The 15 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns In The South

The 15 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns In The South

They say time spent on the water can soothe all troubles, and we tend to agree. Staring out into a great expanse of water—be it an ocean, a bay, or even a lake—has a way of making you feel small, so you have space to reflect on what’s really important in life. With a cool breeze from the water tickling your skin and a gorgeous view to drink in, worries fade and anything seems possible. If you’re looking for a break from the everyday grind, a coastal vacation might be just what the doctor ordered. From the Atlantic coast to Mobile Bay, the South’s prettiest coastal towns have all the hallmarks of great vacation destinations. Charming downtowns, excellent waterfront dining, gracious places to stay, and scenic vistas unite for one winning combination. These are the 15 most beautiful coastal towns in the South. 


Source: Robbie Caponetto


Fairhope, Alabama

Perched on a bluff overlooking Mobile Bay, Fairhope is about as idyllic as it gets. Slow down and spend a leisurely morning meandering through the quaint downtown filled with brick-lined alleys, boutique shops and galleries, and plenty of opportunities for al fresco dining. Watch the sun set over the water from a fishing pier on the bay, or cast your line for the evening catch. The historic homes and live oak-lined streets of Fairhope will have you utterly enchanted in no time at all.


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Wilmington, North Carolina

Discover a tale of two waterways at our No. 1 South’s Best City on the Rise. The charismatic city of Wilmington is tucked between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, meaning you’ll have not one but two waterways—with two entirely different feels—to enjoy. In the city you can watch boats dock along the 1.75-mile-long River Walk, while you decide which seafood restaurant on the boardwalk will offer the best views. A tiny bit outside of town, get to known Wilmington’s Atlantic side through its three beach communities: Kure Beach, Carolina Beach, and Wrightsville Beach.


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Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Coastal Mississippi deserves more than a brief moment in the sun, and the charming town of Ocean Springs certainly helps the area’s case. The Biloxi Bay is the beautiful backdrop for this artsy and delightfully quirky community that draws people in from their very first visit. Spend an afternoon perusing the inspiring works at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, prepare a picnic at Front Beach, or shop at the unique, locally owned downtown businesses. Boutique hotels, lovely inns, and hospitable B&Bs are all waiting at the ready to become your new home away from home.


Beaufort, South Carolina


Source: Robbie Caponetto


The Port Royal Sound twists and turns its way through the South Carolina Lowcountry finding a home alongside the beautiful town of Beaufort (pronounced BEW-fert, not to be confused with BOW-fert in North Carolina). Beaufort’s Waterfront Park is a great place to get wide-open waterfront views as you take a sunset stroll. One of the centers of this tight-knit community, it’s also home to a 100-slip marina where you can watch boats dock at all times of day, an amphitheater, playground, and weekly farmers’ market. Want to see the beach? The 25-minute drive to Hunting Island State Park is more than worth your time.


Southport, North Carolina


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This tiny harbor town finds its home near the Cape Fear River outlet and is a certified nautical-themed dream. The best place to enjoy the sights may be from the 9-acre Waterfront Park dotted with porch swings, benches, and a beloved fishing pier. It could also be at one of many dockside seafood restaurants known for the fresh oysters and accessibility by land or sea. A quick ferry ride will take you to explore other beaches and areas of the Brunswick Islands including remote Bald Head Island (where cars aren’t allowed) and Oak Island.


St. Michaels, Maryland


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Maryland gets a lot of credit for its coastal charm, and it largely has the Eastern Shore to thank. This stretch of historic towns lined up along the Chesapeake Bay has so much to offer—from maritime museums to boutique shopping to the best blue crab you’ll find anywhere—and you can get the top of all three in St. Michaels. When you’re not out and about exploring the Victorian buildings and robust dining scene, check in for a stay at the iconic Inn at Perry Cabin, an elegant resort set on 26 acres of gardens, orchards, and lush lawns overlooking the bay.


Charleston, South Carolina


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When you think of Southern coastal towns, Charleston may be first to come to mind. To be fair, the Holy City comes to mind for a lot when we’re talking about great Southern vacation destinations. The junction of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, plus the Atlantic Ocean, all come together in the Charleston Harbor which borders the historic city. There’s not much you can’t find in Charleston. Want some of the South’s best fine dining and Lowcountry cuisine? Easy. In need of a little retail therapy? You got it. And if you want to relax with your toes in the sand, a short commute will get you to Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, or a handful of other beach towns.


Rockport, Texas


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You’ve got a few options if you want to be on the water in Rockport. For one, the city has coasts on both the Aransas and Copano Bays. And if you want to see the big shebang, you can simply hop over the bridge to Port Aransas to enjoy the sparkle of the Gulf of Mexico. Take full advantage of the bird watching and fishing at Rockport Beach, and continue the aquatic discoveries at the Texas Maritime Museum, which explore Gulf Coast history.


Cape Charles, Virginia


Source: Robbie Caponetto


Maryland’s not the only Southern State with a beloved Eastern Shore, Virginia’s version is home to Cape Charles, a coastal hamlet on the Chesapeake Bay. Often compared to Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, this a place where summertime dreams come to find reality. Enjoy the public shoreline at Chape Charles Beach, explore the unique shops along Mason Avenue, or geek out over the town architecture—Cape Charles is home to one of the highest concentrations of turn-of-the-century buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.


Beaufort, North Carolina


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A former fishing village, over the years Beaufort has transformed into exactly the kind of seaside retreat that we yearn to return to year after year. The Beaufort Inlet, Newport River, and North River each claim a portion of this salty little maritime community. While it’ll be hard to tear your eyes away from the waterfront scenery, the 12-block historic district with its intricate architecture, cheery shops, and mouth-watering restaurants make a pretty compelling distraction.


St. Augustine, Florida


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Voted as our South’s Best Small Town in 2023, there’s practically nothing this historic Florida hamlet can’t do. As the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the U.S., the Colonial Spanish architecture throughout downtown is spectacular. The town’s many coast-driven amenities are just as impressive. Get stunning views of the St. Augustine Inlet and the Mantanazas River from Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a 17th century Spanish stone fortress located steps from the historic downtown. Across the Bridge of Lions, hit the beach at Crescent Beach, St. Augustine Beach, or Anastasia Beach.


Norfolk, Virginia


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Old meets new in this naval town at the confluence of the Elizabeth River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in the late 17th century, Norfolk is loaded with historic character, maritime lore, and outdoor adventure but also offers growing culinary and arts landscapes, especially in neighborhoods like happening Ghent. Find plenty to do along an expansive waterfront, with museums, galleries, breweries, and endless options for enjoying fresh seafood. Visit Selden Market, a repurposed arcade, to explore an ever-changing selection of up-and-coming local retail and food operations.


Georgetown, South Carolina


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The crowned jewel of South Carolina’ Hammock Coast, a string of six towns bookended by Myrtle Beach and Charleston, Georgetown offers all the same charms of Charleston with far fewer crowds. The historic downtown of colorful shops and brick row buildings overlooks the harbor, which means you’re never far from the water. If you’re itching to get a little closer, ramble along the Harborwalk, which runs along the river. If a beach is what you seek, Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach, and Huntington Beach State Park are each just a short drive away.


Tarpon Springs, Florida




This Gulf Coast gem is known for two main things: sponge harvesting and Greek culture. But its coastal charms are undoubtedly a close third. Cozy up to the family-owned Greek restaurants, bakeries, and businesses at the Historic Sponge Docks, which abuts the Anclote River. With a small stretch of the imagination, you may forget you’re in Florida and start believing you took a big jet plane to Europe. At nearby Fred Howard Park, get a taste of the Greek isles with sandy beaches along the Saint Joseph Sound.


Bay St. Louis, Mississippi


Source: Robbie Caponetto


Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.


Source: The 15 Most Beautiful Coastal Towns In The South Southern Living (March 30, 2024) Tara Massouleh McCay