30 small beach towns that should be on your radar

You’ll find these scenic waterfronts everywhere from the coast of France to the shores of Alabama.

If you’re looking to relax on the beach with a good book, soak up the sun and take a dip in the water, there are several under-the-radar destinations you should consider. In addition to offering a quintessential beach experience, these towns tout several things to do — ranging from cultural fun to outdoor adventure — and striking scenery. Read on for vacation inspiration the next time you want to escape to a beautiful beach town.

Saugatuck, Michigan Overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is home to several serene beaches that feature soft sand, rolling dunes and peaceful atmospheres. It’s a popular Michigan summer vacation spot and draws adventure lovers and families thanks to its variety of outdoor pursuits, including boating and hiking. Saugatuck is also home to some unique attractions, such as the 1-acre Summerhouse Lavender Farm, and quirky shops along Butler Street. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Ogunquit, Maine
Ogunquit, Maine Ogunquit is located on Maine’s southern coast, and its name means “beautiful place by the sea” in the indigenous Abenaki tribal language. Beautiful is right — miles of wide beaches, grassy dunes, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and a promenade with stunning coastal views are a few lovely perks you’ll find in Ogunquit. The town is also home to tasty eateries serving everything from seafood (where you can sample lobster, clams and fish tacos) to pizza to Mexican. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Grand Bend, Ontario
Breathtaking sunsets and wide beaches welcome travelers to Ontario's Grand Bend, which is on the southeastern shores of Lake Huron. This destination is a favorite for families, who can go parasailing, hiking, boating and fishing, but travelers of all types can take advantage of Grand Bend's offerings. Save some time for shopping, too: The region is home to quaint boutiques and a few farmers markets. (Thinkstock)
Grand Bend, Ontario Breathtaking sunsets and wide beaches welcome travelers to Ontario’s Grand Bend, which is on the southeastern shores of Lake Huron. This destination is a favorite for families, who can go parasailing, hiking, boating and fishing, but travelers of all types can take advantage of Grand Bend’s offerings. Save some time for shopping, too: The region is home to quaint boutiques and a few farmers markets. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Block Island, Rhode Island
A family favorite and one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast, Block Island can only be reached by water or air. On this small island, just south of Rhode Island's mainland, you won't find traffic lights or big-name stores. What you will find is a picturesque shoreline with 17 miles of beaches to enjoy. What's more, Block Island boasts local boutiques, biking and sailing opportunities, ice cream parlors and an animal farm. (Thinkstock)
Block Island, Rhode Island A family favorite and one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast, Block Island can only be reached by water or air. On this small island, just south of Rhode Island’s mainland, you won’t find traffic lights or big-name stores. What you will find is a picturesque shoreline with 17 miles of beaches to enjoy. What’s more, Block Island boasts local boutiques, biking and sailing opportunities, ice cream parlors and an animal farm. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Delaware Seashore State Park
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware Just north of the buzzy beach towns of Ocean City, Maryland, and Bethany Beach, Delaware, Rehoboth Beach offers many of the same vacation amenities with the added benefit of fewer crowds. Rehoboth’s clean beach and lively mile-long boardwalk — with bars, restaurants, amusement rides and ice cream shops — are the main draws. Plus, there are plenty of accommodation options here, ranging from vacation rentals to beachfront hotels. Meanwhile, those who love to shop will find excellent deals (and no sales tax) at the Tanger Outlets. (Courtesy Delaware State Parks) (Courtesy Delaware State Parks)
Cannon Beach, Oregon This beach features the iconic 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock and miles of sandy shores that lead into the Pacific Ocean. Head here to admire the sunset and go on a romantic stroll with your sweetheart — golden hour is one of the best times to soak up the beach’s beauty. The area also offers ample hiking opportunities, hosts year-round festivals and is home to art galleries and boutiques galore. You’ll find Cannon Beach about 80 miles northwest of Portland. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (ASSOCIATED PRESS/Rick Bowmer)
Burleigh Heads, Australia
Situated on Australia's Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads is an undiscovered gem. The beach exudes a laid-back atmosphere and enjoys fewer crowds than other Australian beaches. What's more, you'll find coffee shops and eateries just a block off the beach, so when you need a bite to eat you won't have to wander far. Travelers can also explore the nearby parks and arts and crafts markets. (Thinkstock)
Burleigh Heads, Australia Situated on Australia’s Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads is an undiscovered gem. The beach exudes a laid-back atmosphere and enjoys fewer crowds than other Australian beaches. What’s more, you’ll find coffee shops and eateries just a block off the beach, so when you need a bite to eat you won’t have to wander far. Travelers can also explore the nearby parks and arts and crafts markets. (Thinkstock)
Capitola, California
The town of Capitola is adjacent to Santa Cruz and characterized by its colorful seaside homes and quaint village. Travelers can relax on the small beach, which comes to life in the summer with outdoor movie screenings and live music, or stroll down Capitola Avenue to shop at unique boutiques. The town also hosts an annual art and wine festival in September. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Capitola, California The town of Capitola is adjacent to Santa Cruz and characterized by its colorful seaside homes and quaint village. Travelers can relax on the small beach, which comes to life in the summer with outdoor movie screenings and live music, or stroll down Capitola Avenue to shop at unique boutiques. The town also hosts an annual art and wine festival in September. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
People walk on the beach in Biarritz, southwestern France, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Temperatures in southwestern France reached 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit). (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
Biarritz, France Located on France’s southwestern coast, Biarritz has been welcoming visitors for decades. It was once a popular vacation spot for royal families but today sees travelers of all types. There are several sandy beaches to explore, and the town is home to a casino and an aquarium. Plus, Biarritz is a hot surfing spot that celebrates the sport annually at the Biarritz Surf Festival, which draws pro surfers (and curious spectators) from around the world.. (AP Photo/Bob Edme) (AP/Bob Edme)
Currituck Beach, North Carolina
One of the beloved beaches of the Outer Banks, Currituck Beach boasts a wide sandy shore and a population of freely roaming wild horses. The animals are most commonly spotted in areas of the beach best reached by four-wheel-drive vehicles. To get close enough to snap a photo, you may want to opt for a guided tour. And for a bird's-eye view of the area, climb the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. (Thinkstock)
Currituck Beach, North Carolina One of the beloved beaches of the Outer Banks, Currituck Beach boasts a wide sandy shore and a population of freely roaming wild horses. The animals are most commonly spotted in areas of the beach best reached by four-wheel-drive vehicles. To get close enough to snap a photo, you may want to opt for a guided tour. And for a bird’s-eye view of the area, climb the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Benidorm, Spain (Thinkstock)
Benidorm, Spain Benidorm is situated on Spain’s Costa Blanca, about 30 miles north of Alicante. Its shoreline is lined with golden beaches and backed by skyscrapers. You can chill out on the sand and wander through the Old Town — complete with cobblestone streets, tapas bars and shops — by day and dance or enjoy karaoke at the many bars, clubs and discotecas by night. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
This undated photo provided by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort shows sunrise as seen from Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Beachwalker is No. 10 on the list of best beaches for the summer of 2017 compiled by Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, a professor at Florida International University. (Kiawah Island Golf Resort via AP)
Kiawah Island, South Carolina Kiawah Island is a choice vacation spot for golfers and nature lovers. This South Carolina barrier island touts five championship golf courses and offers ample opportunities for wildlife-watching, fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. And, of course, there’s the beach: Kiawah Island’s 10 miles of shoreline welcomes all types of travelers with soft sand, Atlantic Ocean views and incredible sunrises. (Kiawah Island Golf Resort via AP) (Kiawah Island Golf Resort via AP)
Kailua, Hawaii (Thinkstock)
Kailua, Hawaii Set on the eastern coast of Oahu, Kailua is an exceptionally stunning beach. Kailua is situated away from busy Honolulu, and its white sands are backed by verdant vegetation and palm trees, and framed by mountains and the cerulean sea. While relaxing along the shore is a highlight, travelers should also peruse the fresh produce and crafts sold at the local farmers market and hike the nearby Maunawili Falls Trail. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Thailand (Thinkstock)
Railay Beach, Thailand Still somewhat undiscovered when compared to Phuket and Ko Samui, Railay Beach is an isolated destination in southwestern Thailand reachable only by boat. This area boasts breathtaking scenery: Towering limestone cliffs trace the crescent-shaped beach, which features stark white sand and brilliantly blue water. Boat tours, rock climbing and hiking are popular here — so is simply relaxing on the beach and soaking up the sun and incredible vistas. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Cape May, New Jersey (Thinkstock)
Cape May, New Jersey While a vacation in Cape May is often focused around the beach, the area offers a plethora of other fun things to do away from the shore. In this New Jersey beach town, you can admire Victorian mansions, climb the Cape May Lighthouse, tour the nearby breweries or wineries, or visit the animals at the Jersey Shore Alpacas farm. Or, if it’s rest and relaxation you seek, set out a chair and umbrella and enjoy reading a good book on the beach. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Florianópolis, Brazil (Thinkstock)
Florianópolis, Brazil Florianópolis is situated on the southeastern coast of Brazil and should be on your bucket list if you live for excellent surfing and a buzzing party scene. Beach lovers will appreciate the variety of shorelines to choose from: There are 42 beaches in Florianópolis that all feature golden sands and turquoise waters. The area is also famous for its tasty, fresh seafood. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Bald Island, North Carolina (Thinkstock)
Bald Head Island, North Carolina One of the most unique aspects of Bald Head Island is that no cars are allowed: You’ll hop on a ferry from the North Carolina mainland to get here and have to rely on a golf cart, a bike, the island tram or your own two feet to experience everything this destination has to offer. Once on the island, you can climb the Bald Head Lighthouse, explore the nature preserves on a hiking or kayaking adventure or just spend time admiring the scenery and hanging on the 14 miles of beach. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
A beach at Clearwater, Florida, USA taken during the day. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/NikonShutterman)
Clearwater Beach, Florida Clearwater Beach’s sugar white sand, Gulf views and stunning sunsets are just a few reasons why this Florida spot should be on your travel list. The beach offers plenty of space to spread out, and when you get hungry or happy hour hits, a variety of restaurants and bars with live music line the shore. Clearwater Beach also hosts nightly sunset festivals at the pier, where vendors sell goods and street performers entertain passersby. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/NikonShutterman) (Getty Images/iStockphoto/NikonShutterman)
Gulf Shores, Alabama (Thinkstock)
Gulf Shores, Alabama Gulf Shores welcomes travelers with pearlescent white beaches set against the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf State Park Fishing and Education Pier stretches 1,540 feet from the land into the water and offers seating, a concession area and a retail shop to buy fishing equipment and souvenirs. Meanwhile, visitors who love water sports can enjoy everything from kayaking and Jet Skiing to parasailing and boating.. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Elba Island, Italy
One of the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba Island features several incredible beaches. You'll see beaches with golden sand, white sand, pebbles, rocks and vegetation on this island; traveler favorites include Fetovaia, Sant'Andrea and Cavoli, which are praised for their scenic views and vibrantly blue water. Many of the island's beaches are also great for snorkeling. (Thinkstock)
Elba Island, Italy One of the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba Island features several incredible beaches. You’ll see beaches with golden sand, white sand, pebbles, rocks and vegetation on this island; traveler favorites include Fetovaia, Sant’Andrea and Cavoli, which are praised for their scenic views and vibrantly blue water. Many of the island’s beaches are also great for snorkeling. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach is characterized by impressively wide beaches, large vacation homes and lively bars. Families and groups will love the ample space available for spreading out on the sand and playing games or building sandcastles. Visitors can also enjoy surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and sailing in Wrightsville Beach: Different parts of the area offer ideal water conditions for each sport. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina Wrightsville Beach is characterized by impressively wide beaches, large vacation homes and lively bars. Families and groups will love the ample space available for spreading out on the sand and playing games or building sandcastles. Visitors can also enjoy surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and sailing in Wrightsville Beach: Different parts of the area offer ideal water conditions for each sport. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Brac, Croatia (AP Photo/Sheila Norman-Culp)
Brac, Croatia Travelers who love beaches, food, wine and culture should head to the island of Brac in Croatia. It’s easy to reach by boat from Split and is home to many picturesque shorelines. Head to Bol on the southern coast of the isle to see the famous Zlatni Rat beach. The triangular beach juts out into the water and is surrounded by a mix of emerald green and cobalt blue sea. (AP Photo/Sheila Norman-Culp)
Dhermi, Albania
The village of Dhermi lies on Albania's southwestern coast and is known for spectacular sunsets and beautiful azure water. Travelers love the uncrowded beaches and the tasty Mediterranean food served at the village's restaurants and tavernas. This secluded paradise is perfect for relaxation. (Thinkstock)
Dhermi, Albania The village of Dhermi lies on Albania’s southwestern coast and is known for spectacular sunsets and beautiful azure water. Travelers love the uncrowded beaches and the tasty Mediterranean food served at the village’s restaurants and tavernas. This secluded paradise is perfect for relaxation. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Dana Point, California Dana Point is home to scenic hiking trails, a large marina filled with boats, eclectic shops and delectable seafood served at everything from small shacks to upscale waterfront restaurants. Whale watching and golfing are two popular activities with travelers visiting Dana Point. What’s more, the area offers several beaches that are great for strolling, swimming and surfing. The family-friendly Dana Point Harbor Beach and Salt Creek Beach (backed by cliffs and luxury hotels) are two traveler favorites. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Trou aux Biches, Mauritius
Known for splendid sunsets and a quiet beach, Trou aux Biches is located on the northwestern coast of Mauritius overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean. Travelers come here to escape: The sprawling white sand beach is made for relaxation, the warm water invites swimmers to splash around and the verdant vegetation frames the scenery. The area also boasts some fantastic spots for scuba diving, including two shipwrecks and "The Wall," which features colorful coral and abundant marine life. (Thinkstock)
Trou aux Biches, Mauritius Known for splendid sunsets and a quiet beach, Trou aux Biches is located on the northwestern coast of Mauritius overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean. Travelers come here to escape: The sprawling white sand beach is made for relaxation, the warm water invites swimmers to splash around and the verdant vegetation frames the scenery. The area also boasts some fantastic spots for scuba diving, including two shipwrecks and “The Wall,” which features colorful coral and abundant marine life. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Corsica, France Filled with beaches and mountains, the island of Corsica is a great option for lovers of the great outdoors. Hikers can hit the trails in the Corsica Regional Nature Park, which covers close to 40 percent of the island. Meanwhile, sunbathers can lie on Santa Giulia Beach and admire the azure sea. To take in the scenery from the water, consider booking a boat tour. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
On the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and about 25 miles east of Puerto Plata, Cabarete features unspoiled beaches and a lively nightlife scene. This beach town is also a haven for extreme sports enthusiasts: Kiteboarders, surfers and windsurfers flock to Cabarete to shred the Caribbean Sea waves. Visitors praise the quality of the beaches and water as well, citing clean shores and seaweed-free swims. (Thinkstock)
Cabarete, Dominican Republic On the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and about 25 miles east of Puerto Plata, Cabarete features unspoiled beaches and a lively nightlife scene. This beach town is also a haven for extreme sports enthusiasts: Kiteboarders, surfers and windsurfers flock to Cabarete to shred the Caribbean Sea waves. Visitors praise the quality of the beaches and water as well, citing clean shores and seaweed-free swims. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
This small town in the state of Oaxaca is set on Mexico's southern coast. The quiet beaches are the highlight, but the tasty local food (be sure to sample seafood and mole) and lively Benito Juarez Market are also sure to delight. (Thinkstock)
Puerto Escondido, Mexico Affordable accommodation options, idyllic beaches and impressive swells draw relaxation seekers and surfers to Puerto Escondido. This small town in the state of Oaxaca is set on Mexico’s southern coast. The quiet beaches are the highlight, but the tasty local food (be sure to sample seafood and mole) and lively Benito Juarez Market are also sure to delight. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
Avila Beach, California
There's no shortage of things to do at Avila Beach, which sits on California's central coast. Visitors can sprawl out or play volleyball on the sandy shoreline, rent paddleboards and explore the area's sea caves, bike around town or along the nearby trails, and fish off of the public piers. If you're more interested in rest and relaxation, book a spa day, then head to one of the area's wine-tasting rooms. (Thinkstock)
Avila Beach, California There’s no shortage of things to do at Avila Beach, which sits on California’s central coast. Visitors can sprawl out or play volleyball on the sandy shoreline, rent paddleboards and explore the area’s sea caves, bike around town or along the nearby trails, and fish off of the public piers. If you’re more interested in rest and relaxation, book a spa day, then head to one of the area’s wine-tasting rooms. (Thinkstock) (Thinkstock)
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Ogunquit, Maine
Grand Bend, Ontario
Breathtaking sunsets and wide beaches welcome travelers to Ontario's Grand Bend, which is on the southeastern shores of Lake Huron. This destination is a favorite for families, who can go parasailing, hiking, boating and fishing, but travelers of all types can take advantage of Grand Bend's offerings. Save some time for shopping, too: The region is home to quaint boutiques and a few farmers markets. (Thinkstock)
Block Island, Rhode Island
A family favorite and one of the best-kept secrets on the East Coast, Block Island can only be reached by water or air. On this small island, just south of Rhode Island's mainland, you won't find traffic lights or big-name stores. What you will find is a picturesque shoreline with 17 miles of beaches to enjoy. What's more, Block Island boasts local boutiques, biking and sailing opportunities, ice cream parlors and an animal farm. (Thinkstock)
Delaware Seashore State Park
Burleigh Heads, Australia
Situated on Australia's Gold Coast, Burleigh Heads is an undiscovered gem. The beach exudes a laid-back atmosphere and enjoys fewer crowds than other Australian beaches. What's more, you'll find coffee shops and eateries just a block off the beach, so when you need a bite to eat you won't have to wander far. Travelers can also explore the nearby parks and arts and crafts markets. (Thinkstock)
Capitola, California
The town of Capitola is adjacent to Santa Cruz and characterized by its colorful seaside homes and quaint village. Travelers can relax on the small beach, which comes to life in the summer with outdoor movie screenings and live music, or stroll down Capitola Avenue to shop at unique boutiques. The town also hosts an annual art and wine festival in September. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
People walk on the beach in Biarritz, southwestern France, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Temperatures in southwestern France reached 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit). (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
Currituck Beach, North Carolina
One of the beloved beaches of the Outer Banks, Currituck Beach boasts a wide sandy shore and a population of freely roaming wild horses. The animals are most commonly spotted in areas of the beach best reached by four-wheel-drive vehicles. To get close enough to snap a photo, you may want to opt for a guided tour. And for a bird's-eye view of the area, climb the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. (Thinkstock)
Benidorm, Spain (Thinkstock)
This undated photo provided by the Kiawah Island Golf Resort shows sunrise as seen from Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Beachwalker is No. 10 on the list of best beaches for the summer of 2017 compiled by Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, a professor at Florida International University. (Kiawah Island Golf Resort via AP)
Kailua, Hawaii (Thinkstock)
Thailand (Thinkstock)
Cape May, New Jersey (Thinkstock)
Florianópolis, Brazil (Thinkstock)
Bald Island, North Carolina (Thinkstock)
A beach at Clearwater, Florida, USA taken during the day. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/NikonShutterman)
Gulf Shores, Alabama (Thinkstock)
Elba Island, Italy
One of the islands in the Tuscan Archipelago, Elba Island features several incredible beaches. You'll see beaches with golden sand, white sand, pebbles, rocks and vegetation on this island; traveler favorites include Fetovaia, Sant'Andrea and Cavoli, which are praised for their scenic views and vibrantly blue water. Many of the island's beaches are also great for snorkeling. (Thinkstock)
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach is characterized by impressively wide beaches, large vacation homes and lively bars. Families and groups will love the ample space available for spreading out on the sand and playing games or building sandcastles. Visitors can also enjoy surfing, stand-up paddleboarding and sailing in Wrightsville Beach: Different parts of the area offer ideal water conditions for each sport. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Brac, Croatia (AP Photo/Sheila Norman-Culp)
Dhermi, Albania
The village of Dhermi lies on Albania's southwestern coast and is known for spectacular sunsets and beautiful azure water. Travelers love the uncrowded beaches and the tasty Mediterranean food served at the village's restaurants and tavernas. This secluded paradise is perfect for relaxation. (Thinkstock)
Trou aux Biches, Mauritius
Known for splendid sunsets and a quiet beach, Trou aux Biches is located on the northwestern coast of Mauritius overlooking the turquoise Indian Ocean. Travelers come here to escape: The sprawling white sand beach is made for relaxation, the warm water invites swimmers to splash around and the verdant vegetation frames the scenery. The area also boasts some fantastic spots for scuba diving, including two shipwrecks and "The Wall," which features colorful coral and abundant marine life. (Thinkstock)
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
On the northern coast of the Dominican Republic and about 25 miles east of Puerto Plata, Cabarete features unspoiled beaches and a lively nightlife scene. This beach town is also a haven for extreme sports enthusiasts: Kiteboarders, surfers and windsurfers flock to Cabarete to shred the Caribbean Sea waves. Visitors praise the quality of the beaches and water as well, citing clean shores and seaweed-free swims. (Thinkstock)
This small town in the state of Oaxaca is set on Mexico's southern coast. The quiet beaches are the highlight, but the tasty local food (be sure to sample seafood and mole) and lively Benito Juarez Market are also sure to delight. (Thinkstock)
Avila Beach, California
There's no shortage of things to do at Avila Beach, which sits on California's central coast. Visitors can sprawl out or play volleyball on the sandy shoreline, rent paddleboards and explore the area's sea caves, bike around town or along the nearby trails, and fish off of the public piers. If you're more interested in rest and relaxation, book a spa day, then head to one of the area's wine-tasting rooms. (Thinkstock)

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30 Small Beach Towns that Should be On Your Radar originally appeared on usnews.com

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