Tennessee has something for everyone – great lakes, mountains, and attractions. Its only flaw? It’s a landlocked state.
But that doesn’t mean Tennesseeans can’t get their fill of seaside bliss. In fact, the closest beach to Nashville, TN is just a day’s drive away. That means you can enjoy a sun-soaked vacation without the uncertainty and costs of flying.
Families can pile into the SUV and trek toward the coast, stopping along the way at fruit stands, roadside attractions, and small southern towns. Or head straight to the beach, where fruity cocktails and fresh seafood await.
Today we’re highlighting the best beaches near Nashville so that you can escape to the ocean’s edge easily and in style. From the dreamy shorelines of North Carolina to the unlikely adventures in Panama City Beach, there’s a beach town for everyone near Nashville, Tennessee.
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GULF SHORES/ORANGE BEACH (ALABAMA)
Distance: Gulf Shores / Orange Beach, Alabama is about 7.5 hours away from Nashville.
Gulf Shores, Alabama offers the classic beach getaway with a more calm and coastal ambiance. Sure, there are plenty of fun activities, like mini golf, parasailing, and a waterpark. But it lacks the hard-core party scene that typically flocks to the coast during school breaks.
This is a draw for many families who enjoy bustling beach towns but also want space and quiet. Oceanview condos will be spacious and steps away from the beach, and it will be easy to drive around for shopping and excursions.
In addition to the beautiful beaches, the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area boasts incredible seafood restaurants, many of which are locally owned. And of course, a ride on the Ferris wheel at the Wharf is a must-do.
Gulf State Park offers kayaking, canoeing, ziplining, and overnight stays in its cabin, lodge, or campsites. Plus, there’s a butterfly garden and a fishing pier.
Vacationers of any style can have a great time in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Laze around on the beach, spend the day golfing, visit the zoo, or explore the town’s many shops or walking trails.
Stay Here: Waterfront Gulf Shores Condo
Distance: Gulfport, Mississippi is about 7.5 hours away from Nashville.
Gulfport is Mississippi’s second-largest city, so vacations here offer a classic beach escape with all the activities and conveniences of a large town. And it’s easy to find nearly any kind of water activity here, from fishing charters to stand up paddleboard rentals to jet ski excursions.
The local restaurants can’t be beat: fresh seafood with cajun influences. Anyone wanting to get a multi-faceted vacation can continue for another hour or so to New Orleans. This incredible destination will add culture and adventure to your beach trip.
Many people flock to the Gulfport area to enjoy gambling during their beach trips. There are at least a dozen casinos along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, so you can get your fill of gaming and buffets in between sunbathing and sightseeing.
Another highlight of a Gulfport vacation? INFINITY Science Center. Here you can discover some of the greatest phenomena of the earth, ocean, and space. It’s engaging for all ages and the perfect thing to do if you want a break from the sun and sea. Sure, it’s geared toward kids, but adults will enjoy learning about our world and galaxy at this state-of-the-art science center.
Stay Here: Best Western Seaway Inn
PANAMA CITY (FLORIDA)
Distance: Panama City Beach is about 7.5 hours away from Nashville.
There are few places in the South as infamous as Panama City Beach. Once the reigning “Spring Break Capital of the World,” the small Florida town saw big-name concerts, MTV specials, and some of the wildest parties in the country.
Today, Panama City is in a new era, welcoming families and college kids who want more than sandy beaches and endless booze. There’s a waterpark, dolphinarium, WonderWorks, winery, mini golf, and Ferris wheels.
You can spend your entire vacation dining on fresh seafood, but be sure to save room for breakfast at Thomas Donut & Snack Shop.
If you haven’t visited Panama City, Florida in a while, now could be the time to go. It’s a 7.5 hour drive from Nashville, making it one of the town’s closest beaches. And while it still offers lots of nightlife, you will likely enjoy the more family-friendly atmosphere it’s become in recent years.
Stay Here: Embassy Suites by Hilton
TYBEE ISLAND (GEORGIA)
Distance: Tybee Island, Georgia is about 8 hours from Nashville.
Tybee Island is one of the most peaceful beaches near Nashville. This Georgia coastal area has the small-town seaside vibes that are romanticized in TV and movies, and it recently became a popular Hollywood filming location.
This is the place to go if you like taking long walks on the beach in the morning and grabbing a beer at a small dive bar at night. There are small ice cream shops and diners, incredible wildlife, and long stretches of glistening white beaches.
Tybee Island is also a favorite nesting spot among Loggerhead sea turtles, and the habitat protection efforts here are impressive. When I visited years ago, I saw a baby turtle making its way from the nest to the waters. Volunteers walk the beach every day during nesting season to find nests and protect babies as they make their way to the ocean.
Tybee Island is about 8 hours from Nashville, so it’s a longer drive than some gulf coast towns. It also lacks the mini golf and amusement parks you’ll find in other destinations. But it offers a unique ambiance and a cozy coastal charm that couples and older families will appreciate.
Tybee’s proximity to Savannah is the main draw for visiting. The beautiful city will call you away from the beach, inviting you to explore its historic neighborhoods, incredible restaurants, and warm hospitality. It’ll take about a half hour to get from Tybee Island to the heart of Savannah.
Other fun Tybee Island activities include dolphin excursions, visiting the area’s lighthouses, and renting bikes. Even if you’re not one for exercising during vacation, a photo of you biking by the beach definitely belongs on your Instagram feed.
Stay Here: DeSoto Beach Terraces
HILTON HEAD (SOUTH CAROLINA)
Distance: It’s an 8 hour drive from Nashville to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Hilton Head Island is a special place – a community rich with history and wildlife. This is the place to go if you want a classic beach vacation with a little extra magic. The island is covered with bike paths and pleasant trails so that you can enjoy days immersed in the outdoors.
It’s also covered with golf courses, a big draw for many Hilton Head visitors. The resorts, spas, and emerald golf courses earned it a reputation as a ritzier destination. So this is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a more upscale beach vacation.
But it can also appeal to certain types of budget travelers too – groups who like to balance cost and experience, who look for deals but also know when to splurge. There are great condo options, along with lower-cost local restaurants. And since so much of Hilton Head’s draw is its beaches and natural scenery, you don’t need to spend a fortune finding things to do.
Of course, there are experiences for those who want more than golfing and sunbathing. You can parasail, jetski, dolphin-watch, or even charter a yacht. Plus, there is so much shopping and dining you won’t ever want to leave.
All of this is in the Lowcountry Region, one of the historic areas of the nation. Learning about Gullah is a must-do for anyone visiting Hilton Head. A great way to do this is through the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours, a family-owned operation that offers visitors an engaging glimpse into the island’s Gullah Geechee history.
Stay Here: Sonesta Resort
CAPE SAN BLAS (FLORIDA)
Distance: Cape San Blas is 8.5 hours away from Nashville.
Cape San Blas is a bit farther away than Florida’s other panhandle destinations. But it’s also a bit quieter and serene – a hidden gem for those who want the full experience of a seaside escape.
Walk along quiet beaches, eat fresh seafood at a local restaurant, and bird watch along this stretch of unspoiled coastline.
Dr. Beach once named St. Joseph Peninsula State Park the best beach in America. This will definitely be the highlight of your trip to Cape San Blas, Florida. You can wade, swim, or snorkel in the glistening sea, walk on the sugary white sand, hike along its trails, or even set up a tent and camp overnight.
Cape San Blas sets itself apart by being underdeveloped, and you won’t find the kitschy tourist attractions that are peppered along Florida’s other coastal destinations. One activity that you can do in Cape San Blas is horseback riding. Some tours will take you right on the beach for a romantic and memorable ride.
This scenic town is a place for honeymooners, retirees, or families who enjoy a simple vacation. You’ll drive about 8.5 hours to get here from Nashville.
Stay Here: Salty Pearl
MYRTLE BEACH (SOUTH CAROLINA)
Distance: Myrtle Beach, SC is a 9.5 hour drive from Nashville.
My family vacationed in Myrtle Beach a couple of times when I was growing up. We often took trips to the Gulf Coast and eventually wanted something a little different, so we headed to South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach is great for a kid-friendly vacation. There is an aquarium, multiple pier areas with Ferris wheels, and a lot of kitschy theater: comedy, magic, and tribute shows. And of course, you’ll find all the classic watersports, like jet skiing, parasailing, and snorkeling.
Myrtle Beach is also great if you’re traveling on a budget. Much of this is thanks to its size. There are many options for hotels and dining, meaning you can find a place that works for you.
The pros of visiting Myrtle Beach are that there are lots of activities, so it’s perfect for kids and families who want more than just beach days during their vacation. And if you’ve visited the Gulf Coast often, a South Carolina vacation will offer you a different drive and experience.
But Myrtle Beach is really developed – there are a lot of high rises and heavy traffic. Plus, it’s a 9.5 hour drive from Nashville, making it one of the farther beaches to drive to.
Asheville, North Carolina, is a good halfway point between Nashville and Myrtle Beach. Consider spending a day resting and sightseeing in this pretty mountain town on your way to your beach adventures.
Stay Here: Holiday Inn at the Pavilion
WILMINGTON (NORTH CAROLINA)
Distance: It takes 10 hours to drive to Wilmington from Nashville.
It’ll take you 10 hours to drive to Wilmington, so it might be best to fly here. But it is the closest North Carolina beach town, and it offers a unique setting you can’t find in the Gulf.
Wilmington is Cape Cod for southerners who don’t want to trek all the way to New England. In fact, Dawson’s Creek and The Summer I Turned Pretty were both filmed here, though they were supposed to be set in coastal Massachusetts towns.
The North Carolina destination offers warmth and magic similar to its Northern counterparts, though there is still a sense of Southern hospitality.
Plus, there are lots of fun things to do that you can only find here. Explore the Battleship North Carolina, tour downtown on a trolley, stroll around Airlie Gardens, or simply relax on its beautiful beaches.
Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington is famous for its surfing. Experienced riders make their way out here in the winter, when the beach’s unique positioning brings impressive swells. In the summer months, it’s a beginner-friendly location that’s crowded with surf schools.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a newfound love for surfing that will take you to new beaches across the country.
With a Wilmington Vacation, anything is possible. As for me? You’ll find me here in the fall, watching the waves roll in with a cup of coffee in hand, living out all my Hollywood-inspired coastal vibes.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO TENNESSEE
- YOUR TENNESSEE VACATION
- NASHVILLE: 35 Best Things To Do In Nashville With Kids
- FREE NASHVILLE: 21+ Free and Cheap Things To Do In Nashville, Tennessee
- GETAWAY NASHVILLE: Unplug and Refresh at Nashville’s Newest Tiny Homes
- ROOFTOP BAR NASHVILLE: 23+ Best Spots For A Good Time In The Music City
WHERE TO STAY IN NASHVILLE
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