The gorgeous town of Kennebunkport, Maine.

6 Most Scenic Small Towns on the Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic Coast of the United States is lined with countless charming small towns, each offering a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Add to this mix the friendly people who call these communities home, and you’ll never run out of places to want to visit.

From the quaint New England charm of Mystic, Connecticut, and Kennebunkport, Maine, to the historic richness of Lewes, Delaware, and Beaufort, South Carolina, these scenic towns invite visitors to linger awhile and explore. This, and the sight of those famous wild ponies in Chincoteague, Virginia, and the elegant Victorian-era architecture and scenic beaches of Cape May, New Jersey, and these scenic Atlantic Coast destinations all add up to endless travel opportunities, whether you’re here for a day, a weekend or even longer.

Mystic, Connecticut

The seaport at Mystic, Connecticut
The seaport at Mystic, Connecticut.

Located mid-way between the cities of Providence, RI, and New Haven, CT, the pretty town of Mystic is considered one of the best places to visit for a dose of New England charm. Set at the mouth of the Mystic River overlooking Mason’s Island, highlights of a visit to this coastal town include the Mystic Seaport Museum for its collection of historic ships and boats, as well as maritime history exhibits and hands-on experiences and educational programs. Another standout attraction is the Mystic Aquarium with its beluga whales, seals, and sea lions.

Mystic's downtown area is also fun to explore and is filled with unique shops, art galleries, and restaurants, some of the best set along the waterfront. Those who enjoy great urban scenery will want to include the town's green spaces, like the riverside Peace Nature Sanctuary and the historic Elm Grove Cemetery, on their itineraries.

Cape May, New Jersey

Aerial view of Cape May, New Jersey
Aerial view of Cape May, New Jersey.

Cape May in New Jersey likely needs little introduction. But for those who don’t know it, this jewel of a small town simply oozes Atlantic Coast charm. Just 48 miles south of Atlantic City, the vibe here is elegance and sophistication rather than glitz and glamor, with its stunning Victorian architecture, its rich cultural heritage, and, of course, its natural beauty, making it a favorite destination for tourists with taste. Cape May Historic District is home to the largest collection of Victorian-era buildings in the country, many of the best now serving as classy bed-and-breakfast establishments, while the Emlen Physick Estate, a fully restored mansion, can be toured and provides fascinating insights into the town's past.

The beaches in Cape May are another major draw and are known for their soft sands and family-friendly atmosphere. The two-mile-long Cape May Promenade is another must-do and is perfect for leisurely walks or simply relaxing and soaking up those Atlantic Ocean views, while animal lovers will want to include the Cape May Bird Observatory and the Cape May County Park & Zoo.

Chincoteague, Virginia

Chincoteague, Virginia,
The marina at Chincoteague, Virginia.

Head down the coast to Chincoteague, Virginia, and travelers can witness one of the most unique experiences on the East Coast, if not all of America. This scenic island town is famous for its wild ponies, residents of the 14,000-acre Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge that once a year are rounded up for a swim across the Assateague Channel, where some are auctioned off. The refuge is also home to diverse habitats, including marshes, forests, and beaches, and provides opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, and photography. The adjacent Assateague Island National Seashore is also fun to explore.

Want to get out on the water? A variety of reputable boat tour operators are available on Chincoteague Island that provide close encounters with dolphins, seabirds, and other marine creatures.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Beaufort, South Carolina
Welcome sign at the Woods Memorial Bridge and Beaufort River in Beaufort, South Carolina.

The scenic South Carolinian town of Beaufort is another great Atlantic Coast destination to discover. Located on Port Royal Island between Charleston and Savannah, this historically rich town is home to many fine examples of antebellum architecture, much of it located within the downtown Beaufort Historic District. A National Historic Landmark, here visitors can stroll along pretty moss-draped streets to the Beaufort History Museum with its displays relating to the Native American era through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is another must-visit spot and boasts views of the Beaufort River, a marina, and plenty of space for picnics and leisurely walks. It’s also a focal point for community events like the Beaufort Water Festival and farmers' markets. Outdoor adventures and camping can be enjoyed at Hunting Island State Park with its historic lighthouse.

Lewes, Delaware

The Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware
The Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.

Lewes is located directly across the Delaware Bay from Cap May and offers those lucky enough to visit a charming blend of history, beaches, and natural beauty to explore. Delaware’s oldest community - it was settled by Dutch whalers in 1631 - Lewes Historic District includes over 120 lovely old buildings, some of the best of which can be seen during the 90-minute guided tours put on by Lewes Historical Society. A visit to the Zwaanendael Museum is a must-do for its displays relating to the town's founding and Dutch heritage, as is the maritime history on display at the Lewes Life-Saving Station dating from 1882.

For those who enjoy water sports, a visit to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal provides opportunities for boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding, while nature lovers will want to head to Cape Henlopen State Park. Along with its beautiful beaches and scenic walking trails, a number of World War II observation towers make for a dramatic photo backdrop here.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Boats docked at Kennebunkport, Maine, on a gorgeous spring day
Boats docked at Kennebunkport, Maine, on a gorgeous spring day.

The coastal town of Kennebunkport in Maine is easy to get to from Boston 80-miles to the south thanks to its proximity to the I-95 highway. Highlights of a visit include wandering the town’s historic Dock Square with its quaint shops, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants, as well as the town’s first-rate beaches. Considered to be among Maine's finest, family-friendly Goose Rocks Beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and kayaking.

Interested in learning more about the town's history and architecture? Head to the Seashore Trolley Museum for a fascinating look at the world's largest collection of streetcars and trolleys, as well as the Bush Compound at Walker's Point, the summer home of the Bush family. Though not open to the public, it’s visible from Ocean Avenue, offering a glimpse into the lives of one of America's most prominent families.

The Final Word

The USA’s Atlantic Coast is adorned with more quaint towns than most people could visit in a lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Together, these lovely communities offer opportunities to sample some of the country’s most fascinating history, much of it set against a backdrop of tremendous natural beauty. From the historic streets of Lewes to the wild shores of Chincoteague, with stops at Cape May, Beaufort, Kennebunkport, and Mystic along the way, these six most scenic small towns in Atlantic Coast USA are waiting to be discovered.

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