Along the beautiful Atlantic Coast, a collection of charming small towns await discovery, each exuding a quick blend of history, culture, and undeniable quaintness. From New England charm to Southern hospitality, these destinations offer a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life. For those planning a road trip, or just want to explore what the coast has to offer, these towns are living postcards that capture the essence of coastal living at its finest. Take a trip to one (or all!) of these 13 most quaint small towns along the Atlantic Coast and find out what makes these towns not just destinations but cherished treasures waiting to be unearthed.
St Augustine, Florida
Speaking of postcard-perfect, look no further than St Augustine, Florida. Established by Spanish conquistadors in 1565, St Augustine is one of the oldest cities in America. The architecture ranges from colonial properties with rich Spanish influences to an internet-famous lighthouse.
For warm sands and relaxing park views, look no further than Anastasia State Park, which has 1,600 acres of unspoiled beaches, tidal marshes, and sand dunes. It also has over 139 campsites for visitors who want to spend a few nights here. ‘The Ancient City’ as it is often called, hosts live theater, concerts, and festivals galore. Whether it is the 4th of July fireworks, the Christmas Night of Lights, or the Easter Parade, something big is always happening in St. Augustine. For fans of all things spooky, St Augustine Lighthouse is said to be one of the most haunted lighthouses in the USA, featured on Buzzfeed Unsolved.
Residing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen is a little slice of Europe without ever having to leave the U.S.! This Bavarian-inspired town is particularly picturesque around the holidays when the cobbled streets seem cheerful.
The Helen Arts and Heritage Center is a must-see, which showcases the incredible pottery, painting, and jewelry of local artists. You can also participate in the art, with hands-on classes held throughout the month. History buffs have their fill, too, with historical photos and accounts on display as well.
Just outside of the town of Helen, The Anna Ruby Falls is a beautiful paved trail named after the only daughter of James Nichols, a settler in 1870.
Even if you just stop by for a drink from one of Helen’s many local breweries or some traditional German cuisine, Helen is a town that will make you not want to say auf Wiedersehen.
Being the smallest state capital in the United States, Montpellier has its charms. With old-world style architecture everywhere you look, you have every reason to take it slow.
The gold-domed Vermont State House is something to truly marvel at, perhaps while exploring one of Montpelier’s many sugar houses. Be careful not to get too much of a sugar rush!
If you do have some extra energy to burn, The Winooski River is nearby and offers canoe and whitewater rafting experiences. In winter, there is still plenty to do! Cross-country skiing is a must in North Branch River Park.
Aurora, New York
It does not get much smaller than Aurora, with a population of only 700 people year round; this gem on the Cayuga Lake is a little slice of heaven. Aurora, or Aurora-on-Cayuga, is known for its rich history, including the founding of the Wells College in 1868. This still preserved campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a must-see if you are visiting this sleepy hamlet. For a place to stay, the Inns of Aurora is a collection of historic homes restored and united to become one of the top luxury accommodations in the Finger Lakes. There's not much to argue with a spa on site, in-room fireplaces, and lakefront views.
While visiting Aurora, pop into The Village Market, a cafe right next to the Aurora Inn, which sells delicious pastries, soups, and the best coffee on the island. With stunning views, luxury accommodations, and all of Cayuga Lake's offerings at travelers' disposal, the population might go up to 701!
Ithaca, New York
On the southern tip of Cayuga Lake lies the vibrant town of Ithaca, renowned for its natural beauty, cultural richness, and progressive spirit. Complete with stunning gorges, five waterfalls, and two state parks, Ithaca is for those with an adventurous spirit.
They say when in Rome, do as the Romans do, but when in Ithaca, have some wine! There is a bounty of wineries along the Finger Lakes, over 25 on Cayuga Lake alone. It is America's oldest and longest-running wine trail for a reason, after all! Whether travelers are here chasing waterfalls, or just happen to be passing through, Ithaca is definitely a destination to spend some time in.
Like another entry on this list, Annapolis is one of the most overlooked (and smallest!) state capitals in the country. However, this sailing capital of the United States has so much to offer, both on and off the water. The Naval Academy sets its roots in Annapolis, training its future admirals since 1845. Visitors can tour the campus, visit the chapel, or see the crypt of John Paul Jones – the ‘Father of the U.S Navy.’
Additionally, birdwatchers can enjoy stretching vistas in Sandy Point State Park, a cozy beach hailed as one of the state’s best birdwatching spots. With the calm waters of Chesapeake Bay offering enticing boating conditions, it is no wonder the seafood in Annapolis is second to none. With the sea breeze in your nose and a belly full of crab cakes, who could be disappointed?
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Established in 1623, Portsmouth has been celebrating its 400th anniversary with carnivals, picnics, and balls! But worry not, there is always lots to do! Rich in maritime history and heritage, Portsmouth blends history with modern charm.
Labeled as one of America’s Distinctive Destinations by the Nation Trust for Historic Preservation, Portsmouth has a stimulating mix of historic buildings, art galleries, jazz clubs, and boutiques. The kids can enjoy the Strawbery Banke Museum, where costumed role players tell stories, and with hours of exhibits, heritage gardens, and crafts to explore, the adults can enjoy it too!
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Cocoa Beach combines science, nature, and relaxation on the "Space Coast" of Florida. With miles of clean, patrolled beaches and a warm and welcoming community, Cocoa Beach is a perfect small town for families!
Enjoy an eco-friendly manatee tour while kayaking down the Banana River, or for something a little faster, book an airboat ride to see Florida alligators up close and personal! Boasting one of the world's most incredible collections of fossils and minerals, The Dinosaur Store and Museum will offer hours of educational entertainment for kids of all ages.
Additionally, Cocoa Beach Pier offers the best seafood for those needing a bite to eat! And with space flights taking off from nearby Cape Canaveral, travelers have a front-row seat to the show.
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
It is easy to fall in love with the beautiful island of Martha's Vineyard. This famous small town allows visitors to step away from the hustle and bustle of Massachusetts but is only 7 miles off the coast. Film buff fans may know that Martha's Vineyard was the primary filming location of Jaws, however, do not worry, it is safe to go in the water!
This charming town offers unique amenities and festivals like The Martha's Vineyard Wind Festival, where kite-fliers show off their skills. For those wanting to connect with nature or just let the little ones splash around, the Long Point Wildlife Refuge is the place for you! Popular among birders and hosting globally rare plants as well, this may cross a few items off of your bucket list.
It is impossible to visit Martha's Vineyard without trying some of her wine! Every October, the finest food and drink is hosted on this small island, a truly incredible experience if you plan to visit during that time!
Labeled ‘the 8th Best Small Town in America’, Easton is an arts and cultural mecca, hosting public golf courses, historical Colonial and Victorian architecture, and much more. Visitors will feel right at home here, offering various cozy inns and charming Victorian bed and breakfasts to stay at.
Once you are well fed, perhaps a walk to the Talbot Historical Society Museums and Garden, attached to the Neall House, takes you through Talbot County’s history. Adventurous types may want to take a kayak on the Tred Avon River, while others find solace in antiquing and finding a treasure to take home! Once the sun goes down, Easton has its own Chesapeake Ghost Walk, where you will learn the spooky history of this eastern capital.
Seaside may seem like a town too good to be accurate, but rest assured, it is the real deal! Established in 1978, it is one of the first towns in America to be made using the principles of ‘New Urbanism,’ giving the whole town a planned-out and idyllic feel. This cozy town is visited by design individuals trying to get a little bit of that ‘simple, beautiful life’: the town’s motto. For film buffs, this town was also where The Truman Show was filmed in 1998.
The town is more than just beautiful; Central Square boasts many things to see, do, and taste! Home to ‘food truck row,’ where hungry customers can get gourmet grilled cheeses, mouth-watering BBQ, or smoothies that will energize. In the evenings, there could be anything from live jazz concerts to movies under the stars to attend, making this small town an ideal spot to visit.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Twelve miles off the coast of Rhode Island is the warm community of Block Island. With the island itself being only 3 miles by 7 miles, it brings a whole new meaning to small town. The 17 miles of beaches that surround the island are all free and open to the public, where you can snorkel, fish, parasail, or kayak the day away.
You can keep the kids entertained with the Adventure Block Island: Outdoor Escape Game, a guided tour that has kids solving puzzles and traveling to iconic landmarks on Block Island to get your hands on the infamous Captain Kidd’s treasure.
Even if all you dig up is clams, Block Island and its relaxed pace has plenty to do for the whole family.
Newport, Rhode Island
After discovering Block Island, a trip to nearby Newport is well worth it. Newport is home to a host of ocean breezes and quaint shops and has plenty of room for adventure as well. Whether you want to skate down the boardwalk or surf the beautiful blue waters of The Classic Coast, Newport delivers. For fans of 18th century French architecture, put down those expensive plane tickets and look instead to The Elms in Newport. A house built in 1898 by Philidelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, this elegant and engaging estate is now yours to explore and walk through in a self-guided tour. For foodies looking to get their fill, the Newport Foodies Stroll offers a tour through five of the best locally-owned restaurants, with a 1.75-mile walk to burn some calories!
Bar Harbor, Maine
Last, but certainly not least is the gateway to Acadia National Park: Bar Harbor. Located in Mount Desert Island, on Frenchman’s Bay, its unique elevation will allow travelers to view the country’s first sunrise. Or perhaps have a long stay at Sand Bar Cottage, built in 1887 as a summer cottage and converted into a cozy bed and breakfast.
If you make it in time for the whale-watching season, you may see those gentle giants at Bar Harbor – their favorite feeding ground. With family movies in the park and kayaking along the coast, the whole family will enjoy this little slice of New England hospitality.
The Final Word
For folks looking to get away for the weekend or even longer, there is no better place than the Atlantic Coast. Riddled with quaint, hidden gem towns that offer a slower pace, a new adventure, and some of the best communities in the United States. So pack your bags, set your course, and let the Atlantic Coast weave its enchantment around you. Safe travels!