People and buildings in Kennebunkport, Maine. Image credit EQRoy via Shutterstock

8 Underappreciated Towns to Visit on the Atlantic Coast

The Atlantic Coast of the United States stretches an incredible diversity of cultural, historic, and natural attractions. Towns along the northern coast like Kennebunkport, Maine, captivate popular imagination with quaint streets and intriguing histories of New England, while more temperate climates in Southern towns like Beaufort, South Carolina, transport travelers to picturesque wetlands and Spanish Moss trees complimented with separate cultural identity. There is something for every traveler in these eight underappreciated towns on the Atlantic Coast.

Bristol, Rhode Island

The Port at Bristol, Rhode Island.
The Port at Bristol, Rhode Island.

Bristol is a secluded refuge hidden within the cities and towns of Rhode Island Sound. The natural Bristol harbor wraps the Atlantic waters of the downtown area, creating a small-town environment best experienced on the centrally located walking paths within Independence Park or along the East Bay Bike Path.

This same district also holds the historically significant Linden Place mansion and the interactive exhibits of the popular Herreshoff Marine Museum, showcasing an intricate arrangement of maritime racing history. There are two principal attractions full of lush natural greenery: the Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, & Arboretum provides an impressively cultivated flower garden complimented with characteristic architecture, and Colt State Park offers large open fields and walking paths that highlight sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Beautiful antebellum house in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Beaufort, South Carolina, is a small town filled with Southern charisma. Its character is largely derived from its memorable downtown district and attractions like the Beaufort History Museum and the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park; the mansions surrounding it like the Riverview, the Point, and Marshlands; and lush trees with drooping Spanish Moss all around.

Much of Beaufort's national acclaim rests on the image of the Beaufort National Cemetary, a stifling and expansive military cemetery. In addition to the town's cultural and historic endowments, naturalists will enjoy the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park pathways in the downtown area and the impressive trees and forest pathways of Whitehall Park.

Marblehead, Massachusetts

Overlooking Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Overlooking Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Marblehead boasts significant cultural history and memorable amenities within its small confines along Massachusetts Bay. The most renowned symbol of its history lies in the headland Fort Sewall from the War of Independence, but the Jeremiah Lee Mansion and the living history museum of the Salem Pioneer Village are also worthwhile attractions.

Marblehead also holds diverse natural scenery, including the bike-friendly trails of Wyman Woods, hiking opportunities in Salem Woods Highland Park, and the wetlands of the Steer Swamp Conservation Area. However, the town's best natural attraction is the sandbar of Devereux Beach, which connects the main peninsula to the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and the grassy harbourside of Chandler Hovey Park.

Jekyll Island, Georgia

A couple is standing on the Driftwood Beach with weathered trees at sunset on Jekyll Island, Georgia.
A couple is standing on the Driftwood Beach with weathered trees at sunset on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Jekyll Island is Georgia's best getaway location because of its unique natural attractions complimenting its long sand beaches. Driftwood Beach receives regular attention from visitors because of the landscapes and natural architecture formed by charismatic driftwood along its panoramic beach. St. Andrew Beach can showcase similarly memorable natural structures that carve skylines every sunrise and sunset.

More underappreciated are Jeykll Island's many buildings and amenities dedicated to learning the region's history, including the exhibits of the Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum; the charming architecture of the Indian Mound Cottage, home to an Indian burial ground; and the one-of-a-kind Georgia Sea Turtle Center for rescue and rehabilitation.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Historic buildings in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Historic buildings in Kennebunkport, Maine. Image credit Enrico Della Pietra via

Kennebunkport, Maine, is an intriguing small town that showcases sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, and the charismatic Kennebunk River that divides its downtown area. A full variety of amenities are available surrounding the charming streets of the Kennebunkport Historic District, like top-quality dining at the Chez Rosa restaurant or a calming stroll across the Kennebunkport Marina.

Following the river downstream towards the Atlantic Ocean reveals the open sands of the popular Gooch's Beach accented by memorable historical monuments like the St. Ann's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. More enthusiastic outdoor explorers should walk along the Blowing Cave Park, where dramatic cliffs create mystifying wave crashes.

Fernandina Beach, Florida

Palace Saloon in the Famous Prescott Building, a historical landmark, in Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Palace Saloon in the Famous Prescott Building, a historical landmark, in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Fernandina Beach holds the best of Florida's characteristic beaches, with ample shorelines, palm trees, and relaxing ocean winds. Travelers searching for this type of Florida will enjoy the sands of the Main Beach Park with the backdrop of the Amelia Island Lighthouse, and the adjoining natural greenery surrounding the Egan's Creek Greenway Trail.

Despite the small town's relaxing allure, most visitors to Fernandina Beach are chasing the experience of Fort Clinch State Park. The headline of this historical marvel is Fort Clinch, a 19th-century fort still intact today, complete with dramatic examples of military architecture, guided tours, and access to wetland wildlife.

Havre de Grace, Maryland

Aerial view of Havre de Grace, Maryland, in autumn.
Aerial view of Havre de Grace, Maryland, in autumn. Image credit Wirestock Creators via Shutterstock.

Havre de Grace is found at the intersection of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay and the Susquehanna River. Many of the town's long-standing historical monuments form an identity and charisma, the most prominent being the impressive Friends-Concord Point Lighthouse at Concord Point Park. The neighboring attractions are equally memorable: the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum offers a comprehensive history of maritime trade in the region, and the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum houses energetic exhibits of working duck decoys.

Complimenting the town's extensive history is the Susquehanna State Park, a picturesque recluse filled with trails through lush forests and the tales of the Steppingstone Farm Museum.

Lewes, Delaware

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

Lewes, Delaware, offers a full course of historical identity, modern activity, and natural exploration. The town was founded by Dutch colonists in 1691, today holding the Zwaanendael Museum as a testament to its Dutch local history. The downtown area, divided by a large river of Atlantic water, is best explored with a stroll through Lewes Canalfront Park towards the Lewes Historical Society Main Campus and the wooden stands of the Pilottown Marina. Aside from its thriving cultural identity, Lewes is also recognized for the Cape Henlopen State Park, home to both fantastic stretches of beach and dramatic WWII Artillery Fire Observation Towers that grow from their sands.

While these towns may not be the first to cultivate the imagination of prospective travelers in the United States, they are sure to exceed any expectations for the ideal getaway. The natural driftwood sculptures on Jekyll Island, Georgia; the quaint comfort of Bristol Harbor within Rhode Island Sound; and the long white sand beaches that follow the history of Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach, Florida; are only a few reasons why these eight underappreciated towns on the Atlantic Coast should be a part of any traveler's to-do list.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 8 Underappreciated Towns to Visit on the Atlantic Coast

More in Places