With fall temperatures in the 70s and 80s, miles of pristine lowcountry beaches, and the utterly unique Gullah culture, Hilton Head is truly like no other beach town in America.
You can learn more about what makes Hilton Head special at the Coastal Discovery Museum, or just discover it for yourself on a quiet beach! Stay at the Holiday Inn Resort The Beach House (1 South Forest Beach Dr., ihg.com).
Yes, Cape Cod is open for business this fall! Old Silver Beach, in Falmouth, MA, is on mild, inviting Buzzard's Bay (way more beautiful than its name!). Thanks to a sandbar, you can wade out into the bay without getting in over your head.
Sea Crest Beach Hotel
The Sea Crest Beach Hotel, on Falmouth's Old Silver Beach, has lovely rooms just steps from the sand, two pools, and top-notch restaurants (350 Quaker Rd., seacrestbeachhotel.com).
The Falmouth area is perfect for fall cycling!
Sea Crest Beach Hotel
Sunset over Buzzard's Bay, in Falmouth, is an unforgettable way to end a fun Cape Cod day.
Sea Crest Beach Hotel
Virginia Beach, VA, offers an incredible stretch of sand that stays warm well into the fall! Just down the road from such family-friendly hot spots as Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, this town is an autumn delight.
Virginia Beach boasts one of our favorite boardwalk parks, too! Stay at Best Western Plus Sandcastle Beachfront Hotel (1307 Atlantic Ave., bestwestern.com).
Saugatuck, MI, on the "Gold Coast" of Lake Michigan, is one of the places savvy Chicagoans go to get away from the big city.
Saugatuck takes visitors back to the 19th century with picket fences, a hand-cranked ferry, and other charming throwbacks. Stay at Sherwood Forest Bed and Breakfast (938 Center St., sherwoodforestbandb.com).
No, you don't have to surf just because you're in Laguna Beach, CA, an iconic seven-mile stretch of Southern California sea and sand, but if you're so inclined, you can take a group surfing lesson for $75.
Laguna Beach's Pacific Edge Hotel (647 South Coast Highway, pacificedgehotel.com) is near Laguna Village, which offers excellent art galleries and shops, a nod to this gorgeous beach town's roots as an artists' colony.
One of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns in America 2013, Bay St. Louis, MS, was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but has done more than recover since then.
In Bay St. Louis you can go fishing, take a walking tour of 19th-century homes, see Creole cottages, and visit galleries—or just take Main Street straight down to the beach. Stay at Bay Town Inn (208 N. Beach Blvd., baytowninn.com).
Courtesy Ellis Anderson
Point Pleasant, NJ, is, well, pleasant enough in summer if you like enjoy being part of a major scene, rubbing elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love Jenkinson's Boardwalk and the lovely stretch of beach here. But it's also a must-see in autumn.
Come September, the rides on Point Pleasant's boardwalk stay open, the cotton candy is just as sweet, but rates for hotel rooms just a block from the beach can be literally a third of the summer price. Stay at The White Sands (1205 Ocean Ave., thewhitesands.com).
We love the harbor and the foodie scene in Port Townsend, WA, a Victorian-era Olympic coast seaport, which was one of our Coolest Small Towns last year.
A sea kayaker's dream town, Port Townsend also boasts nearby mountains for hiking and biking, and is an especially great place to cast for fish. Stay at Chevy Chase Beach Cabins (3710 South Discovery Rd., chevychasebeachcabins.com).
Well-known as one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite locales—with a party reputation to match—Key West, FL, at the bottom of the East Coast, boasts a much wider variety of activities, including tours of Victorian homes, nature kayaking, and unique art galleries.
Key West's beaches are perfect for doing nothing, or sticking around to watch the legendary sunsets. Stay at Parrot Key Hotel & Resort (2801 North Roosevelt Blvd, parrotkeyresort.com).
With only 17 square miles bounded by water and 40 percent of the land devoted to state and county parkland, Montauk, NY, offers a blend of elegant and wild.
One day on a breezy Montauk beach—with a world-class surfing scene—will make you feel as if you've traveled back to the days when trekking the 100+ miles from NYC kept most folks away. Stay at Ocean Beach Resort (108 South Emerson Ave., oceanbeachmontauk.com).
No list of beautiful beaches would be complete without Kaanapali, on Maui, near the thriving main street of Lahaina, HI.
Nearby Kaanapali Beach, mountains you can almost reach out and touch, and a tranquil harbor make Lahaina a perfect town for kicking back. Stay at Kaanapali Ocean Inn (2780 Kekaa Dr., kaanapalioceaninn.com).
Nantucket, MA, is a charmingly whale-shaped island off the coast of Cape Cod, but of course these days the whaling captains, sailors, and harpooners who made the island home two centuries ago have been replaced by captains of industry who can meet the sky-high summer rates.
Nantucket cools down literally and figuratively come September, when you can have perfect beaches, 18th-century cobblestone streets lined with contemporary galleries—and a table with a view—to yourself. Stay at the Veranda House Hotel Group (3 Step Ln., theverandahouse.com).
From Cape Cod to the Great Lakes, from Southern California to the Gulf of Mexico, America’s beaches stay open long after the summer crowds have gone home. It’s the same sun and surf—oh, except that you've got some elbow room and hotel rates have come back down to earth!