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Top 20 Popular Destinations to Experience On An East Coast Scenic Drive

Tonya Prater, Owner

The Eastern United States is dotted with small towns and big cities full of historical significance and amazing views.

If you love road trips, our East Coast scenic drive suggestions will give you some ideas of the things you can see from Maine to the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys.

Take an Epic East Coast Scenic Road Trip

A rocky coastline with deciduous trees in Acadia National Park.
View of rocky coast and Otter Cliffs, in Acadia National Park, Maine

From national parks and seashores to wild ponies and alligators to historic mansions and cobblestone streets, you’ll find plenty in this post to keep you busy on a road trip along the Coast of the Atlantic.

Acadia National Park, Maine

A stone bridge with rounded arches can be seen by water with trees in various shades of green, yellow, orange and reds depict fall in New England.
Beautiful fall colors of Acadia National Park in Maine USA

Just two hours from the Canadian border, Acadia National Park is a must-see for anyone driving the Maine Coast. Nearly 50,000 acres of rocky coastline are protected in the park, which draws nearly 4 million visitors a year.

Enjoy scenic drives, hikes, and biking trails throughout the park. Exploring the tide pools along the beaches is fun for the whole family.

If you want to stay overnight, the park has three campgrounds. Bar Harbor is the nearest town if you are looking for other overnight accommodations.

Portland, Maine

In recent decades, Portland has recovered from being a former port city to a now vibrant East Coast destination.

While still maintaining New England charm with the amenities of a larger city, it’s a welcome respite from the rugged wild coastline throughout the rest of Maine.

Explore Portland’s vibrant art scene, check out the fantastic local breweries, or explore the nearby Casco Bay Islands. Bon Appetit named Portland “Restaurant City of the Year” in 2018, so this is definitely a foodie destination.

Don’t miss a quick stop in Freeport, home of LLBean and the giant boot.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is one of the best big cities on the East Coast. If you are interested in American History, you will find so many cool things in Boston that you may be tempted to end your road trip.

May we suggest you follow in the footsteps of our founding fathers in this Freedom Trail Walking Tour? You can walk the Freedom Trail on your own, but for a special experience, join this tour led by a costumed guide. Stroll the 1.2-mile route from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall and see some of the most famous sites in Boston.

A walk along the Freedom Trail takes you past many historical places and monuments, including the home of Paul Revere. See a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park, the oldest Major League Park in the States.

Of course, lobster is in plentiful supply here, so don’t miss out on an authentic lobster roll. A cruise on Boston Harbor is a great way to see the city from the waters’ perspective.

Check out our 3-day Boston itinerary

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

For a true New England summer experience, head out to Cape Cod on the Massachusetts coast.

Stay on the Cape and explore the dunes and marshes of Cape Cod National Seashore, or hop a ferry to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.

These coastal towns draw tons of visitors in the summer to towns like Hyannis, made famous by the Kennedy family.

Enjoy beaches, seafood shacks, lighthouses, and quaint towns throughout the Cape. In some ways, these beachy spots are a blast from the past and a nod to simpler times. 

If you have the time and want to get off the beaten path, this self-guided scavenger hunt is a great inexpensive way to find some hidden gems and amazing photo ops in Cape Cod.

Newport, Rhode Island

The Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island. It is a Gilded Age mansion and its temple-front portico is like that of the White House.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss Rhode Island on your New England road trip!

Why not stop in Newport for a bit? This historic city on the coast is best known for stately mansions dating back to the Gilded Age.

This small town is home to three National Historic Districts and dozens of cool mansions. The Breakers is the most famous Newport mansion, built by the Vanderbilt family in 1895.

Sit back on the and relax on a trolley tour that allows you to learn about Newport, see dozens of points of interest, and tour the famous Vanderbilt Mansion.

Tip: Grab this Road Trip Journal & Activity Book for fun on the road. This is not your run of the mill road trip journal that is geared towards kids, this is one that adults will love.

You’ll also find great restaurants, wineries, breweries and a cool art museum. For outdoor activities, head to the beach or the cliff walk above the coast. 

If you’re like me and want to know ALL the things when exploring a new destination, check out this Newport Cliff Walk audio tour you can listen to from your phone.

Mystic, Connecticut

Historic Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, just seconds after sunset

If you’ve seen Mystic Pizza, you might have a good idea of what Mystic, Connecticut, is like. This picture-perfect New England town retains a fishing village charm while drawing increasing numbers of tourists each year.

The Mystic Seaport Museum & Village is a great place to start your visit, where you can learn about Mystic’s history and its role in the Connecticut economy.

Even better, take a cruise on an ocean schooner, or see the beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium. Of course, you better grab a slice of Mystic Pizza before you leave town! You may want to watch the town’s namesake movie, starring Julia Roberts before visiting.

New York City, New York

Exposure of New York skyline view from Brooklyn Bridge Park Greenway.

Whether you have a day or a week, you’ll never run out of things to do in New York City. It’s an amazing city, and no other place in the United States can compare to it. Hundreds of unique cultures combine to make this the largest city in the U.S.

Take a walk through Central Park, watch a TV show taping in Manhattan, watch street performers in Times Square, see a Broadway show, or take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge.

If your time is limited, look for a tour that hits the highlights of your interests. Or hop a ferry and get up close and personal to the Statue of Liberty. The choices are nearly endless.

My daughter and I loved the Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour. Our tour guide, Tony (also the owner) was a hoot. I can’t recommend this enough. You may enjoy the Slice of Brooklyn Chocolate Tour as well.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

The Atlantic Ocean at sunrise, in Ventnor City, New Jersey.

It’s like Las Vegas with beaches and boardwalks. If you enjoy gambling or at least visiting glamorous casinos, you will love Atlantic City.

The Atlantic City boardwalk is world-famous and truly sets this city apart from other gambling destinations.

Of course, you’ll also find the usual amenities you expect in a casino town: shows, restaurants, and live entertainment abound in Atlantic City.

If you prefer beaches to blackjack, just go a little way out of the city and find tons of cute, affordable beach rentals. 

Washington, DC

Bright red and orange sunrise at dawn reflects Washington Monument in new reflecting pool by Lincoln Memorial

Visiting just the 17 Smithsonian Museums can take up the better part of a week, so if you’re looking for an educational destination, you may want to plan several days in Washington DC.

As the heart of the United States government, Washington DC is an exciting, vibrant, international city. Besides the museums, there are monuments all over town, and a day trip to George Washington’s home at Mt Vernon is a must.

I also suggest taking a tour to see the monuments at night. While you could drive to each spot, in my opinion, it’s easier to sit back and let someone else do the driving in DC.

The waterfront location also means plenty of opportunities to get outdoors in Washington DC. 

Assateague Island National Seashore & Chincoteague Island

Two of the wild ponies on Assateague Island forage in marsh at the waters edge

This National Seashore is probably best known for herds of wild horses that live on these barrier islands.

Assateague is a 37-mile-long wild island that offers protected, undeveloped beaches. Nearby, Chincoteague Island also has wild ponies but is more developed, so you’ll find several hotels and campgrounds.

The beaches here are quiet and less crowded than other destinations along the East Coast. Hike to lighthouses, or rent a kayak and explore the barrier islands from the water. 

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Sunrise view next to the 14th st. fishing pier located in beautiful Virginia Beach, Va.

Scenery, history, and culture combine to make Virginia Beach a great place to stop on a trip along the East Coast.

Of course, there are beaches and boardwalks all along the coast in this area. Visit First Landing State Park to see where English colonists landed in 1607. Just outside of town, there are several wildlife refuges and places to kayak along the barrier reefs.

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is a great place to learn about ocean life, especially what lives locally. 

The last time my husband and I visited Virginia Beach, we took a break from the hotels and van camping and stayed in a camper cabin in the Virginia Beach KOA. We loved our stay, and during the busy season, a shuttle to the boardwalk is offered.

We spent several years in Virginia Beach when my husband worked there and have shared some of our favorite attractions in this post. —> 19 of the Best Things to do in Virginia Beach, VA

Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Chicamacomico U.S. Lifesaving Station is one of the only remaining lifesaving stations in the U.S.

One of my personal favorite spots along the East Coast is the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The Outer Banks is a barrier island stretching south 175 miles from the Virginia border. There’s a little bit of everything in the Outer Banks, from wild horses, fantastic beaches, cute beach towns, and tons of outdoor activities.

My kids have gone horseback riding, tried surfing and gone hang-gliding in the OBX.

Some Outer Banks towns are more touristy for those who prefer dining out and strolling through town. Others are quieter for low-key travelers who want to relax and enjoy a beach vacation. 

We’ve stayed in amazing beach rental homes and camped nearby at a KOA in Currituck.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

What once was the spring break destination for thousands of college students is still popular for East Coast beach vacations. The town claims to be the “golf capital of the world,” and that may be true, with over 100 golf courses in the area.

You’ll find busy, developed beaches and quieter, protected beaches like those at Myrtle Beach State Park. Wildlife refugees surround the city, so despite its reputation as a party city, it’s also a great place to connect with nature.

If you prefer a more low-key scene, Pawleys Island is a historic resort town just 25 minutes away. 

Charleston, South Carolina

Old live oak trees beside a driveway in South Carolina

Best known for colonial history and colorful houses, Charleston is a “must-see” for anyone driving along the South Carolina coast.

This romantic city is a popular spot for newly married couples or those seeking a relaxing location for a babymoon.

The port city was founded in 1670, and many historic neighborhoods have been miraculously preserved and restored, despite the role the city and Fort Sumter played a key role in the Civil War.

You’ll find historic and charming neighborhoods surrounding Charleston Harbor. And the French Quarter and Battery Park both feature cobblestone streets and colorful Colonial-era homes. Take a romantic horse and carriage ride to learn more than 300 years of history in an hour.

A vibrant culinary scene makes Charleston the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. 

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah, Georgia, USA at Forsyth Park.

Another gorgeous historic city on the east coast is Savannah, Georgia. Like Charleston, Savannah’s historic district still features cobblestone streets and historic sites from the Civil War.

Southern comfort food by chefs like Paula Dean has firmly established Savannah as a foodie destination. Antebellum architecture abounds in Savannah, also famous for Spanish Moss that overhangs the parks and streets.

Of course, you can’t visit Savannah without visiting some of the famous cemeteries or taking a ghost tour. There is a lot of history to take in during your trip.

The Savannah Hop-on-Hop-Off Bus is a great way to experience the historic district. If you’ve never visited the city before, I suggest you hop on the bus, sit back, and ride it all the way through (if time permits), taking mental notes of what you’d like to see more of.

This allows you to get the full tour. On the second pass, jump on and off the bus at as many stops as you like. The bus is a great way to learn about the city, you don’t need to worry about driving and finding parking spots and it will save your feet some steps.

If you want more time on the beach, head to nearby Hilton Head Island, Tybee Island or Jekyll Island

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.

Continuing our historical tour down the coast, the next stop is St. Augustine, Florida.

The city claims to be the oldest city in the United States and is supposedly where Ponce de Leon discovered the Fountain of Youth, which you can still visit today at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. 

This charming town features Spanish colonial architecture and sandy beaches. A trolley tour is a great way to learn about the city before discovering more on your own.

Don’t miss a trip to Castillo de San Marcos, a historic fort along the coast. 

Daytona Beach, Florida

Street signs on Daytona Beach along the ocean.

Another former Spring Break hotspot is now best known for the Daytona International Speedway and the annual Daytona 500 Nascar race.

Wide, shallow beaches make this a great place for family trips, as you don’t have to worry about deep waters like some other beaches. The Daytona Beach pier and the Ocean Center are just two attractions of many things to do in Daytona Beach.

Of course, if you want to veer from the coast a bit, the magical wonder of Disney World is just one hour inland from Daytona Beach. 

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale beach morning sunrise in Florida USA palm trees

These days Fort Lauderdale is the start of a strip of tourism extending all the way down to the Keys.

Fort Lauderdale has also become a pretty big cruise ship port in recent years, so it always seems to be busy, no matter the season. For beachgoers, Fort Lauderdale offers a more laid-back vibe than the beaches of Miami.

And while you’ll find plenty of nightlife in Fort Lauderdale, it pales in comparison to South Beach. But that can be a good thing! Fort Lauderdale has great beaches and tons of hotels to choose from, for every budget.

Feel like using your passport? You can take a 2 ½ hour ferry ride from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas!

Miami, Florida

The Viscaya Mansion along Biscayne Bay

One of the most multicultural cities in the United States, Miami is a fantastic destination for every kind of traveler.

Of course, the beautiful people with big budgets flock to South Beach, where the party never ends. Little Havana is a great place to experience the Cuban culture of Miami.

Sports fans can catch MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL games, depending on what time of year you are visiting. The beaches of Miami are great, and you can also easily visit the Everglades from here.

My husband and I enjoyed touring Viscaya Museum & Gardens, a historic mansion that overlooks Biscayne Bay.

Rent a bike or purchase a ticket for a guided boat ride and nature walk in Shark Valley and see how many alligators you can spot before you lose count. 

Key West, Florida

USA Southernmost Point Monument and Key West Tourist Attraction

Key West is the end of the road, literally.

The drive from Miami to Key West is really beautiful, and you’ll pass tons of cute beach towns along the way. Key West is best known for Ernest Hemingway’s home and his six-toed cats, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and a vibrant party scene.

If you prefer a quieter place to rest, turn around and pick from one of the many beach towns of the Keys.

There are tons of beach resorts and even campgrounds all along Highway 1, so pick your favorite beach and stay a while!

Have you traveled along the East Coast of the United States? What scenic towns do you suggest we check out next?

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