The 14 Most Talked-About Coastal Towns In The US

Across the digital realm, tastemakers, travel experts, and those who simply love the country's coastlines often carefully consider what coastal towns they'd rate the highest in America. Born from scouring travel recommendations and reviews from across the internet, this list of places to visit along U.S. coastlines includes some of the most talked-about coastal towns in the U.S., each proving popular for its scenery, attractions, and undeniable charm.

Whether you'd like to set out on a whale-watching tour, soak up the local surf scene, or immerse yourself in pockets of history and culture found along the shores of the United States, these coastal locales offer a variety of experiences. If you'd like to plan a beach trip to one of the most popular coastal towns in America, read on to find out where you can go on a dune buggy tour, travelerblog Gilded Age landmarks, or enjoy different types of watersports. 

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Sandy shores backed by Monterey cypress form the crescent-like beach of Carmel-by-the-Sea. This small beach city, known as an artist retreat since its official incorporation in 1916, on California's Monterey Peninsula charms visitors with its fairytale cottages among other defining characteristics. Owing to its artistic heritage, the town is now home to an abundance of galleries, such as Carmel Fine Art Gallery, showcasing a diversity of artworks from across California and beyond.

Joining these many galleries, in addition to many boutiques, is the vibrant restaurant scene and the town's wine-tasting rooms, which you can discover on the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Walk. Of the standout restaurants here, it's worth trying the Michelin-rated, Oaxaca-inspired Cultura restaurant, neighborhood bistro La Bicyclette, and contemporary fine dining spot Aubergine. The rest of your time can be spent visiting sites like the 1770-built Carmel Mission, outdoors on Carmel Beach, and hiking around the scenic coastline. There are over 40 hotels and inns to choose from within the walkable coastal retreat.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Friday Harbor sits on the eastern shore of San Juan Island, which is the second largest of the 172 islands occupying the northernmost stretch of the Puget Sound between the Washington State mainland and Vancouver Island in Canada. This small, heritage-rich town charms visitors with its friendly restaurants and shops, alongside sites such as The Whale Museum, the San Juan Historical Museum, and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, which are all within walking distance of the ferry landing.

Make the most of the scenic surroundings by renting a bicycle, joining a whale-watching tour, taking a kayaking excursion, or teeing off at San Juan Golf & Tennis Club. Try locally sourced products like fresh oysters, tempting ciders, and local beers by visiting local hotspots such as Madrone Cellars & Ciders, San Juan Island Brewing Company, and the restaurant Oystertale. There are several characterful places to stay in Friday Harbor and its surroundings, including the popular waterfront hotel, Friday Harbor House.

Florence, Oregon

This small city at the mouth of the Siuslaw River provides visitors access to the famed sea lion caves and scenic coastal trails. Florence's historic old town is filled with shops and galleries to peruse, and you can spend days exploring the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Take a ride at the sandboarding park, go on a dune buggy tour, horseback ride across the dunes, through the forests, and along the beach, or hike along trails leading to the 19th-century Heceta Head Lighthouse. After exploring, the Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint is also a popular picnic spot. 

A highlight of visiting this area is the chance to visit America's largest sea cave, which is home to hundreds of Steller sea lions. An elevator takes you 200 feet down into the cave and its viewing area. Around Florence, rolling sand dunes and miles of beach meet the sea, where you can spot migrating whales off the coastline. From March to June and mid-December to mid-January, in particular, whales pass these scenic shores.

St. Augustine, Florida

Historic St. Augustine, said to be the nation's oldest city, is home to a wealth of cultural attractions, from forts to Gilded Age hotels and a lighthouse. Joining these heritage sites are the coastal area's sandy beaches (ideal for watersports), a protected wildlife sanctuary, and a series of scenic nature trails. Historical sites abound here, with particular areas of interest including the architecturally impressive Flagler College, and the oldest city's oldest walkway, Alives Street.

Museums such as the Lightner Museum, which was the former Gilded Age Hotel Alcazar, provide an even greater cultural immersion. You can also visit national monuments such as Fort Matanzas, which tells the story of St. Augustine's founding, and climb to the top of St. Augustine Lighthouse, also home to a maritime museum. Try the local produce at an array of inviting restaurants throughout town, including waterfront seafood options. Depending on your preference, you can choose to stay at one of the town's many inviting inns, opt for modern beachside accommodations, or check into a historic resort.

Ogunquit, Maine

Reflecting its name Ogunquit, which in the language of the Algonquin Indians means "beautiful place by the sea," this is a picturesque corner of New England that is especially lively in summer. This town on Maine's southern coast is distinguished by its three-mile beach, which stretches along a sandy peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River, and its charming clapboard houses.

The scenic Marginal Way cliff walk, starting in Ogunquit and ending at Perkins Cove, takes you along the rocky coastline to a small lighthouse overlooking Ogunquit Beach. While kayaking is another option for exploring around Ogunquit, the walkable town is filled with places to shop and eat, with several cultural sites to travelerblog, too, such as The Ogunquit Museum of American Art and the Ogunquit Heritage Museum. Perkins Cove, at the end of Marginal Way, is also home to a number of shops and restaurants, as well as a working dock.

Avalon, California

This historic seaside town backing Avalon Bay on Santa Catalina Island abounds with opportunities for land and ocean exploration. The town is known for attracting everyone from presidents to Hollywood stars and offers a wealth of hotels and restaurants, including the popular beachside restaurant and bar, Descanso Beach Club. Other popular highlights include the Catalina Island Museum for Art & History, the Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Gardens, and the Catalina Casino.

For water adventure, you can kayak, snorkel, or standup paddleboard by visiting Descanso Beach Ocean Sports, Casino Point Dive Park, or Lover's Cove Marine Reserve. For something a bit more unique, you could also go on a ziplining adventure with a Catalina Island Zip Line Eco Tour. If you'd prefer to stay on land, Catalina Island Company offers tours of local attractions while giving insight into the surroundings. Hotels in Avalon include the harbor- and ocean-view Catalina Island Inn, which is located in town, and Catalina Canyon Inn overlooking the town from the island's foothills.

Port Townsend, Washington

A Victorian seaport with a famed arts community in Washington State, Port Townsend combines a historic downtown waterfront district with year-round cultural happenings in a picturesque setting. The small city lies on the Quimper Peninsula of Jefferson County, with Discovery Bay, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Admiralty Inlet on three of its sides, allowing visitors to take in views of the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges. 

The city with a storied maritime heritage still celebrates its boating roots. You can discover this rich history at sites like the Jefferson Museum of Art & History and historic buildings such as the 1868-built Rothschild House. You can also follow the city's Chetzemoka Trail to learn about the S'Klallam people who lived in the village of qatáy before it was known as Port Townsend. 

This coastal retreat also has miles of beaches and trails to travelerblog, with opportunities to get out on the water by kayak or on whale-watching tours. Get to know the city's creative side on the monthly Art Walk, and dive into the town's culinary diversity by visiting some of its restaurants, which offer both local and international cuisine.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

The small coastal city of Cannon Beach, previously named one of the "21 Best Beaches in the World" by National Geographic, draws attention for its long, sandy shores and Haystack Rock, which is frequented seasonally by tufted puffins. The community is also celebrated for its nearby oceanside trails and the boutiques and galleries of downtown. For wildlife enthusiasts, opportunities abound for bird and marine life sightings. 

You can see a variety of seabirds, including eagles, from the shores, woodlands, wetlands, and estuaries of this wildlife-rich coastal area. You can also spot seals and sea lions along the coast, the gray whales that migrate past these shores twice annually, and the Roosevelt elk that roam the forests and meadows at Ecola State Park. You can also hike the trails through areas such as Ecola Creek Forest Reserve to view wildlife. 

In town, hop between the specialty stores to delve into what makes Cannon Beach a hub for the arts. You can find art galleries throughout town, and many artisans, such as glassblowers, welcome visitors into their studios. Arts festivals take place throughout the year, and Cannon Beach is also considered one of the best budget-friendly beaches in the Pacific Northwest.

Newport Beach, California

Newport Beach is popular for its boat-filled harbor, two piers, beaches, and the entertainment park Balboa Fun Zone, which features a waterfront Ferris wheel. Located in Orange County, these sandy shores draw visitors for both swimming and surf culture. Within its 10 miles of coastline, the Corona del Mar State Beach is popular for swimming, while the Wedge is known far and wide for its waves. Surf schools are also found along the waterfront, and you can travelerblog these waters further with a fishing charter or kayak rental. 

On land, navigate the 10.5-mile Bay Bay Loop Trail, frequented by joggers, cyclists, and birders, around the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. Traveler Blog the four-mile Lower Newport Bay to get to know the shops and restaurants of this area, which is also home to the Balboa Fun Zone. Discover more of Newport Beach by seeking out sites like the historic Dory Fleet Fish Market, which first opened in 1891, and the Orange County Museum of Art

Cape May, New Jersey

The historic seaside resort of Cape May sits at the tip of the Cape May Peninsula in southern New Jersey. Owing to its rich history, this waterfront city stands out for its grand Victorian houses, including the Emlen Physick Estate, which is now a museum, along with its seafront promenade. The entire community is a National Historic Landmark, so you may want to opt for a trolley tour to take in key sites.

Don't miss a visit to Cape May Lighthouse where a climb up 199 steps will be rewarded with views over Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The city's sandy shores are made up of a series of distinct beaches. You can rent a surfboard or parasail from the beach or kayak and paddleboard through the inland salt marshes. To fully immerse into the city, find a restaurant with ocean views for a taste of the local seafood and stay in a historic hotel like the landmark Virginia Hotel.

San Clemente, California

San Clemente in Orange County is known as "The Spanish Village by the Sea." It's fringed with miles of sandy coastline that's home to renowned surf sites. A scenic beach trail connects North Beach and Calafia Beach, while the long San Clemente Pier stretches out into the Pacific Ocean, offering visitors the chance to sample fresh seafood at the pier's popular restaurants.

While you're in San Clemente, seek out sites such as the Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens, which showcases the city's Spanish-style architecture in a picturesque setting overlooking San Clemente Pier, and take a stroll down Avenida del Mar to discover the town's many boutique stores. You'll also find public and private golf courses in and around the area. San Clemente has several accommodation options to choose between, and many place you within steps of the pier and beach. There are also a number of breweries, wine bars, and restaurants to visit throughout the seaside community.

Newport, Rhode Island

The city of Newport, set on Aquidneck Island in the state of Rhode Island, is famed for its yacht-filled harbor (it hosts the America's Cup) and Gilded Age mansions, as well as its beaches, 3.5-mile cliff walk, and an excellent food scene, which is enhanced by wineries and breweries. Delve into the history of this 1639-founded New England seaside city by visiting the mansions from the Gilded Age, such as The Breakers, or take in the centuries-old architecture and cobblestone streets on a trolley tour.

Set aside enough time to while away a few hours on Easton's (First) Beach, which marks the beginning of the Cliff Walk, and venture further to the many other beaches in the Newport area. Considered one of the sailing capitals of the world, Newport is also a prime spot for getting out on the water, as several operators offer various types of cruises. For restaurants, galleries, and boutiques, head to Bowen's Wharf, a popular waterfront dining and shopping destination, and be sure to visit the breweries and vineyards that dot the coastal areas.

Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

This lively vineyard town on the island of Martha's Vineyard draws attention for its 1800s gingerbread cottages, the Flying Horses Carousel, which is the oldest operating carousel in the U.S., and the restaurants around Oak Bluffs Harbor. To find out more about Oak Bluffs' famed gingerbread cottages, which are found within the Oak Bluffs Campground and its surrounding streets, pay a visit to the Cottage City Museum. Then, stroll along the harbor, which features restaurants, bars, and watersports operators, or take a scenic walk along the North Bluff seawall.

In the summertime, head to the Oak Bluffs beaches, which include the convenient Oak Bluffs Town Beach (also known as Inkwell Beach), calm Joseph Sylvia State Beach, and Eastville Beach between Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. To visit the town's restaurants, bars, and boutiques, take a walk along Circuit Avenue. Inviting hotel options in this coastal town and the surrounding area range from characterful inns to high-end waterfront stays.

Montauk, New York

The enduring appeal of this village at "The End" of the Long Island peninsula could be attributed to its beaches, which are known for strong Atlantic surf, the historic lighthouse at Montauk Point State Park, activities like sailing, and its vibrant restaurant scene. This coastal retreat pairs its rugged landscape and pristine shores with plentiful opportunities for watersports and a village that's filled with seafood restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops.

A landmark in this picturesque area is, of course, Montauk Point Lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse built in New York. Watersports enthusiasts can surf, sail, kayak, and kitesurf, among other sports, or dive beneath the surface by scuba diving at the popular Montauk dive spot, H.M.S. Culloden. Due to its enticing restaurants, welcoming bars, upscale resorts, and beachfront houses, Montauk continues to be a popular New York summer and fall vacation spot.


This list of coastal towns across the United States highlights some of the most popular beach retreats found along the nation's breathtaking shores. The search for the most talked-about villages, towns, and small cities in these coastal areas began with a web-wide investigation into which places were considered by consensus to be the most coveted.

In our list of standout coastal towns, we then strived to explain why people consistently choose to travel to these port- and beachside getaways, highlighting some of the most notable sites and activities of each waterside locale. From renowned surf retreats to historic seaside resort towns, each location is distinguished by its unique attributes, offering a diversity of experiences in spectacular environments. If you're looking for spots that aren't as "talked about," check out the 10 most underrated beach towns in the U.S.