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Beaches of the USA Atlantic Coast

Updated on October 10, 2014

USA Atlantic Coast Beaches, Resorts and Waterfront Towns

This page has information on popular beaches, resorts and waterfront areas along the USA East Coast.

From New England to Florida, the Atlantic Coast has a wide range of beaches and waterfronts. Each region offers unique experiences, with most beaches offering activities for most of the year.

Swimming and sunbathing are the most popular activities on Atlantic beaches, normally done in warm seasons.

Although some locations have a limited season of warm water, there are usually a wide range of things to do at the beach in every season.

Aside from swimming and tanning, beach lovers often enjoy walking, running, hiking, collecting sea shells, sports, flying kites, fishing, birdwatching, photography, painting, picnics, storm watching and other pastimes.

Atlantic beaches are also popular for family and social events. Beach weddings are extremely popular along the Atlantic Seaboard. Other gatherings include family reunions, cookouts and club outings.

sea shells
sea shells

Sea Shell Collecting

Collecting sea shells on the beach is a relaxing activity for people of all ages. Beaches along the USA East Coast yield a wide range of shells, artifacts and unique treasures from the ocean.

Shells found on Atlantic beaches include knobby whelks, smooth whelks, moon snails, periwinkles, bay scallops, ocean quahogs, hard clams, jingles, limpets, cockles and others. Collecting can be made much more interesting by carrying any of the many sea shell books that are available.

In addition to mollusks and shellfish, there are other items such as sand dollars, starfish, ray and shark egg cases, horsehoe crab egg cases, crab shells, sharks teeth and occasionally even gold or silver coins!

Time and location are important if success is priority for the shell collector. While the warm days of summer find most beach lovers on the island, the best shell collecting is actually in the cooler months. One good way to find shells is to look for low stretches of beach where the water can surge farther up on the sand.

In these areas, small patches of beach can be covered with shell fragments and sometimes shells in excellent condition. These often occur during a strong storm from an easterly direction. Once the storm subsides and the waters recede, sea shell enthusiasts can explore in hopes of having a new crop of shells to choose from.

Assateague Island

Assateague Island is one of the most popular beaches along the mid-Atlantic region. The area is within a few hours of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and Richmond.

Much of the recreation around Assateague is water-related. There is swimming, sunbathing and exploring at the beaches. Fishing, clamming and crabbing are also popular activities. There is also kayaking, power boating, sailing, and nature cruises.

One of the most popular water activities is surf fishing on Assateague Island. Surf fishing is relatively inexpensive, peaceful, requires little in specialized tackle and no boat is needed. Anglers can reach the surf on foot from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, or drive on designated areas with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. A permit is required for over sand vehicles.

Assateague Island Md
Assateague Island Md

Superstar Beaches

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) designates popular beaches across the USA as superstars for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Superstar beaches have met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years.

source: Natural Resources Defense Council

Ocean City, Maryland is primarily a tourist resort, with a population that swells from less than 10,000 winter residents to over 2 million in the summer months.

Ocean City's inlet did not exist until 1933, when the Chesapeake Potomac Hurricane tore thru the narrow island, separating Ocean City from Assateague Island.

surf fishing
surf fishing

Visiting Atlantic Coast Beaches During the Fall

Visitors will find fall to be one of best times to visit most beaches of the Mid Atlantic. While it varies from year to year and by locations, Mid Atlantic coastal waters often remain warm enough for swimming thru September.

The trip from major metropolitan areas to a coastal beach can be extremely enjoyable during the fall. Traffic is much lighter and the highways are lined with wildflowers in bloom and maturing crops. Farmers markets along the way have a wealth of local produce in fall. Summer produce such as tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, melons and others are still available. In addition, fall harvests of apples, pumpkins, squash, greens, cabbage, honey, other produce and specialty foods are available.

Arriving at coastal beach resorts, visitors will notice seasonal changes. Gone is the heat and humidity and traffic is lighter. Visitors to wildlife refuges will find that birds of all kinds are on the move as the Atlantic Flyway begins to come to life. Experienced birdwatchers bring along cameras, spotting scopes, and their favorite field guide.

During the fall, beach lovers have the beaches more to themselves, and many decide to explore them more. A walk after one of the late summer hurricanes may reveal a new crop of shells along the shoreline. Several types of whelks, surf clams, scallops, cockles and other shells wash up, mixed in with mysteries of the ocean such as sand dollars, devil's purses, driftwood and sometimes even coins or other antiquities.

Surf fishermen also find fishing improved as local fish migrate down the beaches. In addition to smaller species, surf anglers begin to fish for the monsters of the beaches, as striped bass, red drum, black drum and sandbar sharks all make their way down the coastline.

Shoppers will be ecstatic while touring the shops of coastal towns. End of season sales offer some excellent bargains and most shops offer a unique variety of holiday-related gifts.

Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut

One of the best beaches in Southern New England is Hammonasset Beach State Park in Connecticut. Hammonasset Beach State Park is a gorgeous two-mile long public beach located in Madison, CT. It is a wonderful place to enjoy beach activities, plus take advantage of exceptional facilities and amenities.

At Hammonasset Beach, visitors can cool off in the ocean surf after sunbathing on the sandy beach. Beach goers can hunt for shells and build sand sculptures or simply relax and enjoy the view of Long Island Sound. Binoculars can be used to spot ships or marine life while lounging on the beach.

Cape May NJ

Cape May NJ is a favorite destination for New York and New Jersey residents. This coastal town features an incredible number of beautifully restored motels, bed and breakfasts and inns.

The resort also has a famous boardwalk, filled with attractions for people of ages. Cape May has beautiful beaches, a thriving art community, specialty shops, fishing charter boats, festivals and other recreational activities.

Kiptopeake State Park in Virginia

Kiptopeake State Park in Virginia has one of nicest beaches in the area. The sand is excellent and the view looks out onto the Chesapeake Bay. The water is sheltered, shallow and perfect for kids.

This beach is located on the southern tip of Virginia's Eastern Shore and is within a few minutes of Virginia Beach. In addition to the outstanding beach, the park has showers, camping facilities, hiking trails, scenic overlooks, a fishing pier and boat ramp.

beach scene
beach scene

Summer Beaches for Artists

Summer field trips along the Atlantic coast provide a range of nature-related activities that inspire painters and other Artists. Among the most common field trips are expeditions to collect shells, explore tide pools or explore nature trails.

Many of these activities offer artists inspiration and a foundation upon which to create works of art en plein air. En plein air is a French expression which means "in the open air", and is typically used to describe the act of painting outdoors.

Exploring tide pools is an excellent way to find subjects and materials for art projects such as cockles, moon snails, whelks, conchs, scallops, angel wings and other attractive treasures. Field trips to explore tidal areas are a wonderful activity for nature enthusiasts of all ages to learn about the creatures that live there.

The Atlantic coast is an excellent place to paint scenes such as sunrises and sunsets, seascapes, wave actions, marine mammals and people. Bird watchers will find plenty of subjects along Atlantic shorelines. Most areas are home to gulls, terns, oyster catchers, herons, egrets, pelicans, ibises, plovers, sandpipers and other shorebirds.

Artists also find kites of every description along the coast. To fly a kite successfully, enthusiasts need wind and open areas, which are usually plentiful along the coast.

The Atlantic coast has thousands of hiking trails which offer a wide range of scenery. Coastal destinations such as National seashores and public beaches usually provide trails with a range of landscapes and wildlife.

rough surf
rough surf

Storm Watching Safety

Storm watchers and visitors should always be wary of storm dangers when visiting Atlantic coast beaches.

Hurricanes, tropical storms and Noreasters can produce high winds, heavy surf, strong storm surges, rogue waves, rip currents and coastal flooding.

Rogue waves near break walls and jetties are particularly hazardous to beach-goers during hurricane conditions. Sudden large waves can easily sweep storm watchers into the water or drag vessels off moorings or piers.

The Coast Guard recommends that beach-goers exercise caution around heavy surf conditions and be wary of the dangers associated. Rip currents pose serious hazards to even strong swimmers and may develop in areas where they are not normally seen. Rip currents may not be visible from shore and often develop in advance of hurricanes or tropical storm systems.

During periods of bad weather, mariners and beach-goers are asked to keep a watchful eye. If something is out of the ordinary, don't hesitate to call Coast Guard watchstanders or 911.

beach erosion
beach erosion

Atlantic Coast Beach Erosion

According to a U.S. Geological Survey report, New England and Mid-Atlantic beaches are eroding. Scientists studied more than 650 miles of the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts and found the average rate of coastal change was negative 1.6 feet per year.

The past 25 to 30 years saw a small reduction in the percentage of beaches eroding - dropping to 60 percent, possibly as a result of beach restoration activities such as adding sand to beaches.

According to the study, beach erosion is impacted by a variety of factors, including changes in the amount of available sand, storms, sea-level rise and human activities. How much a beach is eroding or prograding in any given location is due to some combination of these factors, which vary from place to place.

The study found that the Mid-Atlantic coast from Long Island, N.Y. to the Virginia-North Carolina border is eroding at higher average rates than the New England coast. The researchers found that, although coastal change is highly variable, the majority of the coast is eroding throughout both regions, indicating erosion hazards are widespread.

Researchers used historical data sources such as maps and aerial photographs, as well as modern data like lidar, or "light detection and ranging," to measure shoreline change at more than 21,000 locations.

The report, titled "National Assessment of Shoreline Change: Historical Shoreline Change along the New England and Mid-Atlantic Coasts," is the fifth report produced as part of the USGS's National Assessment of Shoreline Change project.

hurricane sandy
hurricane sandy

Hurricane Sandy Storm Damage

In October, Atlantic Coast beaches experienced significant impacts from Hurricane Sandy. From North Carolina to New York, beaches suffered erosion, washovers, and other effects from the 900 mile wide storm.

Atlantic Coast beaches are often re-shaped by environmental factors such as hurricanes and noreasters. Overwash occurs when storm surge and waves exceed the elevation of protective sand dunes, thereby transporting sand inland.

Overwashed sand can bury plant life, cause property damage, and totally re-shape coastal beaches. Along the surf zone, eroded beaches often look quite different after these powerful storms. Beach erosion from storms can expose shells, bones, and even historic shipwrecks.

USA Beach Facts

Each year, more than 180 million Americans make 2 billion visits to ocean, gulf, and inland beaches.

The 4th of July is the biggest beach day in the USA.

Clean Beaches Week is held annually in the USA (July 1-7).

source: Clean Beaches Council

USA Beaches Feedback

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    • brenian-strange profile image

      brenian-strange 4 years ago

      Love beaches so much just wanna live by it, Thanks for this really informative lens~ giving you a like!

    • bobnolley lm profile image

      bobnolley lm 4 years ago

      Love the lens on beaches...I think I would add Topsail Island NC

    • profile image

      ryanreclaim1 4 years ago

      Love the Squidoo on Beaches, come and visit Cape May NJ

    • iamraincrystal profile image

      Rosyel Sawali 4 years ago from Manila Philippines

      Very nice lens! I just learned more about beaches ^_^

    • lollyj lm profile image

      Laurel Johnson 4 years ago from Washington KS

      I've always wanted to visit the Atlantic coast. Loved the lens.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      I enjoyed your lens immensely; and thankyou for highlighting problems with pollution and beach erosion - easy to overlook but unless they are looked-at (and acted on) these beautiful beaches won't be there in future.

    • Mamaboo LM profile image

      Mamaboo LM 5 years ago

      I used to live by the beach. Now we're 5 hours in...your lens makes me long to move back the coast. Be blessed!

    • Spiderlily321 profile image

      Spiderlily321 5 years ago

      Thanks for all of the very cool information on beaches. I love going to the beach!

    • profile image

      smartkidzclub 5 years ago

      Great information with relevant pictures. Will try to visit with kids. Hope to get good and low cost place to stay.

    • profile image

      takerecess 5 years ago

      thanks for the info. I just moved to the east coast so I'm excited to visit some of these areas.

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 5 years ago

      I have been to many Atlantic Beaches but NC Coastal I know best growing up in NC. I also like to wildlife refuge and bird santuary in coastal Virginia. Congrads on your Squidoo level. Conversations helps with new ideas and new topics. Thanks.

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 5 years ago

      I love the East Coast! It seems like the world's best kept secret! I only know from the news and movies how very beautiful it is. Thanks for presenting such a comprehensive lens I can refer to!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The Atlantic Coast has some great beaches!

    • profile image

      floresbrowns 6 years ago

      Hi daybreak,

      Looks so Fabulous. I saw your news. glad to read your post. it's really something different. I liked It. Waiting for more news from your site.

      Best of luck.