Our 25 Favorite Fall Beach Destinations

Florida’s 30-A Beaches
Photo: Kurt Lischka

We have nothing against summer at the beach or fall in the mountains, but give us a balmy autumn day on a stretch of sand with no crowds, and we're in a state of bliss. As frommers.com points out, while North Florida and South Florida have opposite high seasons, their shoulder seasons (that's when they begin dropping rates) are consistent: April through May and September through November. Shoulder season is a little harder to define on the Outer Banks, but it's roughly April through May and September through October. A few caveats about off-season travel: Before booking any travel, it's important to pay attention to the weather reports. Fall is also hurricane season, and Mid-Atlantic beaches will be cooler than those farther south, especially at night. (That's not necessarily a bad thing, once we've made it through the scorcher months.) Some businesses also begin closing in the shoulder seasons. All things considered, we think it's worth it to have a few days on a fabulous beach, plus you'll have your run of the place.

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Anna Maria Island, Florida

Anna Maria Island, Florida
Tim Graham / Getty Images

Find a touch of Old Florida on this barrier island located 20 minutes from Bradenton. Anna Maria Island is a paradise of white sand and emerald waters at the southern edge of Tampa Bay. This low-key haven boasts 7 miles of beaches, shopping on historic Bridge Street, watersports, and fishing piers and charters, so you'll find plenty to do—without the summer crowds.

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Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Mississippi Gulf Coast
Ursula Noircent

Fall getaways in the South always include fairs and festivals. October's Cruisin' the Coast in Bay St. Louis is a doozy—a gathering of thousands of classic cars, with charming Gulf towns offering food, live music, and special events. Bay St. Louis is part of the "secret coast," a quiet strip of shoreline on the Mississippi Sound, but still offers plenty of life in Old Town.

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Caladesi Island State Park, Florida

Caladesi Island State Park, Florida
Ryan K. Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Catch the Caladesi Island Ferry to this natural island off Florida's Gulf Coast, near Dunedin and Clearwater, for white sand beaches, swimming, beach rambling, fishing, and wildlife spotting. Spend the day paddling through the mangroves or taking a nature walk to the historic Scharrer Homestead. Camp on a boat at the marina or head back to one of the many hotels nearby at Clearwater Beach.

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Cape Charles, Virginia

Eastern Shore of Virginia & Maryland
Mark Sandlin

Explore the coastal town of Cape Charles, Virginia, to discover a different kind of beach. This town is a Victorian-era planned community on Virginia's Eastern Chesapeake shores, which are beautiful in fall. Stroll by historic homes, visit shops and galleries, cruise around the barrier islands, enjoy the local oysters, and cap it all of by watching the sun set over the bay.

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Clearwater Beach, Florida

St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida
Coastal Living

You could spend a long weekend just strolling the eateries and watering holes here. But throw in gorgeous beaches, and the wow factor goes even higher. Take the kids to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium during the day and stop by Pier 60 for entertainment at night. With so many family friendly activities, it's no wonder that Clearwater Beach is often rated a top destination.

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Fernandina Beach, Florida

Florida’s A1A Beach Towns
Robbie Caponetto

Located on Amelia Island, which lies on Florida's Atlantic Coast, Fernandina Beach is a laid-back beach town with great shops and restaurants as well as broad sandy beaches. When you aren't enjoying Main Street, visit the unspoiled wilderness of nearby Amelia Island State Park or immerse yourself in history at Fort Clinch State Park and the Amelia Island Lighthouse.

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Grayton Beach, Florida

Florida’s 30-A Beaches
Kurt Lischka

Grayton Beach stands out on fabled 30-A, a spot that's perfect for fall vacations. Unlike the nearby planned communities Seaside and Rosemary Beach, this funky little village is delightfully unplanned. Its rebuilt restaurant and music venue, The Red Bar, touts itself as a magnet for locals, tourists, "politicians, boat captains, beach bums, celebrities, and oystermen too."

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Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gregory Kurpiel/EyeEm/Getty Images

Skip the spring break crowds by visiting Gulf Shores in the autumn months. Pack a sweater and enjoy the less crowded beaches as well as the vibrant sunrises and sunsets. Swim in the warm, gentle waters of the Gulf; go parasailing; spot dolphins on a cruise; or dine on the fresh catch of the day at one of many restaurants. History buffs will enjoy visiting Fort Morgan, while families can catch the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

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Hatteras Island, North Carolina

Old Lighthouse Beach, Hatteras Island
myhrcat/Getty

This spot on North Carolina's Outer Banks barrier islands has access to both the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, with plenty of places to launch a boat or cast a line along the shore. Whether you fish, surf, shell, or swim, you're likely to spend time at the beach here. Hatteras Island also includes a stretch of National Seashore, seven villages, the aptly named Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and two lighthouses—including the black-and-white spiraled Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

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Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina

Huntington Beach, SC
LCBallard/Getty Images

Camp among the sea breezes at Huntington Beach State Park, a greenspace along South Carolina's coast where you can find sandy beaches, salt marsh, sea turtles, egrets, and herons. Bring your walking shoes to explore the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail and Kerrigan Nature Trail. Visit Atalaya, the Huntingtons' home and a National Historic Landmark, at any time, or plan your visit for the Atalaya Arts & Crafts Festival in the fall.

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Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island, Georgia
Courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority

This Georgia island's Driftwood Beach is a favorite with photographers and those seeking some solitude on the sand. Jekyll is part of the string of Georgia's "Golden Isles," along with St. Simons, Little St. Simons, and Sea Island. You'll find 10 miles of shoreline, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, biking, golf, boating, and more—not to mention the Shrimp & Grits Festival in late fall.

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Key West, Florida

Key West, Florida
Courtesy The Southernmost House

There aren't many places where you feel as if you've completely left your normal life behind and entered a totally different universe—without even leaving the South. Key West is one. This quirky island is closer to Cuba than Miami, and has been home to Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, and Jimmy Buffett. When you're not checking out their watering holes, you can dive or snorkel in the surrounding coral and artificial reefs.

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Lewes, Delaware

Cape Henlopen State Park, Lewes, Delaware
Courtesy of via VisitDelaware.com

A $6-million renovation made a great park even better at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware. Enjoy six miles of hard-packed beaches that invite sunbathing, sea glass-hunting, hiking, and more. History buffs will want to spend time in the town of Lewes, colonized by the Dutch in the 1630s and bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Visit the Lewes Maritime Museum at the battle-scarred Cannonball House.

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Miami, Florida

Miami
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Visit Miami in fall to luxuriate in warm weather while skipping the winter and summer crowds. Lots of lively beaches as well as world class arts and culture ensure there's never a dearth of things to do in Miami. The stone crabs featured at the South Beach Seafood Festival in fall will have you salivating.

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Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City, MD
Chris Tobin/Getty Images

This Maryland resort town is located between the Atlantic Ocean and Isle of Wight Bay. Visit for miles and miles of sand and a boardwalk hub with places to eat, shop, and stay. Travel to nearby Assateague Island for an unforgettable day trip.

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Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Ocean Springs, MS
SilverSnapper / Getty Images

Between Biloxi and Gautier is this picturesque Mississippi beach town with live oak-lined streets and beaches too. Front Beach extends from the Biloxi Bay Bridge to Ocean Springs Harbor, and there's also the nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore for sand and sea. Ocean Springs is also known for its galleries and hosts the biggest arts festival in the state every fall.

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Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

South Padre Island, Texas
Southern Living

The spring break revelers on South Padre are nowhere to be seen in fall. Head north for even more serenity on the Padre Island National Seashore—the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world. Then head back to South Padre for the boat tours, waterfront dining, horseback riding, and South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary.

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Pawley's Island, South Carolina

Pawley's Island, South Carolina
Facebook/Pawley'sIsland.com

Just a short hop from Myrtle Beach, Pawley's offers a serene Lowcountry experience—the kind of place where you rent an oceanfront cottage for a week and completely forget what you do for a living. Sounds like a dream, right? When you're ready to pull yourself out of your beach chair, check out the kayaking, fishing, shopping, and island nightlife.

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Pensacola Beach, Florida

Pensacola Beach, Florida
Courtesy of Hilton Mom Voyage

This is a great autumn beach at the western tip of Florida. Pensacoloa Beach is on a stretch of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, with unspoiled views of sand and sea—and the light and emerald green waters along this part of the coast are downright magical. Visit Historic Pensacola and experience what life was like in this beach town under Spanish rule.

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Siesta Key, Florida

Siesta Key, Florida
Universal Images Group/Getty Images

This fall beach in Florida is cool even at high noon, thanks to powdery white sand that's 99% quartz, which won't absorb heat. Waterfront dining, parasailing, ecotours—this top-rated beach has it all. The annual sand-sculpting festival happens in fall, too.

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St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, FL
Smithlandia Media/Getty Images

This northeast Florida city on the Atlantic has ocean views and a long history. St. Augustine is known for its distinctive architecture and Spanish colonial architecture as well as St. Augustine Beach and Crescent Beach, which invite visitors to soak up the sun and the sights. Take a swashbuckling cruise on a pirate ship or watch the cannons fire at Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in the continental U.S.

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St. Michaels, Maryland

St Michaels, MD
ymn/Getty Images

Located on Maryland's Eastern coast, St. Michaels is a Chesapeake Bay destination. Its shoreline is filled with marinas, bed and breakfasts, and charming shops and restaurants that draw visitors year-round. The colonial-era harbor town also offers boat tours, a maritime museum, and—of course—freshly caught Maryland blue crabs.

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Sullivan's Island, South Carolina

Sullivan's Island
Ethan Vogt/Getty Images

This tranquil South Carolina getaway is located on a two and a half-mile long barrier island near the mouth of Charleston Harbor. It's quiet and charming with a few restaurants you just can't miss. Edgar Allan Poe was stationed at the fort there—make a stop at Poe's Tavern and pay homage to the Gothic novelist.

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Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island, Georgia
Photo: Imke Lass

As fall beach destinations go, it's hard to imagine a better spot than this chill, bike-friendly beach burg less than 20 miles from Savannah. Amble down the wide-open beaches to search for fossilized Megalodon teeth as big as your hand or visit Georgia's oldest and tallest lighthouse.

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Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau

This popular sand-and-surf village is a favorite among surfers and paddlers of every description. It's located east of Wilmington and draws visitors looking to set sail, go deep-sea fishing, or hang out in the laid-back beach town. Wrightsville Beach is a lively destination that hosts competitions and festivals throughout the fall.

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