The East Coast is lined with gorgeous coasts and vibrant cities, but between the big cities of Boston and New York and the popular beach towns are some hidden gems, too. These spots have a ton of character and charm — it’s no wonder the locals want to keep them a secret. These are places only people from the East Coast know.
At the time of the last census, Madison had a population of just over 18,000 residents, but the small town on Connecticut’s Long Island Sound shoreline has quintessential New England charm. A more popular town nearby is New Haven — home to Yale University, one of the most beautiful college campuses in America — but for a less crowded local spot with clean ocean air and good food, Madison is where you’ll want to be. Check out the Madison Beach Hotel, Cafe Allegre or Moxie, where the chefs adapt their menus to the seasonal harvest of New England. You can also pop into artisanal shops.
Gloucester, on Massachusetts' Cape Ann, is another coastal city that has been kept an East Coast secret despite the many things to do. The mom-and-pop restaurants are true hidden gems where you can enjoy super fresh seafood with views of the Gloucester Harbor. The area is also big for whale watching tours.
Camden is a quiet coastal village with charming small shops, waterfront restaurants and places to hike. The scenic town boasts historic buildings and close access to Penobscot Bay, where visitors can boat or kayak in the calm waters. Camden is also just under a two-hour drive from Acadia National Park, which boasts a spectacular sunrise.
If you’re a fan of poetry, Ripton, Vermont will be a treat. It's a town of about 600 people and is home to one trail that delights bibliophiles. The Robert Frost Interpretive Trail is a pathway in the woods and fields with several poems displayed along the way. Frost’s most notable work, “The Road Not Taken” is mounted on a tree — encouraging visitors to take the road less traveled. Ripton will likely be even cozier in autumn and is a great place to take in fall colors.
Jekyll Island — less than 100 miles from Savannah — boasts 10 miles of beaches, more than 20 miles of paths and trails for biking and a full water park. A large portion of the underrated scenic island is undeveloped and the nature is protected.
This coastal Delaware town is known for its peaceful atmosphere and long boardwalk. Bethany Beach has a population of 1,222 residents year-round, but that number rises during summer. The resort town isn’t as well known as the city of Lewes in Delaware, but it’s a delightful little find.
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Just 10 miles east of Savannah, visitors will find Sullivan’s Island with its sun-splashed shores and quaint seaside vibe that locals keep hush-hush. Stop into casual eateries like The Obstinate Daughter for things like fresh seafood chowder and shrimp rolls, and stroll through monumental spots from the Revolutionary War.
This East Coast gem is a 37-mile-long barrier island located in two states touching the Atlantic ocean — the northern part of the island is in Maryland and the southern part is in Virginia. The relaxed atmosphere is great, but its population of wild ponies is the real reason the locals love it. The horses are feral and roam freely throughout the beaches. According to the National Park Service, the wild horses may be descendants of horses that were brought to barrier islands like Assateague in the late 17th century. You can’t feed or touch them, but you can watch peacefully as they exist in their own habitat.
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Block Island is only 12 miles from coastal Rhode Island and is best known for its miles of public beaches and carefree vibe. In 1991, the Nature Conservancy named it one of the 12 “Last Great Places” in the western hemisphere.
Barnegat Light is located at the northern end of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. According to the state’s tourism website, the “quaint little borough” is less than 1 square mile in size and is home to only about 1,100 residents. One of the most special features of the tiny homeport is the Barnegat Lighthouse. It’s an island destination with no fuss and lots of character.
A little over 6 miles from Miami Beach is the much smaller, less crowded town of Surfside. You can go on an oceanfront stroll on Surfside Beach or even a summertime bike ride on the sandy paths. It’s not necessarily hidden, but the beachfronts have a private feel to them. Another bonus in Surfside is Serendipity Creamery & Yogurt Café — known for small-batch, made-from-scratch ice cream and sorbet with flavors like orange marmalade, passion fruit and blueberry crumble.
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Tourists who frequent New York, and residents alike, flock to the Hamptons for a weekend getaway. But there's one little town in the Hamptons that has less of a crowd than other hot spots — Sag Harbor. There you can stroll into art galleries, local restaurants, shops and beautiful, serene beaches
The Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Parkway are the more popular places to visit in North Carolina, but right off the parkway is Blowing Rock. It’s a quaint village in the mountains that will make you feel like you’re in a holiday movie, strolling into downtown shops surrounded by the comfort of a small community. Visitors can take part in adventurous activities like hiking, biking, spelunking and bouldering. You can also reserve a guided horseback ride through the cliffs.
Portsmouth offers the best of many worlds — history, art, coastal food and tax-free shopping. Not to mention there are plenty of beaches for swimming, surfing, sunbathing or just taking a long walk.
For a quieter experience further down the Jersey Shore, visit the town of Cape May. The seaside spot has Victorian bed-and-breakfasts and sparkling ocean views. The historic charm will take you away from the crowds and back in time.
Litchfield is a 300-year-old storybook New England town in northern Connecticut that offers a picturesque downtown area with restaurants and shops that surround a classic green. Venture outside the center of town to find many of the state’s popular wineries that feature tours and tastings. The trip is especially lovely in the fall as the foliage canopies over the roads.
Northampton is a western Massachusetts city that is a hotbed of arts and culture. Spend a night out at a local theater, art gallery or catch some live music at one of the city’s many venues filled with character. The city also offers many local shops, tasty restaurants and scenery from the surrounding Connecticut River, Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom.
Narragansett is a peaceful seaside town 14 miles west of bustling Newport, Rhode Island. Vacationers can hit the beach during the day to swim, tan or watch the many surfers who flock to the wakes. As the sun sets, The Towers makes for quite the romantic backdrop and the waterside Coast Guard House is one of the town’s premier dining options, with a more formal dining room downstairs or casual rooftop bar with live music — both offering seamless ocean views.
Valcour Island is located in Lake Champlain and about a mile offshore from Peru, near Plattsburgh. It’s only accessible by boat and is a popular destination for recreational boaters. The 2 mile-long island has 7 miles of hiking paths over sandy beaches and limestone bluffs all protected by the state of New York. It’s not only a beautiful natural island retreat, but a great destination for history buffs. The first naval battle of the Revolutionary War was fought on Valcour Island.
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A ferry is the only way to get to Fire Island, and what awaits is a natural wonderland. Fire Island is a barrier island that runs parallel to the south shore of Long Island. The ferry runs only from May to mid-September. There are inns, hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for those planning to spend multiple days on the island. You can explore the Sunken Forest, enjoy the landscape or pursue more maritime adventures with boating and sailing. These hidden gems make for a unique adventure — unexpected, charming and low on the radar. But if you’re in the market for big and bold, check out the most expensive travel destinations in America that you’ll have to splurge on.
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