Grab your flip-flops and slather on sun screen! You're headed for the Chesapeake Bay, where summer is celebrated with gusto. Its 11,684 miles of shoreline are home to beaches with gently rolling waves that wash your cares away. Some of the seaside escapes are hidden in picturesque coves that cater to laid-back waterfront living. Other destinations sport a lively urban vibe with tiki bars serving cocktails that match the colors of a sunset. The key is knowing which beach suits your fancy.To help you design seamless travel plans, Marinalife pulled together a list of top Chesapeake beaches that starts in Virginia's southern waters and migrates north to Maryland's upper reaches of the Bay.
When you enter the mouth of the Bay from the Atlantic Ocean and cruise past Cape Henry Lighthouse, you discover a beautiful two-mile stretch of sandy shoreline. Some call it Chesapeake Beach; locals refer to it as Chics Beach (named after Luther Chic Ledington, who ran a hotdog stand here for decades). Beach houses, condos and seafood restaurants create a cozy waterfront community that's seldom overcrowded. Their most noteworthy neighbor is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 17.6-mile architectural wonder that connects Virginia's mainland to its Eastern Shore.
Where to Dock: Rudee's Inlet Station Marina
Along Hampton's coastline awaits a trinity of beaches that can fulfill the summer wishes of everyone from historians to hikers. The southern part is Fort Monroe, a decommissioned Naval base that's open to the public. In addition to savoring miles of gorgeous beaches, guests can tour the historic stone fort, lighthouse, museum and Civil War complex. In the middle of Hampton's sun-kissed strip lies Buckroe Beach, a former plantation and tobacco farm now dedicated to seaside recreation. Its family-friendly amenities include playgrounds, picnic areas and places to rent umbrellas, jet skis, kayaks and paddle boats. Hampton's northern tip is home to Grandview Beach & Nature Preserve, 475 acres of protected beaches, tidal creeks, salt marshes and hiking trails known for panoramic ocean views, migratory birds and trophy fishing.
Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center
This charming seaside town is the epitome of timeless Eastern Shore hospitality. Shallow waters and gentle waves allow parents with small children to relax and soak up the sun. Everything is located within walking distance of the beach a fishing pier, a historic district with park and gazebo, lovely Victorian houses, and streets lines with cafes, shops and an ice cream store. Just south of town is a nature preserve teeming with wildlife and a resort offering signature golf courses.
Where to Dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center
A pair of petite beaches located where the York River flows into the Chesapeake Bay can accommodate lazy sun worshipers and energetic tourists. On the river's north side is Gloucester Point Beach, a hideaway with a sandy swimming area, a concession stand, a fishing pier and a view of the J.P. Coleman Memorial Bridge that is exceptional at sunset. On the south side near the base of the bridge, you can discover another beach that meanders along Yorktown's Riverwalk. When you come ashore and dry off, you'll find restaurants, shops, museums and historic battlegrounds to keep you busy for days.
Where to Dock: York River Yacht Haven
Along the Potomac River on Virginia's Northern Neck is Colonial Beach, which boasts a half-mile boardwalk and 2.5 miles of soft-sand paradise. This classic riverside town charms its visitors with shops, galleries, playgrounds, a casino and restaurants serving terrific local oysters. A popular getaway since the 1800s, famous folks such as Alexander Graham Bell owned summer houses here. The region is also an incubator for noteworthy historical figures, such as the nearby birthplaces of George Washington, James Monroe and Robert E. Lee.
Where to Dock: Colonial Beach Marina
About 20 million years ago, Calvert County was covered by a vast body of water filled with a menagerie of aquatic creatures. Erosion from the receding sea formed a 24-mile stretch of massive white cliffs that lend a dramatic beauty to the Chesapeake shoreline. Calvert Cliffs Beach visitors can simply enjoy the scenery or they can investigate fossils from prehistoric sharks, whales, rays and seabirds the size of airplanes. With a shovel and sieve, you can sift through the sand and amass a nice collection of ancient shark teeth and oyster shells from the Miocene Era. This archaeological haven is surrounded by 1,079 acres of park land and 13 miles of marked foot trails.
Where to Dock: Vera's White Sand Marina
In the late 1800s, Washington & Chesapeake Railroad laid big plans for this part of the Bay's western shore and built gambling and seaside attractions that lured visitors from DC and Baltimore. The area flourished until the Great Depression when the boom busted. Decades of new development resurrected the twin towns and created two seaside destinations with distinctly different personalities. Chesapeake Beach bustles with a resort hotel, slot machines, gaming rooms, museum and water park for kids of all ages. North Beach presents a more relaxed family-friendly climate with antique stores, galleries, gift shops, a fishing pier, summer concerts, movies on the beach and a Friday farmers' market.
Where to Dock: Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa
Millions of people drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge every year. But Sandy Point offers a unique perspective where you can dig your toes in the golden sand and be mesmerized by the cars and trucks racing across the towering bridge spans above your head. The 786 acres of beach and picnic areas are a popular place to spend summer days at the Bay. Some sections of the park are designated for fishing and crabbing, and a 215-acre forested nature preserve is ideal for hiking and bird watching. Bring your own cooler and provisions, as the concession stand only offers snacks.
Where to Dock: Bay Bridge Marina
On the western shore near the mouth of the Middle River are three uninhabited islands that are only accessible by boat. They might look like Mother Nature's handiwork, but they're actually man-made structures formed from dredge materials out of Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco River. Hart-Miller and Pleasure islands comprise the 1,100-acre state park that boasts a 3,000-foot sandy beach with spectacular views. Hiking trails, campgrounds, bike rentals, fishing areas andwildlife sanctuaries create an oasis of waterfront summer fun.
Where to Dock: Hart-Miller Island Anchorage
During the late 19th century, steamboats from Baltimore shuttled heat-weary vacationers to Betterton's resort hotels, amusement park and luscious beachfront. Those glory days ended when the Bay Bridge offered an easy drive to Atlantic beaches. Today, Betterton is a quiet, hidden gem with a family-friendly vibe. It's known for magnificent views of high bluffs along the shore that serve as a backdrop for the five-acre waterfront park, boardwalk, picnic pavilion, public pier and fishing jetty. People flock to Betterton in late summer when sea nettles plague other parts of the Bay, because fresh water from the Sassafras River washes away those bothersome jellyfish. Only one restaurant lovely Barbara's on the Bay overlooks the beach. If you head south past Tolchester Beach into Rock Hall, you find more options to feed a hungry crew.
Where to Dock: Tolchester Marina
Don't be surprised if you see eagles and hawks soaring around Turkey Point Lighthouse. They're part of the natural wonders you discover at Elk Neck State Park, along with 2,188 acres of sandy shoreline, white clay cliffs, thick forests and marshlands. It's a great getaway destination near the mouth of the Susquehanna River near the top of the Bay. Families build lasting memories of dreamy summer days while they swim, camp, fish, hike, kayak, picnic and romp on the beach.
Where to Dock: McDaniel Yacht Basin
From the Gulf to the Atlantic and every bay in between, boaters and their families have plenty to look forward to on the Florida coasts this fall. Start the season with a couple of pints at Oktoberfest and spooks at a haunted ghost tour, throw in a boating event or two, and round it out with a lighted boat parade.
Learn about the haunted history in the oldest city in the United States through the lens of the undead. Get tickets for haunted pub crawls, trolly tours and walking tours. You’ll get in the Halloween spirit and learn the stories behind St. Augustine’s most spirited locations from professional storytellers with just the right amount of spook. Kids are welcome on trolly and walking tours, and pets are allowed on walking tours! Check out Ghost Tours of St. Augustine or Ghosts & Gravestones.
Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor
Jacksonville Beach, Tampa
Kick off the fall season with Oktoberfest on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast with Beaches Oktoberfest and Oktoberfest Tampa. With Tampa’s event ranking in the top five in the country and Jacksonville Beach’s being the largest in the state, you’re sure to find the brew for you! beachesoktoberfest.com
Where to Dock: Fort George Island Marina (Jacksonville), Westshore Yacht Club (Tampa)
Just across the Bay from Tampa and St. Pete, Apollo Beach is teeming with wildlife on land and on the water. At this four-day festival, you’ll find a free expo with nature organizations and artwork, daily field and boat trips to sites not accessible to the public, and expert wildlife and conservation seminars. Nature aficionados won’t want to miss this opportunity at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center.
Where to Dock: Apollo Beach Marina
West Palm Beach
Has your dog always wanted to be an (un)professional racer? Now is Fido’s time to shine! Register your pup for a day full of zoomies, Doggie Costume Contest, and plenty of BBQ and entertainment for the whole family. Proceeds benefit Furry Friends Adoption, Clinic & Ranch.
Where to Dock: Palm Harbor Marina
No matter your music taste, you’re sure to find something to jam out to at this three-day festival, from smooth jazz and blues to funk and zydeco. You’ll find plenty of vendors at the festival, and Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood offers old-school charm and Latin American eateries. St. Petersburg offers hip breweries, coffee shops and more.
Where to Dock: Clearwater Beach Municipal Marina
Join in a celebration of life at the Water Lantern Festival this fall. Start the day with food trucks, music and family- friendly fun, and end by releasing your personalized lantern on the water at sunset.
Where to Dock: Marina Jack
The largest in-water boat show in the world offers viewings and demos of everything from superyachts to kayaks and fishing gear. Stop by the Superyacht Village to sip a cocktail on one of the most luxurious boats in the world, the Convention Center for watersport and innovative boating gear demos, and take the family to a kid-friendly fishing seminar.
Where to Dock: 17th Street Yacht Basin, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Pier 66 Hotel & Marina
Join the Old Naples Waterfront Association in the historic center to kick off stone crab season! Eat stone crab to your heart’s content in a prime harvesting location of the tasty crustacean and enjoy plenty of entertainment, from live music to local galleries and craft vendors. floridarambler.com/florida-festivals/ florida-seafood-festivals-calendar
Where to Dock: Naples Bay Resort & Marina
Cruise to the charming Apalachicola, tucked away among expansive wildlife reserves and just a bay away from the Gulf. Along with some of the best oysters and seafood you can eat, the whole family will enjoy a parade, carnival, Blessing of the Fleet, hours of live music every day, and competitions such as the oyster shucking contest and blue crab races.
Where to Dock: Apalachicola Marina
Celebrate the annual return of the North Atlantic right whale to the coasts of Florida and Georgia to give birth and nurse their young in historic Fernandina Beach. Learn about threats and conservation efforts for these gentle giants, participate in a beach clean-up, and enjoy family fun at educational exhibits, athletic events, and food and craft vendors.
Where to Dock: Oasis Marinas at Fernandina Beach
Cruise to Key West for three days of epic racing and a full week of family-friendly fun. Don’t miss the World’s Fastest Boat Parade on the first Sunday, or any three of the races throughout the week: the Truman Waterfront Cup, Southernmost Continental Champion, and Championship. Use downtime to explore the Race Village at Truman Waterfront and try out local pubs, shops and restaurants.
Where to Dock: Conch Harbor Marina
Visit Siesta Key Beach to watch sculptors from around the world turn piles of white sand into sculpted masterpieces. Professional competitors have 24 hours to build their pieces, and visitors have the chance to participate in amateur sand-sculpting competitions and see the masters at work.
Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Siesta Key
Art connoisseurs and amateurs alike will love this boutique art competition and festival in the scenic cultural center of Sarasota. Masters of different media—ceramics, jewelry, graphic art, painting, and more—will put the best of their work on display for patrons to browse and buy to their hearts’ content.
Where to Dock: Marina Jack
November 19-January 31
Ready to get in the holiday spirit? Cruise back to St. Augustine as early as before Thanksgiving for a dazzling display of more than 3 million lights in the historic district. Gaze in awe at the twinkly lights and find photo ops at the Bridge of Lions and the Christmas tree at the center of Plaza de la Constitución. Enjoy the sounds of the All Star Orchestra on the first night and stroll to businesses open later than usual.
Where to Dock: St. Augustine Municipal Marina
Since the 1970s, this annual art extravaganza brings works of contemporary and modern pieces by renowed and emerging artists from around the world to showcase in Miami. Held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, for three days the public can gaze upon unique masterpieces presented by leading galleries from five continents.
Where to Dock: Sunset Harbour Yacht Club
Key Largo, FL
This annual four-day event showcases classic antique yachts, automobiles and aircraft to celebrate those who restore vintage collections. Experience a full schedule of events kicking off with a welcome party and dinner buffet on Thursday, then a weekend packed with drive-bys, shows, dinners, cocktail receptions, a costume party and more.
Where to Dock: Ocean Reef Club
With so many spectacular lighted boat parades on the coasts of Florida, we couldn’t choose just one! Dock at any of these coastal towns on the first three Saturdays of December to ring in the season on the festive Florida waterfronts.
Daytona Beach Christmas Boat Parade
Palm Coast Yacht Club Holiday Boat Parade
The Seminole Hard Rock Winter Boat Parade
St. Augustine Regatta of Lights
Naples Bay Christmas Boat Parade
Northwest Cape Coral 2nd Annual Boat Parade
The Caribbean is well known for its clear blue tropical waters. But as rich as it is in beauty, the islands have an even greater wealth of his- tory. Luckily, museums are located across the region to share the stories and significant events that can provide glimpses of what maritime life was like throughout the years. Their exhibits, relics and archives will have you looking at the region in a whole new light.
You can find this treasure trove of artifacts in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, the nearest land mass to this collection of islands. The museum shows how maritime events shaped the history, people and culture of Bermuda. It is located at the historic Royal Naval Dockyard within Bermuda’s largest fort. Exhibits cover 500 years of the country’s history from how the German U-505 submarine was captured by the U.S. Navy and concealed in Bermuda to how sailing races from North America to Bermuda have influenced the development of ocean-worthy boats and blue water sailing. Be sure to experience the museum’s unique spaces by strolling through the two-story boat loft to catching a dolphin show at the Keep Pond Terrace to taking in the expansive ocean views at the flagpole.
Where to Dock: Kings Wharf or Heritage Wharf
Turks and Caicos National Museum opened in 1991 to store artifacts found in the excavation of the Molasses Reef shipwreck, an unknown Spanish ship that sunk in 1515 on the Caicos Bank. The museum spans two locations: the Guinep House on Grand Turk Island, believed to be more than 180 years old and named after the large guinep tree on its property, and the Village at Grace Bay on Providenciales, where visitors can tour the Heritage House, an historically correct rendition of a typical 1800s Caicos dwelling. In addition to showcasing shipwreck artifacts, visitors also learn about the evolution of The Grand Turk Lighthouse as well as the rise and fall of the island’s salt industry. On Museum Day, the first Saturday in November, visitors can tour the exhibits for free, and in May, the Village at Grace Bay holds a “Back in the Day” event with activities reflecting historical life on the island.
Where to Dock: Blue Haven Resort & Marina
If you like to take in history outdoors, these exhibitions are for you. The trail consists of 36 stops across all three islands (Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands) and is best traveled via car. Each stop is marked by a road sign that shares a notable historic event or contribution related to the maritime industry. Learn how turtling shaped the islands’ early economy, how ships were cleaned and repaired before boat lifts by a process called “careening”, and hear stories of notable shipwrecks. If you prefer to learn Cayman Island history in one place, you can check out the Cayman Islands National Museum, housed in Cayman’s oldest surviving public building, which has a series of permanent and rotating exhibits.
Where to Dock: The Barcadere Marina
Completed 500 years after Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of La Hispaniola, the Faro a Colon (aka The Columbus Lighthouse) is one of the Dominican Republic’s most popular attractions. Constructed in the shape of a Latin cross spanning the width of two soccer fields, the lighthouse was created to recognize the first “encounter between two worlds.” It includes a mausoleum that houses Christopher Columbus’ remains as well as a museum displaying original and replica artifacts from the time of Columbus’ voyage. The lighthouse also has a library containing documents and maps displaying some of the earliest drawings of the Americas.
Where to Dock: Marina Zarpar
The Antigua Naval Dockyard, now named Nelson’s Dockyard, was built in the mid-1700s to serve as a strategic post and support the Royal Navy battle against the French and protect trade routes in the region. The dockyard officially closed in 1889 and reopened in 1961 as an historic site. In addition to exploring the dockyard, take advantage of the park’s 12 miles of hiking trails, two forts, and tours such as the “Rum in the Ruins” where you can listen to stories of the dockyard while sipping on a cocktail. If traveling by boat, get the best view of the gorgeous English Harbour and snag a slip at nearby Nelson’s Dockyard Marina, the only continuously working Georgian Era dockyard in the world.
Where to Dock: Nelson’s Dockyard Marina
Opened in 2020, the Bequia Heritage Museum includes the Boat Museum and Annexe that display and educate visitors about the boatbuilding and whaling industries as well as artifacts dating back to the period of the island’s European settlement. Vessels on display at the museum include a traditional Amerindian dug-out canoe and the decommissioned boat, Rescue, that was originally used for whaling.
Where to Dock: Bequia Marina
Located in a mansion built in 1729 on the Waaigat inlet, the Curaçao Maritime Museum shares with visitors the story and events that influenced Curaçao’s involvement in the maritime industry. Learn how trade ebbed and flowed in and out of Curaçao’s ports, reflective of the events happening around the world to the arrival of the first cruise ship in 1901 from New York, sparking the cruise tourism industry until the 1970s when air travel took over as the primary way for tourists to visit the island. Visitors can explore the museum at their own pace or take a guided tour.
Where to Dock: Seru Boca Marina
With a decent internet connection, you can visit the Grand Bahama Museum from the comforts of your remote anchorage or mooring. Bahamian history and culture are explored through digital exhibits ranging from the islands’ natural landscapes and the history of the port authority to the role the Bahamas played during the Golden Age of Piracy. Learn about the first recorded piece of mail sent from the Bahamas in 1761 and the evolution of mailboats. Or savor a dark and stormy while reading about the Bahamas’ role in the rum-running industry during U.S. Prohibition. The Grand Bahama Museum was originally housed at The Garden of the Groves but was unfortunately destroyed by weather and time. To reach a wider audience and share Bahamian history and culture, the museum decided to move to a digital platform.
Where to Dock: Grand Bahama Yacht Club or Flamingo Bay Hotel & Marina
WHICH OF THESE RENOWNED SEAFOOD TOWNS WILL HOOK YOU?
Beaufort lies on an inlet leading south to the Atlantic and is considered part of North Carolina’s “Inner Banks” and the Crystal Coast. The Crystal Coast spans 85 miles of stunning coastline in southern North Carolina, including 56 miles of protected beach of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
Located on historic Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach is the northernmost city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Visitors will find easy access to Jacksonville, the mouth of the St. Mary’s River, and coastal destinations in southern Georgia such as Cumberland Island.
Established in 1709, Beaufort was originally known as Fishtown, having been a fishing village and port of safety since the late 1600s. In addition to fishing, Beaufort was a hub for whaling, lumber, shipbuilding and farming. The earliest settlers made their mark by building Bahamian and West Indian-style homes, and the Plan of Beaufort Towne can still be seen in a 12-block historic district.
First settled in 1562, this town on historic Amelia Island went through many transformations under eight flags before it became what it is today. After the Civil War, Fernandina Beach became a bustling seaport and popular destination, called “The Queen of Summer Resorts” by many Northerners. Today’s visitors find themselves surrounded by the town’s lovely relics of the past — an historic district, Civil War port and the first cross-state railroad remain.
Beaufort has a thriving scene for anglers. Cast your line off a dock downtown, book a charter or head north to Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge to catch flounder, trout and redfish. Boat tours and private charters are a popular way to experience the stunning views and wildlife of the Crystal Coast. See porpoises, dolphins and wild horses on the beach. Better yet, book with Cruisin’ Tikis Beaufort to imbibe while you observe. Dock at Beaufort Docks.
Pier fishing is huge on Amelia Island, and anglers should head to the George Crady Bridge, which spans one mile of Nassau Sound. Snag a variety of fish in the area, including redfish, whiting, seatrout, tarpon and flounder. Boaters can start aquatic excursions in either the Atlantic Ocean to the east or Amelia River to the west. Go on a solo adventure, or join a tour or charter by boat, kayak or watersport with the likes of Amelia River Tours, Amelia Adventures & Kayak or Riptide Watersports. Dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina.
History buffs will feel right at home in Beaufort. Visit the Beaufort Historic Site to learn the town’s story through nine preserved historic homes in the middle of town. Three different maritime museums, including the North Carolina Maritime Museum, and the Bonehenge Whale Center offer marine merriment for the whole family. And for a taste of Crystal Coast wildlife, head over to the Rachel Carson Reserve where wild horses and countless birds, reptiles and aquatic mammals roam free.
Fernandina Beach is known for its easy living. Amelia Island Welcome Center is a great place to revisit Fernandina’s history and plan your day. Make your way to Centre Street on the water to browse eclectic shops and bustling art galleries, taste wild-caught shrimp at a bistro, or grab a pint at the Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest tavern. If you’re in town on a Friday, you might stumble upon Sounds on Centre, a local concert series.
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