Boardwalks, Beaches, and Bon Fires: The Best Beach Destinations in the Northeastern United States

by Eileen Strauss on May 01, 2022


Northeast US Beaches

The United States is home to thousands of beautiful beaches nestled along over 12,000 miles of coastline.  From the east coast to the west and everywhere in between, you’ll find a beach that matches your vibe. 

While the western half of the country has some of the most popular and magnificent beaches on earth, the 2,000 miles along the Atlantic coastline has some of the best beaches in the world.  Not as widely known, the east coast has beaches and boardwalks that are quintessentially American. 

Providing countless activities, from surfing to snorkeling, picnicking to people watching, and fishing to Ferris wheels, the settings are stunning and the entertainment is endless. 

And even if you only have a day or weekend to spare, these stretches of sand guarantee a great getaway.

While there’s more than we could possibly list, we’ve compiled what we think are the top 20 best beaches on the east coast.  


Ocean City, New Jersey Beach



#1 Ocean City, New Jersey


Founded by a group of Methodist ministers as a Christian summer resort town in 1879, Ocean City is one of the Jersey Shore's quieter communities. A ban on alcohol adds to the unique appeal of this beach town and earns it the title of "America's Greatest Family Resort." 


Less than 2 hours from Philadelphia and 3 hours by car from NYC. Amtrak and buses also take you from Jersey City, Trenton, Philly, and Newark.


Ocean City Boardwalk



Things to do


  • Relax at the Beach 

  • Boardwalk: Miniature golf, arcades, rides, and great boardwalk food like pizza, frozen custard, salt water taffies, and fudge. 

  • Casinos 


Where to stay

Affordable houses, from small beach cottages to large Victorian homes for families of all sizes, Airbnb vacation rentals,  hotels, and motels for all budgets sit within easy reach of the shore. 



Beach tags are required for visitors over age 12. Seasonal:$25; weekly:$10; daily: $5.



Hampton Beach




#2 Hampton Beach, Hampton, New Hampshire



Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Hampton Beach has been popular with visitors since the 1840s. Popular for watersports, swimming, and sunbathing, visitors can also enjoy the area’s casinos and restaurants. Hampton Beach is also home to a marine life research center and Sea Shell Stage.

Squarely situated on a small strip of New Hampshire coastal land, the 18 mile-long Hampton Beach  is known for its family-friendly atmosphere mixed with college revelers. An eclectic mix of bikinis and babies, Hampton Beach is more than just a beach; it is a destination, offering a great mix of family-friendly fun and party crowd entertainment. 

A long, wide, white sandy beach with a surf that varies from gentle to surfable. Plant your chair in the surf line and let the cool, refreshing water tickle your toes as the surf rolls in and out.

The water can be cold. It rarely breaks 70 degrees even in August. Only the hardiest of swimmers will attempt a long swim. However, the surf by the shore is fun to chase, boogie board, and wade into.


Things to do


  • Surfing.  

  • Blue Ocean Discovery Center

  • Walk The Boardwalk.  

  • Arcades, Mini Golf, And More.  


Where to stay

There are vacation rentals, quaint motels, and several campsites available within a short distance from the beach. 



No entrance fee or beach tags are required. 



East Hampton Beaches


#3 Main Beach, East Hampton, New York


Each summer, thousands of  New Yorkers pack their bags and leave the hustle and bustle of Manhattan to spend their weekends in beautiful East Hampton. About 3 hours from the city, East Hampton provides miles of scenic beach to ride bicycles, kayaks, and canoes; bask in the sun; enjoy fine dining al fresco, sunbathe, or enjoy a clambake.  East Hampton is also home to a number of wineries offering tours and tastings.

Popular Main Beach is not just a superb piece of coastline, but it’s a popular place to spot celebrities. Owned by the Long Island Village, Main Beach is renowned for its clean beach with soft sands and clear water, making it the perfect escape from the city.

A 2 ½ to 4-hour ride from Manhattan, depending on when you leave the city, traffic can be a problem at high-peak hours in the summer.  To avoid the traffic nightmares, there are bus services available.  


Things to do: 

  • Relax at the beach

  • Bicycling

  • Surf 

  • Stand-up paddleboarding

  • Kayaking

  • Yoga and workouts

  • Cycling trips through the backroads


Where to stay:

Inns, lodges, and vacation rentals are everywhere, but the price ranges are vast. Airbnb has a huge selection of beachfront cottages and mansions available and there are a variety of quaint inns lining Main Street, named the most beautiful main street in America. 

Pet Parents should check out  East Hampton Point Resort and The Maidstone Hotel.  



During the summer, all beaches in East Hampton require a permit. ($400 for non-residents, $375 for non-residents). Parking $25. 


Martha's Vinyard




#4 Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts


Hawaii may take all the credit, but the northeastern corner of the US  is home to many picturesque islands like Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. 

Only 40 minutes from New England, this charming island offers  white sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, iconic lighthouses, fresh seafood, and a truly laid-back vibe.  

Accessible by passenger or vehicle ferry or plane, Steamship Authority is a fast and economical way to get to the island, taking about 45 minutes.  


Things to do


  • Swimming

  • Golf

  • Hiking

  • Tennis

  • Kayaking

  • Windsurfing

  • Boating

  • Horseback riding

  • Fitness training 

  • Art classes,  

  • Martha’s Vineyard Museum

  • Lighthouse tours

  • Kite flying


Where to stay

Whether you’re looking for a luxurious hotel or a romantic or family spot, you can find it on Martha’s Vineyard with more than 80 lodging options, (and no chain hotels), each providing an authentic Island experience. 



Passenger ferry: $8.50 

Vehicle ferry: Standard vehicles: $81 


Asbsury Park, New Jersey


#5 Asbury Park Beach, New Jersey




Just 2 hours from Philadelphia and New York, Asbury Park, located in North-central New Jersey, miles of eye-catching shoreline and endless entertainment make this Jersey shore gem an adventure lover's paradise. From swimming to surfing, boardwalk rides to chilling in the sand, families and kids of all ages will enjoy a day, weekend, or season in Asbury Park.


Things to do


  • Surfing

  • Swimming

  • Boating

  • Fishing

  • Water sports

  • Antique shopping

  • Boardwalk arcades, mini golf,  and rides


Where to stay


A multitude of motels, hotels, inns, and vacation rentals are available and budget-friendly. 



Beach tags: $5 weekdays; $7 weekends and holidays. Children 12 and younger are free. Seasonal badges: $70.



Cape May, New Jersey



#6 Cape May, New Jersey



Less than 48 miles south of Atlantic City,  Cape May, the country's oldest seaside resort is a popular New Jersey beach destination. This charming, walkable town along the Jersey Shore has a historic district that's been designated a National Historic Landmark, boasting more than 600 preserved and authentically restored Victorian buildings.  


Things to do:


  • Relax at the beach 

  • Antique shopping

  • Historic house tours

  • Carriage rides

  • Outdoor concerts

  • Golf 

  • Whale watching

  • Surfing

  • Skim boarding   



Where to stay


With a year-round population of 4,700, Cape May welcomes upward of 40,000 visitors at its hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations on some summer weekends. Quaint beach cottages and Victorian homes are widely available and affordable for just about every price point. 



Beach tags are required for ages 12 and over. Seasonal: $30,  Daily: $8; weekly: $20.






#7 Nantucket, Massachusetts



Dog friendly Nantucket is an iconic New England escape with sloping cobblestone streets, pink lady’s slipper orchids, and glowing Christmas trees floating on boats in December,  with rare species like the double-crested cormorant and piping plover gather abundant on the shore, Nantucket is a world-class destination, ideal for kicking back. 


Easily accessible by plane from most Northeast airports, Nantucket is also accessible via a relaxed ferry from Martha’s Vineyard or a six-hour ferry from NYC. Much more than just a summer town, Nantucket is a beauty in winter, fall, and spring. 


Not a place where you go, go, go Nantucket is a place to slow down. You’ll need a permit and a 4 x 4 to get there, but once you do, there are miles of spectacular coastline, a lighthouse.


Things to do


  • Birdwatching  

  • Walk the charming streets in town, among steepled churches and buildings with weathered gray shingles.  

  • Beaches:


Jetties Beach: A place for a do-nothing day,  Jetties is accessible and stress-free with open-air restaurants, changing stations,  showers, volleyball nets, and a playground.

Surfside Beach:  A little further out on the south of the island and accessible via a bike path,  Surfside attracts beachcombers all day, kite flyers as the sun goes down, and fishing in the evening.


Where to stay


The hotel landscape on Nantucket is distinguished by plenty of posh stays and B ‘n B’s offering fine dining, breakfasts, and all the charm you’d expect in NewEngland.



Block Island


#8 Block Island, Rhode Island



Only a short ferry ride from the mainland, Block Island offers the quintessential island experience. Fine dining, boutique-lined streets, spectacular natural sights, and some of the most unspoiled white sand beaches in the country.   


Hold the handrail as you descend 200 feet to rocky, picturesque Mohegan Bluffs, hop on a bike or moped and get exploring charming streets, dramatic cliffs, quiet beaches, and pristine nature trails. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Montauk on Long Island.


Known for its 17 miles of beaches, including tranquil Mansion Beach, teen-friendly Scotch Beach, and Surf Beach, a favorite for snorkeling, Block Island is an island paradise and one of the best-kept-secrets in the nation.


A no-car commune,  more than half of the island is preserved, making it great for birding, biking and walking. A great place  to unplug, Block Island has been designated "one of the 12 last great places in the Western Hemisphere.


Visitors can take a ferry to Block Island from Narragansett, Newport, Rhode Island, New London, Connecticut; and Montauk, New York.


Things to do


  • Andy’s Way: If you’re into clamming, or just a pleasant stroll, this is your spot. It’s a large crescent of sandy beach on the pond side, protected from the wind and with no waves, so it’s good for little kids. A great place for clamming, it’s also a good spot to launch a kayak into Great Salt Pond. 
  • Baby Beach:  A well-sheltered beach with gentle waves and less rocks than the rest of Crescent Beach,  it’s the best place for babies and young children. 
  • Ballard’s Beach is a Block Island tradition, with a hotel and an oceanfront restaurant, tiki bars, live music, beach volleyball, and delicious food, staffed with lifeguards in the summer. 


Where to stay


Too cool for sites like Expedia, Block Island's best rooms can only be booked directly with the hotels, inns, and bed and breakfasts.