People often talk about how moving the shore is—a place that relaxes, awakens, and recharges.
What is it about ocean shorelines that has such power? They touch every sense: the redolence of fresh sea breeze, the sand underfoot, the sparkling sunsets, and the white noise of crashing waves. Whether you’re reclining on windswept sands or trekking across dizzying bluffs, the ebb and flow of the water is hypnotic, and its sheer expanse grounding. Something as vast as the ocean just puts all of life’s little worries into perspective.
Treasures can be found along all of the United States’ coasts, 95 thousand miles of eastern, western, northern, and southern shoreline that exemplify the diversity our country has to offer. So whether you crave a bracing hike along blustery seaside cliffs or a relaxed afternoon under the fiery sun, the U.S. has a shore to match your every mood—and views that will blow you away.
Newport Beach, RI
America’s wealthiest families started building their “summer cottages” (read: stately mansions) here in the mid 19th century, attracted by Newport Beach’s gorgeous views. Not much has changed since then, except that many of the historic homes—which overlook sweeps of ocean so immense it’s easy to forget that Rhode Island is our smallest state—are now open to the public, thanks largely to the efforts of Doris Duke in the 1950s. Her sprawling, 1887 English manor–style estate, Rough Point, is among the island’s most spectacular buildings—and it has the vistas to match.
Insider Tip: Don’t skip the mostly gentle 3.5-mile cliff walk, atop the beaches’ craggy rocks.
Brewster, Cape Cod, MA
On the beckoning hook of Massachusetts lies the town of Brewster, with mirage-like tidal flats so vast that a coast in Brazil is said to be their only rival in size. During low tide, you can walk a mile into the ocean on freshly exposed sand, alongside minnow-filled tidal pools, skittering hermit crabs, and bubbles from quahogs breathing underfoot.
Insider Tip: Stock up on penny candy like Boston Baked Beans and nonpareils at The Brewster Store before setting out to the beach. Eating it on the shore while looking up at the wind-beaten, colonial clapboard houses atop the bluff is pure Americana.
Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades National Park, FL
The nine delicate, endangered ecosystems within this 1.5 million-acre World Heritage–protected sanctuary, located on Florida’s southwest tip, contain a mind-boggling range of flora and fauna. Take in nature’s glory in the Ten Thousand Islands, a chain of mangrove-forested barrier islands bordering Chokoloskee Bay where, on any given day, you’ll spot great blue herons, endangered West Indian manatees, and gargantuan gators and crocs swimming alongside one another—the only place in the world where these toothy reptiles coexist.
Insider Tip: Take an Everglades Island airboat tour to get an overview of the untamed Gulf shore and its many wild animals…with, of course, a safe distance between you and the snapping jaws of those crocs.
Tongass National Forest, AK
Alaska’s Tongass National Forest—the largest in the U.S.—is a rainforest (albeit a temperate one) on Alaska’s southern coast. All that precipitation makes for a spectacular landscape, with mist-obscured coves, mighty waterfalls, and North Pacific fjords as immense and enchanting as Norway’s. Plus, the extraordinary wildlife (think bald eagles, porcupines, black bears) is exactly what one dreams of in Alaska, and the activities are endless, from fly-fishing to sea kayaking.
Insider Tip: From May through the first week of September, Orvis’s eight-day Cruising Southeast Alaska package will help you access the hard-to-get-to spots on intimate ships, with onboard naturalists who accompany guests during onshore excursions.
Makalawena Beach, Kekaha Kai State Park, HI
The Big Island’s west Kona Coast may be renowned for its coffee beans, but its best hidden treasure is a beach called Makalawena. To get there, park at Mahaiula and head north on the dirt path for a sweaty third-of-a-mile hike—part of it across a jagged dried lava bed. You’ll be surprised to emerge at a heavenly, triple-crescented, white sand beach so isolated that, if you even encounter another soul, it’s likely to be a flippered, friendly-looking green turtle, which for decades has teetered on the verge of extinction.
Insider Tip: Pick up a boogie board ($5/day) or surfboard ($15/day) at Pacific Vibrations before you test out the waves. Afterward, rinse off in the freshwater pond concealed by palm trees just beyond the sand dunes.
Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica, CA
Winding 130 miles from Oxnard to Dana Point, past some of America’s most famous beaches, this scenic southern stretch of California’s Route One is the perfect setting for a classic American road trip. The best stretch may be the four-mile, palm-lined portion that overlooks the golden sands and white-tipped surf of Will Rogers and Santa Monica state beaches from atop grassy cliffs—it’s the stuff of California dreaming. To best enjoy the area’s near constant sunny days (more than 300 per year), keep that convertible top down.
Insider Tip: Evoke the glamour of a 1920s Hollywood getaway with a night (or a meal) fit for a movie star at Mediterranean-style Casa del Mar, a T+L World’s Best Hotel. You’ll find it by detouring off Highway One at the end of the route.
It’s no wonder the Algonquin Indians named this idyllic spot—now a quaint village packed with antique shops and galleries—Ogunquit, or “beautiful place by the sea”: the 3.5-mile stretch of windswept muslin-colored sand ringed by stone outcroppings is especially striking when compared to Maine’s characteristically craggy shore. Known for an art colony established in 1898, the town continues to inspire painters and photographers today.
Insider Tip: Ogunquit’s Marginal Way—an easy one-and-a-quarter-mile stroll—starts downtown, meanders along craggy cliffs (which drop straight into cormorant- and duck-dotted waters), and ends at Perkins Cove, with two not-to-miss attractions: an iconic 19th-century footbridge and Footbridge Lobster, where the signature lobster roll is stuffed with five ounces of the day’s freshest catch—hauled in by the owner himself—and served with a side of chips or homemade potato salad.
Shackleford Banks, NC
You don’t have to be starring in a Clint Eastwood western to camp amid wild horses: on the Outer Banks of North Carolina—a string of spaghetti-skinny barrier islands skirting the state’s east coast—that’s just your standard vacation. The best place to pitch your tent is on the golden sands of secluded Shackleford Banks, on the Cape Lookout National Seashore, where more than 100 ponies roam among the dunes, snacking on seagrass and lazing in the surf. Legend has it they’re descendants of Spanish mustangs that escaped a shipwreck.
Insider Tip: Take the 15- to 20-minute ferry from Morehead City ($15 round-trip; portsidemarina.com), Beaufort ($15; islandferryadventures.com), or Harkers Island ($15; lordecksatcalicojacks.com) to reach the uninhabited 2,500-acre island, part of Cape Lookout National Seashore’s Crystal Coast.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, CA
Some of the earth’s tallest and oldest trees, coastal redwoods can soar nearly 400 feet into the air and live more than 3,500 years. Our favorite place to sit and contemplate among this impressive species—native to certain areas of California and southwest Oregon—is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s smaller than other protected areas in central California’s Big Sur region and undeservedly (but blessedly) overlooked.
Insider Tip: The best view in the whole place is of McWay Falls, California’s only coastal waterfall. Climb 10 minutes from the Julia Pfeiffer Burns parking lot (following the signs for the upper trail) to see its torrent plunge 80 feet from a vertiginous mountainside straight into the turquoise Pacific.
Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA
When most people conjure the Pacific Northwest, specific images spring to mind—and Shi Shi (pronounced “shai shai”) Beach has it all: sea stacks towering above the ocean, Sitka spruce forests, and soaring herons. It’s 2.5 miles along remote, driftwood-strewn sands from the beach’s entrance to the iconic Point of Arches, a chain of enormous arched, piled, and pointed rocks—but we promise it’s well worth the walk.
Insider Tip: The muddy, three-mile trail from the parking lot to the beach crosses gorgeously forested Makah Indian Reservation lands. Before heading out, pick up a Makah recreational permit ($10; valid for one year), some picnic-ready snacks, and galoshes at Washburn’s General Store, located in town.