The beaches of the southern United States offer some of the most stunning and breathtaking coastlines in the world. In states like Florida and South Carolina, endless miles of golden sand stretch as far as the eye can see, lapped by sparkling blue waters that are warm and calm in the summer months.
These beaches are perfect for a day of sunbathing or splashing about in the waves, offering everything from lazy afternoons spent reading a book to exhilarating adventures like snorkeling or surfing. Additionally, many beaches in the south are known for their vibrant communities and exciting nightlife, making them one-of-a-kind destinations that are sure to entertain.
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#1 – Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is one of the most family-friendly beaches in the south! The main beach, the Oceanfront, has 35 miles of beachfront for your family to enjoy.
The best time to visit Virginia Beach is between May and September when the water is warm enough for swimming. From adventure and water parks to seafood and beautiful beachfront, Virginia Beach has a little something for everyone in the family.
Things to Do in Virginia Beach
Start your day off by heading down to the beach for sunbathing and swimming with the kids. If you’re interested in surfing, surf lessons, parasailing, or stand up paddleboading, you’ll find those options as well.
On the main strip, at the Oceanfront, you’ll have the Atlantic Fun Park. The park has a Ferris Wheel, go-karts, and a number of other thrill rides. If you’re looking for a little adventure, head over to The Adventure Park five minutes down the road and go ziplining!
If you’re a seafood lover, then you’re in luck! The Oceanfront has a number of great seafood restaurants to satisfy your taste buds. Rockefellers Restaurant and Waterman’s Surfside Grille are two great options that won’t disappoint!
#2 – Outer Banks, North Carolina
Recommended by Denise of ChefDenise.com
The Outer Banks, North Carolina is one of the best spots in the south for a beach vacation. The barrier islands form a unique environment with the Atlantic Ocean on its east coast, and the harbor on the west. That means you can see gorgeous sunrises and sunsets in the same day as the island’s widest point is just over 3 miles!
Things to Do in the Outer Banks
The warm waves in the Atlantic make it perfect for surfing, skim boarding, swimming, or just relaxing on the white sandy beaches. The calm waters of the harbor are wonderful for stand-up-paddling, fishing, or kite surfing.
The Outer Banks beaches are gorgeous and pristine, but the islands also offer so much more. History buffs will want to check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk.
In Buxton, visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the USA. Don’t go to Buxton without stopping for an apple ugly from Orange Blossom Café (closes at 11:00 am).
Just south of Nags Head, stands the 1870s Bodie Island Lighthouse with some of the best views of the coast. More scenic vistas await at the National Wildlife Refuge in Manteo where you can hike or take the kayak trail. Keep an eye out for wildlife!
#3 – Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Recommended by Victoria of Guide Your Travel
Myrtle Beach is one of the best beaches in South Carolina and the perfect place to spend a weekend. Not only is there a lot to see and do nearby but the beach itself has plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, watersports or just relaxing.
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk
The Myrtle Beach boardwalk is definitely one of the biggest attractions close to the beach with lots of restaurants, arcades and even a ferris wheel. The Sky Wheel is great for watching the sunset or getting a bird’s-eye view of the beach.
One of the best things to do is to join a guided kayak tour and explore the beautiful coastline. You can also take group surf lessons or a stand-up paddleboard tour. Myrtle Beach has something for everyone, making it a great place to visit for all different types of travelers.
Things to Do in Myrtle Beach
Families can enjoy beach days or trips to the Aquarium and couples might enjoy the many shows in town or a romantic walk on the beach.
Myrtle Beach is of course known for its variety of theatre, musical or comedy shows and there is always something to do any day of the week. As well, golf courses in Myrtle Beach are plentiful– there’s even one that can be played along the water.
Luckily, the beaches aren’t crowded even on busy days as there is always a quiet spot in less popular areas of the beach.
#4 – Hilton Head, South Carolina
If you’re looking for a great beach vacation in the south, then Hilton Head should be on your radar! Hilton Head Island in South Carolina has eight beautiful beaches totaling 12 miles of waterfront for you to enjoy.
Waterfront Golf Courses
Because Hilton Head is known for its golf courses, there are several courses with water views as well. Hilton Head is also bike friendly and will allow you to take your bikes on the beach!
Hilton Head Beaches
Beach in Hilton Head include Coligny Beach Park, Folly Field Beach, Driessen Beach, Islander’s Beach, Sea Pines Beach, Palmetto Dunes Beach, Alder Lane, and Burke’s Beach.
Coligny Beach has lots of amenities and is perhaps the more popular beach to visit. Coligny Beach Park has restrooms, showers, chair and umbrella rentals, and restaurants nearby. And when you’re done playing in the sun, head over to Coligny Beach Plaza a bit of shopping or a bite to eat!
Other Things To Do in Hilton Head
#5 – Gulf Shores, Alabama
Recommended by Theresa of TheLocalTourist.com
In Gulf Shores, the water isn’t the only thing that sparkles; the sand does, too. Alabama’s stretches of white quartz sand along the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most beautiful beaches in the south.
You can spend all day playing in the surf and relaxing in the sun. If you want to be more active on the water, there’s parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, and diving. You can even learn how to build a sandcastle.
Things to Do in Gulf Shores
There are many more things to do in Gulf Shores. Gulf State Park has two miles of beach, but it’s also got miles of backcountry trails for hiking and biking. You can do some freshwater fishing in Lake Shelby. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is another oasis, and it protects some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. History lovers will want to head west to Fort Morgan. Built in 1834, it was an important site during the Civil War.
When you’re hungry, The Gulf Restaurant is an Orange Beach favorite. Made out of shipping containers, it’s right on the beach and is known for its festive atmosphere. For more upscale dining, reserve a white linen cloth table at Voyager’s at Perdido Beach Resort.
#6 – Biloxi Beach, Mississippi
Recommended by Charles McCool of USGulfCoastTravel.com
The Coastal Mississippi beaches remain a secret to most of the US and the world, but it is time more people know about them. Biloxi has the largest man made beach in the US and it is magnificent.
With some of the softest and cleanest sugar sand along the US Gulf Coast, Biloxi beach totals 26 miles to Gulfport. And it has free parking along the beach. Utterly brilliant.
Biloxi beach water has very small wave action because there are barrier islands 10 miles offshore. The soft sand and mild waves makes Biloxi beach ideal for families.
Things to Do at Biloxi Beach
When your toes are not in the sugar sand, some things to do in Biloxi include climbing the lighthouse, eating amazing coastal cuisine, visiting a fun museum, or taking to the water on a boat tour.
Biloxi Lighthouse is cast iron and must be climbed before 9:30am because it gets too hot later. Also, fun fact, it is the only lighthouse located in the middle of a highway.
Biloxi Shrimping Trip
One of the highest rated activities in Coastal Mississippi is the Biloxi Shrimping Trip. Part entertainment, part educational, the tour is very kid-friendly with opportunities to handle freshly caught sea critters. Betsy Ann Riverboat and Biloxi Schooner are but two of dozens of other Biloxi boat tours.
Impress your friends by visiting the costliest Waffle House, rebuilt to enhanced standards after hurricane Katrina. And take a selfie inside a shark mouth at Sharkhead’s. It is so easy to have fun in Biloxi!
#7 – Cocoa Beach, Florida
Recommended by Christine of LiveLoveRunTravel.com
If you are looking for the best beaches in the south to visit, don’t miss out on a vacation to Cocoa Beach, Florida. Enjoy surfing near the pier where Kelly Slater learned to surf, take a walk on the beach to look for shells, or just enjoy relaxing in the sun.
One of the best things about a Cocoa Beach vacation is being able to watch rocket launches from the beach or the pier. Keep an eye on the launch calendars to see when launches are scheduled, but be aware that they are often postponed at least once for weather.
Another unique thing about Cocoa Beach is that you can do bioluminescent kayaking in the Banana River. There are several tours you can take if you do not have your own equipment. Try to go on a night when there is a lot of cloud cover or a new moon for the best chance of seeing the bioluminescence.
Other Things to Do at Cocoa Beach
There are plenty of great spots to eat in Cocoa Beach including at the Cocoa Beach Pier. There are several restaurant options including a tiki bar at the end of the pier and several restaurants, both indoor and outdoor, at the start of the pier.
#8 – Destin, Florida
Recommended by Caitlin of Twin Family Travels
Destin, Florida is one of the best beaches in the south because of its’ white sugar sand beaches and variety of attractions for all ages.
The Florida panhandle is well known for the beautiful emerald-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There is no shortage of options in Destin to get out on the water.
Henderson Beach State Park
Henderson Beach State Park is a gem. Explore the outdoors on a nature trail and soak up the sun on this beautiful beach. There are numerous other beach access points and beach parks to enjoy in the area.
The pirate or dolphin cruises are great for the whole family. Fishing charters are very popular. Rent a boat or take a water taxi to the popular sandbar, Crab Island. Snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, and parasailing are other available water activities.
Shopping in Destin
Destin also has an abundance of shopping and dining options. Destin Commons has over 95 stores and restaurants. HarborWalk Village is another popular spot, especially for dining with an ocean view.
Amusement Parks in Destin
Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park and The Track Family Fun Park are sure to be a hit with the kids. Big Kahuna’s Water Park has waterslides, wave pools, rivers, and kiddie rides. The Adventure Park has adrenaline rides and mini-golf. Track Family Fun Park has go-karts, adventure rides, mini-golf, bumper rides, an arcade, and multiple new rides for younger kids.
With so much to do and beautiful white sand beaches, Destin continues to be one of the best summer beach vacations in the South.
#9 – Sanibel Island, Florida
Recommended by Donna of ExploreTheRoadWithDonnaMarie.com
While during the winter the island of Sanibel is filled with snowbirds and vacationers trying to get out of the cold, it becomes a relaxing spot for a lazy vacation for locals during the summer months. Sanibel is one for the top beaches in the south.
One Big Beach
This island is mainly one big beach. It’s location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico brings all sorts of sea creatures to it. Of course, this means the beach is made up of millions of shells. No wonder it is the seashell capital of the world.
The island is dotted with vacation rentals, so you can stay within easy walking distance of the beach. Try your hand at paddle boarding, kayaking, or float lazily in a tube. You can also rent bicycles, build sandcastles, swim, or dig in the sand for sea creatures.
For the Kids
For kids, the Sundial Beach Resort hosts the Sanibel Sea School. Morning and afternoon classes are available to keep kids busy while mom and dad relax on the beach or sip drinks at the tiki bar.
They will love discovering cool facts about creatures such as jellyfish, sharks, and sea turtles. Send your kids with an eco-friendly water bottle and some sunscreen, as they will be outside during part of the class.
In Sanibel, you will create memories to last a lifetime.
#10 – Siesta Key, Florida
Recommended by Catherine of PostcardNarrative.com
Treat your feet to Siesta Key Beach where you’ll discover the softest, most sublime sand you’ve ever touched. It’s made up of 99% quartz and is notably different from any other beach in the world.
Siesta Key is near Sarasota on the west coast of Florida and is easily reached by flying into Tampa, Fort Myers, Sarasota, or Punta Gorda airports.
Siesta Key Beach is a worthy destination on it’s own or as a stop along your trip down the Gulf Coast of Florida; which is packed with family friendly attractions and beaches.
Things to Do on the Siesta Key
For a unique excursion, try kayaking through nearby mangrove tunnels, parasailing, or book a dolphin tour.
Ice cream vendors are sprinkled throughout town. You really can’t go wrong, but a crowd favorite is Made in Rome Gelato. Curious to try nitrogen ice cream? Check out Sub Zero Nitrogen.
Most restaurants in Siesta Key village offer carry-out so why not bring a picnic to the beach? Anna’s Deli has noteworthy sandwiches on the south end of Siesta Key and The Cottage features a more upscale menu perfectly paired with wine and a sunset
When to Visit Siesta Key
Avoid the crowds and high heat by planning a visit to Siesta key in April, May, September, or October. The most peaceful times on the beach are before 10am and after 4pm. You won’t want to miss the sun setting over the gulf.
#11 – South Beach, Florida
Recommended by Vicky of BuddyTheTravelingMonkey.com
One of the best beaches in the south for a summer beach vacation is, without a doubt, South Beach. This beach is a section of the city of Miami Beach, not to be confused with the city of Miami. Miami is on the mainland, while Miami Beach is an island city between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the Best Beaches in Florida
South Beach is popular with both locals and tourists alike, making it one of the best beaches in Florida. With white sands and aquamarine water, that’s really no surprise! The beach is also kid-friendly, since it stays shallow for a good distance. You can rent beach beds/chairs, or bring your own. There are also plenty of places nearby to get food and drinks.
Picture Worthy Views
Make sure to have your camera with you. Popular things to photograph on South Beach are the colorful lifeguard towers, the beautiful water, and the many birds that fly overhead. Just a few feet from the water, you’ll also find popular Ocean Drive that is home to some pretty unique Art Deco architecture.
The beach is free to enter. Street parking and parking garages are very expensive in the area, so if you can, it’s best to walk or use a ride sharing service.
#12 – St. Pete Beach, Florida
Recommended by Rachel from RachelsFindings.com
In the last 10 years, tourism in the city of Saint Petersburg has flourished. In 2021 St. Pete Beach won Trip Advisor’s #1 Beach in the U.S. and is a serious competitor against the best beaches in the world. Plus, there are several other impressive beaches in St. Petersburg waiting to be explored!
In under an hour’s drive from Tampa’s International Airport, you’ll be soaking up the sun on St. Pete Beach’s pristine white power and swimming in the bright blue waters. There are several resorts to choose from depending on your budget.
The historic Don Ceasar, dressed in all pink, is impressive just to look at, yet it would make for a fabulous splurge. You can let go of your worries with a cocktail at one (or many) of the tiki beach bars, sway to live music, then turn up the competition with a game of cornhole.
Things to Do at St. Pete Beach
There’s so much to do in the surrounding areas it’ll be hard to choose what to leave behind for next time. Downtown St. Pete is just a 20-minute drive away. You’ll find restaurants that serve just about any type of cuisine, art and history museums, and the newly remodeled, ninety-three million-dollar St. Pete Pier.
The beaches of the south are renowned for their beauty and natural appeal. Whether one is relaxing on a wide, sandy expanse or exploring rocky coves, each beach is a world unto itself, filled with hidden wonder and natural beauty. In addition to boasting clear waters teeming with aquatic life and stunning vistas dappled with colorful wildflowers, these southern beaches also offer peaceful solitude and the opportunity for calming retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
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Alexandrea Sumuel is a travel writer and the founder of Wander With Alex, where she provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, news, and itineraries. She travels to experience, eat, and explore-- and, on occasion, escape! Alex’s mission is to help people travel easier.