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10 of the Best Waterfront Destinations in the US

These unique coastal towns offer something fun for everyone.
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Lauren is a writer, editor, and consultant based in New York. Her work has been featured in publications such as Travel + Leisure, SmarterTravel, AFAR, and Time Out. When she's not writing or playing with her dog, she's more than likely researching her next trip.

Craving some R&R? If the answer’s yes, consider a trip to a waterfront town or city, where you can relax, unwind, and take in the balmy breeze of the waters, be it a river or ocean (bays and gulfs included). From charming New England beach towns to historic Southern cities, discover America’s best waterside locales, all of which offer a nice mix of things to do—think: museums, walkable downtowns, and landmarks—top-notch food and drink offerings, and, of course, wonderful waterfront vistas.

1. Chatham, Massachusetts

Chatham's famous lighthouse on the shores of Cape Cod, MA.
Chatham is known for its pristine beaches, calm waters, and a vibrant Main Street.Photo Credit: Exploring and Living / Shutterstock

Chatham is a charming town with easy access to stretches of pristine sand.

Located at the southeastern tip of Cape Cod, this beloved beach town is famous for its stretches of pristine sand, calm waters, and a vibrant Main Street dotted with art galleries, mom-and-pop shops, and eateries—including nostalgic candy stores that sell treats such as fudge and saltwater taffy. The 19th-century Chatham Lighthouse is among the destination’s most famous attractions where climbing to the top offers some of the best ocean views in town.

For a truly unique experience, spring for a nighttime guided photography tour to capture one-of-a-kind shots of Chatham and bring home your very own photograph.

2. Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock, located on Cannon Beach, is one of Oregon's most notable landmarks.
Located just 90 minutes from Portland, Cannon Beach makes for a great road trip destination.Photo Credit: Dancestrokes / Shutterstock

Haystack Rock is Cannon Beach's most popular attraction.

Cannon Beach is a small coastal city about 90 minutes from Portland, making it an adventure-filled road trip destination. Cannon Beach’s most famous landmark is Haystack Rock, an almost otherworldly 235-foot-tall (71-meter-tall) rock formation that attracts countless visitors.

The town is also close to visit-worthy nearby attractions, including Ecola State Park (which offers prime hiking opportunities); Arcadia Beach State Recreation Site (home to a 1-mile, or 1.6-kilometer, stretch of beach); and Hug Point State Recreation Site (where you can stroll along sea caves and tranquil tide pools). Of course, don’t miss spending time in downtown Cannon Beach—you’ll find a slew of fun and shoppable boutiques and galleries.

3. Bar Harbor, Maine

Aerial view of Bar Harbor, Maine.
This coastal town has it all—stunning scenery, a walkable downtown, and history galore.Photo Credit: Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock

Visitors can easily access both mountains and beaches from this seaside town.

Bar Harbor is best known as the gateway to Acadia National Park;however, it can certainly hold its own as a standalone destination for stunning scenery (think: unspoiled beaches, panoramic mountain vistas, glacier-formed lakes and valleys, and tranquil forests). Explore this must-visit destination from the water on a local sightseeing boat tour.

Landside, take advantage of Bar Harbor’s walkable downtown area, where you can spend an afternoon strolling past top landmarks such as the 1923 Criterion Theatre or the Abbe Museum with a private tour guide, who provides insight into the destination’s centuries-old history as a beloved resort town, as well as its role in the fishing, lumbering, and shipbuilding industries.

4. Cape May, New Jersey

Colorful Victorian style houses in Cape May.
Victorian architecture meets the sea in historic Cape May.Photo Credit: Paul Hakimata Photography / Shutterstock

Cape May has over 600 preserved Victorian homes.

Cape May on the Jersey Shore is anything but your typical oceanfront resort town. In addition to soaking up the sun on the beach, visitors here can step back in time (as early as the 1870s) and tour the Emlen Physick Estate as well as admire stunning Victorian architecture (there are over 600 preserved Victorian buildings here).

Make the most of your trip here by visiting in the warmer summer months to take advantage of water-based activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or whale-watching cruises. For land lovers, there's a lighthouse tour, or even beachfront yoga. Meanwhile, oenophiles will enjoy a visit to local wineries, including Cape May Winery, Jessie Creek Winery, and Willow Creek Winery.

Related: 7 Underrated Cities for Wine Lovers in the US

5. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Aerial view of Virginia Beach homes and Virginia Beach.
Residents and visitors to Virginia Beach have access to over 35 miles (56 kilometers) of beach.Photo Credit: John S. Quinn / Shutterstock

Virginia Beach caters to both adventure travel and those looking to relax.

As one of America’s most popular coastal cities, it’s no surprise that Virginia Beach offers something for every type of traveler, whether you’re all about adventure travel or relaxing near the water.

With over 35 miles (56 kilometers) of beaches, there are plenty of stretches of sand to build sandcastles, play a game of beach volleyball, or pick a soft spot to read a good book. There’s also a 3-mile-long (4.8-kilometer-long) boardwalk—a great place for a sunset stroll, jog, or bike ride, that is also (conveniently) teeming with seaside attractions and restaurants. Thrill-seekers and wildlife lovers should definitely sign up for a sunset dolphin kayaking tour, while art enthusiasts will love exploring the hip ViBe Creative District.

6. Biloxi, Mississippi

Colorful shrimp fishing boats docked in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Here, you'll find fresh seafood along with picturesque views.Photo Credit: CrackerClips Stock Media / Shutterstock

Biloxi is a foodie-favorite destination thanks to access to fresh seafood.

Located along the Gulf of Mexico, Biloxi is famous for its fresh seafood—especially shrimp—making it a popular Southern destination for foodies. Visitors can also climb to the top of the 65-foot-tall (20-meter-tall) Biloxi Lighthouse, erected in 1848, and take photos of the Instagram-worthy coastal views.

But beyond the 26 miles (42 kilometers) of sandy beaches, picture-worthy viewpoints, and notable shellfish, Biloxi is also home to The Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, where you can learn more about the city’s maritime history. Art enthusiasts can spend an afternoon wandering the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, which showcases works from Biloxi ceramist George E. Ohr in a building designed by none other than renowned architect Frank Gehry.

7. Newport Beach, California

Aerial view of Newport Beach, California.
The laid-back California lifestyle is on full display in Newport, CA.Photo Credit: Jaime Aguilar / Shutterstock

Newport Beach is home to the famous "Frozen Banana."

This coastal SoCal city, conveniently located between Los Angeles and San Diego in Orange County—still feels like a hidden gem (for now, at least) as most visitors flock to neighboring cities such as Huntington Beach or Laguna Beach. However, don’t sleep on Newport Beach, which boasts a hidden beach (Pirate’s Cove), a handful of tiny shops (including the aptly named Little Shop by the Sea), the Original Frozen Banana (a frozen banana dipped in chocolate), and even a cool speakeasy (Under CdM is the place to be).

The city also offers year-round sunny weather, 8 miles (13 kilometers) of beaches, and a wide array of shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. In between trips to the beach, explore Newport's best breweries, hop aboard a segway, cruise Newport Harbor via a floating tiki boat, and go whale-watching or boating—fun, popular activities for visitors and residents alike.

8. Newport, Rhode Island

Historic wooden houses in Newport, Rhode Island.
Known as the "Sailing Capital of the World," Newport is peak coastal chic.Photo Credit: Albert Pego / Shutterstock

If you're a fan of sailing, then a visit to Newport is an absolute must.

With its Gilded Age mansions, dozens of beaches, and a buzzy downtown area lined with locally-owned drinking, dining, and shopping options, Newport has been attracting visitors since its founding in 1639. Hop aboard a trolley and tour the massive mansions to see how the uber-wealthy used to live, savor boat-to-table cuisine on a culinary walking tour, and stroll the 3.5-mile (5.6-kilometer) Cliff Walk for panoramic ocean views.

Don’t miss cruising Ocean Drive (for free), where, for 10 miles (16 kilometers), you’ll see mansions, farms, state parks, and Gooseberry Beach—a favorite local hangout located in a cove perfect for swimming. And, since Newport is known as the "Sailing Capital of the World," it’s only fitting that you book a sightseeing cruise of Narragansett Bay.

9. Anacortes, Washington

Aerial view of Anacortes Marina, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
Anacortes is a bucket-list destination for outdoor enthusiasts.Photo Credit: jfergusonphotos / Shutterstock

From whale-watching to dog-friendly hikes, Anacortes has loads of options for outdoor adventures.

Think of the coastal city of Anacortes as the gateway to Washington’s San Juan Islands, where hiking, wildlife spotting, and adventure abound. From here, visitors can embark on bucket list–worthy excursions, including whale-watching cruises and guided kayaking tours to explore the calm waters of Bowman Bay. Other popular outdoor activities include boating in Washington Park and hiking in Mount Erie and Cap Sante Park.

If you prefer to stay on land, consider strolling the SHIP (Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve) trail, a leisurely, dog-friendly trek that winds through wetlands (bring binoculars to catch a glimpse of the birds here) and offers 2,000 feet (609 meters) of sandy beach. Alternatively, stroll through the downtown area to admire some of the 150-plus colorful murals created by Anacortes native Bill Mitchell.

10. Wilmington, North Carolina

View of Wilmington, North Carolina and its famous river walk.
The Wilmington Riverwalk, along the Cape Fear River, is a destination for both visitors and residents.Photo Credit: TK Edens / Shutterstock

Wilmington's Riverwalk is the city's biggest draw and one of its most picturesque spots.

This historic port city, along the Cape Fear River, makes for a fun-filled weekend getaway. Given Wilmington’s prime waterfront location, a scenic afternoon sailing is a must. Meanwhile, beer lovers can sign up for a half-day e-bike tour, which includes stops at some of the best craft breweries in Wilmington. Alternatively, if you and your crew prefer vino, check out this leisurely walking tour that features visits to local wine bars.

Looking for even more things to do in Wilmington? Don’t skip an architecture and history walking tour to learn more about the city, which has a vast Civil War and Antebellum history. Most recently, the city is famous for being a popular filming destination—you may recognize it from Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, and The Summer I Turned Pretty.

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