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Photograph: Courtesy Go Goleta and Visit Santa Barbara/Blake Bronstad/Time Out

The 10 most underrated beach towns in America

Avoid the crowds and find your sunny spot away from it all

Virginia Gil
Edited by
Virginia Gil

Everywhere you turn these days, there’s a news story about the busy travel season ahead—Airports are crowded! TSA is overwhelmed! Flights are canceled! We don’t mean to alarm you but your favorite summer destinations will be congested this year. The better travel option? Finding somewhere cool that’s somewhat undiscovered, such as our picks of the top underrated beach towns in the U.S. You’ll catch plenty of rays, splash around on some very pristine shorelines and avoid the crowds, which is all anybody really wants on vacation. Think no lines to get into places, no reservations required to dine and no wait should you decide to show up somewhere at the last minute because anything else would be a waste of your precious time off.

Most underrated beach towns in America

Siesta Key, Florida
Photograph: Shutterstock/alisafarov

1. Siesta Key, Florida

Though Siesta Beach is regularly named one of the best beaches in the U.S. (and even the world), Siesta Key doesn’t get the same traffic as other Florida beach destinations like Miami, Key West, or even Destin and Panama City. This barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico has three beaches—Crescent, Turtle and Siesta—all with powdery white sand beaches and cool blue water. Tourists from the North come down in the winter, but summers are low-key, with mostly locals hitting the beach. Visitors can shop, golf and easily head to nearby Sarasota for art galleries, museums and other activities.

Where to stay: The Inn on Siesta Key is a quaint, cozy spot that feels tucked away while sitting right across from the beach. It’s a comfortable oasis designed for a truly relaxing beach vacation.

Gerrish Lopez
Contributor, New Orleans
Brewster, Massachusetts
Photograph: Shutterstock/Arthur Villator

2. Brewster, Massachusetts

From Yarmouth to Chatham, there are plenty of popular beach towns along Cape Cod that are known for their provincial seaside charm. Equally charming yet much less crowded, the town of Brewster provides both locals and visitors with calm, swimmable beaches to enjoy all summer long. Many local beaches are also primed for kayaking and fishing, but those in need of some non-water sports can hop on the Cape Cod Rail Trail or check out The Brewster General Store or The Brewster Bookstore.

Where to stay: Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club is a sprawling resort right along the soft beaches of Cape Cod that has boundless amenities and activities to revel in.

Gulf Shores, Alabama
Photograph: Shutterstock/Pugalenthi Iniabarathi

3. Gulf Shores, Alabama

For a beach escape with white, sugary sand and clear waters, look just across the Florida line to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Not only will you find beautiful, uncrowded beaches, but you’ll also have plenty of access to nature. After exploring the beach with its low-key bars and restaurants, head to Gulf State Park for hiking, biking, birding and boating. Nearby Orange Beach (the two are often referred to as one area), offers a bit more in the way of dining and nightlife but is still just as calm (unless you decide to visit the Flora-Bama Lounge on the state line!).

Where to stay: The Lodge at Gulf State Park is a peaceful, and sustainable, option for enjoying both the beach and Gulf State Park. The Lodge is dedicated to protecting the environment with a variety of sustainable initiatives and educational activities, while also offering all the contemporary comforts needed for a beach escape.

Gerrish Lopez
Contributor, New Orleans
Dewey Beach, Delaware
Photograph: Shutterstock/Harry Collins Photography

4. Dewey Beach, Delaware

Skip the summertime crowds on the Jersey Shore. Instead, head to Dewey Beach on the Delaware coast where you’ll find pristine beaches and party vibes. This laid-back surf town is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a bay on the other, creating lots of chances to get on the water from kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding to surfing (Dewey Beach Surf Shop offers lessons). Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a longer visit, Dewey Beach is an easy drive from New York City, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia. While you’re there, don’t miss breakfast at The Dewey Post, beers at Dewey Beer Co. (trust us on the Strawberry Pretzel Salad beer), and late-night fun at The Rusty Rudder.

Where to stay: The freshly updated Surf Shanty Motel maintains vintage charm harkening back to its 1970s roots. It’s located steps from the ocean with bikes available for free so you can cruise around town.
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Things to Do Editor
Fairfield, Connecticut
Photograph: Shutterstock/PTAP Aerial

5. Fairfield, Connecticut

Located along the Long Island Sound, this scenic suburban town boasts five miles of beachfront land. With both private and public beaches, Fairfield’s sandy shores are primed for swimming, lounging, and walking. Spend a day on the water by renting out a sailboat, try your hand at beach volleyball, or even roast marshmallows with friends at one of their many summer bonfires.

Where to stay: Delamar Southport is a boutique hotel that serves its customers with quintessential New England hospitality. Expect to be welcomed with a complimentary drink.

Florence, Oregon
Photograph: Courtesy Eugene, Cascades and Coast

6. Florence, Oregon

This hidden gem with miles of beaches along the Pacific Ocean and the Siuslaw River lets you avoid the crowds that typically pack Cannon Beach and Seaside. You can ride horses along the waterfront or drive a dune buggy across the 40-mile-long Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. An easy half-mile hike from the parking lot brings you to the picturesque and historic Heceta Head Lighthouse. Best of all for those who love secretive destinations, the Sea Lion Caves is the largest sea cave in the US (over 12 stories high and as wide as a football field)—and yes, you can see sea lions basking on the rocks.

Where to stay: The Driftwood Shores Resort is perched on a slight rise overlooking Heceta Beach with spectacular views and beach access via a short walkway. All rooms are oceanside with either a private patio or balcony to catch those sunsets.

Northport, New York
Photograph: Shutterstock/Audley C Bullock

7. Northport, New York

Northport is a beach town on the tony North Shore of Long Island (think The Great Gatsby) except this Victorian-era village of 7,000 boasts a lovely downtown for all with plenty of quirky boutiques from Heartichoke to Nest on Main, restaurants such as Rockin' Fish and Harbor House and hotspots like Brew Cheese and Sand City Brewing. All year round, the village has live music and performances at the John W. Engeman Theater and at its many festivals that bring hundreds out to its main street. When shopping and dining are over, this beach town juts out into Northport Bay, which is pristine for watersports, boating and fishing. Just across the bay is the famous Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium, which is worth checking out for simply opulent views.

Where to stay: For the newest stay, try the Northport Hotel. For something historic, stay at The Harbor Rose Bed & Breakfast.
Shaye Weaver
Editor, Time Out New York
Kailua, Hawaii
Photograph: Shutterstock/Phillip B. Espinasse

8. Kailua, Hawaii

While everyone is away scouting a small stretch of available sand to sit on at Waikiki Beach, you’ll be the genius who settled on the windward side of Oahu in Kailua. Here you'll find Lanikai Beach, frequently ranked as one of the most beautiful in the world yet it’s mostly locals who frequent the slice of paradise. Access it from Kailua Beach Park, where you can also set up a picnic or grill steps away from the sand. Nearby Buzz’s Original Steakhouse is a popular option if a DIY meal isn't for you (the sweet tiki drinks are deceptively strong here), while Kalapawai Market is an excellent place to grab a quick bite and a strong cup of coffee to go.

Where to stay: The downside of being under the radar is that hotel options are very limited. To that end, Airbnb or other short-term rentals are your best bet in Kailua. The upside to renting someone's home? You’ll truly get to live like a local.
Virginia Gil
USA Editor
Goleta, California
Photograph: Courtesy Go Goleta and Visit Santa Barbara/Blake Bronstad

9. Goleta, California

We all love an under-the-radar beach and this one features the same sweeping sea vistas, soft sand and greenery as nearby Santa Barbara beaches do, but without the struggle to find a place to stretch your beach blanket. If you’re a birder, an estuary here attracts great blue herons, coots, egrets and plovers, while there are lots of barbecue pits and restrooms to aid your day-long picnic-and-swim outing. With a historical background of lemon orchards (memorialized in the annual Goleta Lemon Festival with a pie-eating contest), today in Goleta you’ll find craft breweries, free live music at a historical ranch, and even an old-time fiddlers’ festival. With music and waves intertwined, how could you find a better beach?

Where to stay: The Leta Santa Barbara Goleta, Tapestry Collection by Hilton (or just, “The Leta”) is undergoing renovation with a light beach aesthetic, using natural materials. Its onsite restaurant Caya offers local wines and artisanal cocktails in a beautiful tiled oasis.

Jensen Beach, Florida
Photograph: Shutterstock/Wirestock Creators

10. Jensen Beach, Florida

This quiet, unincorporated community with a population of just over 12,000 is nestled on a sliver of Florida’s southeast coast that most commuters breeze right by on their way to destinations like Orlando and Miami. But if you cut east off of I-95 from Port St. Lucie, you’ll arrive at Jensen Beach, the one-time "Pineapple Capital of the World." Hugged by a barrier island and a coastal savanna reserve with scenic hiking trails, this swath of Treasure Coast boasts boutique resorts with modern amenities and sweeping views of the Atlantic. But you’ll also find old, windswept staples like Fredgie’s, a waterfront hotdog stand where you can devour delicacies like the Fredgie's Dog, topped with peanut butter, chili and spicy mustard on a Texas toast bun.

Where to stay: Hutchinson Shores Resort & Spa nails the coastal chic aesthetic, with herringbone wood floors, white-paneled walls, navy-striped upholstery and crisp white bedding. It’s a dog-friendly option with two heated pools, a full-service spa and plenty of watersports like snorkeling and kayaking.
Falyn Wood
Editor, Time Out Miami
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