13 East Coast Vacations You Need to Take at Least Once
Ready to get away? Whether you want to escape to a dreamy beach, a quaint New England town, or a culture-filled city, we’ve got the perfect options for you.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Something for everyone
Were you one of the many travelers who had a wrench thrown into your summer vacation plans thanks to COVID-19? While you may not have gotten to go on that exotic excursion or dined with your favorite Disney characters this summer, it’s not too late to plan a simple, safe, and satisfying trip that’s a little closer to home. As summer begins to wind down and states reopen, now is the perfect time to pack your bags and hit the road—or plan the perfect trip for when you’re ready. With a wide range of climates, landscapes, activities, and cuisine, these East Coast destinations offer something for every type of traveler.
Kennebunk is an idyllic coastal town located in southern Maine, just 90 minutes from Boston. This quintessential New England town, which once served as a bustling shipbuilding and fishing village, is the perfect seaside getaway for any type of traveler. Foodies will love crossing off a Maine lobster from their bucket list, and art enthusiasts will fall in love with the town’s many galleries and regional artists. If you’re looking for some socially distanced outdoor adventure, take a scenic walk along the seawall that connects all of Kennebunk’s best beaches, hit the trails on the Rachel Carlson Wildlife Refuge, or rent a bicycle and explore the Mount Agamenticus Conservation Region.
Not sure where to stay? The White Barn Inn has been a Kennebunk landmark for more than 150 years. Guests can cozy up in one of the inn’s 27 rooms or spread out in one of its five stand-alone waterfront cottages. No matter which accommodation you choose, the inn’s trademark rustic charm and New England hospitality will ensure that you’ll never want to leave.
Not ready to send your children back to school just yet? Boston is a city rife with history, making it the perfect destination for a homeschool field trip. Give your kids the history lesson of a lifetime with a guided tour of the Freedom Trail and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Take a walk through some of the city’s oldest cemeteries and see how many famous figures rest in them before heading over to the New England Aquarium for a science lesson. Planning a trip around Halloween? Hop in the car and drive 40 minutes to Salem, where you and your family can learn all about the Salem Witch Trials and browse the local witchy shops. A candlelit ghost tour before heading back to the city is also a must.
The Kimpton Nine Zero is a hop, skip, and a jump away from just about every attraction, and the staff will go out of their way to make your entire family—even the dog(s)—feel welcome!
Newport, Rhode Island
You’ll feel like you’ve traveled back in time to the Gilded Age as you tour the homes of some of America’s wealthiest families. Although the mansions were intended to be summer cottages, Newport is one of the summer destinations that are surprisingly gorgeous in the winter. No matter when you go, you’ll get a glimpse into what life was like in the late 19th century as you twirl around Rosecliff’s famous ballroom or view the largest collection of Venetian art at the Elms. If your trip is a family affair, the Breakers offers a tour with a special guided experience just for children. When you’re finished gallivanting around the grounds of the mansions, take a leisurely stroll down Newport’s 3.5-mile Cliff Walk before grabbing dinner at the Red Parrot, a festive and family-friendly restaurant located inside an old meatpacking plant that employed hundreds of Newport residents during that era.
If you think you’ll have a hard time leaving the mansions, you’re in luck. Rather than staying at a traditional hotel, you can actually go “home” to a Cliff Walk mansion. The Chanler at Cliff Walk has 20 enchanting guest rooms, each decorated in a different period style that will allow you to pretend you’re in another time for just a little bit longer.
If you’re looking to take the road less traveled, then this picturesque New England town is the ideal hideaway. Just an hour and a half from New York City, Washington is said to have been the inspiration for the Gilmore Girls‘ Stars Hollow. Visitors can hike through Mount Tom State Park or take a walking tour of Hopkins Vineyard to learn about the wine-making process before tasting some of the vineyard’s award-winning wines. Later, you can head just a few miles down the road to the town of Woodbury and hunt for treasures along the famed Antiques Trail. Perusing more than two dozen antique shops is bound to work up an appetite, so stop for dinner at Woodbury’s Good News Restaurant. This eclectic café has been in business for more than 25 years and was a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement.
After dinner, head to the Mayflower Inn for a bonfire before turning in for the night. Tucked away in 58 acres of manicured gardens and woodlands, it is the epitome of peace and quiet. Check out the other East Coast getaways that locals want to keep secret—including another spot in Connecticut.
Amagansett, New York
Escape to Long Island’s East End for a weekend of shopping and wine tasting. Amagansett is a seaside town known for attracting a discerning and wealthy summer clientele. Locals, however, know that the fall is arguably the best time to head out East. You can spend mornings walking one of the island’s miles-long beaches or shopping in some of the Hamptons’ chicest shops. In the afternoon, head over to one of the area’s famed vineyards. Duck Walk, Wolffer Estate, and Channing Daughters Wineries are among the best on the island and all feature spacious tasting rooms that make social distancing a breeze.
Since coronavirus is a definite concern when traveling, staying at a smaller hotel with fewer guests is a safer choice. The Roundtree in Amagansett, which opened in June 2020, right in the midst of the pandemic, has just 15 rooms, making it the perfect choice for anyone looking to get away without having to worry about a bustling hotel lobby. Discover more of the best U.S. hotels and resorts in the country for social distancing.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
If you’ve been hunkered down since March and you’re ready to get out and have some fun, Atlantic City is a must. Lounge by the beach, or take a stroll along the city’s famous seaside boardwalk, where you’ll find entertainment around every corner, one-of-a-kind shopping, and, of course, casinos. Steel Pier, the city’s oldest amusement park (it opened in 1898) is also a fun, outdoor option for guests of all ages. Here are another 8 amusement parks that have stood the test of time.
If you’re looking for a fun night out, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will give you the ultimate Atlantic City experience. Guests can visit socially distant tables and slot machines, or catch a show at their on-site concert venue. Since its reopening, the casino has implemented a number of protocols to ensure the safety of its staff and guests. In addition to masks, social distancing, and a “Clean Team” who consistently disinfects all surfaces, the resort and casino take the temperature of everyone who enters via thermal imaging. Any guest or staff member whose temperature is 100.4 or higher will not be permitted to enter. Learn more about how COVID-19 has changed hotels forever.
If you’re not comfortable going out amongst the public just yet, spend a romantic weekend sheltering in place in a secluded Pennsylvania hideaway. The Glasbern Inn is a historic, hidden gem located about two hours outside of New York City, which makes it the ideal getaway for any season. You and your significant other can spend your days cycling through the area’s rolling hills or wandering the paths on a 150-acre working farm. If you opt for a weekend away in the winter, rent one of the garden cottages and snuggle up in front of your room’s gas fireplace. The inn’s main dining room serves food that is largely produced on-site, so you can enjoy a candlelit dinner made with the freshest ingredients.
If you’re looking to leave the inn, you can make your way down the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail or hike through Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Up for a little adventure? Try Pocono Whitewater Rafting, or head to Dorney Park, which is just 20 minutes away and open to guests with advance reservations. FYI, these other popular attractions will now require reservations, too.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Are you still working from home? Why not move your office to the beach? The Outer Banks offers 100 miles of pristine beaches, which are likely a far better alternative than your current setup. Begin the workday with sunrise yoga or a run on the sand, and spend your lunch break meandering through one of the island’s tiny towns or embarking on a wild horse tour. At night, grab a couple of flashlights and head down to the beach, where the kids will delight in spotting the island’s resident ghost crabs.
Many visitors opt to rent homes during their visit, since there aren’t many hotel options. But if you’d prefer a getaway sans cooking and cleaning, the Sanderling Resort offers more than 20 different room options and a stretch of private beach, complete with a variety of water sports.
Charleston, South Carolina
Step back in time and experience true Southern charm as you walk down Charleston’s cobblestone streets. Learn about America’s past with a guided downtown walking tour, or hop in a carriage to really take it all in. While the grand antebellum homes and piazza-lined “single houses” are stunning sights to behold, the city’s history is quite complex, as it played a large role in the country’s slave trade. Travelers of all ages can use this trip as an opportunity to learn about its checkered past and the issues that still complicate race relations to this day.
Keep the history lesson going with a stay at the Zero George Street, made up of three early-19th-century singles and two carriage houses. Looking for an intimate hotel closer to home? Here are more of the best boutique hotels in America.
History buffs with a love of funky nightlife and fabulous food will enjoy touring Georgia’s oldest city. Take in the antebellum architecture and cobblestone squares in the city’s historic district on foot or from a horse-drawn carriage during the day, and join one of the city’s famed ghost walks at night. While you’re there, experience true Southern hospitality at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room; just be sure to arrive early, as the line to get in tends to stretch around the block.
You’ll want to stay in the heart of historic downtown Savannah, so the Perry Lane Hotel is the perfect pick. At Perry Lane, you can take advantage of some experiences that are offered exclusively to guests of the hotel, including an in-depth tour of the famed Byrd Cookie Company and a behind-the-scenes look at how the legendary Benedetto guitars (which are made in Savannah) come to life.
Palm Beach, Florida
Looking to spend a few days in the lap of luxury? Head to Palm Beach, Florida. There, you can take a drive down Billionaires Row on your way to one of the pristine golf courses in the area or the upscale shops on Worth Avenue. For the ultimate in relaxation, spend the day lounging by an adults-only oceanfront pool, or enjoy a day of pampering at the Eau Palm Beach Resort’s world-class spa. Be sure to take home one of their Palm Beach Breeze candles—the signature scent was created exclusively for the resort—so you can feel like you’re still there long after you leave.
If you’re looking for a fun and educational vacation, then a trip to D.C. will not disappoint. Home to the Smithsonian, the National Holocaust Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International Spy Museum, and a slew of others, the city has something for everyone. If you’d prefer to socially distance outdoors, you can visit the National Zoo or see the iconic monuments along the National Mall.
You’re guaranteed to do a lot of walking here, so it’s wise to stay in the heart of the city. The famed Willard Intercontinental Hotel, which has welcomed a number of U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities, is a solid choice. Before you go, find out some fun facts you never knew about Washington, D.C.
The Adirondacks, New York
If you want to unplug and enjoy the great outdoors, the Adirondack region of New York is the ideal destination for any season. Lake George (commonly referred to as the “Original Vacation” spot) holds a variety of annual events for visitors, and Saranac Lake has an actual ice palace during the Winter Carnival, along with a host of winter activities such as skiing, tubing, and snowboarding. If you’re looking for a more laid-back trip, Long Lake is a great option, and travelers who really want to go off the grid for a few days can set up camp at Cranberry Lake.
For those who love the idea of camping but aren’t actually excited about pitching a tent, Lake George’s Lodges at Cresthaven are a great compromise. These rustic, lakefront lodges are outfitted with everything you need, from full kitchens to covered porches (so you can experience the gorgeous views and breathe in that fresh mountain air, no matter what the weather). With a private beach, indoor/outdoor pool, horseshoe pits, pickle ball, and a mile-long list of other amenities, you won’t want to leave the property. But, if you do, you’re only minutes away from Lake George Village.