11 Small Coastal Towns in the United States To Visit This Year

The beach lover in me is already so tired of the overcrowded tourist hotspots.

If you’re the same, looking for a tranquil escape with all the charm of coastal living, we’re going to let you in on a little secret—the top 12 little coastal towns that are seriously underrated. These hidden gems might not be on your radar yet, but trust us. They deserve a spot on your travel bucket list.

There’s something magical about driving down winding streets lined with colorful cottages overlooking sparkling waters or strolling along quaint boardwalks that stretch on forever.

If you are tired of fighting for a spot on the beach to lay your beach towel or want to experience more of small-town USA, these small towns by the ocean are a great choice for your next vacation. 

1. Daufuskie Island, SC – Population 557

golf cart on daufuskie island
Image Credit: Haig Point / Daufuskie Island

The atmosphere on Daufuskie Island is reminiscent of a simpler time. Visitors can enjoy white sand beaches, ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss, and historical landmarks, creating a rural and nostalgic feel. Combined with million-dollar homes, championship golf courses, and private beach clubs, this barrier island is full of southern hospitality and low country charm. It is one of our personal favorite coastal small towns in America.

What to Do:

Learn about Gullah Culture and history by taking a guided tour, or if you prefer exploring on your own, you can visit historical sites along Rob Kennedy Trail. Stroll along Daufuskie Island’s unspoiled pristine beaches to escape from the crowds. Bloody Point has the best strip of white sand beach on the island. It’s also a place with historical significance, where the battle between Native Americans and European settlers took place.

Explore the Haig Point Lighthouse during its 150th Anniversary Celebrations. If you like golf, you are in for a treat. Haig Point Golf Club features a 29-hole golf course known for its spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been listed as one of the top 100 golf courses in the United States.

Where to Eat:

If you are staying on Haig Point, head to the Calibogue Club for an incredible dinner right on the beach. Old Daufuskie Crab House is conveniently located just next to the ferry when arriving on Daufuskie Island and is an island staple.

Where to Stay:

Book a memorable stay at the Haig Point Lighthouse or book one of the idyllic vacation rentals on Daufuskie Island.

2. Bodega Bay, CA – Population 1,110

view of bodega bay, ca
Image Credit: Sonoma County Tourism.

Just beyond Santa Rosa lies the charming town of Bodega Bay. Surrounded by the safety of a protective bay, this picturesque destination is a haven for adventurers seeking to immerse themselves in its scenic sights, captivating sounds, and thrilling activities.

Soak in the breathtaking ocean views while strolling along the cliffs of Bodega Head, a rugged outpost that’s also an ideal spot to catch migrating whales as they travel through the majestic Pacific Ocean. It’s a picture-perfect escape that will leave you feeling inspired and alive.

What to Do:

Find secret coves and beaches by paddling on a kayak during a guided tour. Discover your inner Beach Bum by taking surfing lessons from Bodega Bay Surf Shack. Catch your own dinner on one of the local charter fishing cruises.

Head north on coastal Highway 1, and you’ll pass public yet protected beaches that are part of the Sonoma Coast State Park. Head south and driving just a few miles inland, you’ll reach the tiny town of Bodega. This was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, The Birds, which still gives viewers a temporary case of ornithophobia 50 years after its release

Where to Eat:

For those who are taking out their own boats, Fisherman’s Cove offers fishing tackle, picnic supplies, fresh seafood — especially oysters — and chowders. If you want to sit and be served, a good meal with a great view can be found at Drakes Sonoma Coast.

Where to Stay:

The Lodge at Bodega Bay is an elegant inn on four coastal acres perched above Doran Beach.

3. Anna Maria Island, FL – Population 1,023

beach on anna maria island
Image Credit: Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Escape to paradise at Anna Maria Island in Florida’s beautiful Bradenton area. This seven-mile stretch of breathtaking white sand beaches and stunning views will transport you straight to the Caribbean. Get ready to be inspired by the island’s pristine natural beauty and unspoiled surroundings.

What to Do:

If you don’t want to just sit and soak in the sun, there’s plenty to explore – from Historic Bridge Street shopping to kayaking through the mangroves. You can stay on the go with bike rentals, hike nature preserves, or take a dolphin tour or a sunset boat tour.

Where to Eat:

Set up a luxury picnic to enjoy directly on the beach, or dine in at the Sandbar for beachfront views.

Where to Stay:

Located on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, just south of Tampa and St. Pete, visitors can stay at the Seaside at Anna Maria Island Inn (beachfront) or Joie Inn (one block from the beach and with a heated, year-round pool).

4. Lewes, DE – Population 2,747

lighthouse in Lewes, delaware
Image credit: Courtesy of VisitSouthernDelaware.com.

Discover the timeless charm of Lewes, a picturesque town founded by the Dutch in 1631. With a New England atmosphere, this historic gem invites you to explore its enchanting streets. It boasts sandy beaches along both Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and a plethora of accommodations await you in the heart of downtown and its surrounding area.

What to Do:

Visitors will enjoy the beaches, shopping (tax-free in Delaware!), dining in their choice of the town’s fabulous Culinary Coast restaurants, and attending the award-winning Historic Lewes Farmers Market. Guided walking tours of downtown feature the town’s incredible history, while water tours abound on the Delaware Bay, Lewes-Rehoboth Canal, and Broadkill River.

Explore Cape Henlopen State Park – a 5,000+ acre park with gorgeous trails, beaches, and lighthouses, and a fascinating museum and artillery park created from a WWII fort. And that’s just for starters.

Where to Eat:

Hungry visitors have lots of great dining options to choose from, but Harbor Restaurant at Canal Square is perfect for delectable dining and gorgeous water views.

Where to Stay:

Those looking for accommodations will love The Inn at Canal Square, a beautiful property located adjacent to the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and just a block from the center of town.

5. Nags Head, NC – Population 3,200

view of Nags Head, NC
Image Credit: Credit VisitNC.com.

Join the adventure of “Outer Banks” on Netflix and discover the charm of Nags Head. This hidden gem located on North Carolina’s northern coast boasts idyllic fishing piers, majestic dunes, and authentic family-owned businesses that will make your heart sing. It’s one of the best coastal small towns to explore this year.

What to Do:

Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home of the tallest dune on the East Coast, invites nature exploration, kite flying, and soaring with the world’s largest hang-gliding school, while the waves near wind-powered Jennette’s Pier are a magnet for surfers.

Just north at Kill Devil Hills, the interactive experience at Wright Brothers National Memorial instills the belief that anything’s possible. Near the entrance to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, travelers can climb the historic Bodie Island Lighthouse for breathtaking views and a glimpse of history.

Where to Eat:

Blue Moon Beach Grill is a perfect place for fresh-caught seafood and Southern comfort food with a measure of creative flair. Try the Fried Green Tomato & Shrimp Napoleon.

Where to Stay:

Surf Side Hotel is a family-owned hotel with ocean views and a 2022 Travelers’ Choice award to its credit.

6. Southport, NC – Population 4,124

marina at Southport, NC
Image Credit: NC’s Brunswick Islands.

Discover the tranquil beauty of Southport, NC – America’s Happiest Seaside Town! Nestled in the Brunswick Islands, this quaint 2.2 square mile haven is steeped in rich history and famous film settings.

From its charming downtown to its breathtaking beachfront, Southport is the ultimate destination for families and couples seeking a laid-back coastal retreat. Relax, unwind, and soak up the southern charm – you’ll want to return year after year.

What to Do:

A favorite activity among visitors is exploring the numerous movie scenes that have been filmed in the town from movies like “Safe Haven” and “A Walk to Remember.” Walk through the celebrities’ footsteps and see their old shooting grounds with this guide.

At the end of Howe Street, visitors will find a 9-acre park that beautifully borders the Intracoastal Waterway. Southport Waterfront Park offers a peaceful spot to watch boats move through the Cape Fear River and is lined with benches for visitors to simply stop and appreciate the scenery.

Where to Eat:

Enjoy the fresh seafood brought in by fishermen at waterfront restaurants like Fishy Fishy or Edgewater 122, serving up everything from creative, elevated dishes to classic seafood platters.

Where to Stay:

Those looking to dive into local history while enjoying traditional yet luxurious surroundings will be thrilled with options in Southport, including the Riverview Inn and the famed Robert Ruark Inn.

7. Edenton, NC – Population 4,400

vintage car driving in edenton, nc
Image Credit: Visit North Carolina.

Imagine yourself strolling along the banks of the magnificent Albemarle, the largest freshwater sound in the United States. In the heart of this stunning scenery lies Edenton – a picturesque Colonial-era capital that will take your breath away. Its rich history and architecture dating back to the 1700s, have been beautifully preserved, allowing you to step back in time and experience a world untouched by the ravages of the Civil War.

What to Do:

Tree-lined streets and gardens run through the town, which can be explored by trolley or water as well as on foot. A visual feast that includes harbor views complete with bald cypress trees draped in moss, the postcard-perfect 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse, and a 1767 courthouse that exemplifies the finest in public Georgian architecture. The home of Penelope Barker, whose Edenton Tea Party is celebrated as America’s first recorded political demonstration, is open to the public as a historic waterfront house.

Where to Eat:

The Herringbone on the Waterfront is an ambitious fine-dining restaurant that opened in 2022 in a restored Edenton property that dates to the 1890s.

Where to Stay:

The Inner Banks Inn & Restaurant occupies 2.75 acres in the Edenton Historic District with accommodations in a Southern Victorian mansion and three other structures. A stay comes with a three-course breakfast.

8. Lincoln City, OR – Population 9,815

aerial view of Lincoln City, OR
Image Credit: Explore Lincoln City.

Discover the allure of Lincoln City, a picturesque coastal town just two hours from Portland. Marvel at the breathtaking sandy beaches and explore enchanting tide pools. Embrace the tranquility of miles of serene evergreen forests.

What to Do:

Lincoln City regularly hosts engaging events, including art walks, fresh-catch feasts, kite festivals, and community scavenger hunts for glass floats. It’s hard to beat the sunsets here as you watch the sun dip below the sea and try to glimpse the famous green flash.

Where to Eat:

Lincoln City has plenty of stellar eateries, but Otis Cafe is a fantastic representation of Oregon’s coastal dining. A historic restaurant that was rebuilt in a new location after the original burned down, Otis Cafe offers classic diner food like burgers and biscuits and gravy, as well as Oregon dishes like Pacific rockfish sandwiches and marionberry pie.

Where to Stay:

For accommodations, the Anchor Inn Resort is an excellent choice. Located a short jaunt from the beach, this charming, pet-friendly lodge is the oldest hotel in Lincoln City.

9. Stuart, FL – Population 17,425

Sailfish-statue-at-downtown-Stuart-Martin-County
Image Credit: Martin County Office of Tourism & Marketing.

Discover an aquatic paradise perfect for beachgoers and thrill-seekers alike. Stuart is located on the tranquil banks of the St. Lucie River and is known for being the “Sailfish Capital of the World,” with abundant sailfish just off its uncrowded beaches. Stuart offers the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Orlando and Miami. Explore this charming town adorned with sailfish statues, murals, and official insignias, and revel in its serene landscape.

Stuart has been named “America’s Happiest Seaside Town” by Coastal Living Magazine, “America’s Most Beautiful Small Town” by Smithsonian Magazine, and was even named the number one “Great Places in Florida Award” winner by the American Planning Association.

What to Do:

Stuart’s calendar of events is always changing, with free open-air music concerts along the Riverwalk Stage every weekend and countless holiday celebrations, art festivals, and parades throughout the year.

Catch a live show at the iconic Lyric Theatre, a former silent movie from the 1920s, or peruse the Market on Main farmer’s market every Sunday. Visitors can also explore the numerous galleries and museums, like the Stuart Heritage Museum, the Court House Cultural Center, the Road to Victory Military Museum, and the Elliott Museum.

Where to Eat:

There’s no shortage of amazing waterfront restaurants and upscale eateries in Historic Downtown Stuart, but a popular choice is Sailor’s Return.

Where to Stay:

For an unforgettable stay, book a room or full vacation home from the Old Colorado Inn, nestled in the heart of Downtown Stuart.

10. Lake Forest, IL – Population 19,367

view of Lake Forest, IL
Image Credit: The City of Lake Forest.

Experience the charming and affluent neighborhood of Lake Forest, IL, situated on the scenic shores of Lake Michigan, just 40 minutes outside of Chicago. Its population of nearly 20,000 residents offers the perfect weekend escape for city dwellers seeking a peaceful retreat. Conveniently accessible via Chicago’s Metra line, Lake Forest is the ultimate destination for a tranquil getaway with all the amenities of a city at your fingertips.

What to Do:

An idyllic summer escape, highlights include an afternoon at the Chicago Botanic Garden, a gin tasting at Koval Distillery, and exploring the locally-owned shops in Historic Market Square.

 Where to Eat:

Le Colonial is a celebration of the seductive spirit and vivid flavors reminiscent of Saigon in the 1920s.

Where to Stay:

Book a long weekend at the award-winning Deer Path Inn, a 57-room boutique hotel established in 1929 that is reminiscent of an English manor house.

11. New Smyrna Beach, FL – Population 30,142

flagler street in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Image Credit: New Smyrna Beach Area Visitor’s Bureau

New Smyrna Beach, a cheery beachside community on Florida’s Atlantic coast, offers 17 miles of hard-packed seashore that welcome surfers, sunbathers, runners, cyclists, and visitors all year round.

The area features flourishing locally-owned eateries, breweries, historic districts, arts communities, eclectic shops, and more. New Smyrna Beach is also known as Florida’s surfing capital, where visitors can watch experts in the water or take a class to learn the skill for themselves! Beach adventurers will also enjoy dolphin watching or a kayak along the Indian River to look for manatees in this coastal small town.

Where to Eat:

Centrally located on Flagler Avenue, Third Wave Café & Wine Bar is well-loved for its signature brunch, dinner, and specialty espresso drinks. This café is a standout fixture in the New Smyrna Beach culinary scene.

Where to Stay:

Housed in a beautifully renovated 1.5-acre riverfront estate, Victoria 1883 offers expansive gardens and individually designed rooms. Guests will be dazzled by bold ceilings and colors, modern accents, and curated art that characterize this upscale, relaxing retreat.

 


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Travel Writer at Savoteur | + posts

Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.