For most Americans, summer means one thing—beaches. But if you’re the type of person that can only take so much sun and swimming, remember that plenty of sandy U.S. spots have a lot more to offer than just waves and sunbathing. Let this be the year you expand your sun-filled horizons to include hot cultural spots, wander-worthy museums, and tantalizing culinary scenes.
Here are 10 cities for beachgoers looking for a little bit extra.
10: Long Beach, Washington
Pacific Coast cliffs and cool white waves are staples of Washington’s breathtaking beaches, and Long Beach’s surroundings make it a win-win for sea adventures and culture-loving escapees alike.
Long Beach lives up to its name, with 28 miles of seacoast lined by boardwalks, sand dunes, and summer festivals, not to mention the quirky pastimes of downtown. Oddities at Marsh’s Free Museum, the World Kite Hall of Fame and kite festival, arcades, a Cranberry Museum, and Pacific Avenue’s slew of seafood restaurants are just a small sampling of this eclectic city’s sights. Discover live music after a long day at the beach, fit in some nearby zip-line adventures, or catch a show at the PAPA theater.
9: Newport, Rhode Island
Pristine beaches, cliff trails, and colonial history coexist harmoniously in Rhode Island’s sea-front city of Newport, 35 miles south of the tiny state’s understated capital. Newport is rife with 19th-century mansions-turned-museums that were once summer “cottages” to many old-money American elite—Vanderbilts and Kennedys included. The original Great Gatsby film adaptation was also filmed at Newport’s famous Rosecliff Mansion.
Newport’s Second Beach has plenty of tidal pools, warm waves, nature trails, and sand dunes to keep swimmers and surfers busy. A jaunt on the nearby Cliff Walk or a tour at one of the many local mansions can break up your beach day. Rent bikes to explore scenic Bellevue Avenue in style, or head toward the wharf for some harbor-side seafood and drinks.
8: Chicago, Illinois
The Chicagoan shores of Lake Michigan are teeming with visitors and locals alike every summer. The perfect pit stop after gallivanting the sweltering city, Oak Street Beach is my personal favorite spot for sweeping skyline views, beach volleyball, bike rentals, or simply wading in the waves.
Don’t write off Oak Street if you don’t consider yourself a lake person—aside from the fresh water, you’d be hard-pressed to find many differences between massive Lake Michigan’s beaches and coastal ocean beaches. There are plenty of waves, abundant sand, and beach games to tire you out if Chicago’s museums, breweries, and parks didn’t already.
7: Clearwater, Florida
Arguably the best beach in the country, Clearwater Beach also happens to be flanked by the Tampa Bay area’s paradisiacal happenings and some world-class art. Home to the three miles of restaurant-lined, crystal-blue shallows that make up one of TripAdvisors top beaches in the United States, Clearwater is also a place to find hatching sea turtles and rehabilitating dolphins at the local Marine Aquarium. Throw in a massive performing arts center, the largest collection of Salvador Dali art outside of Spain, and Pier 60—the perfect spot to watch the sun set over the Gulf–and you have one of the best beach towns in the country.
6: Portland, Maine
If the only Portland on your radar is in Oregon and not Maine, it’s time to reevaluate. Maine’s Casco Bay houses this hidden gem of a port city, adorned with scenic fishing ports, historic Victorian architecture, and underrated art museums and breweries.
Sandy East End and Willard beaches welcome summer-loving Mainers with open arms after every harsh winter, and the lively college town’s shopping, dining, and incredible museums keep tourists busy even during the winter months. Head here in the temperate weather to experience the best of both: kayaking and swimming by day, history and culture by evening.
5: Orange Beach, Alabama
Southern destinations are often frequented for decadent food, lively music scenes, and year-round warm weather—but Orange Beach, Alabama, makes a case for adding beaches to that list. Tourism to Gulf Shores is increasing as the region adopts more and more food festivals, breweries, and raved-about restaurants. White sand beaches and bright blue waves beckon just as much as annual art, music, and beer festivals.
4: San Diego, California
Another truly urban beach getaway, San Diego is popular with visitors year-round thanks to its perpetually sunny skies and famous beach spots like seal-dotted La Jolla Cove. You can escape the summer crowds by heading to North County’s Carlsbad Beach, which has kid-friendly tidal pools, towering palm trees, waves perfect for surfing, and ample parking. North County is about 40 minutes north of downtown, and largely free of tourists.
San Diego, of course, also has plenty to offer beyond the beach, from nature reserves, kayaking, and national parks, to world-class restaurants and an open-air Shakespearean theater. Don’t forget about surfing (perhaps the most quintessentially San Diegan pastime) … and fish tacos.
3: Kihei, Maui, Hawaii
If you’re going to do Hawaii, do it right. Nothing is as innately Hawaiian as the untouched parts of Maui—and plenty of them coexist with bustling tourism and local-filled restaurants in Kihei.
Rent a beachside condo in Kihei during low season (fall) for your best shot at getting the soft sands and calm snorkeling waves to yourself. Take up surfing in classes taught by locals, paddleboard alongside sea turtles, test the array of pints at Maui Brewing Company, or splurge on a Maui Flight Academy air tour. The island’s natural wonders meld with a lively night scene, and both rival much of what the overrun Big Island has to offer.
2: Provincetown, Massachusetts
Cape Cod, too, gets overrun with visitors every summer. But for good reason: Chilly New England deserves these sunny beaches and sleepy beach towns. But one popular destination at the tip of the Cape in particular is anything but sleepy.
Provincetown is many things—boutiquey, beachy, an arts haven—but it’s especially gay friendly, which makes it a hot spot for Pride month every year. Head there in June for block parties, bustling bars, and club events.
Year-round, visitors peruse Commercial Street’s shops and stroll Race Point and Herring Cove beaches. The local Art Association and Museum, boat tours, and historic lighthouses are must-sees, but beware of the cold Atlantic water that’s characteristic of the Cape’s tip. Regardless, the arts and culture are worth the chilly swimming.
1: Carmel by the Sea, California
Few beach towns are as storybook-scenic as Carmel by the Sea—California’s answer to centuries-old artists communities like England’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Many of the picture-perfect historic buildings here, like Carmel Mission, date back hundreds of years. Galleries, theaters, and cozy fine-dining restaurants appropriately define its narrow streets.
Carmel even famously has its fair share of celebrities serve as mayor, including actor turned Hollywood director Clint Eastwood. Rumor has it Doris Day once led efforts to make the city dog-friendly. You won’t find any chain restaurants in Carmel, and you only need head to one of its unique upscale eateries to realize why.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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