Plum Island Lighthouse, at the mouth of Merrimack River, in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

10 Underrated Destinations on the Atlantic Coast to Avoid Summer Crowds

As summer attracts travelers to the beautiful Atlantic Coast, the quest for serene escapes away from the crowds is on the rise. It's easy to envision bustling boardwalks, crowded beaches, and the perpetual buzz of vacation spots. However, if you're seeking an alternative to the typical summer vacation experience, consider venturing off the beaten path to discover the hidden treasures the Atlantic Coast offers. From the sun-kissed shores of North Carolina to the idyllic landscapes of New England, these underrated destinations have it all, from boating to exquisite culinary experiences.

Mystic, Connecticut

The seaport at Mystic, Connecticut with boats on the dock.
The seaport at Mystic, Connecticut.

The array of activities in this town will leave you breathless. Mystic, a historic coastal town, joins together maritime heritage with a New England charm. At the Mystic Seaport Museum, you can step back in time and explore historic ships, a recreated 19th-century village, and maritime exhibits that celebrate the town's seafaring history. Stroll along the picturesque waterfront, where you'll find a range of restaurants, namely The Oyster Club, that features an ever-changing menu, highlighting the freshest seafood available. Their raw bar and creatively prepared seafood dishes make it a must-visit spot for seafood enthusiasts.

Minutes away from the waterfront, you can go for a round of golf at Shennecossett Golf Course or book your own deep-sea fishing excursion at one of the many charters by the port. The Mystic Aquarium provides a window to get up close with marine life, including the unique beluga whales.

Beaufort, North Carolina

Beautiful summer day on the boardwalk waterfront in Beaufort.
Beautiful summer day on the boardwalk waterfront in Beaufort, North Carolina. Image credit Ryan McGurl via

Nestled on the Crystal Coast, Beaufort offers a glimpse into North Carolina's rich maritime history. The town's historic district features meticulously preserved 18th and 19th-century homes, making it perfect for a leisurely walk. Don't miss the North Carolina Maritime Museum, where you can explore exhibits on local maritime heritage and shipwrecks. A short ferry ride from Beaufort takes you to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, a pristine barrier island known for its untouched beaches, crystal-clear waters, and the chance to spot wild horses. Explore the iconic Cape Lookout Lighthouse for breathtaking views of the coast. 

St. Marys, Georgia

Overlooking the docks at St Marys, Georgia.
The docks at St Marys, Georgia.

St. Marys is a tranquil coastal town located near the Georgia-Florida border. It serves as a gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore, one of Georgia's most preserved and least crowded barrier islands. The island is renowned for its sparkling beaches, maritime forests, and famous wild horses. Visitors to St. Marys can take a ferry to Cumberland Island, where they can explore hiking trails, visit historic sites like Dungeness Ruins, and relax on secluded beaches. Cumberland Island is renowned for its population of feral horses, often referred to as "Cumberland Island horses" or "Cumberland ponies." These horses roam freely on the island and can often be spotted grazing near the beach. 

Cape May, New Jersey

View of a boat with a Cape May sign on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey, USA.
Cape May sign on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey. Image credit EQRoy via Shutterstock

A Victorian treasure like no other, the cute town of Cape May sits at the southern tip of New Jersey. The town's well-preserved Victorian architecture sets the stage for a unique and elegant coastal escape. The historic streets are perfect for an afternoon walk to admire the ornate homes, many of which have been transformed into charming bed-and-breakfasts. These homes include The Queen Victoria, consisting of four meticulously restored 1880s Queen Anne buildings, and The Mason Cottage, built in 1871, with a variety of rooms and suites, perfect for a summer stay.

Cape May's beaches offer a quieter alternative to more crowded New Jersey shore towns. Sunset Beach is a favorite spot to watch the sun dip below the horizon, and the Cape May Lighthouse provides panoramic views of the coastline. 

Chincoteague, Virginia

Hotels by the marina in Chincoteague.
Hotels by the marina in Chincoteague. Image credit Kosoff via

Chincoteague stretches Virginia's Eastern Shore, renowned for its immaculate beauty and the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge provides a sanctuary for migratory birds and native wildlife, making it a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. One of the highlights of Chincoteague is the opportunity to see the famous wild ponies of Assateague Island. Visitors can take a boat tour to view these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. The town itself boasts a relaxed atmosphere, with charismatic shops like Island Creamery that serves delicious homemade ice cream.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Small harbor in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Small harbor in Kennebunkport, Maine. Image credit Enrico Della Pietra via Shutterstock

Walking through its streets feels like stepping into a postcard scene. The gorgeous town of Kennebunkport, located on Maine's southern coast, is a coastal gem known for its rocky shores, charming harbor, and historic homes. Enjoy a relaxing day by the ocean at Gooch's Beach, where you can sunbathe, swim, and take in the stunning coastal scenery. Golf enthusiasts can tee off at this historic club, known for its beautiful ocean views and challenging course.

To satisfy your historical curiosity, explore the history of the town through the White Columns house tours and visit exhibits like the Nott House, showcasing Kennebunkport's heritage and maritime history. At the end of the day, dine at the nearby Earth at Hidden Pond and savor seasonal dishes made from locally sourced ingredients for a farm-to-table experience in an elegant setting.

Ocean City, Maryland

Empty beach of the popular tourist destination, Ocean City, Maryland.
Empty beach of the popular tourist destination, Ocean City, Maryland.

Often associated with bustling boardwalks and lively beachfront activities, Ocean City in Maryland is not all crowds. Just a short drive north of the bustling Ocean City boardwalk lies a quieter side of the town. North Ocean City offers spectacular beaches, perfect for a relaxing day in the sun. Experience thrill rides, water slides, go-karts, and mini-golf at Jolly Roger, a popular amusement park with options for family-friendly fun. Although the weekends can be busy, stop in mid-week and enjoy all the fun without the crowds. North Ocean City is also known as “Condo Row," with myriad accommodation options lining the shore. Visitors can also explore the Assawoman Bay and its tranquil waters for a swim or time to unwind with friends. 

Fernandina Beach, Florida

Overlooking Amelia Island, Florida.
Amelia Island, Florida.

The picturesque town of Fernandina Beach is a historic treasure located on Amelia Island, Florida's northernmost barrier island. Amelia Island's natural beauty is also a draw, with glistening white beaches, maritime forests, and parks like Fort Clinch State Park, which offers hiking trails and a glimpse into history with its well-preserved fort. Egan's Creek Greenway is another gem for outdoor lovers, offering walking and biking trails through marshes and wooded areas.

At the Amelia Island Museum of History, visitors can learn about the island's rich history through exhibits, guided tours, and walking tours that delve into its colonial past, pirate legends, and more. While there, you can feast on fresh seafood with a waterfront view at The Crab Trap, and try the catch of the day or the famous "All You Can Eat Crab Legs." 

Newburyport, Massachusetts

Newburyport historic downtown including State Street and First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist Church with Merrimack River
Newburyport historic downtown along the Merrimack River.

Looking for a calm boat ride and laid-back exploration? Located on Massachusetts' North Shore, Newburyport is a picturesque coastal town with a rich maritime history and plenty to discover and enjoy. The waterfront area boasts a boardwalk with stunning views of the Merrimack River and access to exquisite boat cruises. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the nearby Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. The refuge features walking trails and observation points for taking in the natural beauty of the area.

If your visit coincides with the Newburyport Literary Festival, make sure to attend author talks, workshops, and literary events celebrating literature and the written word. Alternatively, if you're a fan of craft beer, visit the Newburyport Brewing Company for a tasting and brewery tour.

Lewes, Delaware

Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware with boat docked.
Canalfront Park in Lewes, Delaware.

The "First Town in the First State" is a coastal town with a rich history. Lewes's historic district is adorned with well-preserved colonial-era buildings, boutique shops, and a variety of dining options, from seafood shacks to upscale restaurants. Stop at Agave to indulge in Mexican street food with a modern twist, including tacos, burritos, and fresh salsas.

The town is also home to the Zwaanendael Museum, which highlights Delaware's maritime history. Lewes offers a range of outdoor activities, including boating, kayaking, and fishing in the Delaware Bay. The town's picturesque beaches provide a quieter alternative to some of the more popular coastal destinations. Embark on a dolphin-watching cruise from Lewes Harbor to observe these graceful creatures in their natural habitat.

You can skip on the clamor of summer vacation planning this year. The Atlantic Coast hides these treasures, each offering a sublime escape from the crowds, if you are intent on traveling during peak season. Such underrated destinations are great opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of the Atlantic Coast. From Beaufort's historical allure to Lewes' coastal tranquility, these places provide a chance to savor the season without sacrificing serenity.


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