Must-see places on the east coast USA
Looking for some east coast vacation ideas? Seeking out the best and most beautiful places to visit on the east coast this summer? Then you’ve come to the right place!
From historic cities and towns to nature getaways, the East Coast of the USA is jam-packed with bucket-list places.
In this slice of the country—extending from Maine to Florida—you’ve got a little bit of everything: sprawling cities and fishing towns, state and national parks, tropical beaches, mountain resort towns, historical sites, and so much more! Though Maine and Florida seem worlds apart, they both share miles upon miles of scenic Atlantic coastline. And in between, there are more than a dozen other states, each offering their own unique sights and attractions along America’s east coast.
Whether you’re into epic road trip adventures or simply looking for a relaxing vacation getaway, here’s my list of the 22 best places to visit on the east coast of the USA.
But first, here’s a map showing all of them. Hope this article gives you some great east coast vacation ideas!
Disclosure: Due to COVID-19, there will likely be travel restrictions in certain areas. Before booking any travels, be sure to follow relevant government guidance and safety protocols. And of course, be sure to practice social distancing!
Map of the best places to visit on the east coast of the USA
1. Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls is a must-see vacation destination on the east coast. Nestled along the US-Canadian border in Upstate New York, this trio of waterfalls boasts the highest flow rate of any in North America. It lets out a thunderous roar, which along with the misty spray you and your poncho will encounter, is a stark reminder that nature is a force to be reckoned with.
With a vertical drop of over 160 feet (50 m), these cascades are both powerful and majestic. It’s no secret that Niagara Falls is considered one of the best places to visit on the east coast of the US.
If you have time, make your way over to Buffalo, an underrated destination in Western New York that lies on the Niagara Frontier. You won’t regret it!
For further reading: 13 fun facts about Niagara Falls
Read next: 12 fun things to do in Buffalo NY
2. Acadia National Park, Maine
From rocky untouched coastline to granite mountains and dense forests, Acadia National Park is among the most beautiful places to visit on the east coast.
As the only national park in New England, Acadia offers a smorgasbord of epic landscapes for nature lovers and adventure seekers. This outdoor oasis in northeastern Maine is also home to many species of fish, birds, and mammals.
There’s more than 120 miles of hiking trails, so you’ll want to spend a decent chunk of time exploring and getting lost amid a backdrop of stunning scenery.
3. Washington, D.C. – One of the best cities to visit on the east coast
Washington D.C. is my favorite city in the US. Not because of the politics, but because of the city’s rich history and culture. It offers an interesting mix of old and new, deserving a top spot among the best places to visit on the east coast.
As the nation’s capital and the de facto capital of the western world, Washington D.C. has a whole lot going on. By day, explore the myriad of well-maintained parks, monuments, and museums. And by night, check out the city’s cool nightlife.
When you visit D.C., don’t miss top sights like the White House, U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. These iconic structures offer great photo opportunities, but you’ll also appreciate the riveting history behind them.
Also, be sure to step inside the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Air and Space Museum, and National Gallery of Art, among many other museums and art galleries.
Though I’ve visited Washington D.C. four times, it feels like I’ve only scratched the surface!
While you’re in DC, be sure to check out nearby Maryland and Virginia, each hosting a variety of unique attractions!
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4. Miami Beach, Florida
Miami Beach is one of the liveliest and most beautiful beach destinations on the east coast. It’s home to miles of lovely beachfront property, including hundreds of Art Deco buildings, trendy beach clubs, restaurants, and hotels.
South Beach—a neighborhood of Miami Beach— is the top draw for most visitors. It’s home to Ocean Drive, the center of Miami’s Art Deco district and the heart and pulse of the city. It also boasts over 2 miles of beautiful white sand, and lots of beautiful villas, mansions, and vacation rentals in between.
The weather here is perfect year-round, making it one of the best and most desirable places to visit on the east coast.
Before visiting, be sure to brush up on your Spanish, as more than 70% of Miami’s population speaks Spanish!
Read next: Coolest Miami Mansions to Rent
For further reading: Miami, the Gateway to Latin America
Read next: The Most Unique Airbnbs in Florida in 2021
5. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina + Tennessee
Attracting over 12 million visitors last year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited national park in the US. It’s home to over 500,000 acres of pristine wilderness— including mountains, waterfalls, and forests— often covered by a “smoky” fog from which the region draws its name. Some of the top sights here include Cades Cove, Rainbow Falls, and Mount Le Conte.
Located at the gateway of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is an excellent homebase and one of the best hidden vacation spots in the US. This mountain town is a great place to visit during all four seasons, including the fall during peak foliage season and winter for skiing and ice skating.
While you’re in the Great Smoky Mountains, be sure to also spend some time in Asheville, North Carolina. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway, this small city boasts a creative spirit with an amazing craft beer scene and an enclave of artists and hippies. It’s also home to historical sites like the Biltmore Estate, the largest estate in the US.
6. Newport, Rhode Island
Along Newport’s windswept coastline, you’ll find summer residences belonging to some of America’s wealthiest families. Take a tour around the grounds of the Newport Mansions, where you’ll see extravagant properties paired with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. A few of my favorites are the Breakers, Marble House, and Rosecliff. Of course, there are countless others showcasing the opulence and decadence of fin-de-siècle families like the Vanderbilts.
If you have time, I also recommend doing a day trip to Block Island, just off the coast of Newport.
Whether you’re into relaxing coastal retreats or historical mansions-turned-museums, you’ll find that Newport is the perfect summer vacation spot. It’s also among the best places to visit on the east coast of the USA.
7. Nashville, Tennessee – One of the top places to visit on the East Coast
If you’re interested in visiting somewhere inland yet within reach of the east coast, consider a trip to Nashville, Tennessee.
Known as the music capital of the world, Nashville boasts a fun country music scene, paired with trendy restaurants and bars. It’s home to cool sights like the Grand Ole Opry (a weekly country music stage concert), the Country Music Hall of Fame, and a replica of the Parthenon (hence Nashville is sometimes called the Athens of the South).
Nashville’s fun and quirky vibe merits a top place among the best vacation destinations within reach of the east coast.
8. White Mountains, New Hampshire
Those looking for an outdoor adventure will find it in the White Mountains.
This region of New Hampshire is a must-see during a New England road trip. It’s brimming with picturesque forests, creeks, gorges, waterfalls, and so much more. It’s no wonder the White Mountains are a popular weekend trip amongst Bostonians.
If you’re a nature lover, prioritize the Kancamagus Highway and Franconia Notch State Park. Avid shoppers should consider making a stop in North Conway, a town hailed for its retail outlets and antique shops. Another place to check out is the Omni Mount Washington Resort, one of the most iconic buildings in New England.
For nature and adventure seekers, the White Mountains is definitely among the best places to visit on the east coast.
Read next: Best Time of Year To Visit New England
9. Everglades National Park, Florida
Not far from Miami, Everglades National Park is a top place to visit in southern Florida.
This 1.5 million-acre preserve is home to beautiful wetland scenery and a diversity of flora and fauna. You’ll encounter many alligators here, and if you’re lucky, perhaps even a Florida panther.
Hop on an airboat or kayak to explore the mangrove canals meandering around the park. Just don’t fall in!
Many visit the Everglades as a day trip from Miami. Others take a drive on the wild side and visit en route to the Florida Keys, another best place to visit on the east coast.
10. Boston, Massachusetts – One of the best places to visit on the East Coast
Some of my favorite historical sites include the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, and Beacon Hill. These historic east coast attractions are not to be missed on a New England road trip.
For a more modern and cosmopolitan take on the city, explore Newbury Street, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and Boston Harborwalk. You’ll find lots of unique Boston restaurants that serve the freshest seafood, as well as multicultural dishes. Nature isn’t far away, either. Take a stroll through one of the city’s parks, including The Boston Public Garden and Boston Common that are found in the heart of the city.
In addition to the city’s attractions, there are many popular day trip options nearby, including Salem, Rockport, and Portsmouth. Give yourself plenty of time to cover Boston and the surrounding areas on a New England road trip itinerary.
With a mix of old and new, Boston is one of the best cities to visit on the east coast.
Read next: Coolest Restaurants in Boston
11. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Looking for a nature getaway in the Mid-Atlantic? Check out Shenandoah National Park, which is located just 75 miles from Washington, D.C. It lies along the Appalachian Trail, a strip of land jam-packed with glorious mountain vistas and verdant woodland.
Shenandoah National Park is made up of 200,000 acres of lush green forests, dreamy waterfalls, and gently rolling hills covered in wildflowers. It’s a popular place for hiking, where you can choose from hundreds of miles of trails spanning from beginner to advanced-levels.
There’s something for everyone here, which makes it one of the best places to visit on the east coast.
12. Stowe, Vermont
Stowe is one of my favorite weekend getaways in New England, and a great place to visit if you’re doing an east coast road trip.
Lovers of the Austrian Alps will find a little dose of Austria here in Stowe, Vermont. It’s home to the Trapp Family Lodge, founded by the Von Trapp family who fled Austria during German occupation in WWII. This hotel, as well as the Innsbruck Inn down the road, resemble the chalets of western Austria. The alpine architecture, paired with the surrounding mountains, will definitely give you the feeling of gemütlichkeit.
Stowe is also known for its farm-to-table dining scene, range of outdoor activities (including zip lining, hiking, and mountain climbing), and its amazing beer. Don’t miss a visit to the Alchemist Brewery if you enjoy IPAs. And ice cream lovers won’t want to miss out on the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in neighboring Waterbury!
When you’re visiting Stowe, pay a visit to the nearby city of Burlington, another one of the best places to visit on the east coast.
Read next: Unique Airbnb Rentals in Stowe, VT
13. Orlando, Florida
Ahh Orlando. The ultimate vacation destination for families with small children, and everyone else who’s still young at heart. I visited when I was little and again when I was 21 – enjoying it just as much the second time (drinking around the world at Epcot, anyone?).
Orlando is home to massive theme parks like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld. Each park offers its own unique attractions and inevitably brings out your inner-child.
Not far from Orlando and its theme parks and resorts is Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center. This is where SpaceX’s Crew Dragon recently launched from, as well as many other NASA rockets and spacecrafts. Is this one of the best east coast attractions? Absolutely!
14. Finger Lakes, New York
It’s easy to lose yourself in the Finger Lakes, and not just physically. The region’s pristine nature and fine wines are enough to distract you from all of life’s worries.
Named after its finger-shaped lakes, this bucket-list destination on the east coast is chock-full of precious scenery. Explore Watkins Glen State Park, acclaimed for its gorgeous gorges and afterwards have a glass of wine at Seneca Lake. My other favorite lakes are Cayuga and Skaneateles Lake, but there are still a couple I have yet to visit. You’ll need at least a week to properly explore the area and see each lake, as there are 11 in all and they extend up to 40 miles long!
From state parks filled with gorges and waterfalls to wineries overlooking glacial lakes, the Finger Lakes is mother nature at its finest. This region is truly one of the best east coast places to visit.
15. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of the best east coast cities
Not far from Washington, D.C. in proximity and historic significance, Philadelphia (Philly) is one of the best places to visit on the east coast.
As Pennsylvania’s largest city, Philly is steeped in rich revolutionary history and offers a variety of unique attractions. Chief among them are the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall (houses the Declaration of Independence). These are definitely among the best east coast attractions. If you’re into immersive art experiences, check out Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
When you’re exploring the streets of Philadelphia, don’t forget to try an authentic Philly cheesesteak!
16. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Located in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote island escape. It’s made up of more than 100 square miles, including 7 islands and protected coral reefs.
Here, you can go snorkeling, diving, and boating to admire the colorful coral reefs.
In addition to the abundance of sea life, this archipelago is known for its legendary shipwrecks and its imposing brick fortress, Fort Jefferson. Though never fully completed, Fort Jefferson was built as a military base to deter piracy in the Caribbean. Some 16 million bricks were used in its construction, making it the largest brick structure in the Americas to this day.
To get to Dry Tortugas National Park, take a ferry from Key West or a seaplane or charter boat. More logistical information can be found on the official National Park Service website.
17. Outer Banks, North Carolina
Pristine shoreline, quaint seaside villages, and diverse wildlife are some of the many things you’ll discover in the Outer Banks.
Located off the coast of North Carolina, these barrier islands contain a myriad of beautiful beaches, state parks, national seashores, diving sites, and so much more. The Outer Banks are also home to Roanoke Island, the first settlement in the New World.
Some of the best east coast attractions are found here, including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Avon Beach, and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re looking for a dose of nature and history in the same east coast trip, look no further!
18. New York City, New York – a cool, bucket-list city on the East Coast
Who else loves New York?
From diverse international restaurants and high-end shops to street art and spacious parks, New York offers a little bit of everything. It’s no wonder NYC is considered an obligatory bucket-list destination in the US, thus deserving a spot on this list of the best places to visit on the east coast.
Some of the must-see attractions are the Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), Empire State Building, and Brooklyn Bridge. Also, you can’t miss Central Park and the High Line to get a totally different perspective of the concrete jungle. Oh, and don’t forget to see a Broadway show!
I could write much more about NYC, but I think you already get the point that it’s one of the most bustling, action-packed cities in the world. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully, as there’s so much to see and do and you want to make every second count!
19. The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Nature’s calling again; this time from the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. One of the top places in New England to visit in the fall.
Known for its unspoiled nature and range of outdoor adventures, the Berkshires is one of the best places to visit on the east coast. It’s especially picturesque during the fall foliage season, when the mountains and forests are covered in red, orange, and yellow leaves. The summer is also a great time to visit, when you can hike mountains like Mt. Greylock, kayak down the Housatonic River, and take full advantage of the region’s exquisite farm-to-table dining scene.
When the weather’s not too great, there are plenty of indoor activities as well. My favorite museums are the Norman Rockwell Museum, Mass MoCa, and Hancock Shaker Village.
Whether you’re contemplating a weekend getaway or a longer stay, the Berkshires offers plenty of exciting outdoor attractions that will make your visit a memorable one.
20. Savannah, Georgia
For a taste of the south, add Savannah to your east coast bucket list. It’s the oldest city in Georgia and boasts some of the state’s most picturesque coastal scenery and best-preserved architecture.
Savannah‘s main draw is its Historic District, comprised of 22 park squares amid a maze of old cobblestone streets. There are also many historic monuments, museums, and restored 18th-century homes.
Savannah is separated from South Carolina by the Savannah River. Just under an hour away is Hilton Head Island (SC), a world-class beach destination that I recommend visiting in the same trip. And a couple of hours further north is Charleston, South Carolina, which exudes more of Savannah’s historic, southern city vibe. As such, I also consider it one of the best places to visit on the east coast of the US.
Read next: Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Georgia
21. Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
Want to chase waterfalls on your next nature getaway? Look no further than Blackwater Falls State Park in the beautiful state of West Virginia.
This state park is named after Blackwater Falls, a 57-foot cascade that’s every photographer’s dream. This is one of the best east coast attractions for nature lovers. Also, not to be overlooked are Elaka Falls, Pendleton Point Overlook, and Lindy Point. If you’re into camping, biking, fishing, and hiking, then you’ve met your match at Blackwater Falls State Park.
West Virginia is a hidden gem on the east coast that deserves a mention among the best places to visit. I know very few people who have visited this state, yet the variety of outdoor vacation spots like this one should draw more hype.
22. Cape Cod
Drive along Old King’s Highway (Route 6A), and you’ll find miles of beautiful beaches and historic seaside towns. Head all the way over to Provincetown for its art scene or Chatham for a quiet and relaxing retreat. Take a ferry to nearby Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, which are also a must-see on a New England itinerary.
Whether you’re looking to chill on the beach or walk around quaint New England towns, Cape Cod will not disappoint.
Read next: The most unique stays in Cape Cod
Best east coast vacations in 2021
I hope you enjoyed this list of the best places to visit on the east coast USA. Obviously, there are many more places I could include here, but I think it’s a decent starting point and hopefully your bucket list grew a little longer.
Looking for more east coast vacation ideas and bucket-list destinations across the US? Check out the articles below.
Happy Travels! – Jon
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