Escape the crowds: 10 best under-the-radar beaches to visit in the United States
Laguna, La Jolla, Clearwater, Miami - there’s no doubt that the US does a sterling job in stellar beaches. But sometimes such over-subscribed destinations can make carving out your own slice of paradise without the crowds something of a challenge.
Thankfully, the US is home to over 95,000 miles of shoreline, with 30 states boasting a coast, meaning there are plenty of secret surf and sand spots, whether you’re looking for family beaches, supreme sunset viewing points, dramatic cliffs, or simply a place to connect with nature.
There are plenty options to choose from, but we’ve narrowed it down to 10 of the best secluded, underrated beach locations in the United States. From isolated sandy stretches in North Carolina to hidden spots on California’s rugged coastline and the breathtaking sunsets across Hawaii’s Polihale Beach sand dunes, each of these would make an unforgettable holiday that’s far from the madding crowd.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
While some beaches trade off their sunshine quota, Cannon Beach in the Pacific Northwest is unique by virtue of being a marvel to visit whatever the weather. This long sandy stretch of coastline is home to the dramatic Haystock Rock, a giant towering rock formation that’s accessible on-foot at low tide. Adjacent stone “needles”, tidalpools and flocks of seabirds combine to make this an atmospheric spot. While a summer stroll is always pleasant, visiting in winter, with crashing waves and brooding skies is an unforgettable experience. Don’t leave without checking out the many art galleries and specialist shops that populate the town.
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Outer Banks, North Carolina
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a 100-mile plus stretch of barrier islands separating the mainland through a series of sounds and inlets. Home to wild horses, lighthouses and blissfully isolated expanses of sand, it’s the ideal place to seek out a spot away from the crowds. Hit the surf at Cape Hatteras, go fishing at Rodanthe Pier, or scramble up Jockey’s Ridge, the tallest living sandy dune system on the east coast.
Avalon Beach, New Jersey
Don’t be put off by its association with reality TV show Jersey Shore: this Atlantic region is home to 127 miles of sublime coastline, with plenty to interest and inspire. Head to Avalon on the Seven Mile Beach for white-sand beaches perfect for swimming, boating or kayaking, while North Wildwood is home to gentler waters and completely free to visit. Commercial boardwalks with amusements, water parks, shops and restaurants make this an ideal destination for a family break.
Hawaii’s beaches are renowned the world over for their soft, white sands and tropical waters, but KauaÊ»i is best known for its dramatic cliffs, canyons and lush rainforests. Known as the “Garden Isle” for its verdant interior, it’s an ideal destination for trekking and kayaking, as well as being home to some of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches.
PoÊ»ipÅ« Beach Park is one of KauaÊ»i’s most popular beaches, with a wading pool for younger swimmers and the occasional Hawaiian monk seal appearance, but travellers who really want to escape the crowds should head to the remote Polihale Beach. Located at the end of a dirty road, it’s a whopping 17 miles long, making it the longest stretch of beach in the entire state of Hawaii. Expect giant sand dunes, desert cacti and jaw-dropping sunsets. Polihale is notorious for being a very dangerous beach for swimming, however, so swap the dip for a steady stroll along the sands.
Cape Charles, Virginia
On the National Register of Historic Places, Cape Charles has one of the largest concentrations of turn-of-the-century buildings on the east coast. This quaint Victorian-era town is home to award-winning golf courses, two nature preserves ripe for exploration, and watersports galore, including kayaking, paddleboarding and jet-skiing. Plus, Cape Charles’ soft, sand beach is free to access, with calm and shallow waters making it suitable for waterbabies.
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
A 15-minute drive from downtown Corpus Christi is Padre Island, the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island. This conservation area, stretching around 66 miles, is a major migratory bird route and home to 350 different species, with nearly half of all north American migratory bird species passing through here at different times of the year. Explore this charming stretch of coastline by kayak or canoe, watch sea turtles being released, or simply walk along this untouched stretch of coastline. And if the prospect of returning to four walls doesn’t appeal, you can also camp here.
Seal Beach, California
California’s not short of excellent beaches, but Seal Beach is an underrated gem. This laid-back town south of LA’s Long Beach has soft white sand, incredible views from the second longest wooden pier in the state, and a 965-acre wildlife refuge you can visit. It’s also the start (or end) point of the San Gabriel River Trail, a 36-mile long cycle route that’s one of the best traffic-free spots in the valley for biking.
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Dauphin Island, Alabama
Skip the crowds at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and take the 40-minute ferry ride to the more secluded Dauphin Island. Known as the “sunset capital of Alabama”, this island is home to seven miles of white-sand beaches, great weather and crystal clear waters. Hike through the ancient maritime forest of Goat Tree Reserve, where you can spot birds including vireos, flycatchers and owls and sign up for a chartered fishing expedition, before feasting on crab and lobster at the acclaimed Skinner’s Seafood.
Cape Cod has long been a major draw for visitors on the east coast, but it’s also prone to overcrowding. Wellfleet, meanwhile, is a pretty, small and peaceful town surrounded by coast on both sides and centrally located, meaning it’s easy to travel around if you start to yearn for more action. It’s also famed for its excellent oysters, making it an dream destination for foodies. Head to Mac’s on the Pier for some of the best. And don’t leave without visiting the Wellfleet flea market, the biggest on Cape Cod.
Read more: Why you should summer in Cape Ann, Massachusetts’ laid-back ‘Other Cape’
Wildcat Beach, California
Fancy a challenge? Rewards don’t come easy at Wildcat, with visitors required to hike five miles to reach this remote California beach, but it’s more than worth the trek. Short on time? Mountain bike on the Stewart Trail, before cooling off in the Pacific. This peaceful spot is home to seals, striking cliff views and some incredible sunsets. And if you’d prefer to spread the hike over a few days, you can rest your bones at Wildcat Campground. For a more active trip, pack up and hike north up the coastline to discover more secret beaches.
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