The South's Most Under-the-Radar Beaches
Looking For a Secluded Southern Getaway?
Cedar Key, Florida
Find solitude and serenity upon entering this glorious speck of Old Florida overflowing with salt-crusted charm. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, this cluster of barrier islands is midway between Tampa and Tallahassee. Stay at the historic Island Hotel & Restaurant with its ten rooms reminiscent of the old-school fisherman's Florida—and its in-house ghosts too, as the rumors say. Grab a drink at its quirky Neptune Bar, so-called because of its hand-painted mural behind the bar of the maritime god.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Accessible only by boat, Daufuskie is place where time just moves a little bit slower. You’ll find this unassuming little island close to popular Southern towns, Hilton Head Island and Savannah; but its steep history with the Gullah-Geechee people, as well as Pat Conroy, makes it one of the most interesting plots of land in the sea. The island inspired Pay Conroy’s novel, The Water Is Wide, based on his time living and teaching there. Historic, yet quirky, slow-paced, yet bursting with personality, Daufuskie Island offers you a completely unique experience.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
This quiet, undeveloped beach sits just off the southern end of Georgia’s 100-mile coastline. Cumberland Island is under control of the National Park Service, but you can still stay at the magnificent Greyfield Inn, a refurbished mansion on the island that was built by the Carnegie family over 100 years ago. (In fact, it’s still owned and managed by members of the Carnegie family.) Otherwise, a ferry either from nearby St. Mary’s or Fernandina Beach will get you there for a daytrip.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Florida's State Road A1A winds through some of the coolest beach towns in the South—and New Smyrna Beach shows Florida’s A1A at its colorful, funky best. New Smyrna Beach, just like Flagler Beach up the road, is a surfer’s dream (or anyone’s dream, really) with its laidback attitude, quirky charm, and slow pace of living. Book your stay at The Salty Mermaid Oceanfront Hotel, a retro-cool renovated motor court, for beachfront views. Walk along the sandy main street, Flagler Avenue, for casual eateries, fun shops, and unobstructed beach access. This little town is so chill you’ll find it hard to go back to real life.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
Bay St. Louis is one of those nostalgic towns that you’ll find yourself missing after you leave. The artsy beach town feels old-fashioned, but with a twist. Check out its Old Town for shops, art galleries, and good eats like The Buttercup on Second Street restaurant; and make a pit stop at The Mockingbird Café, a coffee house by day and restaurant and pub at night. (Eight years ago, this town was devastated when Hurricane Katrina ripped through, but it has rallied and rebuilt every ounce of its character since.)
Fripp Island, South Carolina
Only three and a half miles long and about a half-mile wide, Fripp Island is a real-deal sanctuary. The island boasts a popular trail maintained by the Audubon Club that not only gives spectacular views of land and water wildlife, but of more than 175 bird species as well. Beyond access to beautifully preserved and quiet beaches, you’re set with a handful of restaurants along with activities like tennis, golf, and boating. (Just because this island is little, doesn’t mean it’s boring.) It’s only about 25 minutes from Beaufort, one of our South’s Best Small Towns; and it’s drivable to Hunting Island State Park.
Cape Charles, Virginia
Quieter than better-known Virginia Beach on the Atlantic, this beach town showcases the beauty of Chesapeake Bay. Spend the afternoon fishing from the Cape Charles Fishing Pier, or fancy a stroll along Bay Avenue, which offers beach access at every block. This Eastern Shore gem has slowly transformed itself into an enlivened, yet laidback, beach town with great seafood and charming historic homes. According to Coastal Living, “the town harbor is a great spot to watch watermen off-load blue crab, clams, scallops, and fish.” We’re in!
Dog Island, Florida
This relic isn’t for the faint of heart: it’s the definition of secluded. Grab everything you need—and we mean everything—in the coastal town of Carrabelle before making the three-mile ferry ride across the Saint George Sound. You’ll find just a singular hotel, the Pelican Inn, which offers only eight units. (There is a string of beach cottages, if you’re lucky enough to snag one.) In other words, it’s ideal for those who want quiet, and for those who just want to shell, swim, walk along the soft white beaches, take stunning sunrise-to-sunset photographs, and revel in the island’s wildlife. No bells and whistles needed. It’s pretty amazing to think that this secret getaway is only about two hours away from the ever-rowdy Panama City Beach.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
This barrier island boasts stunning beach and bay views, while offering plenty of outdoor activities, ranging from windsurfing to fishing, to punctuate the hours spent lazily laying on the beach. To make it here, choose either to drive over the bridge or ride the ferry, both of which cross over Mobile Bay. Make sure to pay a visit to the charming nearby town of Fairhope, Alabama, for the great local shops and restaurants. Check out the northern shore of the island to see Shell Mound Park, a beautifully preserved archaeological site with shell mounds dating back hundreds of years.
Ocracoke, North Carolina
You’ll need a boat or private plane to reach this tiny, secluded beach town. (Er, we’ll take the boat, please.) About 16 miles long, Ocracoke is a part of the string of barrier islands that makes up the Outer Banks. At the widest part of the island, you’ll find its little sound-side village with fewer than 1,000 year-round residents, making this spot basically a beachy version of Stars Hollow. Here, lodging is full of local charm, from pleasantly shingled Castle Bed & Breakfast to waterfront Ocracoke Harbor Inn. Ocracoke's white lighthouse dates back to 1823, making it the second oldest functioning lighthouse in the United States. It isn't open for climbing, but it makes for a great photo.
Cape San Blas, Florida
Located along the Florida Panhandle and near Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas offers you miles and miles of beaches without the crowds. Here, you’ll enjoy some of the freshest seafood you can get your hands on. (Take a visit to the Indian Pass Raw Bar for that, or catch it yourself.) If you find yourself getting sun burnt and stir crazy, check out the historic Cape San Blas lighthouse. Unlike some busier beaches, this secluded beach allows your four-legged friend to get in on the action too without the crowds!
Mustang Island, Texas
It’s time to pay a visit to the Texas coast, but instead of venturing to well-known South Padre Island and Galveston, embrace the solitude of Mustang Island, home of Mustang Island State Park. The wild horses that gave Mustang Island its name might be long gone, but you can still enjoy the natural surroundings by heading up the park’s paddling trail that follows the western shoreline of the island and includes 20 miles of amazing shallow-water fishing. To make things easy, Port Aransas is close enough to provide your fill of hotels, restaurants, and shops.
Corolla, North Carolina
This beach town on the northernmost end of the Outer Banks has a unique end-of-the-road appeal, making it perfect for big families spending a relaxing, no-fuss vacation together. In the historic Corolla village, venture up a winding staircase—220 steps, to be exact—to the top of the redbrick lighthouse that stands overlooking the North Carolina waters. If you’re wondering just how relaxed and tranquil this town is, just ask the roaming wild Spanish mustangs on the beaches. They seem to like it quite a bit.
Assateague Island, Maryland
On this island, wild ponies wander the beaches and munch on the marsh grasses, making it—oh, I don’t know—one of the coolest things you’ll see all summer. Assateague hugs the Mid-Atlantic coast as a barrier island and exists as a wildlife refuge. Enjoy its quiet, rustic terrain complete with droves of horseshoe crabs, bands of wild ponies, and a scenic drive from nearby Chincoteague that’s more than worth it. Unless desiring to make use of Assateague’s campgrounds, book your stay in Chincoteague at one of its hotels, including The Island Resort, Waterside Inn, or Marina Bay Hotel & Suites.