Whether seeking history, solitude, or a vibrant nightlife, the East Coast has got it all in the unique little towns speckling its pristine shorelines. With some of the best beaches, lively downtowns, wildlife, and natural scenery, one will get the long-craved escape at one of these less-crowded gems.
Assateague Island, Maryland
A great East Coast beach escape, Assateague Island is famed for the wild horses roaming its pristine, unspoiled shores for a real taste of raw for the whole family. A spectacular budget-traveler option sans the temptations of a resort destination, one will never forget the spectacle of the free-running animals with the sun, sand, and sea around to exploit. To level up the experience, there is a camping option to set up a tent anchoring right in the sands, no permit requirement for a bonfire, and some food options and a convenience store onsite. For more exploration, there are the salt marshes, 37 miles of beach, as well as hiking, kayaking, paddle-boarding, canoeing, and cruiser biking, with rentable equipment at the Assateague Outfitters.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May is the dreamy summer Jersey Shore beach destination and home to the country's oldest seaside resort, with beaches, declared the best in the state. The lively, festive promenade in the downtown presents the ideal American perspective, with antique and ice-cream shops, carriage rides, outdoor concerts, and golf courses to be utilized for days on. The historic district contains more than 600 preserved and authentically restored Victorian buildings, including pink triple-deckers, while the whole town has been listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1976. Over 40,000 annual visitors, from young to old, flee the cities for Cape May's untouched beaches, including the Cape May Point State Park. For something out of the ordinary, the legendary Higbee Beach often presents 20 species of warblers in colorful costumes to marvel.
People from all corners of the nation flee to this island destination for the wildlife, untouched by commercialization. As another coastal town of wild horses roaming free around the island, there's also the annual Pony Penning event since 1925 at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Organized by the Volunteer Fire Department, the event consists of a pony swim, where the animals cross the Assateague Channel, followed by a pony auction. To absorb the island's quaint natural beauty, there are trails to hike and beaches to bask in the scenery, with the imposing red and white lighthouse for throwing longing looks at. As for the horse population on the island, their origin has competing theories from a Spanish ship-wreck en route with horses to Peru in the 17th century, to pirates leaving them on the island, to being the runaways from mainland farmers.
Delray Beach, Florida
Delray Beach is a typical resort town with its own vibe as one of the sole downtown areas of the country that is nestled directly on the beach. Delray Beach comes with cabanas, chairs, and umbrellas, while beach experience sans crowds can be found at Anchor Park and Atlantic Dunes Park. Only 2-miles long, the beaches earn praise for the clean, clear blue waters and sandy shoreline while acting as the hotspot for sea, sand, and sun. Complete with showers and concrete walkways for jogging, Atlantic Avenue for shopaholics, and the abundance of restaurants are just a step off-sand to a lively downtown area with vibrant nightlife. The art fans will love perusing the artsy beachfront enclave, the Pineapple Grove arts district, on the hunt for murals and sculptures, while the Artist's Alley features works by local artists.
East Hampton, New York
Situated on Long Island's southern shores, about 100 miles east of New York City, the area comprises East Hampton village and Gardiners Island. As a whaling and fishing center upon being settled in 1648 by English yeomen from Kent, East Hampton today is a fashionable summer resort destination. With several colonial homes still standing, there is the John Howard Payne's "Home, Sweet, Home," boyhood home, a colonial saltbox from 1680, the old Hook Mill (1804) windmill turned museum, and the Clinton Academy (1784) as the first academy chartered by the state of New York. As for the beach scene, the vast stretch of the Main Beach has been named the best beach in the country, coming with food and amenities.
Folly Beach, South Carolina
Referred by the natives as "the edge of America," the town comprises a barrier island 12 miles south of Charleston. The scenically beautiful Folly Beach has everything for wildlife enthusiasts who want to enjoy more than just lounging on a beach with a beer in hand, including bird watching and seeing loggerhead turtles nesting in the sand. Known for various budget-friendly accommodation choices, South Carolinians flee to the town for the 2-in-1 delight of Southern charm with the beach scene. One can utilize the notable 1,045-foot-long and 24 feet wide pier with fishing-gear rentals nearby or enjoy ponderously gazing into the endless waters to the horizon. Surfers love catching the waves at The Washout, while other active options include biking, kayaking, jet-skiing, and sailing. One can also take a boat charter to explore the depths and see the island from a different perspective or paddleboard for a dolphin safari.
Avon, North Carolina
As one of the most significant small beach towns in North Carolina, Avon is tucked in the middle of Hatteras Island and is known for its rich historical and coastal charm. Long attracting adventurers for romantic scenes, the Outer Banks beach is abundant in seashells for souvenir-hunters. The lovely downtown brimming with local restaurants and gift shops and the surrounding clean and quiet beach offer an escape from real life. Two hundred fifty-seven steps leading to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in the United States, is a rewarding experience for spectacular views. The region's unique topography is shaped by the sea breeze, the island's winds, and location. Avon offers the bliss of true solitude and peace that can only be found by staying away from the crowds at the Outer Banks. For more of the natural and wild experience in the outdoors, one can go for horseback riding on the beach and visit another lighthouse in the vicinity.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Off Georgia's coast, the vast, 5,700-acre barrier island is a wildlife enthusiast's paradise known for its nesting sea turtles and hermit crabs population on the 10 miles of its serene Beach. The famous Glory Beach was named after the long boardwalk to the Beach built for the 1989 movie Glory, featuring Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, and Denzel Washington. The stately mansions, called "cottages" that operate as a luxury resort of historic homes, were once occupied by the elite of the state who founded the Jekyll Island Clubby in the 1800s, which can be learned about at the Jekyll Island Museum. There is also the ancient oak-tree-lined Historic District, the Georgia Sea Turtle Centre, and Driftwood Beach as the most instagrammable spot in the region named for the fallen oak trees on the Beach. For more active time spent, there's the Summer Waves Water Park, as well as hiking and biking the Wanderer Memory Trail and the South Loop Trail.
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Set some 25 miles southwest of Charleston, Kiawah Island is known for its 10-mile beautiful shoreline between the most private East and West Beaches, as well as for some of the best golfing in the world, with the most highly regarded championship courses in the country. Having hosted the likes of Joe Biden, George Clooney, and George W. Bush, one can feel like the elite by staying at the five-star hotel, The Sanctuary. There are also vacation rentals and the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, while the public Beachwalker County Park comes with a picnic area, grills, and seasonal amenities. The boardwalk calls out for scenic strolls, with more activities including sea kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, guided nature tours, biking, and surf lessons.
Set on the Long Island Sound with four beaches stretching over two miles of sandy shores, Madison is a budget-friendly coastal destination where one can camp and picnic with fishing, boats, and trails, all at a hand's reach. The Surf Club beach comprises a 45-acre area for open picnicking with tables and grills, playgrounds, ball courts, and boating options. The smaller and less-crowded East and West Wharf Beaches come with fishing piers for the solitude seekers among the vacationers. The beloved-by-all Hammonasset Beach State Park comprises two miles of pristinely beautiful sandy shoreline, 550 grassy campsites, a boardwalk, a nature center with live turtles, a touch tank, and multiple trails. Over one million vacationers come every year to enjoy swimming, boating, hiking, biking, and absorbing the local life in the charming downtown area, complete with local shops and eateries.
Tybee Island, Georgia
A short drive from Savannah, the barrier island along the Atlantic coast is known as a quaint vacation getaway with wide beaches, a historic downtown area, and Southern hospitality. Since the 1800s, the vast stretches of sand have attracted beach lovers, including the famous South Beach along the isle’s southern tip. Complete with an Instagram-worthy pier and pavilion with picnic tables and a snack bar, it is encompassed by a bustling namesake neighborhood for more outing options. The main, Tybrisa Street, is filled with attractions, including Wet Willie’s variety of frozen daiquiris. The Crab Shack serving seafood, also offers food for purchase to feed baby gators at the gator lagoon on site. The Mid Beach and the secluded Back River Beach are less crowded, while one can also find some rest-scape on the vast North Beach.
With many fleeing for the resorts and the all-night beach life on the southern coast, these small towns comprise a bucket list-worthy road trip for the beach-lovers along the East Coast. Easily accessible from home, one will obtain the much-needed R&R in solitude upon picking a favorite quaint spot on the beaches, sans crowd.