Of all the regions in the country, there’s nothing quite like New England. Coastal New England pleases even the most picky traveler with its picturesque scenery, postcard-worthy sights, pristine beaches, and quaint small towns.
You can enjoy lazy days by the beach, hike up the cliffs along the rugged shorelines, explore historic sites, shop local delights, and enjoy endless lobster rolls. The region is home to some of the most quaint seaside towns, villages, and ports. It’s hard to choose New England’s most charming coastal towns, as the list is limitless. But here are 15 of our favorites, cruising from Connecticut up toward the coast of Maine:
One of the country’s most historic ports and home of the world’s largest maritime history museum, Mystic is the classic coastal town with some of the most picturesque New England scenery.
Conveniently located between New York City and Boston, Mystic conjures old-timey vibes and a great mix of classic seaside activities — Main Street boats with incredible eateries, cafés, and shops. Pick up some local delights from the chic boutiques downtown and explore the Olde Mistick Village. No visit to Mystic is complete without checking out Mystic Seaport Museum, recreating a 19th-century fishing village. There is so much history around every corner in this beautiful coastal town. Film buffs might remember the 1988 movie “Mystic Pizza” starring Julia Roberts.
Stay at the quaint Mermaid Inn of Mystic, blocks from downtown shops and restaurants, with beautiful views of the Mystic River.
Stonington Borough, Connecticut
In the southeastern corner of Connecticut, Stonington Borough showcases maritime history and refined culture. The streets are lined with galleries, eateries, and boutique stores, making it a shopper’s haven. This is the oldest town in Connecticut, having been established way back in 1649!
The Old Lighthouse Museum beckons from afar, a beacon that has guided many sailors. You have to check out the private Dubois Beach for a dip. Then, hire a local for a wine trail to enjoy the evening in style. Many movies have used this quaint coastal town in New England as a backdrop. If you don’t believe us, sail along the Mystic River, and you’ll immediately get nostalgic for the silver screen.
Niantic, the jewel of East Lyme, is where beach vibes meet small-town charm. Siting along the Long Island Sound, it boasts sandy beaches, an iconic boardwalk, and local boutiques offering unique finds.
The Niantic Bay Boardwalk is perfect for a sunset stroll, while the annual LobsterFest, fueled by the local Niantic Lions, is a gastronomic delight. Add a touch of history with the Thomas Lee House, and Niantic paints a perfect summer picture. If you travel with kids, check out the Niantic Children’s Museum and the Hole in the Wall Beach. Both are full of wonders, fun, food, and local culture your family will love.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island, is the classic New England summer retreat. The Gilded Age mansions, the historic architecture with its Gatsby-style glamour, the yacht-filled harbors, and quaint beaches will transport you to another time. Make sure to visit the National Museum of American Illustration! And do not miss two of Newport’s most famous festivals — the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Stay at the Gurney’s Newport Resort & Marina on Goat Island, and take in the magical views of Narragansett Bay with a cocktail in your hand. The same as its sister location in Montauk, Gurney’s Newport offers top-notch amenities, like an outdoor saltwater pool, a full-service spa, and a lounge with fire pits.
New Shoreham, Rhode Island
New Shoreham is a world unto itself. The island is dotted with natural wonders like the imposing Mohegan Bluffs. You must, must, must visit this incredible location! If you have ever dreamed of a quaint New England town in the summer, this is what you have pictured!
Afterward, pack a few local delicacies and head to the iconic Southeast Lighthouse. Away from the bustling mainland, New Shoreham is more about exploring Block Island. This location offers serene beaches, extensive nature trails, and the simple pleasures of island life. Each summer day here promises a new discovery.
A mere 16 miles from Boston, Marblehead proudly wears its rich maritime history. Amongst the narrow streets and historic homes dating back to before the founding of America is a labyrinth that echoes the life of the past. This is the birthplace of the U.S. Navy, where countless ships sail past modern kitchens and outdoor dining that fill your belly and mind with incredible memories.
Attractions like Fort Sewall and Marblehead Lighthouse further accentuate its naval legacy. And when summer takes over, the Marblehead Festival of Arts celebrates the town’s creative spirit in full swing. For a real treat, be sure to select an Airbnb close to next door Salem, where you can learn even more rich history with local legends of witches, pilgrims, and confused sailors leaving their posts.
Sitting at the Cape Cod’s tip, Provincetown celebrates art, diversity, and marine beauty. Its streets resonate with creativity, from local galleries to vibrant busker performances. The Pilgrim Monument, commemorating the Pilgrims’ first landing, stands tall, overseeing the town. Whether exploring the dunes, watching seals at Race Point Beach, or immersing in the town’s eclectic nightlife, Provincetown guarantees unforgettable summer moments.
A staple of Provincetown are the local artists. You can easily outfit your apartment, rental property, or homestead with fantastic coastal New England artwork you won’t find in the shops. Be on the lookout for the caricature artists!
Oak Bluffs (Martha’s Vineyard), Massachusetts
The charm of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard lies in its whimsical “gingerbread” houses, colorful and intricate. It’s an island town where history mingles with coastal pleasures.
Be sure to treat your part of all ages to a ride on The Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest platform carousel in the U.S., still delights visitors of all ages. Meanwhile, scenic bike trails, delectable seafood of freshly shucked oysters, and events at Ocean Park are staples of any charming town of New England summer visit.
Nantucket is the quintessential New England town, and much of life here is spent on or near the water. Not really a coastal town, but actually an island town with centuries of history and many things to do, see, and explore, Nantucket will spoil your senses with its infinite beauty. Its pristine beaches and clear water will make you forget you are in the Northeast.
There is a wide variety of great restaurants and lodging options, antique shops, art galleries, and upscale shopping. Just get out there and explore it all on foot, walking the cobblestoned streets of Nantucket. Summer is the best season to explore the island of Nantucket.
But, it is worth noting that this idyllic town is a great place to visit any time of the year and a permanent source of inspiration for those who love nautical style all year long. Stay at the legendary White Elephant, which has graced Nantucket’s waterfront since the 1920s. Read more about what this incredible resort offers to the whole family, including pet-friendly areas.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The Granite State has a small seacoast — only 13 miles long — but every inch of it is worth seeing. The third oldest city in the country – Portsmouth, is probably also the most charming coastal town in New Hampshire. Settled in 1623, Portsmouth is incredibly rich in history and cultural attractions, so you should take the time to explore it.
History buffs can take a self-guided walk along the Portsmouth Harbor Trail and explore its 70-plus historic and scenic sites. Another must-see is the history museum Strawbery Banke — perfect for exploring during the summer because it’s outdoors. The best way to explore Portsmouth is on foot. Take a walk around town to see the exquisite Victorian, Georgian, and Colonial architecture. Then, cruise up the Piscataqua River and explore the beautiful harbor with scenic views. There are plenty of lodging options, but for an authentic experience, we recommend staying at Portsmouth Hotel, where vintage meets modern.
New Castle, New Hampshire
New Castle, New Hampshire’s oldest settlement, offers a delightful journey through time. Yes, there is Portsmouth, where everyone goes for a New Hampshire coastal town, but a stroll through New Castle feels more like you’re flipping through pages of a 17th-century storybook.
Historic sites like Fort Stark and Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse are sentinels to the past. But alongside its storied history, New Castle thrives with a vibrant community, hosting summer picnics by the sea and lively local events. This is your chance to shop, dance, dine, and devour the music passing buskers play in the crisp, cool night air as the ocean acts as a symphony of singers in the background.
The most northeastern state in the country is also one of the most beautiful. With a tidal shoreline longer than California’s, Maine has it all — beautiful, rugged coastlines; pristine beaches; some of the oldest lighthouses in the U.S.; an infinite list of lobster shacks serving the finest lobster rolls; art galleries, and the cutest antique shops. An entire summer on the coast of Maine still isn’t enough to see everything, so choosing one single coastal town seems unfair. If we must, though, our winner for a perfect summer getaway in Maine is Ogunquit.
Located on Maine’s southern coast, close to Kennebunkport (another favorite Maine coastal town in this list) and nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River, Ogunquit is majestic from every angle. Ogunquit literally means “beautiful place by the sea” in the native language of Algonquin Indians, and it’s become the town’s motto. The three-and-a-half miles of pristine beaches truly epitomizes the charm of New England coastal towns.
Nestled along the “fingers” of Maine’s rugged coastline, approximately an hour and a half north of Portland (the biggest city in the state), you’ll find the quintessential New England town of Camden.
As you stroll along the lines of small streets, stop at any of the local Antique shops well-known for their hidden treasures. Then, grab a blueberry ice cream cone and head over to Camden Hills State Park for panoramic vistas. When you’re done, pack a picnic and take a trip to the Curtis Island Lighthouse, where maritime history meets Instagram-worthy pictures. Finally, end your night with a delicious meal and a show at the local Camden Opera House for some history and culture.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Sitting prettily on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor is a nature lover’s dream. It’s the gateway to the breathtaking Acadia National Park, where hiking trails meander through dense forests, leading to pristine lakes. Make sure to stop by Jordan Pond House Restaurant and try their famous, freshly baked popovers with a smear of local Maine blueberry jam.
While the town’s natural beauty is undeniable, its culinary scene is equally enticing. Waterfront restaurants serve up sumptuous lobster dishes; there’s an ice cream shop every few feet and an ever-expanding town park that overlooks the harbor where ships, schooners, kayakers, and fishermen dot the waters. This is especially attractive for those early risers who want to catch the sunrise on nearby Cadillac Mountain.
We are ending our list with the most magical place we should have started with, one of the most quintessential New England towns – Kennebunkport. This charming New England town has hosted U.S. presidents and travelers seeking a serene escape for decades. Gracing Maine’s southern coast, Kennebunkport is where coastal elegance meets rustic charm, and foodies come to stake their claims. (Yup, this is where you’ll have one of the best lobster rolls ever).
It’s easy to lose track of time cruising along the Kennebunk River or getting engrossed in the exhibits of the Seashore Trolley Museum. Yet, the real treat is booking your stay when a local concert is happening at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church.
In wrapping up our charming coastal towns in New England odyssey, there’s an undeniable magic to spending summer days in these quaint locations. From Marblehead’s historic allure to Provincetown’s vibrant artscape, there’s a unique story, a postcard-worthy sight, and an unforgettable adventure awaiting at every corner.