Skip the Summer Crowds at These Underrated U.S. Beaches

Pack your bags, put on your sunglasses, and get ready to discover your next favorite beach.

Sections of wooden fence on bright white sand

Spend your day on the sands of underrated places like Gulf State Park.

Photo by Roberto Michel/Shutterstock

With nearly 100,000 miles of U.S. shoreline waiting for you this summer, it’s not a question of if you should visit a beach but where. There are numerous coastal stretches that get a lot of fame in the country, but there are plenty of underrated spots that deserve some love, too. So before you hit the sands at an old favorite, consider one of these seven beach getaway destinations in the USA.

1. Gulf State Park, Alabama

Alabama is possibly the most underrated state when it comes to beaches. The Alabama Gulf Coast has more than 30 miles of beachfront, and Gulf State Park has 3.5 miles of it for relaxation and fishing. (It’s also home to Alabama’s only public pier in the Gulf of Mexico.) Freshwater adventure abounds, too—head to the 900-acre Lake Shelby for some paddleboarding, swimming, or kayaking. Plus, getting off the beach and into the wilderness of the 6,150-acre park is accessible with its 28 miles of paved trail in the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail system.

Where to stay: Gulf State Park Campground

There are plenty of sites (around 500) for camping at Gulf State Park Campground, which is less than two miles from the beach. Amenities include 11 bathhouses, volleyball courts, and access to a camp store stocked with food, firewood, and bike rentals.

A wooden pier at sunset, with a few people in distance

Walk along Seal Beach’s pier at sunset for a picturesque end to your day.

Photo by Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

2. Seal Beach, California

California’s Pacific waters draw plenty of tourists each summer, aiming to ride the waves of Huntington Beach—dubbed Surf City USA—or tour places like L.A.’s Santa Monica pier. But you can find lots of good beaches sandwiched in the middle, with Seal Beach as a shining testament. This beach in the O.C. was named after seals that once basked on its shores, though nowadays you’ll more likely see people surfing, kitesurfing, or windsurfing. After exploring the beach town’s 1.5 miles of coast, hang out at a restaurant on Main Street or head to its pier, the second-longest wooden pier in California.

Where to stay: Hotel Current

Ten minutes north of Seal Beach is the 99-room Hotel Current in Long Beach. The trendy hotel features guest rooms made with ecofriendly materials (like hemp and recycled plastic bottle fabric) and hand-painted artwork by locals.

 A few small boats off a coast at sunset, with hotel in distance

Water activities abound in Wrightsville Beach.

Photo by Ian McRainey/Shutterstock

3. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

With warm waters and a temperate climate, the Carolinas have a reputation for having some of the best beaches on the East Coast. This can make beachgoing a toughie: Do you head to North Carolina for some fun at the Outer Banks? Or perhaps go south to Myrtle Beach, where there are plenty of attractions along its 60 miles of coastline? As an underrated alternative, consider Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina’s southeast. This laid-back summer destination boasts the energy of nearby college surfers with plenty of scenic views on its four-mile stretch. Go sailing, swimming, or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding on the Atlantic.

Where to stay: Blockade Runner Beach Resort

The Blockade Runner Beach Resort, operating since 1964, offers such amenities as an American Sailing Association–certified sailing school, ecopaddle tours, and harbor cruises. The hotel also has a focus on sustainability, with an in-house Green Team assisting in projects like building oyster reefs and sorting trash.

Forested land at sunset, viewed from expanse of flat lake

Western Lake is one of the rare coastal dune lakes in Walton County.

Photo by Rotorhead 30A Productions/Shutterstock

4. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida

There’s plenty of beach to go around in Florida, each with different charms. Just look to South Beach’s art deco buildings or Clearwater Beach’s white sands as examples of diversity. One overlooked seaside getaway is Grayton Beach State Park, located in the northern section of the state hugging the Gulf of Mexico. The nearly 2,000-acre park has emerald green waters and sand dunes that offer high-quality beach time. Grayton Beach State Park is a particularly notable destination for road-trip enthusiasts; its location along the 28-mile Scenic Highway 30a makes it a great stop en route to exploring the new urbanism architecture and local restaurants along Florida’s Walton County.

Where to stay: WaterColor Inn & Resort

If you’d rather not camp at one of Grayton Beach’s 59 campsites, drive five minutes from the park to the WaterColor Inn on Santa Rosa Beach. There’s a lot to explore around the property, which sits between a dune-backed beach and one of Walton County’s dune lakes.

Five brown horses on a beach

Wild horses inhabit the protected beaches, pine forests, and salt marshes of Assateague Island, a 37-mile coastal split between Maryland and Virginia.

Photo by Stephen Bonk/Shutterstock

5. Assateague Island, Maryland

Instead of spending the weekend shoulder to shoulder with crowds, travel to Assateague Island and you can spend it among horses. The island, split between Maryland and Virginia, is home to about 250 of them. Their domesticated ancestors were brought over during the 17th century, and over time they’ve reverted back to their wild state. Besides hanging along the shoreline of this 37-mile-long island, you can further explore Assateague’s secluded coves and marshes via canoe or kayak. It’s important to remember that the ocean waters on this barrier island can be intense, so be aware of rip currents.

Where to stay: Assateague State Park

The oceanfront Assateague State Park has two miles of shoreline to explore, whether you want to sunbathe, fish, or admire the horses. Its 342 sites offer plenty of places to camp by the seashore.

Two children wade in shallow water along beach

Harris Beach State Park is ideal for families and sunsets.

Photo by

6. Harris Beach State Park, Oregon

Beaches in the Pacific Northwest are less about idyllic lulls in the sand and instead emphasize the dramatic landscapes that make the region so well-loved by nature enthusiasts. Case in point: sea stacks, which are the remnants of headlands that have eroded over time. While Oregon’s most famous is the 235-foot Haystack Rock, head 80 miles south and you can enjoy the magnificent formations with fewer crowds at Harris Beach State Park. Wildlife watching is also a worthwhile activity here: The tufted puffin breeds on Bird Island offshore, and you might spot gray whales when they migrate in the spring and fall. For a fantastic sunset view, walk along the nearly mile-long stretch of South Beach.

Where to stay: Harris Beach State Park Campsites

Consider pulling over at the campsites Harris Beach State Park in Brookings for a night or two. The site, located right off the 101, has 65 full-hookup sites, 59 tent sites, and 6 yurts.

Palm trees lining a beach shoreline

Come hungry, lounge happily in Luquillo.

Photo by Claudia Cooper/Shutterstock

7. Playa de Luquillo, Puerto Rico

Completely surrounded by warm waters year-round, Puerto Rico’s main island has plenty of contenders vying for the “best beach” title. Sure, you can ride the surf-ready waves out west or hit the popular Flamenco Beach in Culebra. But if your ideal beach day is a quiet stay by calm waters and some local food, consider driving about 30 miles east of San Juan to Playa de Luquillo. This beach in Puerto Rico’s northeast section is one of several surrounding the small town of Luquillo. When you get hungry, stop by the Kioskos de Luquillo—along this strip of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, you can try dishes like alcapurrias and mofongo.

It can be tempting to go beach-hopping all day, but a 15-minute drive from here takes you to El Yunque National Forest, making Luquillo a convenient stopover option on your way to Puerto Rico’s mountains.

Where to stay: Rainforest Inn Bed & Breakfast

Journey to the Rainforest Inn in El Yunque National Forest—the only tropical rainforest in the eastern USA—for a special ecoluxury experience, complete with locally sourced vegetarian breakfasts and freshwater collected by cisterns. Each of its villas features spacious terraces and vistas of the surrounding rainforest, while the coquís singsong-y croak offers the perfect lullaby at night.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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