You don’t need to head to the Caribbean or French Polynesia to enjoy a scenic beach getaway. The United States is home to plenty of worthwhile coastal getaways, all with their own unique offerings. Escape reality and head to one of the following destinations, all promising to offer nature encounters, soft sand and plenty of time spent playing in the water.

Carlsbad, California

State Beach- Carlsbad, California

Photo: Bryce Bradford / Flickr

Located right outside of San Diego is the city’s more affluent and slow-paced coastal sister, Carlsbad. Carlsbad is full of all-natural spas, scenic golf courses and beautiful beaches perfect for enjoying free dolphin, seal and whale watching. Additionally, it’s home to a charming village filled with antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, wine bars, breweries and delicious restaurants. We recommend watching artists at work at the New Village Arts Theatre Foundry to watch creative minds at work, having a glass of wine at the ambient Paon Restaurant & Wine Bar, sampling artisanal chocolates at the Carlsbad Chocolate Bar, perusing old nicknacks at the Carlsbad Village Art & Antique Mall and taking a beer tour with Scavengers Beer Adventures to learn more about the local brew culture. Beyond the village there are myriad outdoor experiences to have, like hiking around Batiquitos Lagoon & Lagoon & Nature Center (one of the few remaining tidal wetlands on the southern California coast), photographing beautiful flora at The Flower Fields and partaking in water sports at Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

Long Island, New York

Long Island, New York

Photo: Benson Kua / Flickr

An easy train ride from New York City, Long Island features numerous golden-sand beaches with spectacular waves, coastal hiking trails, boardwalks and charming waterfront communities. While you can find beaches littered all over the island, most agree the best coastal experiences are out east. Not only is this where you’ll find over 40 wineries, streetside farm stands and acres upon acres of expansive vineyards, but also beaches and water perfect for scuba diving, surfing, kayaking, canoeing and other water sports. Long Island is also a great destination for seal and whale watching, especially from Montauk. This is also where you can do the Seal Halout Hike from November through April, a coastal hike that allows you to see lazy harbor seals lounging on the beach.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Photo: amelungc / Flickr

For a unique mix of Southern hospitality and laid-back beach resort, Gulf Shores is a great destination. Featuring 32 miles (52 kilometers) of waterfront, fresh seafood restaurants and beautiful beaches, visitors can spend their days sunbathing, swimming fishing, kayaking and watching playful dolphins from onboard a cruise. Moreover, Gulf Shores features an array of land-based fun, like hiking in Foley’s Graham Creek Nature Preserve, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park; bird-watching along the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail; and seeing over 200 alligators in Alligator Alley. The best part about Gulf Shores is it’s an off the beaten path coastal destination, meaning you can enjoy less crowds and a cheaper vacation.

Lana’i, Hawaii

Lana'i, Hawaii

Photo: jurvetson / Flickr

For those looking for a romantic coastal getaway, Lana’i is a great pick. The Hawaiian island is full of pristine golf courses, luxury hotels, white sand beaches, translucent waters and a tranquil vibe that makes you feel millions of miles away from city stress. Experience small-town culture at the Kaunolu Village archeological site (the largest surviving ruins of a prehistoric Hawaiian village); enjoy water sports, playful dolphins and a vibrant coral reef at the large but uncrowded Hulopo`e Beach; create your own perfume at the The Spa at Manele; have cowboys teach you about the island’s ranching history at Stables at Koele; and trek one of the island’s scenic hikes like Fisherman’s Trail, Pu Ľupehe Trail and Koloiki Ridge Trail. Lana’i is all about serenity and relaxation, so opting for a traditional spa treatment should also be part of the experience.

Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May, New Jersey

Photo: Allie_Caulfield / Flickr

For a mix of old world charm and relaxing coast, Cape May delivers. The destination is full of Victorian buildings, horse-drawn carriage rides, welcoming inns and, of course, sugar-sand beaches. Spend time at the Cape May Lighthouse and climb the nearly 200 steps for aerial views of the Atlantic Ocean and Delaware Bay. The destination also offers an array of nature experiences at places like the The Meadows (great for bird watching), the Nature Center of Cape May and the Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center. Of course, much of your time should be spent relaxing and partaking in water sports at the beach, some of which include Higbee Beach, Poverty Beach and Cape May Beach. And if it happens to rain, head to the Historical Cold Spring Village, a living museum that allows you to step back in time with 19th-century buildings, craft demonstrations, a country store and interactive activities.

Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is a freelance travel writer. Her work has been included in outlets like Gadling, Huffington Post, AOL Travel, Fodor's, Matador Network, Vagabondish and The Culture-Ist.

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