Downtown street in Bar Harbor, Maine. Image credit Darryl Brooks via Shutterstock

6 Most Inviting Towns on the Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic Coast offers a diverse blend of cultures, nature, and attractions. Stretching from New York, through New England towns, and down to Florida, it's no wonder this region was favored by Europeans and Indigenous peoples, whose influence is still palpable. Founded in the 1800s, Nags Head boasts original family cottages and courts near Jockey’s Ridge State Park, its pride and joy.

Artists like Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church found inspiration in Bar Harbor. Nags Head is an idyllic “family beach” vacation spot with expansive beaches, ample parking, and easy access to the sand. Barnegat Light is the most low-key town on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, while Provincetown, flung 60 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, features Race Point Beach and Herring Cove Beach just a stone's throw from downtown.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Colorful stores along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Colorful stores along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Incorporated as Eden in 1796, Bar Harbor is a blend of seashore beauty and distinct local character, offering many family-friendly activities, including the chance to try famous Maine lobster. Pronounce it “Bah-Hah-Bah” like a Down Easter, and order "lob-stuh” to blend in with the locals! Home to just over 5,000 people, this charming town on the northeast corner of Mount Desert Island truly embodies a feel of Eden, with quick access to parts of Acadia National Park for scenic views and adventure. A quick hop to Bar Island offers even more serenity, while the nearby Wild Gardens of Acadia provides an easy walking trail along a forested boardwalk.

Cadillac Mountain is a magnet for climbers, and the sophisticated system of carriage roads, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., offers endless exploration opportunities on foot, bike, or by car. Since the mid-19th century, artists from the Hudson River School, including Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, were awe-inspired by the surrounding landscapes. Today, Bar Harbor thrives as an artist community along Frenchmen Bay, eschewing tourist kitsch for a bustling main street. From whale-watching tours to waterfront dining and the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, be sure to visit Side Street Cafe or Geddy's to meet some of the friendly locals.

Barnegat Light, New Jersey

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, New Jersey.
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, New Jersey.

Barnegat Light, situated on the northern tip of Long Beach Island, offers a relaxed atmosphere with something for everyone. Viking Village, one of the state's largest working commercial fishing docks, complements the town's array of motels, B&Bs, and vacation rentals. Visitors can enjoy a plethora of activities such as surfing, bay fishing, crabbing, and boating, including daily party boats for deep-sea fishing, charter boats, and simple rentals.

Barnegat Lighthouse State Park features a publicly accessible lighthouse with panoramic views from the top, alongside opportunities for picnicking and fishing. Known for being the most low-key among its northern tip neighbors, Barnegat Light is ideal for exploring by bike in the salty air along peaceful, wide streets, evoking a nostalgic vacation vibe. Whether you're here to relax on its pristine beaches, enjoy the abundant fishing, or visit the namesake state park for hiking, picnicking, and birding, don't miss the museum housed in a one-room schoolhouse showcasing treasures from the past, including the original lighthouse lens.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Downtown carriage rides in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Downtown carriage rides in Beaufort, South Carolina. Image credit Stephen B. Goodwin via Shutterstock.

Located on Port Royal Island, between Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort is a spectacular Atlantic Coast town with a rich blend of history along its moss-draped streets. The entire downtown Beaufort Historic District is a National Historic Landmark, setting a picturesque backdrop for its Antebellum homes. This summer, visitors can enjoy outdoor attractions such as the waterfront park, farmers' markets, and Hunting Island State Park, which features a historic lighthouse as well as opportunities for adventures and camping.

Take a stroll or relax over a picnic at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, which offers views of the Beaufort River, a public marina, and plenty of space for recreation. The weather is perfect for family fun at the Beaufort Water Festival and enjoying ice cream at YoYo's, while the Beaufort History Museum displays the area's history from the Native American era to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Often overshadowed by Hilton Head Island, Port Royal Island is home to the historic town of Beaufort, filling your vacation days with sightseeing and seafood dinners, like those at Saltus River Grill.

Montauk, New York

Shops on main street Montauk, New York
Shops on main street Montauk, New York

Montauk, located at the eastern tip of Long Island, is one of New York State’s most inviting hamlets, offering scenic 360-degree views from its position between the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound. The Montauk Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Center serves as a good resource for exploring "The End," an apt nickname for this town known for its prevailing winds, rough surf, and extensive preserved land. Consider it the beginning of endless discoveries, a welcoming atmosphere, and a remote, low-key vibe compared to the Hamptons. Whether you're interested in fishing, surfing, paddling, or hiking at Montauk Point State Park, don't miss the historic Montauk Point Lighthouse, a national landmark.

Commissioned by President George Washington in 1796, the operating lighthouse is open to the public and offers spectacular panoramic views from the top. Renowned for its beautiful beaches, Montauk is a popular destination for experiencing upscale oceanfront stays, seafood dining, and relaxing days along Ditch Plains Beach, a famously scenic spot popular for weddings and honeymoons. The town is vibrant with family and friend activities, including music and art festivals. The Harbor Info Center on Main Street offers maps, brochures, and unique “This Is Montauk” travel videos.

Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head, an Outer Banks town, stands out as one of the most environmentally friendly communities along this barrier island chain. Attracting nature lovers from all over, visitors can enjoy some of the cleanest waters in the area. Spanning 11 miles of oceanfront with low-density development, and with fewer than 3,000 year-round residents spread over 6.5 square miles, there’s plenty of open space, ensuring that even the summer population of approximately 40,000 does not detract from nature's serenity. Due to the region’s shifting sands and heavily trafficked waters, hundreds of ships have wrecked nearby, earning the area the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” including the USS Huron, a popular scuba diving site.

Founded in the 1800s, some of the historic family cottages, small hotels, and cottage courts still stand, surrounding Jockey’s Ridge State Park—Nags Head's pride and joy. Featuring the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern US, the park offers visitors unparalleled views, while Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve remains one of the last mid-Atlantic maritime forests with deciduous hardwoods. Inspired by Nags Head’s cultural and historical heritage, the thriving local art community complements Mother Nature's own artistry. The charming small-town businesses and a slow, relaxed lifestyle complete the idyllic “family beach” vacation experience, with wide beaches, ample parking, and easy access to the sands.

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Beach view of Provincetown, with the Pilgrim's monument in the background.
Beach view of Provincetown, with the Pilgrim's monument in the background.

Provincetown, one of the most inviting places in New England, is renowned as an excellent holiday destination for the LGBTQ community, but its welcoming spirit and relaxed atmosphere extend to everyone, making it an ideal family getaway. Situated 60 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, both Race Point Beach and Herring Cove Beach are just a stone's throw from downtown. Thanks to its semi-remote location, the long, sprawling beachhead on the interior edge remains pleasantly quaint even in the high season, mirroring the calm surf protected by the bay from the open ocean waters.

In contrast, Provincetown's Commercial Street is bustling with activity. Stretching for three miles, it features charming New England architecture, lobster joints, and art galleries. It's sure to be a highlight, offering unobstructed views of quintessential small-town charm with minimal queuing. Having welcomed families and creatives for over a century to this very tip of Massachusetts' Cape Cod, today, ferries and flights from Boston make Provincetown a convenient escape. This Atlantic harbor's all-embracing atmosphere nurtures art and fosters connections among people and nature, making for a vibrant seafaring lifestyle in the country's oldest continuous art colony, Provincetown.

General Overview of Atlantic Coast Towns

The Atlantic Coast is spectacularly varied, catering to every taste. Whether you're seeking some New England flavor in Bar Harbor or Provincetown, or exploring Montauk in New York, known as "The End" for its dramatic oceanfront and ample preserved land, there is something for everyone.

Beaufort, a town on Port Royal Island in South Carolina, is replete with antebellum homes. Meanwhile, Bar Harbor boasts carriage roads financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr., and the public and operational lighthouse in Montauk was commissioned by President George Washington in 1796. Each location offers a unique glimpse into the rich history and vibrant culture of the Atlantic Coast.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 6 Most Inviting Towns on the Atlantic Coast

More in Places