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5 Must-See East Coast Beaches
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  • States:
    New Jersey
    North Carolina

From rugged, rocky shores to soft, sandy ones, the eastern USA boasts a wide variety of beaches on its more than 3,000 kilometers of Atlantic Ocean coastline.

Here are five dazzling East Coast beaches that deserve a visit.

Cape May, New Jersey

Nineteenth-century Victorian houses overlook a sandy coastline in Cape May, one of the USA’s oldest vacation destinations. Located at the southeastern tip of New Jersey, it’s been hosting visitors from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (150 kilometers away), New York City, New York (254 kilometers away), and elsewhere for more than two centuries. The charming seaside escape sits on several stretches of sugary sand. Look for "Cape May diamonds," clear quartz pebbles that wash ashore from the nearby Delaware River. Nature lovers should watch for some of the 400-plus bird species that call this area home.

In the evening, sit down to a romantic seafood dinner at Peter Shields Inn & Restaurant, housed in an elegant mansion built in 1907.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

In 1903, on a deserted beach near the seaside town of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers flew the first airplane. More than 100 years later, Kitty Hawk and the many towns dotting the approximately 230-kilometer strip of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks have evolved into beloved popular vacation spots.

People, especially from the Southeast and Northeast, come to relax along the quiet beaches lined with flowing sea grass, especially in summer and during parts of March and April, when schools are out of session for spring break. Several historic lighthouses watch over the waters, including the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

For a taste of local flavor, visit the Harbor House Seafood Market, a family-owned establishment whose owners have decades of experience in the fishing business. Pick up one of their pre-made entrees to enjoy, like decadent shrimp and crab enchiladas or any of their seasonal seafood soups.

Note: It helps to have a car in the Outer Banks. Rent one at a nearby regional airport. The closest is Virginia's Norfolk International Airport, about a 90-minute drive.

Bodie Island Light Station at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Bodie Island Light Station at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
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Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Located about 182 kilometers southeast of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland, Rehoboth Beach has been a summer favorite among Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia residents for generations. Each summer, Rehoboth's population swells from about 1,400 to more than 25,000, so be sure to reserve a room well in advance.

Popular pastimes include strolling the wide beachfront boardwalk to famed Dolles Candyland, which is known for its saltwater taffy, or to the Ice Cream Store, where you can choose from more than 70 flavors.

Rehoboth's beach and boardwalk bustling in the summer

Rehoboth's beach and boardwalk bustling in the summer
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Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach brims with opportunities to play. Parasailing and riding water scooters are popular summer activities, and the city hosts the annual Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships and the North American Sand Soccer Championships.

Located at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay about 30 kilometers southeast of the Norfolk International Airport in Virginia, Virginia Beach also has much to offer visitors who prefer activities that don't require as much exertion. The Neptune Festival, which celebrates the city’s seaside heritage, holds events spring through fall. Its largest event, the Boardwalk Weekend, begins the last Friday of September, drawing more than 400,000 people every year with outdoor concerts, parades and local wines. The latter are part of a growing food scene. During the summer, check out the Hub, a food truck park at Eighth Street and Atlantic Avenue.

The boardwalk, a hub of activity in Virginia Beach

The boardwalk, a hub of activity in Virginia Beach
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Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

About 35 kilometers southeast of downtown Jacksonville sits Ponte Vedra Beach, a north Florida destination known for its outdoor activities. Vendors along the coast facilitate wakeboarding, waterskiing and surfing, while Ponte Vedra Beach hosts the PGA Players golf tournament each May.

Florida’s natural beauty shines here, too. At the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, you’ll experience Florida's rich natural biodiversity and find ample opportunities for animal watching. Rent a kayak and look for bald eagles, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and West Indian manatees.