Eight Great Southern US Beach Towns

When someone talks of the South, it conjures up visions of big front porches and sipping sweet tea. It’s a place where women “glisten” instead of sweat and life moves at a slower pace.  Truth is though, that it’s hot here, and whether it’s on the Atlantic Coast or the Gulf of Mexico, the South has many great beaches to help cool you off.

From party beaches to wild and windswept stretches of sand, the beaches of the Southern US are as diverse as the towns built around them. Whether you want to join the up-all-night social scene or be alone with just the sound of the waves, these eight great beach towns are sure to please.

Rosemary Beach, Florida

The fine white sand and turquoise water makes Rosemary Beach a perfect beach destination and its quaint yet upscale community (busy Panama City Beach and Fort Walton) provides plenty to keep you busy when you need to get out of the sun. This seaside town of brightly colored buildings with trellised balconies has no chain hotels or chain restaurants.  Along with relaxing on the beach, visitors can fish, rent bikes, golf, or shop at one of the several boutiques such as Pish Posh Patchouli’s.  Condos and houses are available for rent through the Rosemary Beach Website.

>> Book flights to Florida or read more about Florida beaches

Isle of Palms, South Carolina

This popular beach town is located just north of Charleston on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina . It’s rumored that pirates used to inhabit the island and bury their treasures in the sand. So far no one has found any treasure but there have been some magnificent sand castles, as well as abundance wildlife. Osprey, pelicans, dolphins, and giant loggerhead sea turtles can all be spotted from the sandy shores.  The Wild Dunes Resort offers condo and housing rentals on the beach and there is a county park area with ample parking and shower and changing facilities. Coconut Joe’s is a local beach bar and restaurant located right on the beach and features live music on the weekends.

>> Find hotels in South Carolina or check out things to do in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Apalachicola and St. George’s Island, Florida

Local Tallahassee residents (among others) flock to this area, a small fishing village just across the bridge from St. George Island, during the summer. Oysters rule in Apalachicola; the estuarine system in the Apalachicola Bay is one of the last pristine watersheds in the northern hemispheres. Restaurants in town feature at least one oyster dish of some sort  – from the Oyster Stew at Tamara’s Café to the Fried Oysters at Veranda’s Bistro.

Cross the bridge and you’re on St. George Island.  This beach town has a small but thriving artist’s community and wildlife is plentiful.  Fishing is a popular pastime and the best place to catch “the big one” is at Bob Sikes Cut at the west end of St. George Island.

Rodanthe, North Carolina

This small, quiet beach community is located at the easternmost point of North Carolina, on the southern tip of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks.  Made popular by the 2008 movie, Nights of Rodanthe, this beach town is known for its unspoiled beaches, lush landscapes and wild beauty rather than wild nightlife.  Surfers and kite boarders come here for the abundant wave breaks and winds but otherwise it remains mostly off-the-radar. Lots of bird species make their home here but unlike the movie, there are no wild horses.

>> Find hotels in North Carolina

Daytona Beach, Florida

This long-time classic spring break destination has gotten a bad rap over the years as a party-till-you-puke beach scene.  But that’s not the case anymore.  Sure, there will still be crowds and some party revelers during peak times, but more families are flocking to this beach than ever before. Kayaking, day spas and museums are just a few of the non-beach activities that are available. Also, as homage to its roots as the place where car racing began, this is one of the few public beaches where you can still drive your car onto the sand.

>> Look for cheap hotels in Dayton Beach or read about the best party beaches in the world

Gulf Shores, Alabama

With over thirty-two miles of white quartz sand and a wide, uncrowded beach, Gulf Shores is a relatively unknown beach destination, which means it’s easier to find deals and rental rates are often lower than in the nearby Florida Panhandle.  Here most of the beachfront along the Gulf of Mexico is devoted to hotels, condos, and waterside restaurants. Off the beach, try your hand at glass blowing in the Orange Beach Arts Center or cruise around Wolf’s Bay on a pontoon boat learning how to shrimp or rake in oysters while watching dolphins.  Shopping is at San Roc Cay and fine dining abounds at restaurants such as Cobalt Restaurant and Jesse’s at Magnolia Springs.

>> Look for hotels in Gulf Shores or find cheap flights to Alabama

Biloxi, Mississippi

This town was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and then again by the Gulf Oil Spill, but as President Rich Forester of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitor’s Bureau says “We’ve been through the worst manmade disaster and the worst natural disaster; they keep throwing stuff at us and we keep catching it. “  Beaches here are clean., the water is shallow and waves are blocked by barrier islands that are a couple of miles out. When you’re done frolicking in the ocean, try breaking the bank at one of the many casinos that line the shore.  If gambling isn’t your style, check out the Ohr-Okeefe Museum of Art, which houses the pottery collection of George Ohr and a substantial collection of Andy Warhol paintings, or the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

>> Find cheap hotels in Biloxi or read about why you should visit the Gulf Coast

Key West, Florida

As far south as you can go on the eastern seaboard, Key West has long been where Jimmy’s Buffet’s motto “it’s five o clock somewhere” resounds. Laid back lifestyles, colorful beach cottages and a nightlife that is legendary is what draws people here time and again. It’s where watching the sunset is a daily ritual and diving, snorkeling and fishing are popular.  A large artist population equates to a diverse offering of galleries, theaters and even impromptu juggling and mime demonstrations, keeping Key West among the more culturally quirky beach towns.

>> Book a hotel in the Florida Keys or read about kayaking in Key West

Read more about beaches around the world:

Photos by: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 68, 7 courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission

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Leave a Comment

  • Sandra Chambers said at 2011-09-07T21:05:38+0000: Beautiful photos!
  • Judi Tandy Riddle said at 2011-06-30T10:47:30+0000: I plan to eventually visit all 8 beaches listed here. Will be on St. George Island in 2 days! My family can't imagine taking a vacation that doesn't have a beach.
  • Steve Rich said at 2011-06-28T18:34:07+0000: Lived on Key West for almost 10 years- not visited, lived. Key West is not and never has been a "beach town". If you're going to Key West for beaches, you'll be disappointed. Smathers has improved over the last few years, but kite surfers (great to watch) are likely to be the only locals ever to get in that water. Rest Beach is ok, as long as you're on the east side of the pier; west side (Higgs Beach)-not even on it's best day. Casa Marina barely qualifies as a beach and the water looks like a milk shake; The Reach has nicer sand (private), but again, questionable water quality. Dog Beach? I wouldn't let my dog in that water. Fort Zachary Taylor (Fort Zack) usually has the best water quality on the island, but is prone to more erosion than most visitors will tolerate. Even so, when most locals "go to the beach", it's typically Fort Zack. As you go up into some of the Lower and Middle Keys (Bahia Honda is nice), there are exceptions, but by and large Key West is lacking most of the conditions needed to maintain a sandy beach substrate and the inshore water quality is something to be enjoyed from the shore.
  • Ron Robbins said at 2011-06-28T17:17:04+0000: Nice post. Key West is a wonderful place, have been there several times and is a key snorkeling place of mine :-) Check out some of the places I've been to and will be going on my blog. Will be traveling to south america in july so keep posted! http://ActivePlanetTravels.com
  • Fayza Elmostehi said at 2011-07-03T02:35:00+0000: Awww. No Texas beaches made the cut.
  • Lesley Cox said at 2011-06-28T19:29:17+0000: Hey, they forgot Carrabelle!