Stretching from Maine in the north all the way down to Florida in the south, the Atlantic Coast is a huge swath of the USA that encompasses 14 states and around a third of the country’s population. Also known as the USA’s “East Coast,” this diverse coastal region features everything from the dramatic rocky coastline of the north to those endless silky sand beaches of the south.
Along the way, you’ll find countless charming small towns worth visiting, each providing a glimpse into the rich histories, as well as the people lucky enough to live there. To find out more about these communities and how they each offer a taste of authentic Americana, read our list of the 7 must-visit small towns on the Atlantic Coast.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Kitty Hawk is located on North Carolina’s picturesque Outer Banks and is popular for its long beaches and historic landmarks. This small town is best known to Americans for its connection to the country’s aviation history, as it was near here that the Wright Brothers made their first successful powered flight. You can visit the site of this momentous event in nearby Kill Devil Hills; just look for the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
You can also visit the site of the brothers’ old workshop in Kitty Hawk where their ground-breaking technology was developed; it’s marked by the Wright Brother's Garage Monument. The town itself offers plenty of fun things to do, from spending time on its beaches to exploring its unique maritime forest, the nearly 1900-acre Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve, which is also popular for birdwatching.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Rehoboth Beach is located at the mouth of Delaware Bay and offers spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean. One of Delaware's top beach towns, the star of the show here is Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk. This wide, mile-long pedestrian zone overlooks the beach and is easily accessed from the many seaside shops, amusement arcades, and restaurants you’ll no doubt want to explore.
The town has also made a name for itself as an art hotspot, with works by local members of the Rehoboth Art League on display in its galleries and event spaces. Numerous cultural festivals and events are held here, too, including the popular Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. Watersports are also a big draw, including surfing, paddleboarding, and kayaking.
Beaufort, South Carolina
Founded in 1711 and South Carolina’s third-oldest city, Beaufort is a great Atlantic Coast destination for lovers of history. Begin your Beaufort self-guided tour down at the waterfront with a stroll past the marina through picturesque Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. From here you’re just a few steps away from Historic Downtown Beaufort, a well-preserved area along Bay Street that’s full of great shopping and dining opportunities, including Plums, popular for its seafood dishes.
The Spanish Moss Trail is another good spot for taking in those ocean views. If you’re visiting in October, check out the town’s Shrimp Festival and help celebrate the local seafood scene.
Meredith, New Hampshire
Meredith in New Hampshire is set on the northern shoreline of Lake Winnipesaukee. Stretching for 21 miles end to end and the largest lake in the USA, you can access all of it from Meredith, which has become a hub for boating (rentals are available from local marinas). Tours of the lake, as well as other water-based activities such as waterskiing and wakeboarding, can also be enjoyed here.
Landlubbers will want to take a ride on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. This fun scenic train follows the shore of Meredith Bay for a two-hour round trip (it’s especially popular in the fall as the leaves peak in color).
Set on the tip of Cape Cod and boasting spectacular views westward back across the bay to Plymouth and Boston, Provincetown boasts one of the most remote and interesting settings in Massachusetts. An hour’s drive from the larger seaside town of Yarmouth, Provincetown’s history is deeply intertwined with that of the Mayflower Pilgrims, who landed here in 1620. This momentous event is celebrated at the Pilgrim Monument, the tallest granite structure in the US.
Provincetown has also become a draw for creative types, not just for the stunning scenery, but for its vibrant arts culture. The works of local artists can be seen on display at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) and the many galleries and studios along Commercial Street.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May in New Jersey is another well-known seaside town you’ll want to include in your Atlantic Coast travel itinerary. Situated at the state's southernmost point, Cape May is well-known for its attractive Victorian-era architecture in its historic district. One of the best examples is the Emlen Physick Estate, a restored 18th-century mansion that can be toured and provides a fascinating look at the town’s history.
The town's beaches are another big draw and are especially popular with families due to their clean, soft sands and gently sloping shoreline. Interested in nature and wildlife? Then include the Cape May Bird Observatory and Cape May County Park & Zoo on your list of stuff to do.
Marathon in Florida is one of the most southerly places you can visit on the USA’s Atlantic Coast and still brag about the spectacular ocean views. Set mid-way along the Florida Keys on the remarkable Overseas Highway, Marathon also boasts views over the Gulf of Mexico, making it unique among the small towns included in this list.
Spanning 13 islands of the Middle Keys region, Marathon is where you’ll find the "Old Seven" bridge, an old railway bridge that once connected Miami to Key West. No longer in use for vehicular traffic, a two-mile section is now used as a pedestrian and fishing bridge connecting Marathon with Pigeon Key. Marathon is also important for its proximity to the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the United States, and a popular spot for diving and snorkelling.
The Final Word
Stretching over 2,000 miles along the USA’s eastern shoreline, the Atlantic Coast is where you’ll find some of the most attractive small towns in the country. From Maine all the way down to Florida, join us as we explore these 7 must-visit small towns on the Atlantic Coast.