Nothing beats a quiet day spent at the beach. Especially if you can find a stretch of silky sand with few other sunseekers save you.
From a national park located on a remote island to a state park packed with driftwood to a cove known for its whale migration, here are some secluded beaches across the USA with ample room to spread out your towel.
1. Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Located across the Calibogue Sound from Hilton Head Island, this South Carolina gem is surrounded by beautiful uncrowded beaches and ancient oaks dripping with Spanish moss. There’s no bridge to the mainland, so book a ferry ride or hop in your own boat to get there.
Once you arrive, golf carts, bikes or your own two feet are the best way to explore. Take time to learn about the Gullah/Geechee influence, soak up the rich art scene and sample the Lowcountry cuisine on one of South Carolina’s most beautiful beaches.
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2. Boneyard Beach, Florida
At Big Talbot Island State Park, on an Atlantic Coast barrier island between Amelia and Fort George Islands, you’ll find a beach that might not be what you’d normally expect in Florida.
About a half-hour drive from Jacksonville, Boneyard Beach (aka Black Rock Beach) has a coastline with 30-foot bluffs and find massive driftwood trees. Climbing these beauties will make you feel like a kid again – and if you stick around for sunset, you’re in for a treat, as the driftwood branches make for a lovely silhouette shot. Even the geological formations here are unique: only 3.5 percent of land in the US has this type of black rock.
3. Roque Bluffs, Maine
In a state known for its rocky, cobbled coastline, Roque Bluffs is a rare stretch of sand cast off by glaciers millions of years ago. With a picturesque lighthouse, a pretty nearby pond and surrounding hiking trails, this Maine beach has a lot to keep you occupied – if you don’t want to just stretch out on a beach blanket or take a teeth-clattering swim.
The beach is protected as a state park, and has picnic facilities and a playground for little travelers. This is also a fantastic destination for birders, with feathered friends that range from songbirds to bald eagles.
4. Gray Whale Cove Beach, California
Gray Whale Cove State Beach in Half Moon Bay is one of Northern California’s under-the-radar beaches. Pack a lunch (there’s a picnic area on the bluff with a spectacular view), and if you come from November to May, keep an eye out for migrating gray whales. The gentle giants often come fairly close to shore.
When you venture down to the beach, keep in mind that there is a nudist area on the north end. If you aren’t into that scene, turn left at the bottom of the stairs.
5. Cumberland Island, Georgia
From camping to the Carnegies, Cumberland Island is one special place. This national seashore is a haven for wildlife: on the beach, you’ll find wild horses and loggerhead turtles.
Hike through the island’s oak-tree-shaded interior for the chance to see armadillos, deer, hogs, rabbits, turkeys and raccoons. Since the only way to get there is by boat or ferry ride, it’s never crowded (except for all the critters); once you arrive, you’ve got 17 miles worth of sandy shores to choose from.
6. Secret Beach, Oregon
If you want a secluded beach, this one’s name means what it says. Tucked away off the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor near Thunder Rock Cove, a third-of-a-mile south of milepost 345 on US 101, this tiny, lesser-visited gem is mostly favored by locals in the know.
Another trick that keeps the crowds at bay? Check the tide tables before you go: Secret Beach can only be visited at low tide. If you can jump through all those hoops, you’ll be rewarded with some of Oregon’s best coastal scenery.
7. Channel Islands National Park, California
Five gorgeous islands off the Southern California coast make up remote Channel Islands National Park. Arrive by small plane or boat or kayak to the 100ft-wide Painted Cave, one of the largest sea caves in the world.
And it’s not the only one: some 30 sea caves dot the islands, along with plenty of dramatic sea cliffs. In what many call the Galapagos of North America, endemic plants and wildlife abound. On land, look for the endangered island barberry and the soft-leaved paintbrush plant. In the water, it’s common to see bright orange Garibaldi fish, harbor seals, sea lions and giant sea kelp.
If you’re a hiker, visit Anacapa to foot your way to the lighthouse. And don’t forget Santa Rosa Island’s Lobo Canyon for sandstone formations, pygmy mammoth fossils and – if you’re lucky – local island foxes.
8. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
From sand dunes to sea cliffs, Michigan is full of natural wonders worthy of a quick escape. Yet talk to any Michigander for recommendations, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the mainland shore and South Manitou Island will surely come up.
Trekking to the top of the dunes is practically a rite of passage. Following the 3.5-mile Dunes Trail takes about two to four hours depending on your fitness level and the weather.
The peaceful area is home to 35 miles of shoreline, so choosing your own spot is very simple. Bright blue water in the foreground and sand dunes behind make for serenity to the nth degree. After beach lounging, hike among conifers and hardwoods. Just keep in mind that cougars sometimes roam these parts.
9. Gold Beach, Oregon
Many of Northern Oregon’s best-beloved beach towns are under two hours from Portland, which means they get pretty crowded in the summer and on sunny weekends. But Southern Oregon is criminally underrated – even though it boasts the same incredible Pacific frontage as the rest of the state, protected for public use in perpetuity as the “People’s Coast.”
Gold Beach is one of the best, where the mighty Rogue River meets the ocean. Be sure to go on a kayaking adventure with South Coast Tours to see some of the hidden coves and learn about the history of this former gold-rush town – not to mention the spectacular, colorful marine wildlife.
10. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
With just 60,000 annual visitors, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the least-visited national parks in the nation. Known for its amazing coral-reef system, historic fort and sea turtles, this site, about 70 nautical miles west of Key West, is a pretty special place to visit.
Nearly 99 percent of the park’s 100 square miles are submerged beneath the water, where moray eels, Goliath grouper and nurse sharks flourish. During the day, spend time snorkeling, kayaking and getting a history lesson (Ponce de Leon first stepped foot here in 1513). After the ferry boat leaves, camp on the beach to have the island almost to yourself. Major bonus: it’s relatively bug-free since there’s no fresh water to attract mosquitos.
11. Montaña de Oro State Park, California
Wind-tossed coastal bluffs with wild, wide-open sea views make this park a favorite spot for hikers and mountain bikers. Its northern half features sand dunes and an ancient marine terrace visible due to seismic uplift.
Once used by smugglers, Spooner’s Cove is today a beautiful sandy beach and picnic area. If you go tide-pooling, you’ll see starfish, limpets and crabs. (Just be sure not to touch them.) Nearby is a simple but beautiful campground.