Best Small Beach Towns in the U.S.
The beach has the power to heal and recharge you, which is why so many of us look to it when dreaming about our next escape.
There are big beach getaways like Miami or Myrtle Beach that provide sand and saltwater with a side of flashy nightlife. But sometimes you want to replace the noise of traffic with beach waves breaking against the shore. Small beach towns are the best place to do this.
These are the best beach towns in the U.S. with fewer than 10,000 people, from most to least populous. So you can decide just how remote you want to go.
What to Do in Gulf Shores
All beach towns have beaches, but not all also have a 28-mile state park with various ecosystems, sand dunes and wetlands.
We encourage you to spend at least some time hiking in one of Gulf Shores' various trails.
Hike or golf in the morning and then refresh at the beach in the afternoon.
29. Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Where to stay: Antique coastal farm on Airbnb
Best thing: See the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S. at Fort Williams State Park.
What to Do in Cape Elizabeth
This small Maine town is the perfect beach location for those who want a summer in the sand without crowds or suffocating temperatures.
Sure, the sand here won’t be as soft as in other parts of the country, and the water will be cooler, but that might just be your thing.
When you’re not enjoying the water, head to the town’s various lighthouses or enjoy fresh seafood at a local restaurant.
28. Anna Maria Island, Florida
Where to stay: Cedar Cove Resort & Cottages
Best thing: Bike to Bean Point to catch the sunset on a secluded beach.
What to Do in Anna Maria Island
If you want peacefulness and laid-back vibes, skip the crowded Miami Beach and go to Anna Maria Island.
Located on the beautiful Gulf Coast, the island is about 40 minutes from Tampa and is your typical Florida beach town, complete with colorful washed-out houses and seaside ice cream shacks.
If you want to engage in some active beach activities, there are several points where you can rent a kayak or go snorkeling.
27. Sanibel Island, Florida
Where to stay: West Wind Island Resort
Best thing: Visit the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
What to Do in Sanibel Island
Even many Floridians have never been to this quiet and secluded beach town, which is about 30 minutes from Naples on the southern Gulf Coast.
You won’t find much to do outside the beach, but if what you want is to have beautiful soft-sand beaches where you can hear the sound of the birds and the waves, this is the place for you.
The island also has several nature refuges, so birding enthusiasts and hikers also tend to love it.
26. Rockport, Massachusetts
Where to stay: Yankee Clipper Inn
Best thing: Head to Thatcher Island to see its historic lighthouse and bird sanctuary.
What to Do in Rockport
If you like beaches but don't mind chilly waters and are in love with the quintessential New England small-town aesthetic, head to Rockport.
This pretty little town is located in Cape Ann and offers a scenic waterfront, a historic town center and, of course, lighthouses — would a town even be a New England beach town without one?
Rockport's beauty has earned it several spots on the silver screen, including doubling as Sitka, Alaska, in Sandra Bullock's and Ryan Reynolds' "The Proposal."
25. Orange Beach, Alabama
Where to stay: Hampton Inn & Suites Orange Beach
Best thing: Learn about Native American history at the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum.
What to Do in Orange Beach
Despite its small size, Orange Beach attracts people from all over the South with its beautiful Gulf Coast beaches.
The cool thing about Orange Beach is that it offers a variety of experiences. You can engage in water sports, seek thrills at amusement parks, attend summer festivals, hike the Backcountry Trail or simply lie on the beach and work on your tan.
24. Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Where to stay: The Palms Oceanfront Hotel
Best thing: Try to find hidden pirate treasures that legend says are still buried somewhere in the island.
What to Do in Isle of Palms
This barrier island off the coast of South Carolina is full of bike paths, piers and beaches. The one thing it doesn't have? Crowds.
Come to Isle of Palms for a quiet beach vacation that'll make it easy to say you did absolutely nothing and loved it when someone asks how your break was.
23. Haleiwa, Hawaii
Where to stay: The Hailea Wave House on Airbnb
Best thing: Get some fresh local fare and souvenirs at the Haleiwa Farmers Market on Thursdays.
What to Do in Haleiwa
Considered the surfing capital of the world, Haleiwa has not let its title go to its head. Instead, it has kept close to its native Hawaiian roots, and the sport is a manifestation of the culture rather than just a competition.
Visitors will find that the town lives and breathes surf, but also welcomes those who simply want to marvel at the astonishing beauty of Oahu outside of noisier Honolulu.
What to Do in Carmel-by-the-Sea
You’d be forgiven for thinking this tiny Californian town is a set for a fantasy movie rather than a real place. Tree-lined streets are dotted with colorful cottages in the single square mile that comprises the entire town.
But don’t let its size fool you into thinking Carmel-by-the-Sea has nothing to offer. Located in Monterey Peninsula at the entrance of Big Sur, you’ll find sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, art galleries, wineries and fresh seafood restaurants.
21. Montauk, New York
Where to stay: Montauk Manor
Best thing: Go surfing in the Atlantic.
What to Do in Montauk
Want to experience the Hamptons without dealing with all the snobs? Come to Montauk instead.
You'll get the beauty of the tip of Long Island and strong waves that are perfect for surfing, while enjoying a much more laid-back vibe.
Points of interest include the Montauk Point State Park and Camp Hero State Park.
20. Cape May, New Jersey
Where to stay: Angel of the Sea
Best thing: Spend an afternoon at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum.
What to Do in Cape May
As America’s oldest seaside resort, this Jersey Shore beach has been attracting beachgoers since the late 19th century. But what is great about Cape May is that it hasn’t let its long-term popularity get the best of it, managing to keep its quiet and peaceful atmosphere for over 100 years.
Cape May also distinguishes itself with its beautifully maintained Victorian buildings, which have earned the entire town a place on the National Historic Landmark Register.
19. Bandon, Oregon
Where to stay: Oceanfront home on Airbnb
Best thing: Visit in September for the annual Bandon Cranberry Festival.
What to Do in Bandon
Bandon gets you the cold beauty of the Oregon Coast with easy access to California.
You can expect large seaside rocks where seals sleep, play and lounge. If you visit at the right time, you may be lucky enough to also see migrating whales that get near the shore when they want to feed.
What to Do in Tybee Island
Tybee Island is a popular beach day trip for Savannah residents and tourists, but it is definitely a place worth staying at for days or weeks.
Pastel houses line up the shores of the town, adding to its perfect beach town vibe. At night, the best thing to do is get a beer or cocktail at one of the many unassuming local bars, where you’ll also enjoy delicious southern food.
17. Provincetown, Massachusetts
Where to stay: Lands End Inn
Best thing: Go see a drag show at night.
What to Do in Provincetown
Some people want the small-town experience but also crave a more exciting nightlife. Most towns fail to bring both, but Provincetown is not most towns.
Set on the northern tip of Cape Cod, the town is tiny but has made a name for itself with its nightclubs, most of which are in its LGBTQIA district.
16. Chincoteague, Virginia
Where to stay: Refuge Inn
Best thing: Catch the annual pony penning in July to see Chincoteague ponies.
What to Do in Chincoteague
The only thing you really need to know about Chincoteague is that it has wild ponies that like to run by the beach.
Chincoteague ponies are endemic to the area, living at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on nearby Assateague Island.
There are beaches, shops, a pier and a small island museum, too, which you can visit whenever you're not obsessing over the ponies.
15. Folly Beach, South Carolina
Where to stay: Blue Pearl on Airbnb
Best thing: Go surfing at the Washout.
What to Do in Folly Beach
The Folly Beach Pier is the focal point of this pretty little beach town. It creates the perfect place for people to take strolls, fish and watch the sunrise.
Center Street in the city center is a great place to do window or actual shopping, as well as the perfect spot to stop for lunch or coffee.
You can also head to Folly Beach County Park to immerse a bit more in nature. Be on the lookout for resident pelicans.
14. Hanapepe, Hawaii
Where to stay: Romantic Garden Cottage on Airbnb
Best thing: Join in on a Friday Art Night, when Hanapepe Street is taken over by street performers and vendors and art galleries and stores stay open until late. This is basically one big street party that you certainly don’t want to miss.
What to Do in Hanapepe
The beauty of Hanapepe can’t be overstated. Located on Kauai, "The Garden Isle," this small town is committed to keeping its look at green as possible.
To do so, the local government has made a law that prohibits any building to be taller than a palm tree. This means you won’t have to ever worry about giant condos and chain resorts blocking the astonishing views of the sea.
Kauai’s sharp green cliffs that drop into the ocean provide ample hiking opportunities. Other things to do in Hanapepe include snorkeling and trying out the delicious local food.
What to Do in Wrightsville Beach
If you want the small-town vibe but also want to be active, set your eyes on Wrightsville Beach.
This town is definitely laid-back and quiet, but also has opportunities for water sports like paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming and surfing.
When you get on a board, you won’t have to worry about sharing the ocean with too many other surfers, which is always a plus.
12. Paia, Hawaii
Where to stay: Paradise in Paia on Airbnb
Best thing: Take a drive through the scenic Road to Hana.
What to Do in Paia
Paia is yet another Hawaiian town that can be considered amongst the best beach towns in the U.S. Do we show preference for the state? Sure! But no one can blame us when the entire state is a collection of incredibly beautiful islands.
Located in gorgeous Maui, Paia brings surfers and travelers seeking to get the Hawaiian experience outside of all-inclusive resorts and private beaches.
When you're not at the beach, plan to hike the Haleakala National Park to see one of the largest volcano craters on the planet.
What to Do in Noank
Dotted with 19th-century buildings, Noank is a small beach town that is, sadly, overlooked.
With less than 2,000 people, you'll be sure to make quick friends with the locals as you walk about town and visit the harbor. Most stores in town are locally owned, which will give you a respite from the chain stores that have invaded just about everywhere else.
10. Avon-by-the-Sea, New Jersey
Where to stay: The Melrose
Best thing: Take a stroll along the Avon boardwalk.
What to Do in Avon-by-the-Sea
We’re not sure how more people don’t know about Avon-by-the-Sea, but we hope it keeps being that way. This best-kept secret is the place to go to escape your worries and avoid people as much as possible.
Going to Avon Beach is the most popular activity, but you can also head to the Manasquan Reservoir to walk along trails, do some fishing or rent a kayak.
9. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Where to stay: The Ocean Lodge
Best thing: Hike one of the trails at Ecola State Park.
What to Do in Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach is the town for people who like their beaches like they like their whiskey, chilled and on the rocks.
Don’t come looking for warm water and soft sand. What you’ll get is rugged nature and giant ocean rocks that inspired the adventures of "The Goonies."
Explore sea caves, visit lighthouses and go on the hunt for your own pirate treasure.
8. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Where to stay: The Bellmoor Inn and Spa
Best thing: Take an excursion to see the sand dunes at Cape Henlopen State Park.
What to Do in Rehoboth Beach
What is so great about Rehoboth Beach is that despite its small size, it has been one of the most inclusive beach towns in the country for many decades.
To complement its spirit of inclusivity, there are many craft brewers, plenty of fresh seafood and, of course, long stretches of sandy beaches.
What to Do in Avila Beach
Malibu is great and all, but why rub shoulders with hundreds of people when you can get Californian beauty almost to yourself at Avila Beach?
Avila Beach is located in San Luis Obispo County. You can spend time at the pier, shop for fresh ingredients at farmers markets and engage in watersports like paddleboarding.
In the summer, there are also several small concerts by the beach. Small beach towns don't get any better than this.
Related: Best Small Towns for Summer Vacation l America's Best Beaches
6. Saint Michaels, Maryland
Where to stay: George Brooks House B&B
Best thing: Pay a visit to Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
What do Do in Saint Michaels
This charming American port town was not a tourist destination until fairly recently.
Before it started attracting city-dwellers looking for a break from the noise and pollution of the city, it was mostly dedicated to harvesting oysters and building ships.
Luckily for vacationers, Saint Michaels finally realized the potential of its 19th-century architecture and quiet way of life. It has begun accommodating more tourists with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants while managing to keep its genuine soul.
5. Saugatuck, Michigan
Where to stay: The Hotel Saugatuck
Best thing: Try locally produced wine at Fenn Valley Tasting Room.
What to Do in Saugatuck
This former 19th-century art colony doesn't even have a thousand inhabitants, and that's definitely a good thing.
Most people don't even know it exists, but those that do come here in the summer to head to the popular Oval Beach on Lake Michigan.
4. Ogunquit, Maine
Where to stay: Gorges Grant Hotel
Best thing: See local art at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art.
What to Do in Ogunquit
Mention Ogunquit to anyone, and the first thing they'll tell you is that it's the Abenaki word for "beautiful place by the sea."
The second thing they'll say is that the town's native name really does describe it perfectly.
Ogunquit has been a popular seaside getaway for more than a hundred years despite its rocky coastline and chilly beaches. Its beauty also attracted many artists who formed a sort of artist colony in the 20th century.
What to Do in Trinidad
The tiny population of Trinidad has 10 beaches to choose from, meaning that you are very unlikely to have to deal with crowds when you visit.
Its location in Northern California means that the water will be much cooler than in more well-known beach towns like Malibu, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Besides enjoying the ocean shore, you'll also be surrounded by several gorgeous nature preserves, including Patrick Point's State Park, Redwood National and State Parks and the Reading Rock State Marine Preserve.
2. Bald Head Island, North Carolina
Where to stay: Saltmarsh Retreat on Airbnb
Best thing: Spend time visiting the Bald Head Island Natural Area.
What to Do in Bald Head Island
With a population of 230, it would not be easy to find a smaller beach town that is as beautiful and unique as Bald Head Island. Weird name aside, the island is known for one thing: banning all cars.
That's right! You won't have to deal with the noise of traffic for even a single second here. To get to the island, you'll have to take a ferry or arrive in your own boat. Once there, you can choose between golf carts, bikes or your own two feet to get around.
But that's really not an issue, since the inhabited part of the island is quite small, given that most of it is a nature preserve.
1. Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Where to stay: Watch Hill Waterfront Cottage on Airbnb
Best thing: Ride the Flying Horse Carousel, which is the oldest carousel in the country still in operation.
What to Do in Watch Hill
Not everyone can afford to head to this exclusive Rhode Island beach getaway, but those who can are in for a treat.
You'll find luxury boutiques, quaint antique shops and delicious seafood restaurants, packaged in beautiful 19th-century architecture. Of course, there are also long stretches of sand.
The town is so charming that several celebrities like Taylor Swift and Conan O'Brien have homes here.