The 21 Wildest East Coast Beaches from Outside jversteegh

If you’ve ever lived along the East Coast, there’s a secret that all curious, outdoorsy people soon discover: the wildest, most deserted places are often those abutting the Atlantic. That’s right, the best East Coast beaches can be every bit as remote-feeling as Western landscapes. This is easier to comprehend when you realize that the East Coast has roughly 30,000 miles of coastline. (The entire Pacific Coast, by contrast, has 7,863.)

This revelation came to me early, while exploring New England in my twenties, and re-confirmed it in my 30s and 40s, as I looked to escape New York City on weekends. Since then, I’ve driven as far as Maine and North Carolina’s Outer Banks—roughly eight hours in either direction—from NYC to explore an “undiscovered” beaches and maybe catch a fish or two. I’ve also road tripped all over the south’s Lowcountry looking for an empty stretch of sand, and have spent way too much time on Florida’s Atlantic Coast trying to to catch a redfish or bonefish on a fly rod.

Look, I’m not foolish enough to think anyone can be an “expert” on 30,000 miles worth of barrier islands, salt marshes, and tiny beachside communities. But I’ve explored enough to say with confidence that there are some wild damn places out there, and I’ve been lucky enough to discover a few that are well worth a visit.

Here are just a handful of my favorites. This list also includes a mix of both remote, undeveloped gems and impossible-to-ignore standbys that are great simply because of their, well…beach vibes. It’s a whole thing, and any town that has it, like Cape May, New Jersey, or Folly Beach, South Carolina, is worth a look-see, too. Trust me, you can’t go wrong with any of these beaches, as long as you’re packing some sunscreen (and maybe a bottle of bug spray for the real remote ones).

Map of the best east coast beaches, featuring some of the author’s favorites (Illustration: Erin Douglas)

Best Beaches in Maine

Sand Beach, Maine

True to its name, Sand Beach, in Acadia National Park, is one of only a few sandy beaches in this part of Maine. (Photo: Walter Bibikow/Getty)

Location: Twelve miles south of Bar Harbor
Why We Love It: Soft sand surrounded by the coniferous forest of Acadia National Park

This is probably Maine’s most iconic beach—a pocket of white sand framed by rocky shorelines and wind-flagged trees—and one of the most beautiful beaches in U.S. National Parks. For New Englanders, Sand Beach is well-known—for good reason. It’s one of the few sandy beaches in this part of the state (hence the name), and it’s sheltered just enough from the wind that it’s often perfect for sunbathing on a warm day. In the summer months, there’s even a lifeguard on duty. This all means that it’s popular and you can expect crowds in July and August. Even then, only a handful of people venture into the water, because its temperature usually peaks south of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you’re willing to brave the cold Atlantic, swimming here can be good. Despite its popularity, it can even feel secluded on the right day. There’s also hiking and paddling in nearby Acadia. One of the more difficult and popular treks is Beehive Trail, a 1.4-mile loop that ascends 450 feet and offers stunning views of the below.

Know Before You Go: Even though it’s inside Acadia National Park, there is no fee to access the beach. The parking lot, however, occasionally fills up on busy weekend days, so it’s best to arrive early.

Bonus Beach: Roque Bluffs State Park, Maine

Roque Bluffs State Park, Maine on a foggy, moody day (Photo: Kim Carpenter/Creative Commons)

Location: In the heart of Down East Maine, eight miles from the small town of Machias
Best For: A choose-your-own-adventure swim, either in the cold ocean waters or in a freshwater pond

The bulk of this 274-acre park is a half-mile crescent of sand and pebbles that divides the shallow waters of 60-acre Simpson Pond from Englishman Bay. In the heat of summer, it’s possible to swim in either—or both, a plunge in the brisk saltwater followed by the comparably warm waters of Simpson Pond. While it’s great for a plunge, this is not a lounging beach, to be clear, as the pebbles make laying on a beach towel uncomfortable. But Roque Bluffs does offer a relaxing stroll with dramatic views of rugged islands jutting out of the ocean waters. There’s also a series of short trails in the fields and woodlands inside the park, with an excellent vantage point of Pond Cove and Great Cove. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a dip.

Best Beach in New Hampshire

Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire

Seabrook Beach, New Hampshire, is the ideal spot for sunset walks along the tidal line (Photo: Mike Sweeney Photography/Getty)

Location: 15 miles South of Portsmouth, near the border with Massachusetts
Why We Love It: A quieter alternative to its more bustling neighbors, with pristine sands

New Hampshire has the shortest coastline in the U.S. at just 18 miles, but it packs some excellent beaches into that stretch. Its most famous is Hampton Beach, a classic New England destination with white sand, long boardwalks, and a circus-like atmosphere, thanks to its string of arcades. Much better is Seabrook Beach, across the inlet from Hampton, with impossibly white sand, consistent waves, and none of the crowds. By comparison, it feels hidden, serene, and impossibly quaint. There’s a reason for this: parking is nearly impossible to find because it’s prohibited without a resident parking permit. But if you make it here, you’ll have a wide expanse of sand to stroll along or set up an umbrella. The surfing is good here, and the dunes make it seem wild, even if you’re only a few minutes to the Hampton Beach circus.

Know Before You Go: To get around the parking, take an Uber or ride a bike from the town of Seabrook, less than 5 miles away. You can also pay for parking at Hampton Beach and walk across Hampton Bridge, then down to Seabrook, a little over a mile walk.

Best Beaches in Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

There are so many adventures off Cape Cod—and nearby. For example, Outside’s Director of Strategic Initiatives Michael Roberts, who spends a lot of time on the Cape, took his family out for some boat-jumping fun. (Photo: Michael Roberts)

Location: The Outer Cape, roughly 90 miles from downtown Boston
Why We Love It: Unparalleled, wide-open stretches of soft sand and wind-swept dunes

No list like this would be complete without including Cape Cod National Seashore, 40 miles of pristine beaches, freshwater ponds, and high dunes interspersed by lighthouses, cranberry bogs, and hiking trails. The recreational opportunities are practically endless, and whole books have been written about how to make the most of the beaches here. But if you want a down-and-dirty guide for newbies, this is it. Coast Guard Beach, in the town of Eastham, is one of the most popular beaches because it’s great for lounging and swimming on the Atlantic side, and it also offers paddling in nearby Nauset Bay or Salt Pond Bay. If you want to feel like you’re walking off the Eastern Seaboard, head to Marconi Beach, with sweeping Atlantic views. Hiking along the bluffs here will make you feel as if you could see a white whale at any moment.

Know Before You Go: Traffic headed to the Cape is infamous on summer weekends, so if you go during peak times, it’s best to stay overnight or through the weekend. (Or instead, go during the week.) If you do stay overnight, Provincetown, despite its crowds and high price tags, is worth the added cost. This artist colony and LGBTQ+ capital is brimming with verve and quirkiness and the energy it adds to a vacation is a perfect complement to days spent in the salt and sand.

Bonus Beach: Crane Beach, Massachusetts

Time it with low tide, bring your pups, and take a sandy sunset hike along Crane Beach, Massachusetts. (Photo: suefeldberg/iStock/Getty)

Location: Five miles from the town of Ipswich, 30 miles north of Boston
Best For: Escaping the crowds and enjoying a slice of bucolic New England on your way to the beach

Cape Cod gets nearly all of the beach attention in Massachusetts, but this one, on the North Shore, features four miles of pristine shoreline backed by tall dunes and salt marshes. It can get busy on a summer weekend, but otherwise offers a peaceful opportunity for walking on the sand, hiking five miles worth of trails through the dunes, birdwatching, and paddling in the nearby Ipswich River or Essex Bay. Beach passes are required and can be purchased in advance. If you come, don’t leave before checking out Castle Hill on the Crane Estate, a palace-like summer estate built for industrialist Richard Teller Crane Jr., with impeccably maintained gardens and a rolling grass lawn stretching to the water.

Best Beach in Rhode Island

Sachuest Beach, Rhode Island

Sure, Sachuest Beach, also known as Second Beach, isn’t secluded, but it offers the best surfing and nearby hiking in Middletown, Rhode Island. (Photo: Brad Yurcisin/iStock/Getty)

Location: In Middletown, next door to Newport
Why We Love It: A city-person’s beach that has a good hike within walking distance

Locals call this mile-long stretch of sand on the southeastern shore of Aquidneck Island Second Beach, but it is anything but secondary. Not only does it have great swimming and sunbathing, the western flank of Sachuest, called Surfer’s End, is known for its consistent swells. If you get bored sunbathing on the beach, you can also easily walk to the eastern end, which is the beginning of Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, with three miles of trails. Birdwatchers are common here because of the diversity of species, including the second largest wintering population of harlequin ducks on the Atlantic coast. It also has great fishing from shore, including an active night fishing permit system for striped bass.

Know Before You Go: This is a full-service beach, with concession stands, bathrooms, grills, etc., so don’t expect pristine wildlands—or to be by yourself. Rent a surfboard from the rental area and, after your session, check out Gilded Age mansions in Newport.

Best Beaches in New York

Ditch Plains Park Beach, New York

Surf casting near Montauk, home to Ditch Plains Park Beach in New York (Photo: Ryan Krogh)

Location: Two miles east of Montauk Village, on the far eastern end of Long Island
Why We Love It: It’s home to one of the best surf breafks on the East Coast.

For many New Yorkers trekking out to the Hamptons, this two-mile beach is as much a part of summer weekends as Hampton Water rosé. That’s, in part, because Ditch Plains is such a great place to set up for a day in the sun, thanks to its swim-friendly waters (depending on conditions) and lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day (roughly). There’s also a food truck next to the beach, called Ditch Wich, that serves up some of the area’s best poke bowls and wraps. But the reason this beach is on this list is because of the surf break just offshore, which offers good waves in just about any swell direction. The lineup is notorious for getting crowded, but there are definitely days in the fall when, midweek, you can find yourself sharing swells with only one or two other surfers—or even snagging them all for yourself.

Know Before You Go: Parking in the lot next to the beach requires an East Hampton permit (available to residents only). In the summer, take an Uber/Lyft or, better yet, rent a cruiser bike in Montauk and ride here.

Bonus Beach: Napeague Beach, New York

The author’s Labrador, Magnolia, on a fall surf-casting trip to Napeague Beach in New York (Photo: Ryan Krogh)

Location: Between Amagansett and Montauk, on the east end of Long Island
Best For: Getting a taste of what Long Island beaches felt like before the crowds invaded

Tucked off Highway 27 between the prim and proper Hamptons and the bustling beaches of Montauk lies one of the area’s great secrets: a two-mile stretch of sand that even locals overlook. Technically, it’s part of 1,364-acre Napeague State Park, but the beach here feels private, in part because it’s sandwiched between two neighborhoods who guard their sand with zeal. Napeague Beach is, however, open to the public, and it’s popular with 4x4ers that have beach driving permits. You can easily walk to the sand, however, by parking at a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot on the south side of Highway 27. This is where 4x4s access the beach, and you’ll have to walk from here through the dunes. Doing so only makes the empty beach feel that much more rewarding once you get a full view of the wind-swept dunes, with the occasional surfcaster chucking rigs far out into the ocean. Thanks to its remoteness, this beach is also popular with the endangered piping plover, so it’s often closed during summer nesting season. When it’s open, however—especially in fall—it can feel downright abandoned.

Best Beaches in New Jersey

Island Beach State Park, New Jersey

Exploring Judges shack, an abandoned building along Island Beach State Park, New Jersey—visiting at dusk especially brings on the remote vibes (Photo: Michael Ver Sprill/iStock/Getty)

Location: Barnegat Peninsula, south of the town of Seaside Heights
Why We Love It: White sand beaches in a wild landscape that feels frozen in time

Many New Jerseyans have never even been to this park, with 10 miles of sand dunes, maritime forests, and freshwater wetlands. That’s because this place is as far from the manicured sand, boardwalks, and hotdog stands as it gets. Island Beach State Park is proof that remote-feeling beaches can exist anywhere, even in New Jersey. In addition to being home to the state’s largest osprey colony, it’s frequented by peregrine falcons, waterfowl, shorebirds, and migrating songbirds. Fishermen flock here, too, whether they’re targeting the surf on the Atlantic side or casting in Barnegat Bay. There’s a designated swimming beach (called Ocean Swimming Beach), surfing, an area for kitesurfing, and even eight miles of trails. Sunbathing is really the only thing you shouldn’t do here, because you’ll be missing out on so much else.

Know Before You Go: One of the best recreational opportunities may be paddling from Island Beach into the Sedge Island Wildlife Management Area, one of New Jersey’s most productive wildlife habitats, with four different water trails to paddle through it.

Bonus Beach: Cape May Beach, New Jersey

A retired lifeguard boat at Cape May Beach, New Jersey (Photo: aimintang/iStock/Getty)

Location: Cape May, on the far southern coast of the state
Best For: Relaxing on manicured sand next to one of the most charming towns in all of New Jersey

This is the beach that many New Jerseyans will point to as their state’s best—and for good reason. The town of Cape May is lovely as hell, and downtown is adjacent to the main beach, with sugary sand that is raked cleaned nearly every day during summer, making it feel, well, pristine. It’s also welcoming, full of sunbathers and swimmers chilling out on the weekend, which is all part of the charm. This is a social beach, with the occasional fireworks show or movie on the beach night. If you want to sneak away from some of the crowds during the day, walk to the West, towards Cove Beach, which usually has more room to lay out an oversized beach towel (and great sunset views). There’s also plenty of activities nearby, including a few beach breaks good for groms, skimboarding, fishing, and paddling in the harbor.

Best Beach in Delaware

Delaware Seashore State Park Beach, Delaware

Fishing at Indian River inlet, Seashore State Park, Delaware (Photo: Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty)

Location: Seven miles south of Rehoboth Beach
Why We Love It: Six miles of ocean-front sand and 20 miles of bay shoreline full of possibilities

This popular state park offers easy access to the junction of Indian River Bay, Rehoboth Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. As such, it is overflowing with activities: swimming, surfing, fishing, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, paddling, crabbing, and camping, among others. There are two ocean swimming areas, patrolled by lifeguards during the summer season, and there’s a decent surf break at the Indian River Inlet, which can be great with some southerly wind protection (but is also challenging, thanks to its shallow water). If you want to stretch your legs, there’s a one-mile hiking trail through the adjacent Burton Island Nature Preserve, with raised boardwalks over the marshlands.

Know Before You Go: There’s a $5 daily entrance fee ($10 for nonresidents), but those fees help make this an extremely well-managed park, with great resources to help you plan practically any adventure, whether it’s birding, surfcasting, paddling, or something else.

Best Beach in Maryland

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland & Virginia

You can spot wild ponies running along Assateague Island beach, which sits on the Maryland-Virginia border (Photo: Kevin Fleming/Getty)

Location: Maryland’s Eastern Shore, roughly 10 miles from Ocean City
Why We Love It: 37 miles of remote dunes with herds of wild horses

There is no other place on the East Coast that demonstrates just how wild a coastline can be like this national seashore, which stretches across the Maryland and Virginia border. Assateague is one of the largest barrier islands on the eastern seaboard with uninterrupted coastal habitats, and it has become famous for its wild horses, which have been here for hundreds of years. If you want to see them, you’re probably better off  heading to the Maryland side or by booking a tour with a third-party organizer. There are two entrances, one in the north and one in the south, and there is no vehicle access between the two (other than by going back to the mainland). If you want to really explore the beaches—and you have a four-wheel drive rig—you can apply for and purchase an over-sand vehicle (OVS) permit, which allows you to access nearly the entire length of the beach. You can fish mile after mile of remote surf or just find an open stretch of sand to sit down and enjoy the ocean breeze.

Know Before You Go: Nearly every year, it seems, Assateague breaks its previous record for visitation, with 2.3 million people coming here in 2022. So yes, expect to share the sand. The northern end of Assateague Island tends to be less busy than the southern end, but the surest way to get away from the crowds is with an OSV permit or by walking a few miles down the beach.

Best Beach in Virginia

False Cape State Park, Virginia

Dramatic dunes line the spine of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Photo: Kyle Little/iStock/Getty)

Location: Roughly 19 miles south of Virginia Beach
Why We Love It: It remains one of the last undeveloped shorelines in this part of the Atlantic coast.

This is not the place to come if you’re hoping to lay out a towel and soak in some rays (there are no dedicated swimming areas, either), but it is one of Virginia’s most dramatic, and least visited, parks. Situated between Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the North Carolina border, False Cape State Park offers excellent stretches of open sand that are accessible only by hiking, biking, or boating to them. The reward is stunning coastal views, good surfcasting, and on the bay side, a maze of water trails to paddle. There are a series of hiking trails to choose from, too, which total 15.3 miles. These include Barbour Hill, a 1.42-mile self-guided trek through the dunes to the ocean. If you’re committed, there’s even a primitive camping program, which requires a hike into your site of anywhere from five to nine miles. But you’re almost guaranteed to be all alone.

Know Before You Go: The park operates a tram ($8 per person) that offers a four-hour guided tour through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, which is a good way to see the wildlife here without committing to a longer hike or adventure.

Best Beaches in North Carolina

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina

The author’s view of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina on a recent visit (Photo: Ryan Krogh)

Location: On the Outer Banks, along highway NC-12
Why We Love It: Iconic lighthouses, unparalleled surf, and vast natural habitats

It’s hard to think of a better beach for a list like this. In reality, though, this is an entire ecosystem, with 70 miles and 30,000 acres of grass-covered dunes, wide sand beaches, marshes, and woodlands that are home to some 400-plus bird species, among other critters. Sure, there will be crowds and traffic in summer, but it’s hard to find a more alluring coastline with so many activities. Surfing is excellent here, with regular swells at a range of spots, including Canadian Hole and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, both near the town of Buxton. It’s also very well established as a kite-surfing hotspot, with consistent winds blowing through Pamlico Sound (launch from Kite Point). Fishing is great, too—both on the ocean and sound sides—and paddlers can explore the flat waters on the sound side as well, launching from the Oregon Inlet Kayak Launch. There are even three different hiking trails, including a nine-mile trek through the dunes and maritime forests on Hatteras Island. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a better seashore for basically anything you want to do outside.

Know Before You Go: Cape Hatteras National Seashore is free to enter, but there are fees for just about everything else—off-road vehicle use, camping, and climbing the 200 steps to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse, for example ($10 per person). Also, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a highlight for many people, is closed for at least the next year or two as it undergoes repairs.

Bonus Beach: Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

Dave Stanton, partner to Outside’s Senior Brand Director Mary Turner, heads over to Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, on the ferry. If you look closely, you can just make out land in the background. (Photo: Mary Turner)

Location: In the southern Outer Banks, across the channel from Hatteras Island
Best For: Getting away from it all

Technically, this 13-mile-long barrier island is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, as most of it is managed by the park service, but it feels a world apart, thanks to its frozen-in-time quirkiness and just how raw the landscape feels. Ocracoke is also a testament to how going the extra mile is totally worth it. The island is only accessible by ferry, which makes the beaches here much, much less crowded. It can often feel as  if you’re alone, especially in early fall. For surfing, the beach near Ocracoke Inlet offers consistent waves, and fishermen can surfcast along the Atlantic shores or set up on the sound-side shoreline, like at South Point. Hammock Hills Nature Trail offers a good walk for hikers. There’s even a herd of ponies managed by the park service that are descendants of wild horses that have lived on the island since the 17th or 18th century, give or take a 100 years.

Best Beaches in South Carolina

Folly Beach, South Carolina

The fishing pier at sunrise, in Folly Beach, South Carolina (Photo: AppalachianViews/iStock/Getty)

Location: Twelve miles from downtown Charleston, on Folly Island
Why We Love It: An eclectic mix of Southern charm and seaside cool that’s hard to find anywhere else

Folly Beach is no secret—tourists have been coming here for generations—but this 12-square-mile barrier island is the epitome of what a great seaside community should be. “Beaching” is just a way of life here, which makes the whole thing irresistible, even if you’re just walking down the fishing pier. Of course, there’s a reason people flock here: six miles of white sand, palm trees, and warm Atlantic waters ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and, of course, surfing. Folly’s most famous break is the Washout, known for kicking up some of the best waves on the East Coast. There’s also plenty of other outdoor activities, from kayaking and SUPing through the marshes on the Folly River side of the island to riding a cruiser bike around town. Folly Beach can be a bit of a scene at night, but that also makes it great for snagging some beach town energy and good eats, from fresh seafood to beachside tacos. There’s perhaps no better place to escape reality for a weekend (or two).

Know Before You Go: While surfing at Folly Beach is better in the winter, the summer months are the prime time for live music, festivals, outdoor movies, and crowds, making it the best time to experience its full intensity. Parking can be a challenge, so if you’re only coming for a weekend day, it’s best to rideshare.

Bonus Beach: Hunting Island State Park Beach, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park beach, South Carolina, is a four-mile sandy stretch that provides access to a ton of area hiking trails. (Photo: Patrick Jennings/iStock/Getty)

Location: 15 miles east of the town Beaufort, and roughly 90 miles south of Charleston
Best For: A beach trip that’s as much about outdoor adventures as lying on the sand

Hunting Island State Park is South Carolina’s most popular park—5,000 acres of pristine Lowcountry that’s full of salt marshes, palmetto and live oak forests, and a four-mile-long stretch of white sand. Even with the crowds on a summer weekend, however, this barrier island feels pristine, as it’s almost totally undeveloped. And if you come on a weekday (or, better yet, in the fall,), it’ll feel downright remote. There are a number of great hiking trails in the park, including the 1.9-mile Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail and the easy-peasy Marsh Boardwalk, which might be the best spot along the coast for taking in the sunset. There’s a 950-foot fishing pier, and paddling in the marshes surrounding the island. As for the beach, it doesn’t disappoint either, and if you walk to the southern end you can see Little Hunting Island Boneyard Beach, where skeletal remains of dead trees dot the sand.

Best Beaches in Georgia

Sapelo Island, Georgia

Driftwood in the Atlantic Ocean at high tide along the shores of Sapelo Island, Georgia (Photo: Wirestock/iStock/Getty)

Location: Roughly 75 miles south of Savannah, near the tiny town of Darien
Why We Love It: Untouched natural beauty and a rich history on the South’s most overlooked coastline

Sapelo Island, the fourth largest barrier island in Georgia, is one of the East Coast’s best-kept secrets. There are miles and miles of pristine beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes across this 12-mile-long island, which has hardly changed since the 1980s—or even the 1880s. While the landscape here is unforgettable, the island is mostly known for its unique history, being home to the Hog Hammock community, one of the South’s few remaining Gullah Geechee settlements, descendants of enslaved West Africans brought to work on plantations along the Atlantic coast. Today, there are roughly 70 people who live in Hog Hammock. Each of the island’s two most famous buildings, the R.J. Reynolds Mansion and the Sapelo Island Lighthouse, have over 200 years of history on the island, too. In short, if you want a place that’s perfect for disconnecting from the modern world, this is it. You can ride a bike down the empty streets, kayak to Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge (of Blackbeard pirate fame) for bird-watching, or simply stroll along the untouched shores—all of which can be mind-blowingly deserted. Nanny Goat Beach, for example, is completely wide-open sand with hardly a soul on it. It’s hard to believe a place like this even exists today.

Know Before You Go: This is not the place to come if you’re looking for a quick getaway. The only way to arrive at Sapelo is via a 30-minute ferry ride, provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources ($5 per person). Planning ahead is essential, as you’ll likely need to stay the night and there are very few places to crash. AirbnB may be your best bet or reserve a spot at Cabretta Campground. Locals still protect this island and its heritage as if it’s their own—because it is. A little respect goes a long way to making your visit feel rewarding.

Bonus Beach: Cumberland Island, Georgia

Beach camping along Cumberland Island, Georgia makes you feel like you could be the only person on earth (Photo: Thinkstock/Getty)

Location: On the far southern coast of Georgia, just across the water from Fernandina Beach, Florida
Best For: Camping in one of the South’s most serene, untouched landscapes

Cumberland is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, and it’s easy to add another superlative to this list: wildest. This national seashore stretches over 17 miles of empty beaches, framed by majestic live oaks and palmettos, and is home to a population of feral horses, which you can often see passing by on the unpaved roads. The island’s isolation is its appeal, but there is plenty to do, too. There are wide sandy shores to walk on, ruins from Dungeness Mansion to explore, and an extensive network of trails to amble around on. Access to Cumberland Island is controlled via the National Park Service, and the easiest  way to get here is via a 45-minute ferry ride (and you’ll need an advanced permit if you plan to camp here). There are no stores and very limited facilities, so you also need to be self-sufficient. But the experience of camping under the stars with the sounds of the ocean and the sight of wild horses is simply unmatched.

Best Beaches in Florida

Cocoa Beach, Florida

Florida’s Cocoa Beach has aqua-blue waves and one of the best surf breaks on the east coast (Photo: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty)

Location: A little over an hour East of Orlando, just a short drive from Kennedy Space Center
Why We Love It: A surfer’s paradise with a laid-back atmosphere on Florida’s “Space Coast”

Cocoa Beach, with its endless stretches of soft, sandy beaches, and consistent waves no matter the season, is one of the East Coast’s most iconic beach destinations. No other city on the eastern seaboard is so well-known for its surfing and surf culture (it’s the hometown of Kelly Slater, after all). It lives up to the hype. There are waves for beginners and seasoned surfers alike, with the iconic Cocoa Beach Pier providing the perfect backdrop for those looking to simply enjoy the view of the lineups. The area is also steeped in space history, being just 20 miles to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. You can even watch a rocket launch from the beach if you time it right (check out the rocket launch calendar at the space center’s website). If you’re looking for slower-paced activities, there’s decent fishing from the pier and the Banana River is great for paddling. Windsurfing is common here, too, so there’s plenty going on, even without rocket ships to the moon.

Know Before You Go: It may seem like cheesy activity, but the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is totally worth the trip. The same can be said of the Ron Jon Surf Shop, which bills itself as the largest surf shop in the world, at 52,000 square feet.

Bonus Beach: Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida

Adventurers serious about fishing should head to Sebastian Inlet State Park, Florida to beat crowds and catch the best (Photo: Richard Wood/iStock/Getty)

Location: Florida’s central east coast, roughly 17 miles north of Vero Beach
Best For: Surfing and fishing excursions

Sebastian Inlet State Park is well-known for its surf breaks and its fishing spots, which are both excellent on account of the park being situated where the Indian River flows into the Atlantic. The park’s First Peak and Monster Hole offer some of the best surf breaks on the East Coast and its waters are teeming with snook, redfish, and Spanish mackerel, making it a premier fishing destination. The Indian River Lagoon has calm waters that are good for paddling and there’s even a decent trail in the park to walk on, called Hammock Trail. There are, of course, long stretches of unspoiled sand great for sunbathing and shell collecting (this is a Best Beaches list, after all.) It’s a bit of an ordeal to drive to it, because the causeways accessing the barrier island are miles apart, but that also makes it less crowded. The best part, though, is that it’s far away from the hoopla of the Miami metroplex in the south and Daytona Beach in the north, meaning this beach is totally worth the extra effort to get to it.

The author, Ryan Krogh, and his beach-loving puppy, Magnolia (Photo: Tara Welch)

Ryan Krogh lived on the East Coast for 12 years, split between Boston and New York City, and spent nearly every weekend finding the area’s best nooks and crannies for adventures. Among the many great ones was a day at Napeague Beach, reeling in striped bass on a fly rod. He now lives in Austin, TX, where he spends much of his time exploring the Hill Country and the Texas Coast while dreaming of getting on another fall striped bass blitz off the shores of Long Island.

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