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25 Hidden Gems on East Coast: Vacation Spots

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Looking for underrated vacation spots? The East Coast of the USA is sprinkled with hidden gems. These coastal states are located on the Atlantic Ocean, spread from Maine to Florida, all unique in their way, from UNESCO World Heritage sites, beaches to charming small towns, and landmarks. So here are the hidden gems on east coast of the USA.

Read: Hidden vacation spots in the US

25 Hidden Gems on East Coast: Vacation Spots in USA

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East coast states are Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. 

This region has some of the iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty, Boston Public Garden, and most beautiful cities in the USA like New York City, Boston, Miami, to awe-inspiring mountains parks like Acadia National Park, the Appalachian Trail, cute lighthouses to historical sites – and that’s why top east coast vacations worth checking out, along with hidden gems!

Portland Head Lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, USA on the east coast

In the list below, we have compiled the top picks from each state, and listed them alphabetically by state!

More East Coast travel guides

Mystic, Connecticut

By Lyndsay from The Purposely Lost

  • Nearest airport: Green International Airport, RI (44 miles away) or Boston’s Logan International Airport, and New York’s JF Kennedy International Airport
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, coastal views
  • Best time to visit: Summer

Nestled in on the Connecticut shoreline, you’ll find one of the most underrated destinations on the East Coast–Mystic, Connecticut. Famous for its starring role in Mystic Pizza, the 1980s movie starring Julia Roberts, there are many more things to do in Mystic than visiting the pizza place. 

Mystic CT
Mystic

The Mystic River Bascule Bridge is a drawbridge with its internal mechanics exposed, which means you can watch the whole bridge lift open and close. 

Built in 1922, it’s still a functional bridge–it opens more than 2,000 times per year to give large boats the opportunity of passing. While you’re waiting, make sure to grab an ice cream cone from the Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream shop only steps from the bridge.

The city is also known for the Mystic Seaport Museum. It’s one of the best museums for maritime history in the country, featuring several historic vessels like the wooden whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan. 

It also has a 19th-century village and working shipyard on its grounds, all of which you can explore. Nearby you’ll find the Mystic Aquarium, home to Steller sea lions and beluga whales.
With so many outdoor activities, the best time to visit Mystic is during the summer; but it’s a beautiful city to visit year-round. It’s easy to reach by car from anywhere in Connecticut and Rhode Island. 

Or, if you have a boat, you can definitely find a place to dock in one of the town’s harbors! Many travelers connect to Block Island via ferry. It takes 3+ hours, one way.

The Whaler’s Inn is a historic hotel located right in downtown Mystic, walkable to the Mystic River Bascule Bridge, Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream, and all the shops along East and West Main Street. It’s comprised of five buildings, each with its own Mystic history. 

Where to stay: The Whaler’s Inn

Wilmington Delaware

By Susan from Gen X Traveler

  • Nearest airport: Wilmington Greater Wilmington Apt ILG (5.7 miles), Philadelphia PHL (18.2 miles)
  • Perfect for: City break, green spaces, culinary
  • Best time to visit: Spring

In 2016, the Presidential campaign of Joe Biden thrust Wilmington Delaware into the spotlight but this smaller city just 40 minutes from Philadelphia still may not be on your radar. However, there are many reasons beyond politics to visit this underrated city.

Wilmington
Wilmington

The Wilmington Riverfront took center stage during election season and that is a great place to start in this town. The waterfront is home to Frawley Stadium where The Wilmington Blue Rocks play, Horizon Riverfront Ice Skating Rink, the Delaware Children’s Museum, an IMAX Theater along with hotels, restaurants, and more.  

From here you can walk or ride the Jack A Markell Trail, an 8-mile mixed-use bike path that connects the Wilmington waterfront with Historic New Castle. 

Just a short walk from the entertainment complex is the DuPont Environmental Education Center, a 212-acre wildlife refuge that is home to many bird species, otters, turtles, and more.

A few miles from the riverfront and downtown Wilmington are what’s known as the Brandywine Valley. This area was once owned almost entirely by the DuPont family. Many of their estates and most of the land have fallen into the public domain. 

Some of the most well-known of the former DuPont properties include Longwood Gardens, Winterthur Museum and Gardens, and the Hagley Museum.  However, the Nemours Estate, a bright neoclassical French estate including the carriage house and an awesome automobile collection may be the most outstanding of them all.

If you are looking for art and culture, consider staying downtown. This will put you close to the Grand Opera House, home of the First State Ballet and other performing arts venues. A stay at the sophisticated and historic Hotel Du Pont will have you in the middle of all the Wilmington area has to offer. 

Where to stay: Hotel DuPont

Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

By Natasha from Planes, Trains, and Karcz

  • Nearest airport: Tampa International Airport (25 miles)
  • Perfect for: Beaches, coastal views, parasailing, deep sea fishing 
  • Best time to visit: Spring

 If you’re looking to visit a truly underrated destination along the East Coast, look no further than the small town of Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. 

Indian Rocks Beach
Wooden path to Indian rocks beach in Florida, USA

Nestled along the Gulf of Mexico, Indian Rocks Beach is conveniently located close to the action of the notorious Clearwater Beach (voted one of the most pristine white sand beaches in the entire country!) and the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa. 

To get there, fly into the Tampa International Airport and make the quick half-hour drive west until you’ve reached this charming alcove consisting of eclectic shops and a lively restaurant scene – often featuring local live music and the freshest catch of the day! 

While Indian Rocks Beach makes for a scenic getaway during any time of year, it’s at its most temperate during shoulder season. Consider a visit during springtime, when the holiday crowds have dissipated and summer break has yet to begin. 

Opt to stay at the Opal Sands hotel located nearby if you’re looking for a luxury experience on the waterfront, or alternatively, support local by staying in one of the plentiful AirBnb’s which are typically located within walking distance from all major amenities as well. 

Visit the Indian Rocks Beach Nature Reserve to walk amidst native flora (just ensure to pack for a day hike accordingly) as it’s all too easy to get lost amongst the remarkable views around every corner. 

If you’re up for something a bit more adventurous, try parasailing or a deep sea fishing excursion. Both options are idyllic ways to spend a day on the water; just don’t forget to take in one of Indian Rocks Beach’s signature glittering sunsets at the end of it all! 

Where to stay: Opal Sands Hotel

Read: 2 days in Key West itinerary

Punta Gorda, Florida

By Lori from Naples Florida Travel Guide

  • Nearest airport: Punta Gorda Airport
  • Perfect for: White sand beaches, coastal views
  • Best time to visit: Winter

 Nestled along one of the prettiest coastlines on the Gulf of Mexico in southwest Florida is the quaint town of Punta Gorda, one of the most underrated destinations in the US.

Punta Gorda

PG, as the locals refer to it, may be neighbors of Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Sanibel Island, but it has managed to largely escape the heavy tourist traffic and maintain a very local feel. 

There are plenty of things to do in Punta Gorda because of its enviable location. There are beautiful white-sand beaches close by, lots of parks and green spaces lining the harbor front, and unique history to explore.

Taking a boat ride is one of the most popular activities and can take you to the nearby barrier islands of Gasparilla, Useppa, and Cabbage Key to name a few. Many of these tours can take you shelling on deserted sand bars and beaches to find beautiful (and sizable) gifts from the sea.

Punta Gorda makes a good year-round destination through most visitors prefer the winter months for its ideal weather. Book a suite at The Suites at Fisherman’s Village for a stunning waterfront view and lots of fun dining and shopping options onsite.

Getting to PG is easy if you’re driving this part of Florida: the town sits just off I-75 south of Sarasota. If you’re flying in, the Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) is small but has several major carriers that service cities throughout the east coast.

Where to stay: The Suites at Fisherman’s Village

Read: Best winter destinations in the USA

Sanford, Florida

By Vicky from Buddy The Traveling Monkey

  • Nearest airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport SFB
  • Perfect for: Breweries, city break
  • Best time to visit: All year round

 An underrated destination on the east coast that you should consider visiting is Sanford, Florida. Located in East Central Florida, it sits along the southern shore of Lake Monroe. It is often overlooked by Orlando, which is about a 30-minute drive south of Sanford. 

Sanford

There are a lot of fun things to do in Sanford, though, so it is definitely a hidden gem. The city’s historic downtown is a great place to wander and people watch. There are many unique shops and restaurants. There are often festivals and events going on downtown as well. 

Sanford’s Riverwalk is also a fun area to explore. At almost five miles long, you can walk, run, or bike along the completely paved trail. Or, you can sit on one of the many benches and watch the boats as they go in and out of the marina. 

Of course, if you enjoy a good beer, you’ll love Sanford. There are so many bars and breweries, and all within walking distance of each other! 

Sanford’s newest brewery, Dees Brothers Brewery, is quickly becoming a local favorite. They offer flights starting at $11, depending on the beer you get. They also have food, free arcade games, and live performances on weekends. 

The great thing about Sanford is that you can visit it all year long. And it’s easy to get to by car or plane. In fact, Sanford has its own airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). 

For your stay in Sanford, an excellent place to stay is Park Place Inn and Cottages. It has free WiFi and is within walking distance of downtown.

Where to stay: Park Place Inn and Cottages

Cumberland Island, Georgia

By Noel from This Hawaii Life

  • Nearest airport: Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (27 miles), Jacksonville  Florida (38 miles) (get to Cumberland via ferry from Fernandina Beach, Florida)
  • Perfect for: Beaches, nature and history, historic ruins, wild horses, east coast family vacation
  • Best time to visit: Winter

One of the most beautiful and natural hidden gems off the southern coast of Georgia is Cumberland Island, a state park that you have to take a wonderful ferry ride from. 

Dungeness ruins at Cumberland Island National Seashore
Dungeness ruins at Cumberland Island National Seashore

Located in the string of offshore islands that protect the mainland, Cumberland Island is a state park and quite isolated like a piece of Georgia from the South with draping oak trees loaded down with Spanish moss, wild horses roving around, and alligators in all the lagoon and pond areas. 

Even the beach areas facing the Atlantic Ocean are rugged sand dunes and wind-swept beaches that are desolate and magnificent to walk around or even take a dip if the tides are calmer in the early morning hours. 

The ferry ride from the small town of St. Mary’s which is the border town between Georgia and Florida is charming and worth walking around before or after you board on the hour-long ferry ride to Cumberland. 

There are two docking stops and it doesn’t really matter but the main port area has bikes to rent and guided tours of the island to see some of the magnificent ruins, mansions, and spectacular landscape in the area. 

You’ll love the entire experience from the visitor’s center at St. Mary’s to the sweet ferry ride through the inner coastal channels and viewing the small harbor towns and islands along the way until you reach Cumberland Island. 

Make sure to grab a map and opt for renting a bike if you want to do your own adventure and experience this rugged and off the beaten island that not so many visitors to the area get to really experience.

Where to stay? Greyfield Inn

Jekyll Island, Georgia

By Candice from CS Ginger

  • Nearest airport: Brunswick Golden Isles Airport  (27 miles)
  • Perfect for: Beaches, wildlife, history
  • Best time to visit: Early summer, fall

One of the most underrated destinations on the East Coast is Jekyll Island in Georgia. This small island is very relaxing and charming, perfect for a getaway. The island is filled with fascinating history, beautiful beaches, and great opportunities to view wildlife.

Jekyll Island

Driftwood Beach is the most popular beach on this island and has been voted as one of the most romantic beaches in the United States. The beach is filled with large pieces and even entire driftwood trees scattered on the beach.

Another fun thing to do on Jekyll Island is to explore the historic district. In the 1800s, Jekyll Island was an exclusive hunting club for prominent families like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers. 

Today, the private club is a hotel and part of the historic Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District. There are 34 historic structures in the district.  

You can stay at the Jekyll Island Club Resort which is one of the most historic buildings on the island. The building was restored in 1986 and is full of beautiful Southern charm. There are 157 rooms as well as luxury suites. 

If you are traveling solo, they also have clubhouse singles in the main building. If you are staying on the property, be sure to check out the historic croquet court on the front lawn.

Early summer and the fall months are the best time to visit Jekyll Island. The weather hovers in the high 70s during the day with lots of sunshine. These times of the year have the best weather to enjoy the Jekyll Island beaches and other activities to do around the island.

The closest airport to Jekyll Island is the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK) which is about 30 minutes from the island. The largest international airport is the Jacksonville International Airport which is about 60 minutes from Jekyll Island.

Where to stay: Jekyll Island Club Resort

Read: Most romantic places in the United States

Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park, Maine

By Krisztina from She Wanders Abroad

  • Nearest airport: Portland -PWM (173 miles away)
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, hiking trails, scenic views
  • Best time to visit: Spring and fall

Located on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, Maine, Acadia National Park is one of the most underrated destinations on the East Coast. Although the park has started to gain popularity over the years, it’s still nowhere as busy as the biggest national parks in the USA.

Jordan Pond Acadia National Park
Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park, Maine

The closest international airports are located in Portland, Maine, and Boston, Massachusetts. The drive time is around 3 and 4.5 hours respectively. Alternatively, Bar Harbor, the closest town to Acadia National Park, also has a smaller domestic airport.

Although it’s best to drive to Acadia, you can actually explore the national park without having to sit in your car. You can take advantage of the complimentary bus service and explore the major sights and the best hiking trails on foot.

When it comes to accommodation near Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is the most convenient option. If you’re looking to splurge, you can stay at the famous Bar Harbor Inn & Spa, otherwise, you’ll find many other B&Bs and inns in the town. You can also find several campgrounds around the island if you’re interested in camping.

The best time to visit Acadia National Park depends on what you want to do. The park is busiest from June to August when the weather is warmest and most of the attractions are open. 

If you’re interested in hiking, biking, or camping, spring and fall are the best times to visit. In case you’re after the gorgeous fall foliage, schedule your visit for the middle of October.

Spending 2 days in Acadia National Park is the perfect amount of time to see all the highlights, complete some of the best hiking trails and explore Bar Harbor. If you’re looking for stunning scenery, diverse wildlife, and extensive hiking trails, you won’t be disappointed in Acadia!

Where to stay: Bar Harbor Inn & Spa

Read: From Silver Falls State Park OR to Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve TX, these are the best hidden vacation spots in the US

Camden, Maine

By Alison from Eternal Arrival

  • Nearest airport: Portland (81 miles away)
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, hiking trails, scenic views
  • Best time to visit: Summer and fall

 One of the prettiest hidden gems on the east coast, in New England, is the lovely small town of Camden, Maine.  

Camden Maine
Camden Maine

Located along the Maine coastline south of Acadia National Park, Camden doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the national park or places in Southern Maine like Kennebunkport and Ogunquit, which get very crowded in the summer. That’s a real shame because it’s a wonderful destination in its own right.

Camden Hills State Park has some of the most beautiful hiking trails and vistas in all of Maine, with several scenic hikes that end with views of Camden Harbor and the town below.  There are many great things to do in Camden!

The town has lots of great boutiques to shop at and restaurants to eat at if you’re not in the mood for a hike! You can also walk along the harbor or even go for a swim at the nearby Laite Memorial Beach. 

If you need a place to stay in Camden, Maine then we recommend the Camden Harbour Inn which is a centrally located hotel with beautiful design elements. It’s best to visit in summer when the weather is at its best for swimming, or in the fall when the leaves are all ablaze in color and the weather is its best for hiking. 

You can get to Camden by renting a car in Portland, Maine, and driving along the coastal road. Camden is also a great stop on a road trip up to Acadia National Park since it’s about halfway between Portland and Acadia. 

Where to stay: Camden Harbour Inn

Read: Best places to visit in the USA in the fall

Provincetown, Massachusetts

By Cat from Cats Nine Lives

  • Nearest airport: Provincetown Municipal Airport, Boston’s Logan International Airport (117 miles)
  • Perfect for: Whale watching, art, seafood
  • Best time to visit: Fall

Provincetown, affectionately known as Ptown, isn’t somewhere that you’ll stumble upon by chance. Tucked away at the very tip of Cape Cod, 60 miles into the sea, it requires a little effort on your part to get there. 

View of Provincetown
Provincetown

Make that effort though, and you’ll soon realize why people, myself included, fall in love with this little gem in Massachusetts. Packed with cute boutiques, gorgeous art galleries, world-class restaurants and surrounded by spectacular beaches, you’re bound to find something fun to do. 

If you’re an art lover, you’ll be in heaven, since Provincetown is America’s oldest continuous art colony. Pay a visit to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to view some of their 3000-strong collection, including works from local artists. 

Many of Provincetown’s beaches are part of the beautiful Cape Cod National Seashore Park, home to an incredible array of wildlife.

In the summer months, the waters are host to humpback, right, and fin whales, making it one of the best places in the country for whale watching. As you might expect with its coastal location, Provincetown is home to loads of fabulous seafood restaurants.

You might be more surprised to discover the wonderful Portuguese food here, a result of the migration of Portuguese fishermen in the 19th century. Be sure to try the malasadas at the bakery! 

Plan your visit for late August or the start of September – the whales should still be visiting, but the town empties out after Labour Day. From May to October, you can take a daily ferry from Boston direct to Ptown. Outside the summer months, you can fly or drive from Boston. 

Stay in the heart of the town at a local property like the Gaslamp B&B or the Queen Vic Guest House. If you’re driving and up for something a little unusual, check out the Keeper’s House and stay in an actual lighthouse!

Where to stay:  Gaslamp B&B | Queen Vic Guest House

Atlantic Beach, North Carolina 

By Kate from Our Escape Clause

  • Nearest airport: Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (34 miles)
  • Perfect for: Coast, beaches, history
  • Best time to visit: Summer

Nestled on the beautiful coast of North Carolina, the town of Atlantic Beach is a fantastically underrated East Coast getaway in the USA.

Atlantic Beach North Carolina
Atlantic Beach

Situated on the Crystal Coast (sometimes called the Southern Outer Banks), Atlantic Beach lacks the national name recognition of Outer Banks towns like Kitty Hawk and Nags Head to the north.

However, there are tons of fantastic things to do in Atlantic Beach and the surrounding area that make for a fantastic summer getaway!

While in Atlantic Beach, be sure to pay a visit to Fort Macon State Park (this historic fort has lots of stories–and ocean views–to share), sample the famous Atlantic Beach Pie, meander down the boardwalk, and of course, spend lots of time with your toes in the sand!

Nearby attractions like the wild ponies on Shackleford Banks, the gorgeous lighthouse at Cape Lookout National Seashore, the charming boutiques in downtown Beaufort, and the delightful North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores all make excellent day trips from Atlantic Beach.

As Atlantic Beach is located on a narrow barrier island, nowhere you choose to stay will be far from the water! For a popular, well-reviewed option just steps from the sand, though, The Doubletree is a great option.

Sunset in Atlantic Beach
Sunset in Atlantic Beach NC

Most visitors to Atlantic Beach are road trippers who, if they fly into North Carolina at all, fly into Wilmington or Raleigh and make the drive to the Crystal Coast. The closest airport, though, is the tiny New Bern airport (Coastal Carolina Regional Airport).

Summer is by far the most popular time to visit Atlantic Beach, but if you don’t want or need to swim, each season has its charms.

Where to stay: Doubletree by Hilton Atlantic Beach Oceanfront

Read: USA bucket list

Boone, North Carolina

By Sam from Find Love & Travel

  • Nearest airport: Tri-Cities Regional Airport (69 miles), Asheville (73 miles), Charlotte (81 miles)
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, skiing, mountains, hikes, road trip
  • Best time to visit: All year round

 Boone, North Carolina is easily one of the most underrated destinations on the East Coast!  

Boone NC landscapes
Landscapes in Boone North Carolina

The bustling college mountain town offers something for everyone throughout the whole year. Whether you are into craft breweries, wineries, hiking, shopping, or are a major foodie, you will be sure to find it here!  

The best time to visit Boone really depends on what you are into. As a mountain town, Boone is home to some of the best skiing in North Carolina. Enjoy 3 Appalachian ski resorts all within 35 minutes of the town’s center!  

Do you love chasing fall foliage? The Blue Ridge Parkway runs right through Boone along with Grandfather Mountain where you are guaranteed to see some of the most epic mountain views covered in vibrant reds, golds, and oranges. 

If seeing spring blooms is more your thing, you can enjoy this mountain town as it comes back to life with intense greens.  And lastly, if you are trying to escape some of that summer heat, Boone is perfectly positioned at altitudes of over 4,000 feet!

Furthermore, there are tons of excellent hiking trails to get out into nature.  There are a few airports you can choose when flying into Boone, NC. The closest airport although not as popular is the Tri-Cities Regional (TRI) Airport. Asheville (AVL) and Charlotte (CLT) are two larger and more popular airports, however, slightly further. 

Where to stay: Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock | Hampton Inn & Suites Boone | Airbnbs in Boone NC

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

By Soumya from Stories by Soumya

  • Nearest airport: Raleigh Durham International Airport (18 miles)
  • Perfect for: Small town charm, culinary
  • Best time to visit: Spring

Chapel Hill in North Carolina is a true hidden gem on America’s East Coast.

Chapel Hill NC
Chapel Hill NC

This small town is home to UNC-Chapel Hill, one of America’s oldest and prettiest public universities. 200 years of history, splendid architecture, and lots of green open spaces make UNC campus the perfect place to start your day. Strolling down its charming streets is one of the best things to do in Chapel Hill.

Make sure you stop by the Old Well and take a sip at the water fountain, an old UNC tradition that brings some extra luck during the school year. Chapel Hill is also home to an impressive Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower and the world’s largest ram statue (ram is the official UNC mascot, after all).

Do not forget to check out some of the most attractive murals in the world at Franklin Street. And if you have time, catch a show at one of America’s oldest and largest planetariums, the Morehead.

But that’s not all. Chapel Hill has a vibrant restaurant scene too. From the best Greek food at Kipos to the best Vietnamese soups at Lime and Basil, you will find authentic food from around the world here.

The best time to visit Chapel Hill is in spring when the campus, particularly Coker Arboretum, is blooming with flowers. Magnolias are definitely the prettiest.

If you are planning to spend the night in Chapel Hill, the historic Carolina Inn is the best. The closest airport is Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU). But you can also take the Amtrak and get off Rayleigh, Durham, or Cary. If you are driving, take I-40.  

Where to stay: The Siena Hotel, Autograph Collection

Yadkin Valley, North Carolina

By Anna from Stuck On The Go

  • Nearest airport: Greensboro Airport (104 miles)
  • Perfect for: Wine, outdoors, hikes
  • Best time to visit: Winter (but summers are popular)

 If you love wine and the outdoors then a trip to the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina is an absolute must. It’s by far one of the most underrated destinations on the East Coast!

Yadkin Valley NC
Yadkin Valley

You’ll be met with southern hospitality, beautiful views, and great, locally-owned restaurants and wineries. It’s an up-and-coming tourist spot though so I recommend visiting before the secret gets out.

Make sure to visit the state parks nearby for a hike. Pilot Mountain, Stone Mountain, and Hanging Rock are all within 30-45 minutes. In the summer months, you can also kayak on the Yadkin River.

The big draw here is the local wineries. Some of the best Yadkin Valley wineries are Grassy Creek Vineyard, Carolina Heritage Vineyard, and Hidden Vineyard.

There is a smaller American Viticulture Association within the Yadkin Valley called Swan Creek. Here you’ll find Piccione, Shadow Springs, and Windsor Run.

Each small town in the Yadkin Valley has plenty of character – Elkin, Mt. Airy, Lexington, and Wilkesboro are popular spots to stay. I recommend staying in Elkin though as you’ll be close to a variety of different vineyards plus they have a great downtown area.

If you stay at the Fairfield Inn Elkin, there are plenty of paid shuttle services if you don’t want to drive to the wineries.

Summer is the most popular time to visit, but the weather is a bit humid plus wineries and trails are crowded. Spring and fall bring better weather but winter is a great time to visit because there are fewer crowds and the weather is typically mild.

The closest city to the Yadkin Valley is Winston-Salem, but Greensboro is the nearest airport about 45 minutes away. It can be expensive to fly into though so Charlotte is a little over an hour south of the area. 

Where to stay: Fairfield Inn Elkin

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

By Kate from New Hampshire Way

  • Nearest airport: Portsmouth International Airport at Pease
  • Perfect for: History, small town vibe, shopping
  • Best time to visit: Summer

A lot of people dream of seaside towns in New England — the rocky coast of Maine, fishing villages in Massachusetts — but what about New Hampshire? New Hampshire is home to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coastline: 18 miles, to be exact. 

Portsmouth
Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of the coolest small cities in the US, yet it’s virtually unknown outside New England. It’s a quirky mix of old school New England architecture and modern, offbeat small businesses. 

There are lots of historic homes in Portsmouth, in addition to a quietly growing dining scene, and plenty of excellent shopping. Some of the best things to do in Portsmouth NH are exploring the unique and often strange boutiques in town, exploring the vibrant brewery scene, catching a concert in Prescott Park, visiting the Strawbery Banke Museum with guides fully in character, grabbing a coffee and a new read at the Book & Bar, and renting a bike to explore the coastline. 

The Sailmaker’s House is a gorgeous inn right in the heart of town. The Ale House Inn is a cool boutique hotel worth checking out, too. 

Portsmouth is at its best during the summer months, especially when you can add in visits along the Seacoast. Late spring and early-to-mid fall are also beautiful times to visit with smaller crowds. 

Portsmouth is about an hour from either Boston or Portland, Maine, each home to international airports. You can also take Amtrak to the nearby town of Dover and get a cab from there. 

Where to stay: The Sailmaker’s House | The Ale House Inn

Minnewaska State Park, New York

By Ian James from Hudson Valley Discovered

  • Nearest airport: Stewart International Airport, NY (26 miles away), or day trip from New York City
  • Perfect for: Hiking, fall colors, swimming, snowshoeing, waterfalls
  • Best time to visit: All year round

Minnewaska State Park is a beautiful state park in the Shawangunk Ridge mountains in New York’s Hudson Valley.  It’s centered around the beautiful Lake Minnewaska, but also features several waterfalls, as well as dramatic overlooks with sensational views.

Minnewaska State Park
Minnewaska State Park

Any time is a great time to visit.  In spring, the area is splashed with hundreds of beautiful pink mountain laurels. Summer is the peak time to hike along any of the dozens of trails through the woods, or even go for a swim at the small beach on the lake.  

The fall color is truly spectacular, and there are incredible views over forests ablaze with autumnal colors.  In winter, you can slip on microspikes or snowshoes and hike many of the trails, which are especially picturesque in the snow.

Highlights include the 1.9-mile loop trail around Minnewaska Lake.  It passes a small sandy beach, areas with wonderful views of the lake, an overlook over the Hudson Valley, and a cliff-top section with even better views over the lake. 

Beautiful waterfalls include Rainbow Falls (a 6.5-mile hike), Stonykill Falls (a 1-mile hike from the bottom to the top of the falls), and Awosting Falls (an easy 1-mile hike that you can do in winter with the right footgear).  

The most famous hike, however, is probably the 6.7-mile hike to Gertrude’s Nose, which has stunning views over the Hudson Valley.

You’ll need a car to get to Minnewaska.  It’s a popular day trip from New York City, which is less than two hours away. This is where you’ll find the nearest major airports. Drive north on the New York State Thruway, get off at New Paltz and it’s a 30-minute drive west from there.  The cozy Minnewaska Lodge is nearby.

Where to stay: Minnewaska Lodge

Erie, Pennsylvania

By Samantha from PA on Pause

  • Nearest airport: Erie International Airport Tom Ridge Field
  • Perfect for: Culinary, sports, summer fests, city break, beaches 
  • Best time to visit: Summer

Erie, Pennsylvania is an offbeat and underrated mid-sized city to visit on the East Coast. There is such a variety of things to do without the hassle of traffic and navigation issues found in larger cities; you’ll be able to do more things in less time. 

The Presque Isle Lighthouse signals the shoreline of Presque Isle State Park on Lake Erie at Erie, Pennsylvania

Enjoy an afternoon at Presque Isle State Park’s beaches, then head downtown for an evening dinner and a show. 

The culinary scene in Erie has really taken a step forward in recent years in both quality and variety. There are great local and ethnic options showcasing the melting pot of the city scattered all over town. 

Entertainment options include touring productions at the historic and recently renovated Warner Theater, the Erie Playhouse for local productions, or Kellar’s for comedy and magic acts. 

If attending a sporting event is more what you’re looking for, Erie is home to both Seawolves baseball and Otters hockey. Then, spend the night at one of the hotels along the bay, like the Courtyard by Mariott right on the water. 

Summer is typically the best time to visit. You’ll likely be able to find a street festival and enjoy local food trucks and entertainment. Situated along Lake Erie, this region is known for winemaking, too. 

Take just a short drive outside the city along the lake heading east and you’ll find yourself immersed in the beautiful vineyards of Northeast and western New York wine country. 
Winters are quite cold and snowy, so driving and walking the streets between spots can be unpleasant and sometimes unsafe.

Although Erie does have an airport, only a few flights per day travel through. Luckily, though, Erie is also equally distanced 1.5-2 hours from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo.

Where to stay: Spencer House Bed & Breakfast

Columbia, South Carolina

By Mary from Bucketlist Places

  • Nearest airport: Columbia Metropolitan Airport
  • Perfect for: History, nature trails nearby
  • Best time to visit: Spring, or fall 

Columbia is the capital of South Carolina and worth visiting, even though most travelers skip over it in favor of Charleston or Myrtle Beach. Columbia’s primary appeal is its breadth of activities and attractions, so it’s the perfect destination for a group with varied interests. 

Columbia, South Carolina, the USA at the statehouse
Columbia, South Carolina, the USA at the statehouse

Cultured travelers will enjoy the Columbia Museum of Art and South Carolina State Museum; the latter of which is home to a dome planetarium. 

Political junkies and fans of the outdoors alike might be drawn to the South Carolina State House, but to avoid the usual crowds there, try instead visiting the Governor’s Mansion. Tours of the mansion run daily, and the verdant garden is home to some of the largest magnolia and crepe myrtle trees in the state.

Columbia even has access to one of the most underrated and least-visited national parks: Congaree National Park. A few miles outside of the city, you’ll find an enormous forest of old-growth hardwood. This gorgeous park is best experienced by hiking on its boardwalk paths through marshes, trees, and rivers. 

Stay in downtown Columbia for the easiest access to top restaurants and bars. Hotel Trundle has a great location, and its unique, historical vibe is the perfect choice for an offbeat vacation. Hangar Lofts Hotel is another boutique option, with a more modern vibe.

The best time to visit Columbia is either in the spring or fall, to avoid the peak of summer’s heat and crowds of tourists. Fall is ideal to see the foliage and to get some of the best deals on travel; a bus from New York City to Columbia is the cheapest in the month of September. 

For those flying instead of taking a bus, Columbia’s airport is about 7 miles from the city center, and its airport code is CAE.

Where to stay: Hotel Trundle | Hangar Lofts Hotel

Chattanooga, Tennessee

By Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast

  • Nearest airport: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport
  • Perfect for: History, city views, city break
  • Best time to visit: Spring, and fall 

With a population of just under 200,000, this underrated destination in southern Tennessee isn’t exactly a major city, but there is actually a lot to do with a weekend in Chattanooga!

Chattanooga point park

Chattanooga was a famous railway center and still boasts many attractions centered around that rich history. You can ride a historic train at the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum or visit the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel (the building used to be the main terminal train station, but is now a very unique hotel). 

Downtown Chattanooga is particularly cute, with brick sidewalks and buildings and tree lined avenues. It also boasts an abundance of really good places to eat – we heartily recommend the Maple Street Biscuit Company. The chicken club biscuit sandwich was to die for!

There’s also the Tennessee Valley Aquarium, an incredibly popular attraction with over 10,000 animals. 

And you can’t miss heading up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain. This park is situated on a tall ridge on the south end of Chattanooga. An important Civil War battle occurred on this mountain, and there are some monuments and historic cannons placed around the area. 

Along with the cool history, the views over the city are impressive. We were able to enjoy a stunning sunset!

The best time to visit is spring and fall when the weather is warm but still mild. Summers can get very hot and humid! Chattanooga does have its own airport, but Nashville and Atlanta are both about 2 hours away by car. 

We recommend the Read House Hotel – it’s a nice hotel in a beautiful, historic building in downtown. 

Where to stay: Read House Hotel

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

By Jen from Dabbling in Jet Lag

  • Nearest airport: McGhee-Tyson Airport (40 miles), Nashville (222 miles away)
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, nature trails, small town charms
  • Best time to visit: Spring, and early summer 

 At the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains, in eastern Tennessee, lies one of the most underrated and unknown vacation spots, Gatlinburg. Here you’ll find spectacular landscapes, endless nature activities, and that small-town charm. 

Rainbow Falls

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, there are two scenic drives, Roaring Fork Motor Trail and Fighting Gap Creek Road, that offer a range of things to do. Both stop at hiking trails, waterfalls, outlooks, and visitor centers. 

Then, for those who are more adventurous, the hike to Rainbow Falls is not to be missed. It’s a long 2-hour slug uphill, so make sure to bring a lot of water and a snack. Afterward, stop by the Sinks and take a dip in the crystal-clear water. It’s one of the only places you can swim for free. 

But no trip to Gatlinburg is complete without visiting the highest point in Tennessee, Clingman’s Dome. From the observation deck, you’ll have spectacular 360-degree panoramic views over the Great Smoky Mountains. 

And, if you arrive in the morning, you’ll have the chance to witness the ‘smoke’ or fog rising over the mountains. To say it’s impressive would be an understatement.

Gatlinburg is a year-round destination, but spring and early summer are the best times to visit. The temperatures are mild, there’s little to no rain, and the crowds have yet to arrive. 
And even though Gatlinburg is buried in the mountains, it’s easy to reach. The nearest airport is Nashville, and, from there, it’s only a 4-hour drive to Gatlinburg. 

Once you arrive, you’ll have your choice of hotels, whether you’re looking for budget or luxury accommodation. But there are so many things to do in Gatlinburg, hotel chains like The Quality Inn Suites or Best Western are more than enough.

Where to stay: Quality Inn Suites or Best Western

Cape Charles, Virginia

By Erin from Go Hike Virginia

  • Nearest airport: Norfolk Airport ORF (27.7), Richmond (74.6 miles) 
  • Perfect for: History, nature trails, small town vibe
  • Best time to visit: Summer, early fall or late spring 

You won’t find a well-worn boardwalk or waves made for surfers in Cape Charles, Virginia. You will, however, find gentle ripples, kid-friendly beaches steps from the historic district, and colorful sunsets over the Chesapeake Bay. That’s a promise.

Cape Charles LOVE sign
Cape Charles LOVE sign

Located on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Cape Charles is less than one hour by car from Virginia Beach. Yet, few have even heard of Cape Charles, much less strolled the quiet, tree-lined streets ornamented with colorful Victorian homes.

Cape Charles woos sun-seekers in summer with its relaxed vibe and small-town appeal, which includes quaint locally-owned shops and boutiques. For coffee, order up a cup at Cape Charles Coffee House.

Need an aspirin? Go to Rayfield’s Pharmacy. You won’t find any chain stores or restaurants in Cape Charles.

Snap a photo with the colorful LOVE sign at the corner of Bay Avenue and Mason Avenue. For dinner, The Shanty wows with hush puppies served with honey butter at the Cape Charles Town Harbor. 

Stroll Mason Avenue to Brown Dog Ice Cream to order up a scoop of Cherry Chocolate Chip or Black Raspberry from the walk-up window.

Spend a day at Kiptopeke State Park soaking in the sun, as well as hiking scenic coastal trails and paddling to a convoy of nine crumbling ghost ships that date to World War II. These ships once transported war-time commodities and later protected a now-defunct ferry terminal from severe weather.

Settle in for the night in an Airbnb, maybe a colorful cottage with a harbor view that was featured on HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt. Or, look to a playful waterfront resort, like the Sunset Beach Resort on the Chesapeake Bay.  

Where to stay: Sunset Beach Resort

Chincoteague, Virginia

By Pamela from The Directionally Challenged Traveler

  • Nearest airport: Salisbury (SBY) Airport (30 miles away)
  • Perfect for: Beaches scenic views
  • Best time to visit: Summer and fall

An underrated destination on the east coast is the quaint islands of Chincoteague and Assateague located on the Virginia coast. 

Chincoteague

Most people drive to Chincoteague, however, the closes airports are Baltimore (BWI) and Washington D.C. (IAD). It’s often overlooked for the larger cities and beaches of Virginia Beach or Ocean City, Maryland.

Fewer crowds mean more time to explore and enjoy your time. There are a variety of things to do in Chincoteague for any type of traveler. The 30 miles of beach provide a relaxing beach experience with jaw-dropping sunrises.

Overlooking the islands is Assateague Lighthouse which dates back to 1833! You can take a short hike to the lighthouse and then up the tower for panoramic views of the area. No visit to Chincoteague is complete without trying to spot the local celebrity – the wild ponies. These ponies are wild animals and can be spotted all around the island.

In the summer, there is an annual pony swim to raise funds to care for the herd. Indulge your sweet tooth and take part in the great debate about who has the best ice cream. Mr. Whippy’s soft serve or the hard ice cream at Island Creamery. Remember, calories don’t count on vacation so enjoy both! 

Most people visit Chincoteague in the summer because of the beaches, but it is truly beautiful in spring and fall as well. One of the best places to stay in Chincoteague is the Best Western Chincoteague. It’s centrally located to everything with a bike rental right across the street! 

Where to stay: Best Western Chincoteague

Luray Caverns, Virginia 

By James Ian from Parks Collecting

  • Nearest airport: Charlotteville Airport (36 miles away)
  • Perfect for: Caverns
  • Best time to visit: Fall

Luray Caverns is the largest cave system in the eastern USA and is truly spectacular.  It’s located in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, and if you’re visiting nearby Shenandoah National Park, you shouldn’t miss a trip to these incredible caverns.

Luray Caverns

The caverns are accessed along a paved, well-lit 1.5-mile path that snakes its way through a series of caves, each more breathtaking than the last.  There are thousands of incredible stalactites and stalagmites that create fantastical scenes.

There are several highlights.  The main showstopper is Dream Lake.  A perfectly still pool of water reflects thousands of stalactites above, creating an optical illusion that they are also rising from the bottom of the pool.  The water is actually only 18 inches deep, but the reflection makes it looks like a deep alien landscape below the surface.

Luray Caverns Dream Lake

The Cathedral is an enormous room surrounded by more incredible limestone formations.  Inside is another highlight – the Great Stalacpipe Organ.  It’s an actual organ (technically a lithophone) that makes musical sounds by tapping 37 different stalactites of various sizes.

You’ll also see Pluto’s Ghost, an enormous white pillar; the Wishing Well, where you can throw a coin in and make a wish (it is dredged annually, and the contributions are donated to charity); and even a war memorial honoring veterans from Page County.

The caverns are open year-round and are the same temperature throughout the year. Fall is a great time to visit, as you’ll also get to experience the fall color in the surrounding area.
A nice place to stay nearby is the Mimslyn Inn, a historic inn a very short drive away. 

The nearest big town is Charlottesville, 36 miles away, and this is also where you’ll find the closest major airport, Charlotteville Airport.  The Washington DC airports (Dulles and Reagan) are also accessible.

Where to stay: Mimslyn Inn

Richmond, Virginia

By Julie from FuninFairfaxVA

  • Nearest airport: Richmond International Airport
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, hiking trails, scenic views
  • Best time to visit: Summer and fall

Washington DC draws the crowds, but nearby Richmond Virginia is a hidden gem for visitors to the mid-Atlantic US. There are so many cool things to do in Richmond Virginia, whether you prefer outdoor adventure, arts, and culture, foodie fun, or US history. 

Richmond VA
Richmond VA

The James River runs through the center of Richmond, offering beautiful places to walk and enjoy the outdoors. Stroll the Canal Walk to see street art, historic sites, and great views of the river and city. Or walk across the river on two convenient pedestrian bridges. 

The T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge crosses close to the water while the Belle Island Suspension Bridge towers above, hanging from a highway overpass. Walk across the bridge to Belle Island for hiking, history, and rocky places to soak up the sun and watch rafters heading downriver.

Richmond is full of interesting neighborhoods, each with its own vibe. Visitors can walk the cobblestone streets and dine in Shockoe Bottom, visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Shockoe Slip, or sample the city’s excellent craft beer scene in Scott’s Addition.

To get the most from your visit, book a room in the downtown area so you can walk to attractions and restaurants. A stunning rotunda with a Tiffany stained glass ceiling welcomes you to The Jefferson Hotel, a classic beauty that offers romance and history in a fantastic downtown location. The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown is another comfortable hotel closer to the river.

Just 2 hours from Washington DC, the city makes a perfect USA weekend getaway from the nation’s capital. 

Richmond International Airport is closest to the city, but Dulles and Washington National Airports are less than 2 hours away. You can also reach Richmond from DC via Amtrak train, and by car on Route 95.

Where to stay: The Jefferson Hotel | The Courtyard by Marriott Downtown

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

By Cosette from KarsTravels

  • Nearest airport: Charlottesville Albemarle Airport (31 miles)
  • Perfect for: Outdoors, hiking trails, scenic views
  • Best time to visit: All year round, particularly falll

In the state of Virginia, you can discover the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. When visiting this park, be prepared for mesmerizing views at every turn on the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.

The Skyline Drive is one of the top things to do, it’s 105 miles and all the viewpoints are to be found on this drive. These overlooks are also the starting points of the numerous hikes in the park. Many of the hikes lead to waterfalls. There are over 500 miles of marked trails in the park. 
From really easy to strenuous hikes.

A short hike is the Stony Man Nature Trail, a 1.6 mile hike that leads to the second highest point in the park, the Stony Man’s Summit. Old Rag Mountain is the most popular hike, but this is a 9.4-mile circuit hike that takes some 8 hours to complete.

The Buena Vista Motels is a retro motel experience in the town of Buena Vista in North Carolina, not that far from the Rockfish Gap Entrance.

October is the best time to visit, since then it’s fall foliage season. This is also the busiest time of year. The park is worth a visit all year long, in spring wildflowers and trees are in full bloom, in summer butterflies are everywhere and in winter there are snow-covered mountains.

Charlottesville Albemarle Airport is the nearest airport. It’s 31 miles East of the Rockfish Gap Entrance Station. The city of Washington DC is 90 miles or 1 hour and 44 minutes away from the Front Royal Entrance Station.

Where to stay: The Buena Vista Motels

So there you have it! These were some of the off the beaten path east coast vacation spots that you must consider adding to your bucket list!

More USA Travel Tips:

Pin: Secret Vacation Spots USA East Coast Getaways

Hidden gem vacation spots in east coast

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