5 of the best East Coast destinations for summer
With mountain adventures, beaches, parades and more, these East Coast destinations ensure an epic summer getaway — wherever you choose to stay. | By Jessica Poitevien | May 25, 2023
From the lighthouse-dotted seaside of Maine to the vibrant streets of Key West, the offerings of the East Coast are as diverse as the coastline is long — and summer is the best time to explore. Whether you’re planning a kid-friendly vacation, a romantic escape or a group getaway, here are five of the best East Coast destinations for a summer trip. You’ll find:
National Park adventures: Hike through the mountains, chase waterfalls and spot wildlife
Picture-perfect beaches: Summer calls for beach trips and the East Coast is full of idyllic sandy shores
Outdoor concerts: No one can resist a night of live music with a warm summer breeze
If you’re able to get an early start on your summer vacation, head to Boston in June. With area schools typically in session until later in the month, visitors get to enjoy the city’s attractions without the crowds. Of course, the other months have their perks, too.
In July, the city hosts Boston Harborfest, one of the biggest Independence Day festivals in the country. The weeklong celebration includes parades, live music, fireworks, chowderfest and other special events that are mostly free to the public.
For travelers who love a great deal and the chance to savor award-winning cuisine, visit in August, when Dine Out Boston offers discounted prix fixe meals at some of the city’s top restaurants. That same month the August Adventures program grants free admission to a number of museums and attractions.
No matter when you’re in town, the Boston Children’s Museum, the New England Aquarium and the popular-for-all-ages Boston Duck Tours make the city particularly welcoming for families. You can even get the kiddos to learn some history in an entertaining way at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. They’ll go through interactive exhibits, watch a historical reenactment of the Boston Tea Party and get to throw some tea in the harbor.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Summer is truly Myrtle Beach’s time to shine, with visitors flocking to the area to enjoy its 60 miles (96.5 kilometers) of uninterrupted coastline. For beachfront accommodations, book your stay at Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort. Not only does the property serve as a conveniently located home base for exploring the area, but it also has its own set of enticing amenities like a sand-bottom pool with private cabanas, a full-service spa and a Carolina-inspired restaurant serving Southern classics.
Although lying on the beach, making sandcastles and frolicking in the ocean are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend your summer vacation, Myrtle Beach has even more to offer.
Golfers will find nearly 90 courses to choose from, plus more than 30 mini-golf courses. Watersports are plentiful, too, with opportunities to kayak or paddleboard your way through the Intracoastal Waterway, wakeboard on the Waccamaw River, go dolphin spotting on the back of a Jet Ski and cast your fishing line from the piers.
A variety of theme parks and waterparks give families another option for entertainment, while outdoor enthusiasts can check out Myrtle Beach State Park for a day of hiking, biking and birdwatching. Oh, and if you’re a fan of country music, plan your visit around the Carolina Country Music Fest, which takes place in Myrtle Beach every June.
As the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is ideal for adventurous travelers looking to enjoy the great outdoors. Put on your hiking boots and explore any of the park’s 150 trails (Alum Cave and Abrams Falls are favorites) or climb the observation tower at Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest point. Cyclists should visit on a Wednesday between early May and September, when Cades Cove, an 11-mile loop road, is shut down exclusively for those riding bikes.
Outside of the national park, the town of Gatlinburg is a gem with cozy Appalachian architecture, a mini, German-style village and the downtown Parkway lined with shops, restaurants, wineries and moonshine distilleries. In the summer months, the Parkway comes alive after sundown thanks to the Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales, a nightly entertainment series showcasing the traditional music and legends that have existed in the region for centuries.
For an extra dose of fun and adrenaline, the Parkway is also home to Anakeesta, a mountaintop adventure park with a treetop skywalk and mountain coaster, as well as Gatlinburg SkyLift Park, home to the longest pedestrian cable bridge in North America.
Portland fits the bill for any traveler who wants a bit of everything in their summer getaway: outdoorsy fun, great food, history and intriguing art.
Start by acquainting yourself with the city’s Old Port. With cobblestone streets, 19th-century brick buildings and dozens of boutiques, this riverfront part of town is oozing with New England charm. Positioned at the heart of Old Port and only four blocks from downtown, Canopy by Hilton Portland Waterfront is ideally located and shows off Portland’s chic, modern side. From the hotel it’s an easy, less-than-10-minute walk to the Portland Museum of Art, which houses a small but mighty collection of works by world-renowned artists like Andy Warhol and Claude Monet, among others.
Venturing outside of the city’s central area, a stop at Portland Head Light, Maine’s oldest lighthouse, is a must. While you’re there, enjoy nearby Fort Williams Park — its 90 acres (36 hectares) include hiking paths along the coast, picnic areas and a beach.
If you’d like another quintessential Maine experience, and you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, then hop on a tour with Lucky Catch Cruises. You’ll get a hands-on look at lobstering and might even catch your own crustacean. Continue the seafood experience at Canopy’s Luna Rooftop Bar where the menu selections include fresh-from-the-ocean Maine oysters and local mussels served with a house-specialty green curry and crispy shallots.
Key West, Florida
Key West is an undeniably quirky destination with a vibe all its own, blending influences from the Bahamas and Cuba with a splash of old Florida. Roosters roam the roads, an entire museum is dedicated to shipwrecks and the best photo op in town is a monument marking the southernmost point of the U.S., just 90 miles (144 kilometers) from Cuba. Oh, and let’s not forget the daily sunset celebrations in Mallory Square or the shops, bars and restaurants and art galleries on Duval Street. Simply put, Key West is not your typical Florida vacation.
Literature lovers shouldn’t miss the Hemingway House & Museum where the illustrious author lived for eight years while completing his novel “A Farewell to Arms” and beginning work on “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” If you’re really into all things Hemingway, head to Key West in July for Hemingway Days — a six-day celebration of the author with look-alike contests, athletic challenges and more.
Key West is an island, so it still offers some of the classic activities you’d expect from a beach vacation, like coral reef snorkeling, kayaking and Jet Skiing. Top tip: make sure to book a ticket far in advance for a seaplane or ferry ride to visit Dry Tortugas National Park.
There are only a handful of swimmable beaches on Key West, but that’s never a problem for guests at The Reach Key West, Curio Collection by Hilton. Besides the luxurious amenities, this top-rated resort has the only private natural sand beach on the island.
Summer is the perfect time to explore everything the East Coast has to offer. Whether you’re traveling solo, with family or on a group getaway, these destinations won't disappoint.
Jessica Poitevien is an international storyteller with more than a decade of experience in writing and editing. When she’s not traveling, you can find Jessica enjoying her other obsessions: baking cookies, befriending strangers and exploring nature.