Beach trips are supposed to feel relaxing and slow-paced. Whether you’re looking to surf, dive, paddle, or just read a book in a hammock, the point is that you’re getting away from it all. Which is why sometimes you need to escape the hustle and bustle of more well-known seaside destinations (we’re looking at you, Cancún and Waikiki) and find those beach towns that are a little sleepier.
Oak Island, North Carolina
(NC’s Brunswick Islands)
Oak Island, one of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, has a laid-back vibe. With 13 miles of uncrowded beaches, there’s no need to stake out a spot at sunrise. While this area was hit by Hurricane Florence last fall, most damaged properties have since been restored. Check out Oak Island Accommodations for more than 330 rentals that include oceanfront and pet-friendly options. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Mr. Beach Rentals and it’ll be delivered to wherever you’re staying, and take the kids fishing or crabbing off the piers or to spot butterflies in at the Oak Island Nature Center. Don’t miss climbing to the top of the Oak Island Lighthouse, but be sure to book a tour beforehand.
Let the crowds go to neighboring Aruba. On the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, off the coast of Venezuela, you’ll have 35 white-sand beaches more or less to yourself. Check out the capital city of Willemstad for colorful Dutch architecture, a floating market, and a selection of local restaurants that specialize in catches of the day. Snorkel from Playa Lagun, spot flamingos on salt flats, and hike the trail to the top of 1,227-foot Mount Christoffel within Shete Boka National Park. The Oasis Coral Estate (from $574) has a dive center, a spa, and an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.
If you don’t think of Rhode Island as a beach-getaway destination, think again. The vibrant seaside town of Narragansett has plenty to do and sees fewer crowds than others on the East Coast. Cruise along the seven-mile-long South County’s William C. O’Neill Bike Path, sign up for a surf lesson or pick up new boardshorts at Warm Winds surf shop, and enjoy a sunset paddleboard outing with Narrow River Kayaks. Narragansett Beach is the go-to spot for surfing and sandcastles, and its boutique hotel, the Break (from $472), has 16 rooms with ocean views, a rooftop bar, and a saltwater pool.
Morro Bay, California
In between the more populous beach destinations of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Santa Barbara, you’ll find the quaint, easygoing town of Morro Bay. Its biggest landmark is 576-foot-tall Morro Rock, a state historic landmark on the waterfront that was once used as a navigational icon for seafarers. Kayak among harbor seals and sea lions with a guide from Central Coast Outdoors, or fly a kite on the shoreline. Book a room at the seaside 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites (from $249), where you’ll have views of Morro Bay National Estuary and easy access to the Embarcadero boardwalk.
San Pancho, Mexico
You can still get to the tequila-fueled nightlife and popular surf breaks in nearby Sayulita, but the town of San Pancho, ten minutes north, has a quieter, off-the-radar vibe. Its official name is actually San Francisco, but everyone calls it San Pancho, a Spanish nickname that plays off the fact that it has become Sayulita’s cooler sibling. Take yoga classes in the plaza, hike in the jungles above town, or catch a wave without anyone dropping in on you. Hotel Cielo Rojo (from $74) has a wine shop and organic restaurant on-site, and the beach is just steps away.
Hop a 15-minute ferry ride from the town of Yarmouth, Massachusetts, and you’ll arrive at friendly Chebeague Island, where there’s not a ton going on—which is exactly the point. Book the beach-getaway package at the restored 1920s-era Chebeague Island Inn (from $180) in Casco Bay and you’ll get breakfast, a picnic lunch for the beach, and L.L.Bean bicycles to ride around the five-mile-long island. Lobster cookouts on the lawn overlooking the sea and bonfires near the beach are nightly occurrences.