Summer’s here. It’s nearly time to escape the heat and have some fun on the water. You could head to the soft sands of Myrtle Beach or the beachside bustle of San Diego, and you’d probably have a blast. However, if you’re looking for somewhere a little more real this summer, you’re in luck. We’ve put together a guide to the most unspoiled vacation spots in the US.
Some of these places are small communities that seem locked in time. Others are classic summer retreats that have managed to keep their spirit and soul along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a sense that there’s more to the town than cheap souvenirs and expensive resorts. That, and easy access to some stunning stretches of water.
Twenty years ago, the whole of the Outer Banks was an unspoiled gem. Since then, more and more people have been heading to OBX in search of sun, sea, and super-sized fish. The tourist train has crashed through many classic fishing towns, and working docks have been overshadowed by resorts and hotels. Not so in Wanchese. This off-the-beaten-track town keeps its old-time spirit alive while still opening its arms to traveling anglers and vacationing visitors.
Fishing out of Wanchese comes down to a simple but difficult choice: bay or bluewater? The shallows of the Croatan and Roanoke Sounds are about as good as it gets if you like pristine seagrass and tailing Redfish. Head out into the Atlantic, and you’ll be in the Gulfstream battling Tuna and Billfish before you know it. Then you’ve got Stripers, Seatrout, Cobia, Sharks – the only limits are your time and ambition!
Wanchese is no metropolis. If you want pumping clubs and exclusive exhibitions, go to New York. What Wanchese offers is a small town with rustic charm and some gorgeous scenery. Learn about the local fishing heritage, explore surrounding wildlife reserves, or just lounge on a soft sandy beach. Feast on some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever try, then relax under a million stars with a cool breeze blowing off the ocean.
Yes, even Florida has undiscovered gems. Hidden on the Sunshine State’s “Forgotten Coast,” Port St. Joe is an old oyster town that the big hotels passed by. It has the same beautiful beaches and great weather as nearby cities, just without the towering resorts and huge summer crowds. Instead, you’ll find a sleepy fishing village with a friendly, old-timey vibe that you can’t help but fall in love with. It pitches itself as “a small town with a big heart,” and that’s exactly what it is.
So what is there to do? Firstly, fish! The surrounding shallows are full of Tarpon, Trout, Redfish, and more. Head farther out to reel in Gulf Coast favorites like Red Snapper and Cobia. Come during Scallop season, and you’re in for the perfect family fishing trip, splashing and diving in the warm shallow water as you fill the boat with delicious shellfish.
While you’re there, make sure to keep an eye out for manatees and rare birds. The coastline around Port St. Joe is some of the best-preserved in the state. It’s a haven for all kinds of exotic wildlife. Explore the local parks and preserves for your best chance of spotting rare species, or just hit the sands for the ultimate relaxing beach break.
It’s easy to stay untouched by the modern world when you’re miles from major cities. Solomons Island has done something special: keep its small-town vibe just a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital. Solomons sits on the meeting of the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay, an easy drive from downtown DC. Even so, its shaded streets and pretty waterfront feel a million miles from the stress of the modern world.
The fishing around Solomons Island is just as timeless as the town itself. Take on trophy Stripers and monster Bluefish out in the Chesapeake Bay, or head upriver for Catfish, Crabs, and even Largemouth Bass. You can also find Black Seabass, Sheepshead, Flounder, and so much more in the local waters, making for a real fishy feast.
There’s plenty of fun off the water, too. Walk the scenic Calvert Cliffs or explore the Annmarie Sculpture Garden. Take a tour of the historic Drum Point Lighthouse, or just stroll along the pleasant harborfront. There are all kinds of ways to take it easy here. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of DC life.
Oak Bluffs, MA
Martha’s Vineyard isn’t exactly undiscovered. People have been vacationing here since the 19th century, after all. Even so, there are some unspoiled vacation spots on the island. Oak Bluffs is one of them. Sitting on the northern shore of Martha’s Vineyard, the town has managed to keep its local charm alive as it welcomes ferries and private boats from the mainland.
Long before the island became a tourist hotspot, Oak Bluffs was home to a large whaling industry. Obviously, those times are in the past, but you can still catch some real monsters while fishing around Martha’s Vineyard. From Striped Bass and Bluefish to Mako Sharks and Bluefin Tuna, there’s no telling what you might find on the end of your hook!
After a hard day’s fishing, you can choose any of a hundred ways to unwind. Discover Oak Bluffs’s picture-perfect Gingerbread Cottages (officially called Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, or more simply “The Campgrounds”). Catch the brass band playing in Ocean Park Gazebo (as they have done for over 150 years). Get out and explore the coastline. You’re never short on fun, free activities here.
Heading over to the California Coast, Capitola is a colorful gem hidden in plain sight. Sitting on the northern edge of Monterey Bay, this pretty resort town is just a stone’s throw from San Jose. Nonetheless, it keeps the laid-back West Coast vibe very much alive. It’s also perfectly placed for some epic angling.
Monterey Bay is a wonderland for fishing enthusiasts. Head to the beach or cast from the rocks for shore fishing staples like Surfperch and Rockfish. Climb aboard a boat, and you can add Salmon, Halibut, and even Tuna to the list. Don’t spend all your time on the water, though, because there’s plenty to sink your teeth into back in town.
Capitola is best-known for its brightly-colored beachside houses. These are well worth checking out, but they’re not why the town’s on our list. Capitola is full of quirky boutiques and funky restaurants. You have fun events throughout the summer, like the Capitola Beach Festival. You can also enjoy free Twilight Concerts in Esplanade Park. And if that all gets to be too much, you have the whole of Monterey Bay to explore!
If you’re looking for a friendly, honest welcome there’s no place like Alabama. Fairhope proves that, with true Southern charm and a ton of fun. The town sits on the Mobile Bay, within easy reach of the city and the coast. You can enjoy the best of both worlds without fighting the huge numbers of tourists you’ll find in classic Gulf Coast hotspots.
That’s not to say you’ll be missing out on the Gulf of Mexico’s incredible fisheries! Mobile Bay is a goldmine for inshore anglers, full of monster Redfish, Trout, Sheepshead, Cobia, and so much more. If that’s not enough, you can always head into the Gulf to reel in delicious Red Snapper or hard-fighting Kingfish.
The best part? Once you’re done with sea and sand, you can escape back to a fun, inviting town that just begs to be explored. Fairhope prides itself on its pedestrian-friendly center full of locally-run shops. Walk the pretty streets of Antebellum buildings, shaded beneath sprawling live oaks. Head to the farmer’s market to pick up some groceries. Watch the sun set over Mobile Bay. It’s the perfect escape from Gulf Coast crowds.
Lewes is a small town with a big history. It was home to the earliest European settlement in the state, and is full of buildings dating back to the 17th century. This is why locals fondly refer to Lewes as “The First Town in the First State.” If you’re looking for a charming seaside spot with a fascinating heritage and heaps of character, you’ve come to the right place.
There’s a good reason people settled here so early. Lewes sits on the mouth of Delaware Bay. It has unbeatable access to every fish swimming in or out. This is the place to be if you’re after big Striped Bass or Weakfish (the state fish of Delaware). Head offshore, and you can take on monster Sharks, Tuna, and even Marlin around the infamous deep sea canyons.
After all that hard work, you’ll need some R&R. Luckily, Lewes Beach has more than enough white sand and sunshine to go around. Once you’ve regained your strength, you can visit the town’s museums and walk the streets of Lewes Historic District. Grab some food at one of many local eateries, then round off the day with a relaxing afternoon and some stunning views in Cape Henlopen State Park.
Hood River, OR
Every town on our list balances fun and beauty, but none of them offer the pure postcard beauty of Hood River. Nestled on the mighty Columbia River. Backed by the fairytale Mount Hood. Hood River is almost too scenic for its own good. This storybook setting holds a very real heart, though, with plenty to do, see, learn, eat, and of course, fish.
The Columbia River needs no introduction among freshwater fans. Salmon, Steelhead, Sturgeon – there’s no end to the monsters you can find in these cool currents. It’s also an awesome spot to fill up on delicious food fish (looking at you, Walleye). And that’s just one river, the Deschutes River is famous for its wild Trout, and the Hood River itself has a great Steelhead run.
Fishing isn’t the only way to enjoy these waters, mind you. Among those in the know, Hood River is “The Windsurfing Capital of the World.” Speedy sailboarders prove this all summer long in events like the Hood River Gorge Cup. Prefer to stick to dry land? Mount Hood is a trekker’s paradise. Maybe you just want to unwind with a tasty beer from a local microbrewery? Whatever you’re after, Hood River’s got you covered!
Last but definitely not least on our list of unspoiled vacation spots is Stonington. This unpretentious Downeast Lobster port often gets missed on the tourist trail. It has kept its heart and soul alive as a result. This is a working harbor and one of the most important commercial Lobster fisheries in the state. It’s also a beautiful village nestled among the million islands of Penobscot Bay.
At its heart, Stonington is all about fishing. Whether it’s hard-fighting Stripers, tasty Mackerel, or the endless Lobster the area is famous for, you’re never short on species to target. The rocky shores of Deer Isle are a challenge and a joy for any shore angler. If that’s not enough, head over to nearby Acadia National Park for some world-class Trout, Salmon, and Bass fishing.
Downeast Maine’s rugged coastline is one of the most untouched parts of the country. It’s a real treat for outdoorsy types. Hike through primordial forests shrouded in fog. Stroll around centuries-old harbors. Visit in July to catch the annual Fisherman’s Day celebration, where locals honor their seafaring heritage with a variety of wacky fishing-themed events.
By their very nature, the most unspoiled towns tend to fly under the radar. We’ve covered some of our favorite spots, but there are plenty more out there. One thing’s for sure: If you visit any of these places, you’re in for a very special vacation!
These are our picks, but what about yours? What’s your top recommendation for a timeless fishing spot? Have you visited any of the places on our list? What did you think of them? Let us know in the comments below, we’re always looking for new places to explore!