6 Surprising Bucket-List Beach Destinations in the U.S.

Last updated October 16, 2023

Summer often translates to beach holidays. But many popular beach destinations can get crowded. And with most beachgoers wanting to steer clear of the tourist throng, where can we take a beach day? 

Well, with so much coastline, there are plenty of destinations in the U.S. that offer needed beach bliss without the crowds. And with preferences leaning toward road trips over boarding planes, here are my top six under-the-radar bucket-list beach destinations in the U.S. for the purest form of escape (any time of year).

Under-the-Radar Bucket-List Beach Destinations in the U.S.

If you are one of those beachgoers who doesn’t like their towel too close to a stranger, these six under-the-radar bucket-list beach destinations in the U.S. should do the trick.

1. Nest Key | Florida

Located in the Florida Keys, a destination not known for its beaches but rather for its accessible scuba diving and fishing, Nest Key is an exception worth a visit.

Only accessible by boat, this island is located in the protected waters of Everglades National Park. Visitors head to the island to anchor offshore and wade to the picturesque beach.  

With the motto to leave only footprints and take only memories home, this true tropical paradise often becomes the idyllic memory of a Florida Keys holiday. No boat, no problem. Local boat captains are always available to charter you here.

2. Hunting Island | South Carolina

When one starts to dream of beach escapes on the Atlantic coast, South Carolina normally doesn’t usually top the list. Yet, just outside the quaint town of Beaufort, visitors can find Hunting Island State Park.

Complete with campsites, a historic lighthouse, boardwalks through the marshland and hiking trails, the park also offers beaches just steps from the forest.

One section of the beach showcases a unique maritime erosion essentially creating a “graveyard” of trees. It remains a real treat for any photographer. Plus, not to miss is the Shrimp Shack on the way back to Beaufort. P.S.: Order the shrimp burger, you can thank me later.

 3. Cannon Beach | Oregon

We often only think of California when dreaming of west coast beach destinations, but just 90 minutes from Portland, located on the Oregon coast visitors will find Cannon Beach.

Identified as “one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places” via National Geographic in 2013, this remote Pacific Ocean beach town is widely known for its 235 foot towering Haystack Rock.   

Complete with local and state parks for camping, the location’s mild summer climate will be comfortable, but the cooler water temperatures will require a wetsuit if one wants to brave the surf.

Plus, for those who love history, Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, visited here in the early 1800s on their famous expedition and even bartered for some whale oil with the local Tillamook tribe.

4. Indiana Dunes | Indiana

Continuing with the National Park theme, Indiana Dunes National Park is beyond anything you could imagine. Stunning scenery, thousands of acres of adventure-filled wilderness and nine miles of oh-so-swimmable beaches tucked among the sand dunes.

Visitors will find scenic views of sand dunes, hiking trails and fifteen miles of coastline of Lake Michigan. Much different to the normally packed Lake Michigan shores of Chicago, this pristine lakeshore provides both sand and solitude for those who seek it.   

5. South Padre Island | Texas

Often only known as a spring break place, South Padre Island in southern Texas becomes a family retreat in the summer months. With much of the island protected, there are ways to avoid crowds. 

The unique island vibe provides the sense of leaving the U.S. without crossing any border as it is often nicknamed “Where Mañanaville meets Margaritaville.” South Padre Island is popular for fishing, watersports and paragliding, along with miles of beach.

6. Sea Girt | New Jersey

The Jersey Shore, perhaps made too popular thanks to MTV, offers many miles of beach much different from what’s portrayed in the “reality” show. In fact, travelers can discover many places to visit up and down the coast accessible via Jersey Transit from New York City. 

One such gem is the small hamlet of Sea Girt. Complete with a historic lighthouse owned by a local non-profit, visitors can still take tours and also spend time on the beach. 

Also, the seasonal popular restaurant and bar, Parker House, first established in 1878, remains an iconic tavern for a post-beach seafood on its back porch with a beer. Extremely popular for a night out, too, its VIP pass remains a top prize for weekend beachgoers.

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