If you’re looking for an idea for your next weekend getaway, the idyllic US southeastern beaches won’t disappoint! From the romantic and brilliant turquoise that rival anything you’ll find in the Caribbean, to otherworldly coastlines with scattered driftwood beckoning adventurers to explore, to fun-filled amusements for families, the variety will astound you.
For all of my adult life, I’ve been on a quest to find the most beautiful beaches in every country, including my own beloved USA. Of course, selecting what qualifies as a “beautiful beach” is subjective. While many people flock to the cerulean blue beaches on the California coast, I’m not a fan blue that dark – or cold water, either. Ditto for the northeastern beaches – much too cold, and the gray-blue may be moody and mysterious, but it doesn’t appeal to me. I’m partial to the crystal clear, warm-water of southeastern beaches.
Fun Fact: Some of these beaches can be combined for a fun beach road trip!
Here are my choices for the ten best southeastern beaches!
10 Orange Beach, AL
It might not have occurred to you that Alabama would be a beacon for beach-lovers, but with 60 miles of coastline, there are a number of beaches – mostly uncrowded. Orange Beach is known as a family-friendly beach destination, with many hotels offing live games and pirate shows for kids. There are also fun amusements at Adventure Island, as well as more adult activities such as shopping and walking around The Wharf. And of course, fun for all ages includes relaxing, swimming, and soaking up the sun.
9 Virginia Beach, VA
The spot where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach encompasses three beaches, each with a different appeal to families, surfers, eco-tours, or simply those seeking an iconic beach with a three-mile boardwalk, shops, and restaurants.
At Sandbridge Beach, outdoor enthusiasts can explore the dunes or take a hike at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge. Looking for more activities? Try the oyster farm boat tour with Pleasure House Oysters at Chesapeake Bay where tourists can sample legendary raw and roasted Lynnhaven Oysters, or the Adventure Park with the largest ropes and zip line course in Virginia.
8 Avon, NC
The Outer Banks is a string of narrow barrier islands about 20 miles off the coast of North Carolina. About halfway down is the charming beach and small town of Avon. As part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the long stretch of Avon’s unspoiled blue-green beach is famous for being quiet, clean, and popular for vacationing families.
Weather on the islands is temperate year-round, making Avon a popular tourist year-round destination. There are several gift shops, a fishing pier, a spa, a mini-golf course, and other amenities. The town has plenty of history (Wright Brothers), coastal charm, and conveniences.
One of Avon’s biggest attractions, besides the pristine beaches, is the local pier. Open from early spring until late fall, visitors can fish day or night, or stroll down the length of the pier for stunning beach views.
The Outer Banks has been called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” due to the sometimes dangerous surf that caused many shipwrecks in the past. If you’re a scuba diver, you won’t want to miss the underwater adventure here.
7 Myrtle Beach, SC
Nestled on the South Carolina coast, Myrtle Beach is a high-energy, fun-filled family and multi-generational destination with accommodations for every wallet, from ocean-front luxury high rises to campgrounds. Two piers anchor each end of a mile-long boardwalk that is jam-packed with restaurants, shops, the Sky Wheel, and other amusements. You’ll also find a variety of kid-friendly activities like water parks, a wax museum, miniature golf, and Ripley’s Aquarium.
It may be best known for family vacations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find grown-up fun and romantic things to do in Myrtle Beach. Take a leisurely stroll around Brookgreen botanical gardens to take in the sculptures, reflection pools, and flora. Don’t miss a fun night out at House of Blues, an eclectically fitted-out venue that serves up Southern dishes such as po’ boys & jambalaya, plus live music located in the Broadway on the Beach entertainment area. Explore the ruins of Atalaya Castle which was once the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his world-renowned sculptor wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington.
6 Boneyard, SC
Less than a 30-minute drive from downtown Beaufort, this shore-side graveyard on Hunting Island attracts more than a million visitors a year. The park includes five miles of unspoiled beaches, forests, marshlands, and a saltwater lagoon.
You won’t want to miss the spectacular and Instagram-perfect “boneyard” beach on Hunting Island (named one of the top 100 beaches by TripAdvisor). Hauntingly beautiful, the driftwood beach represents an ever-changing coastline. It’s not just branches that have been washed up onshore, but a spattering of entire trees that have been uprooted onto their final resting place.
Adjacent to the graveyard is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Beaufort area – the historic Hunting Island Lighthouse. It’s the only lighthouse in South Carolina where you can climb to the top. 167 steps take you to the observation deck of the 136-foot lighthouse for a stunning panoramic view of the coastline and forests. Note: only six people at a time are allowed to climb to the top, and climbers must be at least 44 inches tall.
5 South Beach, FL
South Beach, or SOBE as it’s called, is one of the most famous strips of sand in the US. This flashy beach destination is known world-wide for beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, and beautiful people. Located on a barrier island between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast the postcard-perfect beach consists of gleaming turquoise water and blinding white sand. Myriad water activities are available here, such as parasailing, kite sailing, surfing, or jet skiing.
Home to the trendy Art Deco district, high energy, and sometimes raucous nightlife and topless sunbathing tend to make it more of an adult experience than a family vacation spot. End-to-end, the strip is teeming with neon lights, Art Deco architecture, art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants, and rollerbladers.
South Beach has become known for the much-photographed colorful lifeguard huts constructed after Hurricane Andrew.
4 Siesta Key, FL
Located on a barrier island within the Sarasota area, Siesta Key features striking mint-green Gulf of Mexico water lapping onto a wide, powdery-white quartz-sand beach. The sand is as fine as powdered sugar because it’s 99% quartz, which doesn’t get too hot from the sun and contrasts beautifully against the mint-green waters. Many consider Siesta Key to be the best beach in Florida, if not the entire country.
On the beach is a riot of color, from the multitude of sun umbrellas to the surrounding colorful bungalows and shops. Whether you choose to frolic in the water, stroll on the beach, or rent a bike for a ride down the island, Siesta Key will not disappoint. Note that the beach does get crowded, so if you want a parking place, get there early.
After the beach, explore nearby Sarasota’s picturesque downtown with outstanding upscale restaurants and boutique shops.
3 Bahia Honda, FL
Located at mile marker 37 on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, Bahia Honda State Park is one of Florida’s most spectacular and natural beaches. The 500-acre park has three beaches with shallow, nearly transparent aqua-mint water, dotted with palms and sand so white that you’ll feel like you’re in the Caribbean.
In 1992, Bahia Honda was named the #1 beach in the United States by “Dr. Beach” – the first Florida site to be awarded that honor.
Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented and boat trips to the reef for snorkeling excursions are available. Just off the beach, snorkelers can spot many species of marine life, including stingrays, barracuda, and even the occasional nurse shark. Campsites and cabins are available, although reservations for the winter months can be elusive.
Warning: If you stop at this paradise on your way to Key West, you may decide that you want to go no further!
2 Driftwood Beach, GA
Even though we visited on a cloudy day, it did not detract from the intrigue and beauty of Driftwood Beach. If there’s a more Instagrammable beach in the United States, I haven’t found it yet. Located at the northern end of Georgia’s Jekyll Island, the otherworldly beach was formed by constant erosion, turning it into an apocalyptic landscape of gnarled dead trees, bleached by the sun and strewn across the golden sand.
The farther along the beach you walk, the more serene and ethereal it gets. Small tidal pools form around the trees at low tide; if you’re lucky, you may spot several species of crab and other marine life.
Jekyll Island is just a 1.5-hour drive from beautiful and historic Savannah which makes this one of the best southeastern beach destinations to visit!
1 Pensacola, FL
If you’re looking for a perfect beach in the southeast United States, look no further than the Gulf shores of Pensacola. In fact, Pensacola’s immaculate beaches have been ranked among the best in the country by the likes of the Travel Channel, Dr. Beach, USA Today, and TripAdvisor.
None are more beautiful than the sugar-sand, iridescent turquoise-green water of the federally protected Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States. What better place to chill than gazing at miles of unobstructed views across the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola is a gem among southeast beaches!
Pensacola, famous for its giant beach ball-painted water tower, is one of the most popular beaches on the Emerald Coast good reason. In addition to the beach, offerings include a fishing/walking pier, a boardwalk filled with fun shops and restaurants, art galleries, rental shops, trolley service, and a variety of hotels. And activities to please everyone, including snorkeling, hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, and fishing.
You can also get a glimpse into American history by exploring three forts – Fort Pickens (in use for more than a century, from 1834 to 1947), Fort Barrancas and Fort McRee —all are within the Gulf Islands National Seashore and administered by the National Park Service.
Move over California – the southeast region of the United States has some of the most desirable beaches in the country. We hope this list has inspired you to embark on a road trip to visit a few of these beauties! There’s no better way to enjoy some good old Vitamin Sea in my country!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.