10 U.S. Beaches Where You Can Drive Right Up to the Water
From national parks to beach party hot spots, these are the best places in the U.S. to get some sand in your treads.
Daytona Beach, Florida
Fun fact: long before there was NASCAR and the Daytona 400, people were driving on the hard-packed sands of Daytona Beach, which hosted its first auto and motorcycles race in 1902. A $20 pass will get you and your car access to the beach during daylight hours via ramps off Highway A1A in Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, Ormond Beach, and New Smyrna Beach. Interspersed “no drive” areas mean you can’t set off on a day-long cruise along the beach, but families will love being able to drive right to their sunning spot rather than lugging beach gear across the sand.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
It’s a bit of a process to get an Off Road Vehicle (ORV) pass for Cape Cod National Seashore — you’ll need to get your four-wheel-drive inspected and watch an orientation video, among other things — but it’s well worth the minor hassle for the privilege of driving along miles of unspoiled Atlantic coastline where you’ll encounter whales, surfers, and plenty of wide open spaces. With the right permits you can also turn your beach drive into a fishing and camping adventure.
Long Beach Peninsula, Washington
Driving may be the most practical way to experience the world's longest continuous peninsula beach, with at least 16 of the 28-mile West Coast beach open to four-wheel-drive vehicles at all times, and even more when it’s open season on digging for razor clams. Locals have a bit of a love-hate relationship with beach driving, so obey the 25 mph speed limit and take it slow to enjoy the views of the sand, surf, kite-flyers and clammers, or park and pull out your beach chairs for a day in the sun.
Oceano Dunes, California
It may come as a surprise that California — known for its car and beach culture — has but one beach where it’s legal to drive. Officially the 'Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area,' this 5.5-mile stretch of coast near Pismo Beach is also a rarity in that you can drive on the towering sand dunes behind the beach as well, an activity that’s usually strictly forbidden elsewhere. Both cars and dune buggies can be driven here (four-wheel drive recommended), and camping and horseback riding also are permitted.
East Beach, Rhode Island
Even the nation’s smallest state has a big stretch of beach open to off-road vehicles. East Beach is among the most remote places on the Rhode Island coast, a three-mile stretch of barrier beach separated from the mainland by Ninigret Pond and accessible only via the East Beach Sand Trail from the tiny beach town of Quonochontaug. Self-contained campers can be driven on the beach in addition to cars, and there are 20 oceanfront campsites available for overnight stays.
Padre Island, Texas
Only in Texas would all beaches be considered public highways — a quirk of state constitutional law that mandates “free and unrestricted access” to the beach. The longest stretch of beach road is on North Padre Island, where a 60-mile drive south of Corpus Christie on “State Park 22” highway will take you along the Gulf of Mexico and through Padre Island National Seashore, into an undeveloped and downright desolate coastal region inhabited by countless seabirds as well as coyotes and sea turtles.
Silver Lake State Park, Michigan
This Michigan park on Lake Michigan is the only spot east of the Mississippi River where you’re allowed to drive on sand dunes, with 450 of its 2,000 acres of dunes open to off-road vehicles. Don’t have a dune buggy of your own? You can rent one in nearby Mears or join Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, which has been offering “dune scooter” tours to visitors since 1930.
Island Beach State Park, New Jersey
Looking to surfcast on the Jersey Shore? Seeking out the perfect fishing spot is your ticket to getting a pass to take a four-wheel-drive onto Island Beach, and you’ll need to show your fishing gear in order to prove that you have a serious need to get onto the sand. This barrier beach runs between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean near Tom’s River, with access just south of Seaside Heights.
Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Long stretches of shoreline between Carova, North Carolina, and the Hatteras Inlet — plus parts of Ocracoke Island — are open to drivers with off-road vehicle permits either seasonally or year-round. During the winter, you can even drive at night on the beaches of the national seashore, where beach bonfires are permitted. The northern end of the Outer Banks is especially remote.
Grayton Beach, Florida
The sugar-white sands of Grayton Beach are set along Florida’s iconic Highway 30A and adjacent to Grayton Beach State Park. It’s a prime destination for fishing, boating, walking, gazing out into the turquoise waters of the Gulf, and yes—driving on the beach — but there’s a catch. Only 150 beach driving permits – priced at $135 each – are offered each year, and there are strict qualifications that must be met, including possessing a driver’s license, proof of property ownership, proof of current property taxes, proof of Walton County voter registration, and current 4-wheel drive vehicle registration for the state of Florida. Eligible applicants are entered into a lottery, and if they are selected, they can purchase a permit.