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With 23 coastal states, America has shores that stretch from charming New England to the subtropical Gulf Coast. Is it possible to get a dose of vitamin sea minus the crowds of Coney Island or price tag of Miami Beach? We’ve trodden lively boardwalks and unspoiled sands to find some of the country’s best, overlooked seaside destinations.

1. Ogunquit, Maine

It’s small wonder that “Ogunquit” translates from the Abenaki Indian language as “beautiful place by the sea”. This former fishing village on Maine’s southern coast is defined by its sandy beaches and vibrant arts scene. Stroll Marginal Way that runs from the harbour to Ogunquit Beach, passing grassy dunes, granite cliffs and quaint New England cottages.

2. Cannon Beach, Oregon

A 90-minute drive from Portland, Cannon Beach is tucked between the Oregon Coast Range Mountains and 363 miles of secluded shores. The 235ft Haystack Rock (of Goonies fame) is something of an icon here, but the hiking trails of Ecola State Park, year-round art festivals, top-notch seafood and local distillery means there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied.

3. Newport, Rhode Island

This New England town is famed for its sailing history and Gilded-Age mansions – Newport was the Hamptons of the early 20th century. Pick out your future home along Bellevue Avenue, hire a boogie board on Easton’s Beach or trace the Cliff Walk coastal path. Gooseberry Beach is a private club with public access, and among the best places for snorkelling and kayaking.

4. Folly Beach, South Carolina

Twenty-minutes’ drive from Charleston, this easy-going beach community boasts one of the most consistent surf breaks (“The Washout”) on the Atlantic Coast. When you’ve tired of the board shops, beachy cafés and late-night pubs along Center Street, head to Bowens Island Restaurant for a signature Lowcountry frogmore stew and a side order of sunset dolphin spotting.

5. Chincoteague, Virginia

Part of the 14,000-acre Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, this island is famed for its wild horses – visit late in July to see cowboys herd ponies across the Assateague Channel. Wander hiking routes that thread through the archipelago; break off from the Wildlife Loop and follow the Swan Cove Trail to Wild Beach for complete seclusion. The town’s clams and oysters are of global renown – taste some of the best at Bill’s Seafood Restaurant.

6. Chatham, Massachusetts

Time stands still on the southeastern “elbow” of Cape Cod, where this beautiful, historic town dating back to 1665 is ideal for escaping the crowds. Take in sweeping Atlantic views as locals go clam digging, visit the 19th-century lighthouse and, come summer, head to Kate Gould Park, where the town band plays each Friday evening.

7. Capitola, California

A stone’s throw from Santa Cruz (and a world away from the city’s hustle and bustle), this quaint beach town proves that good things come in small packages. Admire the pastel-hued homes along the beach front, which comes to life during summer with outdoor movie screenings and live music.

8. Cape May, New Jersey

Horse-drawn carriages and gingerbread Victorian homes are perhaps not the first things that spring to mind when you think of Jersey Shore. Dating back to 1611, Cape May is America’s oldest seaside resort and a National Historic Landmark. Take a snap of the “painted ladies” along the seafront, soak up ocean vistas from the 1858 lighthouse or spot whales and dolphins in Delaware Bay.

9. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Imagine this nostalgic beach town as Coney Island minus the crowds. Savour salt water taffy as you follow the mile-long boardwalk past bars, restaurants, a bandstand, amusement rides and Queen Street, one of the mid-Atlantic’s famously LGBTQ-friendly destinations. Head inland to discover upmarket (and tax-free) shops, galleries and a thriving dining scene – Dogfish Head Brewery is a must for craft-beer enthusiasts.

10. Gulf Shores, Alabama

On this sublime stretch along the Gulf of Mexico, white-sand beaches glisten thanks to quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains. Casting aside its “Redneck Riviera” reputation, Gulf Shores offers beachside attractions (a waterpark, a zoo, golf courses, cruises) with a good dose of natural beauty. The calendar here is a full one – visit in May for the three-day Hangout Music Festival, or in October for the National Shrimp Festival.

11. Key West, Florida

Thanks to its sun, sea and sand, Key West is far from an unknown seaside destination. Yet between its candy-coloured conch houses, thriving coral reefs, jazz bars and seafood restaurants, Florida’s southernmost island benefits from a fun-loving, chilled out attitude. After a day on a palm-shaded beach, applaud the sunset from the carnivalesque Mallory Square – locals have been observing this tradition since the 60s. For a more secluded slice of Florida, head to Sanibel island to collect world-famous shells along untouched beaches.

12. Galveston, Texas

Dubbed the “Playground of the South” in the 1800s, Galveston remains popular among travellers today. Get your beach-fix along 32 miles of shoreline – try Steward Beach, Seawall Urban Park or South Beach – stopping by the historic pleasure pier before visiting Moody Gardens, a botanical park in which tropical plants thrive across the 10-storey Rainforest Pyramid. Architecture buffs will adore Galveston’s Victorian and Civil War-era buildings.

13. Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Cars are banned on Bald Head Island; having taken the 20-minute ferry from mainland Southport, visitors get about by foot, bike, golf cart or the island tram. Climb the defunct 1817 Old Baldy (the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina), reconnect with nature across 10,000 acres of untouched beach, marsh and maritime forest preserves, or join a nightly Turtle Walk to witness the island’s famous nesting sea turtles.

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