Biloxi. This charming Mississippi coastal town is home to 100 Men Hall, a rare gem of the Mississippi Blues Trail. It also boasts eclectic restaurants, where you can find a fantastic po’boy. Seafood lovers should visit over the Fourth of July weekend for the Our Lady of the Gulf Crab Festival.
11. Truro, Massachusetts
Truro, Massachusetts, boasts one of the best beaches in the U.S., Coast Guard Beach, as well as one of the best beaches on Cape Cod, Longnook Beach. It’s also where you can find the tallest lighthouse in Cape Cod, Highland Light. In addition to beautiful beaches, it’s also home to vineyards as well as Highland Links, one of the best golf courses on Cape Cod.
12. Emerald Isle, North Carolina
Emerald Isle is on Bogue Banks Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Bogue Sound sits to the north, while the Atlantic lies to the south. Drive along the main road from one end of the island to the other, and you’ll be one block in either direction from the sound or the ocean. Featuring 12 miles of pristine shoreline, the beaches are some of the best in the country — uncrowded with soft white sand. In addition to beach activities, you’ll find unique stores and plenty of seafood restaurants.
13. Port Aransas, Texas
Nestled between Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, Port Aransas, or “Port A,” as the locals call it, is one of the top beach towns in Texas. One of the best birdwatching spots in the country, this quaint island town makes for a wonderful weekend getaway. It also plays host to Texas SandFest, the largest sand sculpture competition in the U.S.
14. Delray Beach, Florida
Delray Beach is an upscale beach community on Florida’s southeast coast, about 20 minutes north of Boca Raton. One of the best places to visit on Florida’s east coast, this artsy town offers impeccable white sandy beaches, dozens of art galleries and installments, and beautiful landscapes. Whether in the mood for outdoor dining or brunch, you can find plenty of top-notch eateries. This quaint little beachside community is perfect for everything from a girls’ trip to a warm-weather place to escape the cold. It’s also a magical town to visit during Christmas!
15. Cambria, California
Located about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, picturesque Cambria is a must-visit quaint coastal town on California’s northern coast. Take in scenic views from the one-mile Moonstone Beach Boardwalk, which winds its way along the coast. Moonstone Beach is so named for the smooth, translucent moonstone rocks that dot the sandy beach, where you can also explore tidal pools. If you visit during the holiday season, check out the Cambria Christmas Market, one of the best Bavarian-style Christmas markets in the U.S.
16. Seaside, Oregon
Situated along Highway 101 in northwestern Oregon, Seaside is a small resort city. Although the water is quite chilly, it offers some of the best surfing in the Pacific Northwest. It’s also a good place to observe the King Tides — the highest tides of the year — during the winter. Stroll the Promenade, or “Prom,” a 1.8-mile boardwalk that parallels the Pacific Ocean. Explore nearby Oswald West State Park and the gorgeous Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach.
17. Montauk, New York
On the easternmost tip of Long Island, Montauk has more of a rustic charm than the glitz and glamour of The Hamptons. Hike the dramatic, high bluffs that line the beach areas. Montauk Point State Park, one of six area state parks, offers stunning views of where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Block Island Sound. From surf casting to chartered boats, fishing is also especially popular on the peninsula.