With amazingly beautiful beaches, awe-inspiring mountains, the Appalachian Trail, historical sites, big cities, small towns, and everything in between — east coast vacations are where it’s at!
We’ve spoken with some of the world’s most seasoned travel writers, and we’ve analyzed our own trips to build a collection of 29 vacation destinations that are guaranteed to help you make memories that will last a lifetime.
OUR FEATURED DESTINATION: JACKSONVILLE, NC
DIRECT FLIGHTS FROM ATLANTA
We’re not keeping it secret: The towns of Jacksonville, NC, and Swansboro, NC — known as Onslow County — were where we enjoyed our favorite trip of 2019!!
This coastal area of North Carolina can be enjoyed for a week-long adventure or a short weekend escape thanks to direct flights from Hartsfield to Ellis Airport. Delta offers non-stop flights in under 90 minutes…and Ellis Airport is so easy to navigate, you’ll be soaking up the salty air within minutes of landing.
Don’t underestimate this small town airport; it’s not at all lacking in amenities. You’ll find restaurants, wifi, car rental options, a pet-relief area, and more.
OUR FAVORITE WAYS TO EXPLORE
“Why was it your favorite?” you may ask. I could talk to you about it for days, but here are my 10 “to the point” reasons you need to book your flight now (click through to see more about each one!)
- Wilmington and Outer Banks are more well-known NC coastal escapes; but if you ask me, that’s the problem. Jacksonville and Swansboro offer views and adventures of the same quality, but with far fewer crowds and “tourist traps.”
- We loved feeling the wind in our face as we explored New River with Bayonet Enterprises. Relax and enjoy yourself aboard this 46-foot luxury cabin cruiser offering spectacular views of the area you can’t see any other way.
- If you thought the river adventure was fun, wait until you take off with Marsh Cruises along the ICW! We opted for the Eco Adventure & Shelling tour which is fantastic for kids. Our family waded with sand dollars, watched gorgeous ocean waves on a secluded beach, and hunted sharks teeth. If you only take one adventure while you visit, make it this one.
- There is much to see at Lejeune Memorial Gardens, but the Montford Point Marine Memorial was my favorite, honoring the first black Marines and the contributions they made during WWII.
- Located about 15 minutes west of downtown Jacksonville, an area in Onslow county that used to contain a number of stills during prohibition that weren’t quite as “public”, Walton’s Distillery seeks to combine current best practices with wisdom of distilling forefathers of old. Take a tour and a tasting.
- You have to eat dinner at Mike’s Farm. It’s all-you-can-muster good ole country cooking, and the fried chicken is unmatched.
- Hit the beach at Bear Island. Bring your towels and swim trunks and enjoy this remote, pristine Atlantic beach, with lifeguards during the summer months.
- For beach day two, head over to North Topsail Beach. The beaches are wide open and if you pick up an affordable pass, you can even drive your 4×4 on the sand here. Don’t miss a walk on the fishing pier; the views are stupendous.
- The Hook, Wine and Sinker AirBnB will melt your heart. There is nothing – and I mean nothing – like sitting on that porch overlooking the waterway, with coffee in the morning– or watching the sunset as the boats come in while snuggled on the sun porch. We love love love this home in the heart of Swansboro.
- Since you’re sleeping in Downtown Swansboro, you’ll want to chow down at the awesome restaurants there. Our favorites include BORO Café & Bakery (my favorite!!), Saltwater Grill, and Yana’s Ye Olde Drug Store Restaurant.
NEW ENGLAND VACATION SPOTS
Crisp air, mountains, forests, beautiful beaches, historic sites, national parks, and savory seafood are just some of the reasons an east coast family vacation in New England is sure to be an unforgettable experience!
MAINE: BAR HARBOR AND ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Sharlene Earnshaw from Trekaroo says: Sunrises, sandcastles, and stunning scenery await families who visit Acadia National Park in Maine.
Acadia, a park largely based on Mount Desert Island, is home to rocky seashores and the low tide leaves behind tide pools filled with crabs, seas stars, and little fish.
The park is also home to historic carriage roads designed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. There are still horse-drawn carriages that tour these scenic paths, but these days most families find bike-riding to be the best way to enjoy them.
Hiking enthusiasts will be happy to hear there are several great trails to be explored. Families love the Great Head Trail which leads hikers up large, rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean and includes some fun rock scrambling.
Bar Harbor, Acadia’s gateway town, exudes classic New England charm and is the perfect place to dine on lobster (lobster macaroni and cheese, anyone?), popovers, and everything blueberry.
Erin Gifford of Kidventurous says: Stowe may be better known for skiing and snow tubing, but there’s a lot for kids and families when the weather warms too.
Start with a hike on the Pinnacle Meadow Trail for 360-degree views of the Green Mountains, then rent a double kayak to get out on the reservoir at Waterbury Center State Park. At the Fly Rod Shop, kids can take part in the Junior Fishing Program, a three-hour class on the basics of fishing at the on-site stocked pond.
In nearby Waterbury, a 30-minute tour of the Ben & Jerry’s Factory is a favorite activity, if only for the full-size sample at the end. Yum-o!
VERMONT: NATIONAL PARKS
John Tillison of Park Ranger John says: When it comes to gorgeous scenery, there is nothing quite like Vermont. The two Vermont National Parks offer the opportunity to learn more about conservation history and gorgeous hiking trails.
Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park is located near Woodstock in east-central Vermont. The park includes great hiking trails and historical sites. You can learn about the stewardship of land in America and conservation. Find out how multiple generations worked to establish agricultural practices in the area that protect Vermont’s forests.
The Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states including Vermont. There are 150 miles of the 2,175-mile trail that pass through Vermont. The AT is a great opportunity to take either short, 2-3 hours hikes or head out for a few days to get a more immersive experience.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: PORTSMOUTH
John Tillison of Park Ranger John says: Visit New Hampshire and explore some national parks while you’re there! New Hampshire National Parks include Saint – Gaudens National Historic Site and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site protects and preserves the home and works of Augustus Saint Gauden, who is one of the finest sculptors in American history.
The National Historic Site offers tours of “Aspet,” which was Saint-Gauden’s residence in Cornish, New Hampshire. You can also see some of his famous sculptures as you walk through the gorgeous grounds and gardens.
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail travels 161 miles across New Hampshire. The trail offers scenic views through the White Mountains. This portion of the Appalachian Trail includes the most miles above the tree line of the entire trail. This means lots of gorgeous views during your trek!
MASSACHUSETTS: CAPE COD
Robin Hutson of Luxe Recess says: Cape Cod is the heart of New England’s iconic summer season.
The Cape is divided into several sections — the Upper, Mid, Lower, and Outer Cape — each with wonderful activities and accommodations.
Beach campgrounds, quaint inns, and luxury resorts offer options for every budget and style. Vacationers can enjoy fresh clams and lobster, and boat rides promise interactions with local sea life, from seals to great white sharks.
Visitors can take ferries to nearby Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard for the New England Island experience. Insiders love the shoulder seasons of May and September when the biggest crowds start to dissipate.
RHODE ISLAND: BLOCK ISLAND
Tamara Gruber of We3Travel says: Just seven miles long and three miles wide, Block Island is easily accessible by ferry from the coast of Rhode Island and the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. With only 1,000 year-long residents, this classic seaside getaway attracts thousands of visitors a day in the summer season!
Most leave their cars on the mainland and rent bikes or scooters in town and head out to explore the bluffs and lighthouses. Others stick to the main port and spend some time shopping or sipping mudslides at Ballard’s on the beach.
However, many spend a long weekend or more just relaxing on this laid-back island.
Tamara Gruber of We3Travel says: Mystic is a historic seaport village on the eastern coast of Connecticut.
Families flock to Mystic for day trips and weekend getaways to explore the Mystic Aquarium, Olde Mystick shopping village, and the quaint downtown.
One of the main attractions is the historic Mystic Seaport Museum — the nation’s leading maritime museum and an interactive living history village. Kids love climbing on recreated tall ships, watching the blacksmith at work, and learning how ancient mariners navigated by the stars at the planetarium.
While in town, most will enjoy a treat at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream or stand in line for a slice of the famous Mystic Pizza!
New York City and DC! Cultural sites, a beautiful beach, and outdoor activities galore! You’ll find all sorts of family-friendly fun at these awesome vacation spots in the northeast!
NEW YORK: NEW YORK CITY
You know there is no shortage of things to do in New York City! And if you have the kids with you — even better!
The best way to make the most of your Big Apple trip is to experience a combination of classic NYC attractions mixed with unique sights, sounds, and tastes.
As for the classics, make sure to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, explore the High Line, visit the top of the Empire State Building, take your picture in Times Square, attend a Broadway show, ride the subway, and spend a day in Central Park.
And after you’ve done those things, take a Milk Bar class, grab a slice at Joe’s Pizza, find a Banksy, or explore Bryant Park.
No matter what, you can’t go wrong with NYC!
NEW JERSEY: CAPE MAY
Jennifer Auer of Jersey Family Fun says: The Cape May area has some of the most beautiful beaches in New Jersey, but Cape May is not just a summer destination. Cape May offers families activities to enjoy year-round. The bonus? These Cape May activities are so easy, they require almost no advance planning.
Hunt for “diamonds” — which are actually pure quartz crystals — on Sunset Beach. Or you can search for birds at the Cape May Bird Observatory. In Weekly Walks, guides take visitors through the best birding and natural history locations around Cape May.
Want to be on the water? Take a ride on the Cape May Whale Watcher to view dolphins and whales in the ocean. The tours run from March through December.
Ask the locals what to do, and they will tell you to visit the Cape May County Zoo. Kids love the animals, and there’s nothing better than a free New Jersey zoo to see and learn about different species and their habitats.
Walkthrough history, climb a lighthouse, hunt for ghosts — there’s so much that Cape May offers!
PENNSYLVANIA: LAUREL HIGHLANDS
Julie McCool from Fun In Fairfax VA says: Vacation in the Laurel Highlands region of southwest Pennsylvania to enjoy a truly unique combination of cultural sites, American history, and outdoor adventure.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2019, is joined by two other Wright sites in the region. Architecture buffs can tour several beautiful homes, and even spend the night in a Wright masterpiece at Polymath Park.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of easy adventures for all ages. Hike through an old-growth Hemlock forest, whitewater raft on the Youghiogheny River, or bike a portion of the 150-mile Great Alleghany Passage trail (the GAP).
The quaint town of Ohiopyle outfits visitors with bikes and offers scenic river and waterfall views from the Low Bridge.
Laurel Highlands is also the site of the Flight 93 Memorial, honoring the heroic passengers who fought back on 9/11.
Explore colonial history at Fort Necessity, where George Washington experienced one of his first military challenges.
DELAWARE: REHOBOTH BEACH
Keryn Means from Walking on Travels says: No high-rise hotels — just great ocean views, loads of family activities, and fabulous food to enjoy year-round when you head to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware.
While most Delaware natives and DC-area residents hit the oceanfront in the summer, this East Coast beach has something for everyone, even in winter!
We love these additional road trip ideas from our friend at Grand Rapids Kids!
Accommodations range from B&Bs to chain hotels. Explore the town’s roots at the Rehoboth Beach Museum or head up to the observation tower in Cape Henlopen State Park.
Your kids will be begging you to stop at Kohr Bros. Custard, one of our favorite summer treats that comes in a cone!
If you’re lucky, you will be in town during the annual Rehoboth Beach Sandcastle Contest or the Sea Witch Halloween and the Fiddlers’ Festival.
No matter when you visit though, make sure you take a stroll along the Rehoboth boardwalk to soak in those oceanfront views and the salty sea air. This is why you came to town after all — for that Atlantic Ocean refresh!
MARYLAND: OCEAN CITY
Visit Ocean City, Maryland for the ultimate northeast vacation!
This resort town is located between the Atlantic Ocean and Isle of Wright Bay, and that means you’ll find miles of shoreline on both sides of the island! You’ll find the beautiful bay on one side, and miles of beach on the other — perfect for water sports, and soaking up the sun.
A trip to Ocean City isn’t complete without walking (or biking) the 2.9-mile boardwalk. You’ll find shops, restaurants, bike rentals, and more on the boardwalk. The best part? Trimper’s Rides and Amusement Park is located on the boardwalk near the inlet. A mainstay here, this amusement park –filled with 100 rides and games — was established in 1887!
Looking for more fun in the sun with the kids? Head on over to Jolly Roger’s Splash Mountain Water Park, where you’ll find water slides and fun for all ages.
Best hotel option: Hilton Suites Ocean City Oceanfront is an all-suite oceanfront luxury hotel and beach family resort. The property has three swimming pools, two restaurants, and one great view.
Caroline Makepiece of Y Travel Blog says: For those wanting a shorter summer vacation, Washington D.C. – the nation’s capital – is an excellent choice for history and culture.
The weather is warm, the flowers are in bloom, and festivals are in full swing!
The President of the United States may live here alongside many diplomats and bureaucrats in their fancy motorcades, but that doesn’t mean you need a champagne budget to visit Washington D.C.
There are plenty of free things to do in Washington D.C. including exploring the Smithsonian museums, taking part in a U.S Capitol Tour, or visiting the many famous monuments in the National Mall!
The historic neighborhoods are cute and pedestrian-friendly, and there are plenty of parks and waterways to help you make the most of the good weather.
SOUTHEAST HOLIDAY ADVENTURES
In the southeast you’ll find charming beach towns, lots of southern hospitality, beautiful beaches, and yummy food! Most of these spots have a small town feel, so you’re able to really relax and recharge. Perfect for a weekend trip, these destinations in the southeast are all about fun.
VIRGINIA: CHESAPEAKE BAY/VIRGINIA BEACH
Keryn Means from Walking On Travel says: On and off the sand, Virginia Beach has some of the most unique family-friendly beach town offerings we have ever seen!
In the summer months you can stroll the boardwalk from pier to pier seeing live entertainment, from bands to magicians. Most of the big concerts happen in Neptune’s Park at 31st Street, which you can’t miss thanks to the giant statue of Neptune on the boardwalk.
Off the beach, you will find loads of shops and restaurants, but if you push out just a little bit more you can really dive into the local art and culinary scene. The VIBE Creative District has become the hub for local makers, roasters, and chefs to set up shop, getting you away from the usual boardwalk fries and chicken wings. Plus, there are loads of murals to check out in the area.
On rainy days, take the kids to the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, one of the best aquariums on the east coast, doing amazing work to protect the local sea turtle population.
If you need a place to stay, there are plenty of hotels — from budget to luxe — along the water and in town, and most have a pool, too!
NORTH CAROLINA: THE OUTER BANKS
Charles McCool from McCool Travel says: The Outer Banks (OBX) is 100 miles of barrier islands off the northern coast of North Carolina. The OBX beaches are some of the best in the USA!
Things to do in the Outer Banks include seeing the wild horses of Corolla and then horseback riding on the beach further south, seeing where the Wright Brothers flew in the first airplane and then flying in open-cockpit plane, kayaking through a watery forest or in the Atlantic Ocean, and so much more!
Or lounge on the luscious, sandy beaches for a week; heck, this is a no-judgment zone! Make sure you try some local she-crab soup, though.
SOUTH CAROLINA: BEAUFORT
A beautiful southern town located right on the water, filled with history, culture, art, loads of outdoor activities, awesome restaurants, and amazing beaches too? You know we’re talking about Beaufort, SC!
Beaufort is the kind of town you picture when you talk about charming southern towns. It’s more relaxed than its coastal Carolina cousin, Myrtle Beach. Beaufort’s got Spanish moss draping the trees, plenty of water activities to experience, downtown art galleries, restaurants that serve some of the best southern food around, a rails-to-trails path along the water, and amazing beaches where you can spend the day relaxing.
Kayak across the Intracoastal Waterway with your kids, or visit Hunting Island State Park and climb to the top of the lighthouse for fantastic views! Make sure to make time for a stop at the Gullah Geechee Visitor Center too, and learn more about the history of the Gullah people.
GEORGIA: TYBEE ISLAND
Although Tybee Island is only 20 minutes away from Historic Savannah, in some ways it feels a world away because it’s so different! Tybee has its own vibe, and that vibe is one that’s filled with relaxation and lots of beach time.
With several public beaches to choose from, you’ll have no problem finding a place to soak up the sun, enjoy some water sports, and splash in the waves! If you’re looking for a different water adventure, rent a SUP or kayak, take a dolphin tour, or take a beach walk with Dr. Joe — he’ll teach your family all about the marine life that calls this beach home.
We always make time to climb the Tybee Lighthouse while we’re in town, and a visit to the Tybee Museum is a must-do! The Tybee Island Marine Science Center provides year-round programs on the beach, in the marsh, on the water, or in their gallery.
More good news? There is no shortage of amazing seafood restaurants and great places to stay on Tybee Island! And if you’re looking to extend your weekend getaway — Hilton Head, SC is just a quick trip away!
Stuart, Florida is both a historic and eclectic riverside town, and a town where you can relax on a beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. How cool is that?
Tour the city with your family on the Downtown Stuart Tram, a FREE open-air, solar-powered tram that looks like an elongated golf cart! Follow the boardwalk along the St. Lucie River, stopping at parks, restaurants, and shops along the way.
Consider making a stop at the Stuart Heritage Museum, the Elliott Museum, or the free Stuart Green Market held on Sundays.
With plenty of great restaurants to choose from, I can promise you’ll never go hungry. And while you’re in the area, visit Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Blowing Rocks Preserve, or the National Wildlife Refuge Nature Center.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR EAST COAST TRIP
- BEST OF THE US VACATION IDEAS
- LINCOLN, NH: 14 BEST THINGS TO DO IN LINCOLN NEW HAMPSHIRE
- A NEW BRUNSWICK ROAD TRIP ITINERARY FULL OF THRILLS & CHILLS [+ MAPS]
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