We share the 8 best East Coast vacations spots in this complete guide to the coolest and most beautiful cities on the Atlantic Ocean. Find your next trip on the list!
Why You Should Take an East Coast Vacation
Bustling cities, beaches, beautiful parks, and historic sites make the East Coast a popular spot for vacations. Find your vibe at different spots down the coast, where the scenery and climate varies as you move further north or south along the Atlantic Ocean.
The best East Coast vacations spots will put you close to the ocean with incredibly scenic views.
From there, it’s up to you to decide what kind of climate (cool, mild, or hot), scenery (metropolitan, beachy, or somewhere in between), and activities you want to take part in during your vacation.
The northern East Coast is a great spot to vacation. It’s where you’ll find everything from charming seaside towns in Maine to the humming energy of New York City.
Head to the central East Coast where you can dine on soft shell crab in Maryland, hang out on Virginia Beach, or check out big swells along beautiful Cape Fear Coast beaches in North Carolina.
The southern East Coast is where you’ll find stunning spots like sleepy Tybee Island off the coast of Georgia, lively Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and always-exciting Miami at the southern tip of Florida.
No matter what kind of vibe you’re looking for, the best East Coast vacations spots always deliver. Let’s take a look at the 8 top destinations along the East Coast next!
The 8 Best East Coast Vacations Spots
If you’re looking for the best East Coast vacations, this list will help you get a sense of what the different tourist towns have to offer and what you can expect at each one.
We’ll show you all the hot spots up and down the East Coast, suitable for solo trips, couples vacations, family getaways, and weekend trips that are perfect for a quick, restful reset.
The 8 best East Coast vacations spots are:
- Bar Harbor, Maine
- New York City, New York
- Ocean City, Maryland
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- Wilmington, North Carolina
- Tybee Island, Georgia
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Miami, Florida
Keep reading to get the scoop on things to do, places to go, and what not to miss at these coastal destinations!
1. Bar Harbor, Maine
Maine’s craggy coast is filled with charming seaside towns, but Bar Harbor on Frenchman Bay is one of the very best. Bar Harbor looks out over the Cranberry Islands with mountains towering in the distance.
Bar Harbor is where people usually enter Acadia National Park to see Cadillac Mountain, hike beautiful trails, and see abundant wildlife. But this town is much more than a gateway to the park!
Bar Harbor gets its name from a sandbar that is revealed only at low tide. It’s a favorite spot to launch kayaks or to hike over to Bar Harbor Island (part of Acadia National Park).
The town has 3 huge piers popular for whale watching, fishing, catching windjammers entering and leaving the harbor, kayaking, and lobster fishing. The entire waterfront area spans over 4 acres!
Take the century-old Bar Harbor Shore Path to meander along the harbor, checking out old summer cottages, piers, and natural peninsulas along the way.
The best time to visit Bar Harbor is between April and May or between September and October, depending on the activities you want to do while you’re here and how warm you want it to be.
April-May is great for whale watching and fishing and May is when the greenery here really comes to life. September and October see highs in the upper 60s and 50s and smaller, post-summer crowds.
2. New York City, New York
Picture New York City, and you probably think of the famous landmarks, Broadway, and Times Square. But there’s another side to New York City if you’re seeking a fun-filled East Coast getaway!
You’ll want to do all the tourist things in NYC – take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, wander around Times Square, watch a Broadway play, and grab a hotdog from a vendor.
But an often-forgotten reason to visit New York City is Coney Island, a fun theme park-centered neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn. Rides, carnival games, an aquarium, tasty junk food, and pop-up shops make it such a blast for families!
The Coney Island boardwalk is home to one of New York’s best beaches and you’ll find activities that range from kid to adult-friendly, like arcades, bars, concession stands, and more.
You can swim, fish, paddle board, surf, and sunbathe on the beach, all just minutes from the heart of New York City. It’s truly one of the best East Coast vacations you can take!
The best time to visit New York City is usually between August and November, but for a fun, coastal take on the Big Apple, we recommend heading here between May and September!
3. Ocean City, Maryland
Maryland is home to Ocean City, a bustling resort town that boasts a 10-mile stretch of golden sand along the Atlantic Ocean and fun activities for tourists looking to enjoy a classic East Coast beach vacation.
Ocean City is well-known for its massive 3-mile long boardwalk, named as the best in America by the Travel Channel. Here, you’ll score tasty food, play games, have a drink, or visit a shop for Ocean City souvenirs.
Do yourself a favor and check out the award-winning Thrasher’s French Fries (served with a side of apple cider vinegar), Fisher’s Popcorn where the caramel popcorn is a fan favorite, and Dolle’s Candyland for salt water taffy while you’re here.
The beaches are perfect for lazy sunbathing, building sandcastles, kayaking, surf casting, surfing, deep sea fishing (it’s the White Marlin Capital of the World), and taking boat tours to nearby Assateague Island.
The nightlife is a major draw to Ocean City for fun-seeking tourists. With so many bars and restaurants offering live music and entertainment nightly, there’s always something going on in OC!
There are several resorts and hotels in Ocean City for all budgets. Note that it gets busy during the peak summer season, so book early to ensure availability.
Take a day trip to Baltimore (just over 2.5 hours away) while you’re here. The best time to visit is between May and early September, so plan your trip accordingly.
4. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach, Virginia is often compared to Ocean City, Maryland because they’re 2 of the best East Coast vacations spots. The truth is that Virginia Beach is a little more laid-back and ideal for a slower-paced getaway.
When you’re here, you’ll be able to enjoy everything from historic sites (like the Military Aviation Museum and Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum) to pristine sands and gentle surf along 38 miles of beaches.
It’s one of the things that make Virginia Beach so unique and cool to visit – in minutes, you can be at one of the natural or wildlife reserves, then at the beach, then in the heart of the bustling city!
On the beach, the activities are endless – swimming, boogie boarding, fishing, kayaking, and deep sea fishing boat tours are popular. Hang out at the docks to watch boats come in.
First Landing State Park provides a nearby natural oasis in this beautiful setting. The ViBe Creative District is where you’ll find murals, farmer’s markets, up-and-coming artists, food, shops, and more.
The nightlife in Virginia Beach is great if you’re up for a night out. With tons of dance clubs, bars, and restaurants with live entertainment downtown and on the shore, there’s always something to do.
The best time to visit Virginia Beach is between May and September during the peak summer season. It’s less busy on either end of this season (May and September) if you want to avoid big crowds.
5. Wilmington, North Carolina
Wilmington, North Carolina is one of the best East Coast vacations spots if you’re looking for gorgeous, less-crowded beaches surrounded by natural beauty and an attraction-filled port city to explore.
Wilmington is a beautiful port city and home to a lot of interesting history, so museum-goers will have a great time here with nice beaches and downtown districts to check out as well.
See the USS North Carolina Battleship Memorial with WWII history, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, and historic plantations and mansions that are now preserved as museums you can tour.
The waterfront Historic District, including the famous Riverwalk, is where you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques where it’s easy to spend an entire day browsing and strolling the downtown area.
Wilmington sits on Cape Fear River (this is where the Battleship Memorial is moored) and has the best access to Cape Fear Coast beaches (like Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach) just 15 minutes away.
Visit Airlie Gardens, tour the Bellamy Mansion Museum, check out Poplar Grove Plantation, and head to the North Carolina Aquarium honored by Travel Channel as one of America’s best.
Named one of the best places to visit in North Carolina, there’s no doubt that Wilmington is a great spot to visit. Try to go between March and May or September and November for lower rates, cooler temperatures, and smaller crowds.
6. Tybee Island, Georgia
As one of the best beaches on the East Coast, it’s no surprise that Tybee Island, Georgia (a barrier island off the coast) is one of the best vacation spots on East Coast.
Small, filled with natural beauty, and lovably nautical, Tybee Island has the potential to become your family’s new go-to vacation spot on the Atlantic Ocean with so much to see and do.
The vibes are laid-back and casual on the island, which is separated into 4 distinct beach areas: North Beach, Mid Beach, South Beach, and Back River Beach.
North Beach features gentle surf, excellent shelling, a lighthouse, and close proximity to Jaycee Park with playground equipment for the kids.
Mid Beach is centrally located with a blend of the serenity of North Beach and the energy of South Beach for a best-all-around vibe that tourists enjoy.
South Beach, where you’ll find tons of dining, bars, and shopping on Tybrisa Street, features the Tybee Island Pier and Pavilion. The waves are bigger here so it’s less ideal for kids.
Back River Beach, which was once known as the island’s secret beach, has excellent opportunities for dolphin and whale watching, shelling, fishing, and boating.
With surprisingly vibrant nightlife and plenty of family-friendly activities all day long, Tybee Island is one of the East Coast’s treasures.
April through June is the best time to visit Tybee Island without the big summer crowds and with slightly cooler temperatures. Stay at one of the top-rated Tybee Island hotels to complete your perfect visit!
7. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Ranked as one of the best beaches in the USA, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is a shoo-in on a list of the best East Coast vacations spots.
It’s a popular beach on the Atlantic Ocean for tourists to come and enjoy the sandy shore, try water sports, dine and shop, and revel in the vibrant nightlife.
Myrtle Beach has a fantastic boardwalk where you’ll find the Sky Wheel, family fun center, a haunted house, Ripley’s museums, and thrilling amusement rides along with great food and drinks.
The marinas make it easy to charter or rent a boat and take a dolphin, pirate-themed, or sunset cruise. Kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, and windsurfing are all popular water sports to try!
There are lots of highly-rated golf courses here as well as mini-golf (it’s the Miniature Golf Capital of the World) if you’re itching for tee time.
Shopping malls, Myrtle Beach State Park (great beach), a wax museum, pinball museum, and car museum are good options to fill your time.
If you’re here to imbibe, there are tons of great options. Check out craft breweries, wineries, distilleries, and beachfront or rooftop bars while you’re here!
8. Miami, Florida
Last but certainly not least, Miami, Florida ties up our list of the 8 best East Coast vacation spots. This lively, colorful city is brimming with beaches, attractions, great food, and culture.
Located on the southern tip of Florida, Miami enjoys a subtropical climate where it’s relatively warm year-round. Colorful buildings in neat architectural styles are fun to check out as you explore the town.
The 35 miles of beaches here are stunning, boasting soft sand, big swells for surfing, and tons of beachfront amenities and shops.
There’s music playing everywhere, the sun is usually shining bright, and the city feels reserved for good vibes only. With lots of beach access, you’ll choose the area that best fits your needs.
From quiet Surfside Beach and snorkeling at Sunny Isles Beach to relaxing on North Beach or partying at South Beach, there’s something for everyone here.
The food in Miami is on another level. It’s easy to find international flavors from Cuban and Mexican fare to fresh seafood and Florida’s key lime pie.
Museums, art galleries, shops, and bars are abundant throughout the city and perfect for a rare rainy day in this town that radiates warm sunshine.
Miami is also the world’s largest cruise ship port. You’ll enjoy laying on the sand watching these massive ships come in and leave.
The winter months of December through February are actually the best time to visit Miami, but heading down in the summer months is perfect if you’re not opposed to hotter temperatures.
With so many potential places to stay here, focus your search on the best hotels in Miami to be within walking distance of attractions, the nicest beaches, and great dining and bar options.
Things to Consider
Heading to one of the best East Coast vacations spots? We have a few helpful tips to share that will enable you to make the most of your upcoming trip!
- Spring is a no-fail time to visit the East Coast. While every East Coast destination has its own best time to visit, you really can’t go wrong when you plan a visit during the spring. From March to May/June, you’ll usually find smaller crowds, warm temperatures that aren’t too hot, and more reasonable rates on hotels and attractions.
- Ask the locals for tips. Wherever you end up on the East Coast, it’s always a good idea to ask locals for their recommendations on places to eat, get a drink, visit the beach, go fishing, see the best views, and areas to stay in. You’ll find that many locals are eager to fill you in on the local scene better than any TripAdvisor review!
- Make a rough itinerary in advance. Every East Coast destination worth visiting has tons of attractions, sightseeing opportunities, and natural areas that demand a piece of your time. To ensure you don’t miss out, make a rough plan of the places you’ll visit, eat, and grab a drink each day so your visit is more organized.
Frequently Asked Questions
Hitting up the best East Coast vacation spots means arming yourself with plenty of info. Add these FAQs to your list and learn something new before you plan your trip!
Where is the clearest water on the East Coast?
Sand Beach in Bar Harbor, Maine and South Beach in Miami, Florida are two examples of the clearest water on the East Coast. Consider that the further north or south you are on the Atlantic, the clearer the water seems to be.
Don’t expect East Coast destinations to have crystal-clear water like the Gulf of Mexico, as it’s much deeper with more clarity factors in the Atlantic Ocean.
Where is the best beach on the East Coast?
Many consider Miami beaches the best on the East Coast with good water clarity, warm temperatures year-round, and clean conditions that make spending time on the beach more enjoyable.
Other great beaches on the East Coast include Bar Harbor’s rocky shores, Ocean City, MD, Cape Fear Coast beaches in North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, SC, and Tybee Island, GA.
Where is it warm on the East Coast?
The southern East Coast is warmer than the northern tip, but all regions of the East Coast warm up pleasantly during the summer months (especially June-September).
If you’re seeking warm weather during a cooler season, head south to Miami where you’ll find warmer air and ocean temperatures even in the winter months.
What is the best East Coast city in August?
New York City is amazing in August, especially if you’re planning on visiting Coney Island or a beach. The city is vibrant and full of life during August with highs in the low 80s and fewer tourists arriving by the end of the month.
What city in the US is coolest in August?
The 3 cities in the US that are coolest in August include Anchorage and Fairbanks Alaska with highs around 61F-67F in August and Duluth, Minnesota with highs around 73F in August.
These cities can provide a nice retreat from the scorching summer sun if you’re looking for a cooler getaway in August!
So, What Are the Best East Coast Vacations Spots?
The best East Coast vacation spots range from the mild, cool temperatures and craggy coasts of Bar Harbor, Maine to the vibrance and color of beautiful Miami, Florida and everything in between.
Settling on the perfect East Coast destination for your next vacation starts with considering what you’re looking for on your trip.
With big cities, quaint beach towns, and quiet places to enjoy the coast on our list, there’s truly something for everyone. Make sure to plan your visit during the best time of year for your destination to optimize your trip!