Published June 21, 2018|15 min read
Nothing says "perfect summer day" like relaxing by the water or cruising around on a boat. And as someone who grew up in a landlocked state, there wasn’t the ocean nearby to visit, but we still always found ourselves at the beach during the summer. In fact, no matter where you live in the U.S., you’re bound to have a great beach not too far from home that would make for the perfect staycation.
So grab your beach towel, sunscreen, book and anything else you need for a beach getaway and check out our list of the best beach in each state. And if you really want to get away, check out these tips on how to score a cheap Caribbean getaway this summer.
Alabama has 32 miles of Gulf Coast beaches, replete with white sand and warm blue water. The gem of the coastline, however, is Dauphin Island Public Beach ($5 per person). Only accessible by bridge or ferry ($16 per car), this barrier island offers a more secluded beach experience. And when you’re ready to refuel, Dauphin Island has family-run seafood shacks and bird sanctuaries to explore. The best part? It’s dog friendly, so Spot can enjoy the waves, too.
You may not think of Alaska as a place to go to the beach, but it’s possible. If it’s swimming you’re after, you’ll want to head to a lake — Goose Lake in Anchorage is a great option in the summer, with lifeguards, paddle boats and walking trails nearby.
Arizona has no coastline, but it certainly has sand. Head to Cattail Cove State Park ($10 per vehicle) in Lake Havasu City for sun and swimming with a view of the desert rocks. Showers, picnic tables and grills are available, and you can bring your pups — there’s a dog beach just next to the human one.
Looking for ideas on what to grill? Check out this $1.50 burger.
Head to Lake Catherine State Park near Hot Springs for a sandy beach with forest views. Kayaks, canoes and pedal boats are available to rent. Spend an afternoon on the shore or rent one of the lakeside cabins (starting at $115 a night) for a weekend full of swimming and fun.
California is practically synonymous with beachy fun, so there are plenty of options. While all of them are great in their own ways, Coronado Beach in San Diego is a must visit. Enjoy the sandy white beach and warm water, then head to Hotel del Coronado for lunch or dinner. Free parking is available nearby, but spots fill up quick, so you’ll want to arrive early.
Head to Boulder Reservoir outside Boulder for swimming and views of the Rockies. Entrance is $8.25 for adults and $5 for kids, and you can enjoy boating, picnicking and, of course, swimming.
Connecticut beaches dot the coastline along the Long Island Sound, offering calm waters and cool breezes. Head to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison for two miles of beach plus serene woodland walks. Parking is $23 on weekends and holidays.
Fenwick Island State Park is a quiet respite from Delaware’s busier beaches like Dewey and Rehoboth. The three-mile barrier island has white sand dunes, lifeguards and a modern bath house with showers, snacks and a place to rent umbrellas and chairs. The entry fee to the park is just $5 per car.
Florida has Atlantic beaches and Gulf beaches, but our favorite spot is Delray Beach, one of South Florida’s most popular and family friendly beaches. The two-mile stretch of Atlantic coast beach boasts white sand and turquoise waters. Parking is $1.50 per hour.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, located six miles east of St. Marys, the barrier island — and its 17 miles of undeveloped beach — is accessible only by ferry, meaning you don’t have to worry about overcrowding. Visitors can camp, swim and relax, but there are plenty of unique sites to take in, including the Dungeness ruins and Plum Orchard Mansion. Adults 16 and over pay a $10 entrance, plus $28 for round trip ferry tickets.
You may see an uptick in how frequently you use a ferry during the summer months. Make sure you budget for this and other hidden summer expenses.
Beachcombers can’t really go wrong on any stretch of sand on Hawaii’s main islands, but Waikiki Beach on Honolulu Oahu is arguably the state’s most popular. It’s easy to see why. Populated by oceanfront resorts and backlit by the Diamond Head State Monument, the former hotspot for Hawaiian royalty, now sports all-too-easy access to shopping, dining, entertainment, water sports and more. Plus, it’s within driving distance of Oahu’s other population attractions, including Pearl Harbor, Iolani Palace and Hanauma Bay.
Cascade Lake is known for its pitch-perfect beach weather, the central Idaho reservoir offers more than just amazing mountain views. Visitors can swim, fish, camp, paddle-boat, windsurf, mountain bike and more on one of the largest bodies of water in the state. Admission to Lake Cascade State Park, 75 miles north of Boise, varies depending on how long you’re looking to stay.
Montrose Beach is Chicago’s largest beach, nestled in Lincoln Park, and it boasts swimming, kayaking, volleyball, paddle-boarding and more along Lake Michigan. There’s also an outdoor eatery (The Dock at Montrose Beach) that hosts luaus and live music events throughout the summer. Bonus: There’s a dog-friendly section of the beach located at its north end.
A 15-mile beach along Lake Michigan with ten swimmable areas, the Indiana Dunes also offer plenty other family-friendly activities, like fishing, bird-watching and more than 70 miles of hiking trails. Adventurous beachgoers can try the 3-Dune Challenge, 1.5-mile hike over the three highest dunes in Indiana Dunes State Park.
Another family-friendly vacation spot, West Lake Okoboji in Dickinson County is considered the centerpiece of Iowa’s five chain lakes. Visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing and a variety of water sports, but there’s also a plethora of nearby attractions, including golf courses, museums and Arnolds Park Amusement Park.
Shawnee Mission Park is a 1,600-acre park with a 120-acre lake, the Johnson County locale is the most visited park in Kansas state. It’s easy to see why: Visitors can enjoy nature trails, an archery range, golf course, horseback riding and more — just in case you need something between the fishing, swimming and water sports. There’s also a a 53-acre dog off-leash area.
Camp or reserve a lodge around Barren River Lake, a 10,000-acre lake in Lucas, so you can enjoy its large marina, basketball court, tennis courts, shuffleboard, volleyball courts, golf course and other attractions. There’s a new sandy beach area for some lake swimming, but visitors can also take a dip in the park’s pool.
Head to Grand Isle, just a few hours south of the Big Easy, and enjoy all the beautiful barrier island shoreline has to offer. With views of the Gulf of Mexico, Grand Isle is a perfect place to relax. And if you’re looking for a bit of adventure, this spot is perfect for it — it’s even known as a “sportsman’s paradise.” There’s hiking, birding and even some of the best fishing you’ll enjoy stateside.
Sand Beach in Acadia National Park is not only a beautiful, sandy beach (hello, it’s right in the name), but it’s known as one of the best beaches in Maine to find sea glass. Mornings and evenings are the best time to search for this unique souvenir and this beach is rumored to have coveted pink sea glass.
Maryland has almost 8,000 miles of shoreline and, while Ocean City Beach is a popular destination for obvious reasons, we suggest you go to Assateague Island National Seashore instead. There is a lot of wildlife at Assateague, the most famous being wild horses. You don’t get that at your typical beach!
Race Point Beach is on the tip of Cape Cod. It’s popular among bicyclists because of its many paths, but there’s also big stretches of beach for anyone who just wants to relax – enough that it rarely feels crowded.
The Great Lakes mean there are no shortages of beach options in Michigan. If you have to pick one, though, go for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It borders Lake Michigan so you can go for freshwater swims, and there are plenty of spots for hiking and camping. There’s a reason it was named one of the best 21 beaches in the world by National Geographic in 2017.
If you're making the venture to this beach, or any of the others on this list, make sure you read these 15 easy ways to save on summer travel.
Minnesota’s Itasca State Park has over a hundred lakes – and just as many beaches. For a unique beach-going experience, choose Lake Itasca. It’s the primary sources of the Mississippi River, so you can enjoy a beach and take in a bit of Americana.
Visitors to Front Beach get a perfect view of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Sound. It’s a great family destination, too, with fishing piers and more, making it a popular attraction. Coastal Living calls nearby Ocean Springs a “dream town” — and you might, too.
Fugitive Beach, a former quarry in Rolla, has enough sand for anyone to lounge and relax, but there are also slides and 20-foot-high cliffs to jump off for the more adventurous visitors.
Mystic Lake sits more than 6,000 feet above sea level. Wildflower-filled meadows, evergreen forests and the Gallatin mountain range surround it, in a landscape populated with bears, moose, elk, deer and birds. You can hike, bike and ski in the area, and if you’ve got a horse, ride it, baby. There’s just one thing — you can’t drive there. You have to hike more than five miles, but we believe in you.
Lake McConaughy, known to friends as Lake Mac, is the largest reservoir in landlocked Nebraska. More than 100 miles of shoreline surround the 34,700-acre lake, which makes an excellent spot for swimming or camping right on the water’s edge.
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake on the continent, sitting on top of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sand Harbor beach lies on its eastern shore. The beach has crystal clear water and allows for swimming, kayaking and scuba diving. Sand Harbor is also home to the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, held every summer. Tickets start at $20 — here are 12 tips to help you get your budget summer-ready in five minutes or less.
Hampton Beach is a century-old resort town along the Atlantic coast. It’s one of the cleanest beaches in the United States and is host to frequent events like a sand sculpting competition, volleyball, talent shows and, every Wednesday this summer, fireworks. Best of all, the fireworks shows are free all summer long.
Want other summer freebies? Here are 50 things you can get for free this summer.
New Jersey has about 130 miles of shore, so picking the best Jersey Shore beach is tough, but we have to go with Asbury Park. It’s gone from the run-down site of Bruce Springsteen’s most run-down songs to the unofficial gay capital of New Jersey, with a mix of hip restaurants and bars and old-school attractions like the Stone Pony, still a spot where you can see Springsteen himself drop in on occasion.
Bottomless Lakes State Park comprises a string of sinkholes ranging from 17 to 90 feet deep. The jewel of Bottomless Lakes is Lea Lake, at the southern end of the park. Aquatic plants give the lakes a greenish-blue color, making them appear deeper than they are. You can kayak, canoe, swim and camp at the park. There’s a $5 daily entrance fee per vehicle but it’s free if you walk or bike in.
Let's face it — fees are annoying. Here are 14 fees you should never pay — and how to avoid them.
You would have a tough time beating Jacob Riis Park Beach in terms of coolness. Riis Park Beach Bazaar hosts live music every weekend, along with a volleyball league, oceanfront karaoke and hip food vendors from around New York City. The beach itself is nice, too.
Emerald Isle is a family-friendly beach town on the southern end of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s nestled in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Bogue Sound, with calm, clear water. Glimpses of dolphins and wild horses on nearby islands are just a boat tour away (prices vary).
You’d never guess that there’s a lake in the Peace Garden state with more shoreline than California, but it’s true. At Lake Sakakawea, you can enjoy sunbathing on the beach or you can get a bit more adventurous and head out onto the lake. There’s kayaking, paddle boarding and boating, so you’re sure to find whatever your recreational heart desires.
Bring your volleyball or frisbee to Nickel Plate Beach, Erie County’s largest public beach. This 12-acre beach has beautiful sand and is a great place for the whole family to enjoy some time in the sun. After playing on the playground or on one of the sand volleyball courts, you can enjoy a picnic and watch the waves. There is a small fee for parking, but you can walk or bike in for no cost.
Cedar Lake is not only a popular campground but also features recreational sports facilities for swimming, volleyball and fishing. You can park your RV and make your way to some of Oklahoma’s best fishing and even practice your equestrian skills.
Cape Kiwanda, near Pacific City, offers beautiful vistas and incredible natural rock formations. What makes it so good is that not many people frequent the beach compared to Oregon’s other shores, so you can take in the tranquility by yourself. When you’re done relaxing, you can venture to nearby Neskowin Ghost Forest and hike through old-growth trees.
Presque Isle State Park has 11 beautiful beaches you can explore or relax on and there are even beach concerts you can enjoy throughout the summer months. Wade into pristine Lake Erie waters or enjoy other recreational activities in the area, like hiking, fishing or bird watching.
Not just the name of a beer, Narragansett is also home to one of Rhode Island’s most beautiful beaches, Narragansett Town Beach. Enjoy the beautiful shoreline during the day and time it right so you can check out a beach concert on a summer evening. Daily admission starts at $10 per person and season passes are available.
Myrtle Beach has some gorgeous sand and water, as well as spots for surfing and fishing, but there’s so much more here. This resort is also home to the SkyWheel (a big ferris wheel) and other amusement park rides, a water park (as if the ocean wasn’t enough) and restaurants with stellar views. If you tire of the beach, there’s a nearby botanical garden and a nature trail you can explore.
Sylvan Lake is one of the five Custer State Park lakes. Alongside amazing views of the Black Hills, you can take a boat out onto pristine waters or go for a swim. The park gets crowded on major holidays, but you can escape the throngs of beachgoers by going on a hike or a walk on one of the lakeside paths.
Center Hill Lake, in Rock Island State Park, is where you’ll want to go to lounge by the shore. This park also has gorgeous waterfalls you can hike to and plenty of swimming holes to hit along the way.
Not far from Houston are the beaches of Galveston, most notably the beautiful one at the tip of Galveston Island, East Beach. Known for its concerts and summer festivities, this is a gem of a spot (which allows you to bring summer libations, if you so choose).
Head to Garden City in Northern Utah and you will see some of the most pristine, Caribbean-like water at Bear Lake. And in true Utah fashion, there is recreation of all types here — from paddleboarding and kayaking to boating and jet skiing, there are lots of fun things to do on this 109-square mile lake.
Genius tip: Bear Lake has some of the best raspberries around. Make sure you get a raspberry shake at one of the roadside stands. Your tastebuds will thank me.
At the gorgeous Lake Champlain, you can enjoy the beach during the day and camp nearby, giving you both the woods and beach experience all in one trip.
For a nice escape with a radiant view of the Chesapeake, head to Buckroe Beach. Make sure you check out the lighthouse, the only relic from the amusement park that was once there, but was torn down in 1991.
Head to Olympic National Park and enjoy the breathtaking views from Ruby Beach, which got its name for the ruby-like crystals mixed in the sand. It’s also known for its unique sea stacks and fun tide pools to explore. Try to stay for more than just the day. You won’t want to miss a sunset from Ruby Beach.
Shaw Beach at Jennings Randolph Lake not only offers gorgeous beach space, but plenty of recreation opportunities. This reservoir is a great reprieve for anyone who enjoys kicking back with their fishing pole in a beach chair. From Shaw Beach, you can catch anything from bluegill to trout, and grill it up for a perfect summer dinner. Here are some grilling tips for a safe and fun summer cookout.
North Beach was named one of the top 10 family beaches in the country, thanks in part to how spacious it is. This beach just outside downtown Racine offers 50 acres of sandy beach to enjoy — complete with palm trees and hammocks — when you aren’t out enjoying the waves of Lake Michigan.
There are some lovely beaches along the water of the Glendo Reservoir in Glendo State Park, including aptly named Sandy Beach. Not only can you relax with your feet in the sand, but there are places along here where you can camp, setting up a tent right along the water.
Summer does a lot of good things for you, but the summer solstice can mess with your money — read this to find out how (and how to prevent it) so you can really enjoy your time on the beach.
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