If you’re looking for some cool hidden gem vacation spots along the East Coast, you’re in the right place! There are countless underrated and unique places on the east coast, and in this guide, guest blogger Polly Clover is going to take you off the beaten path to the very best of them.
Off-the-beaten-path locations along the East Coast make for an unforgettable vacation. It’s an opportunity to escape the crowds of popular tourist destinations like New York and Charleston and enjoy a truly local experience.
Having lived in 4 States along the eastern coast of the US and done my fair share of road trips up and down the east coast, I’ve found some pretty incredible lesser-known destinations.
From quaint, quiet towns in Maine and mountains in Vermont to a magical island off of Rhode Island’s mainland and a Bavarian-style city in Georgia, there are many undiscovered locations to suit every kind of traveller.
One of my top missions when I travel is to find the places we don’t often read about or see on Instagram.
It’s in these places that you find the true joys of exploring new places – connecting with unique people, exploring barely-touched nature, and taking time to escape the hustle and bustle.
In this guide, you’ll find secret beaches, enchanting mountain towns, unique places to stay, and insider tips to the best East Coast hidden gems.
So let’s get to it. Get ready for an adventure to some of the coolest places to visit along the East Coast.
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13 Best Hidden Gem Vacation Spots on the East Coast
From one of my favourite cities in Maine all the way down to a secret Florida island, the United States’ eastern coast is home to some of the nation’s most magical destinations. Let’s get off the beaten path and check them out!
1. Biddeford, Maine
After years of dreaming about visiting Maine, I finally did it. And already I can’t wait to go back.
Filled to the brim with secret beaches and charming towns, Maine will always leave you wanting more.
Of course, the ever-popular town of Portland is amazing; however, just below it is one of the best hidden gems on the East Coast: Biddeford.
Biddeford might be Maine’s youngest city. But it’s bursting with exciting things to see and do. Here are some top recommendations:
- Fortune’s Rock Beach: a secret 2-mile sandy beach that’s beautiful, quiet, and pet-friendly.
- Clifford Park: a community park with trails, wildlife, and waterways.
- Ferry Beach State Park: a peaceful park with trails and beach access.
- Elements Books Coffee Beer: eclectic bookshop with coffee, beer, and walls lined with new and used books.
Where to Stay in Biddeford
When I visited Maine, I was travelling in my camper van. It’s perfect for this way of travel as there are many established campgrounds around the area.
If you prefer vacation rentals or hotel stays, there are tons. Mermaid House is a cool vacation home perfect for a family (or two) or a group of friends.
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2. Stowe, Vermont
When we think of Vermont, we think of cold and snowy weather. Naturally, this makes for excellent skiing vacations if that’s your thing.
However, if you’re like me and winter activities really aren’t your thing, Stowe is the perfect summer destination to check out.
Located in the mountains in northern Vermont, Stowe boasts beautiful nature trails, mountain scenery, and cosy villages. These are some of the best things to see and do:
- Stowe Cider: quirky taproom with games and delicious ciders.
- Sunset Rock: easy, fun hike through the woods that ends at an overlook of Stowe downtown and surrounding mountains.
- Gold Brook Covered Bridge: a charming wooden bridge connected to local folklores; offers a great photo op.
Where to Stay in Stowe
3. Oaks Bluff, Massachusetts
Suppose you’ve dreamed of visiting the iconic Martha’s Vineyard but also want to explore hidden gem vacation spots on the East Coast, then Oaks Bluff is the ideal spot.
Oaks Bluff is a historical town on the water offering a perfect getaway for both fun and relaxation. It’s home to incredible beaches and iconic gingerbread house cottages.
So, what else is worth checking out in Oaks Bluff?
- Ocean Park: waterfront views, grassy areas, and gorgeous homes.
- Waban Park: an event space by the beach that often hosts music, food, and arts festivals.
- Eastville Point Beach: stunning blue waters and unmatched sunset views.
Where to Stay in Oaks Bluff
While Oaks Bluff is small, there’s no shortage of accommodations. Whether you’re interested in camping, lowkey hotels, or fancy inns, there’s something for every kind of traveller.
One of the most unique places to stay on the East Coast is actually right here in Oaks Bluff – Narragansett House. This bed & breakfast features bright, charming guest rooms with unique decor.
4. Block Island, Rhode Island
If a serene beach getaway like those you see in the movies is what you’re looking for, Block Island is that place!
You can travel to this small island by plane or a short ferry ride from the mainland. Once you arrive, you can head to any spot by the ocean for endless miles of free, public beachfront and many secluded areas.
While relaxing on the seafront is on everyone’s to-do list in Block Island, there are other activities well-worth checking out, too.
- Rodman’s Island: a large nature reserve with local wildlife, a hiking area, and beach access.
- Mohegan Bluffs: 100+ steps that lead to the top of 200-foot cliffs surrounding a magical secluded beach.
- Southeast Lighthouse: a stunning 1800s lighthouse on top of a cliff.
Tip – I recommend renting a bicycle and wandering around the Island, where you can find many streets lined with shops, restaurants, and historic sites.
Where to Stay on Block Island
Like many Northeast destinations, Block Island is dotted with inns and hotels. The Sullivan House sits next to the beach, and its romantic charm makes for the ideal getaway for travel couples.
Then you have beach house resorts like Block Island Beach House, which is perfect for group vacations with friends.
5. Madison, Connecticut
Just 20 minutes from the more well-known city of New Haven, Madison is one of the best small-town East Coast hidden gems.
Madison is a great place to live like a local for a few days. Its walkable area makes it easy to explore its fascinating culture and nature.
Be sure to check out these spots:
- Hammonasset Beach State Park: a relaxing beach with a boardwalk, trails, and camping.
- Timberlands: a massive hiking area surrounded by natural beauty.
- Downtown Madison: walkable area close to Tuxis Pond with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and more.
Where to Stay in Madison
6. Ithaca, New York
On a recent road trip to the Northeast, Ithaca quickly became one of my favourite East Coast hidden gems. I’ve even considered moving there because I love it so much!
What I appreciated most about Ithaca is that it’s bursting with friendly locals – a far cry from your typical New York vibe.
It’s also situated next to the beautiful Cayuga Lake, with most sites offering picture-perfect views.
While Ithaca is mainly known for Cornell University, this quaint city has no shortage of fun activities such as:
- Stewart Park: a gorgeous lakefront park.
- Indian Creek Farm: a produce market with a massive farm open to exploring.
- Downtown Ithaca: an eclectic area with shopping and dining.
- Wells Fall: a short walk to a beautiful waterfall.
Where to Stay in Ithaca
7. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Rehoboth Beach is a vibrant beach town perfect for a summer trip to the ocean. It boasts 30 miles of stunning coastline and offers tons of beach activities.
While many Delaware locals love a trip to Rehoboth, it’s often overlooked by beach bums looking for their next vacation destination.
Its most famous attraction is the beach boardwalk, lined with shops and restaurants. Other activities and sites to enjoy in Rehoboth Beach are:
- Poodle Beach: a change of scenery from the main beach that dog beachgoers adore.
- Lake Gerar Park: a tranquil lakeside park with a walking path and fishing pier.
- Funland: a small but enjoyable amusement park.
- Gordons Pond State Park: a waterfront state park with nature trails and beach access.
Where to Stay in Rehoboth Beach
8. Roanoke, Virginia
If you’re looking for a unique place to visit on the East Coast with tons of outdoor adventures, you’ll love Roanoke.
It’s nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers incredible views alongside endearing small-town charm.
It’s easy to spend your entire trip outdoors. Here are some of my favourite activities in Roanoke:
- Smith Mountain Lake: the second largest freshwater lake in VA, where you can go camping and enjoy water activities.
- Mill Mountain Park: home to the iconic Roanoke star and boasts scenic hiking and biking trails atop the mountain.
- Carvins Cove Natural Reserve: a massive park with various trails and incredible views.
Where to Stay in Roanoke
I prefer camping while exploring Roanoke to enjoy the unmatched outdoor experiences. Smith Mountain Lake or Explore Park are both great options, but there are many others.
If hotels or vacation rentals are more your style, you can also find those in Roanoke. Shirley’s Bed & Breakfast is my top choice – a log homestay tucked away from the hustle.
9. Little Switzerland, North Carolina
Little Switzerland is easily one of the coolest places to visit on the East Coast.
This charming mountain community is situated 3,000 feet above sea level in the North Carolina mountains. Honestly, the views are some of the best I’ve ever seen!
While you could easily spend your day sitting on a vacation rental deck taking in the scenery, be sure to check out these Little Switzerland adventures:
- Emerald Village: a group of 12 gem, mining, and historical attractions (closed during winter).
- Grassy Creek Falls: a large waterfall surrounded by nature trails.
- The DiamondBack Road: a winding mountain highway that offers incredible views.
Where to Stay in Little Switzerland
I recommend taking advantage of one of Little Switzerland’s many inns and lodges in the mountains.
You’ll soon see why they are considered unique places to stay on the East Coast, with each providing a one-of-a-kind experience.
Tip – Many accommodations in Little Switzerland are closed during the winter.
10. Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville is an up-and-coming city nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once a small town, it’s now booming with fantastic food, outdoor adventure, and cultural events.
With various things to do and see (and eat!) in Greenville, you can easily spend a week or two. Here are some of my top recommendations:
- Falls Park: a nature lover’s paradise with green spaces, benches, walking paths, and gardens.
- Downtown Greenville: an energetic area bursting with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops. Check out Tupelo Honey for a delicious southern fare.
- Paris Mountain State Park: a beautiful park with fishing, swimming, hiking, and biking.
Where to Stay in Greenville
As Greenville has started growing, you can find more and more vacation rentals and hotels throughout the city.
Aloft is a modern hotel in the heart of downtown Greenville, where you can enjoy an on-site bar, restaurant, and swimming pool.
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11. Folly Beach, South Carolina
Folly Beach is one of the best hidden gem vacation spots on the East Coast.
Having lived nearby in Charleston for many years, Folly Beach holds a special place in my heart. This small but lively beach town offers the perfect getaway if you’re looking to unwind.
Aside from lying on the beach and enjoying water activities at Folly Beach, here are some other top things to see and do:
- Dining: Lost Dog and Taco Boy are amongst some of the best restaurants on Folly Beach.
- James Island County Park: a tranquil park with hiking, biking, picnicking, and camping.
- Downtown Charleston: a bustling area with shopping, dining, nightlife, and historical sites; about a 15-minute drive from Folly Beach.
Where to Stay on Folly Beach
My favourite places to stay on Folly Beach are vacation rentals near the beach and camping at James Island County Park. There are also several great hotels, including the stunning Tides Hotel located right on the water.
12. Helen, Georgia
I recently visited Helen, Georgia and was blown away! I never expected this unassuming city to be amongst the cool places to visit on the East Coast.
When I went for its iconic Oktoberfest event, I quickly learned that Helen has a lot to offer for a weekend getaway.
This adorable mountain town is known for Bavarian-style buildings, but that’s not all. Be sure also to check out these cool places and experiences:
- Hardman Farm Heritage Trail: a moderate, peaceful hike along the River.
- Habersham Winery: a locally-owned winery well worth a visit.
- Unicoi Hill Park: a park off the beaten path with a waterfall, walking paths, and grassy areas.
- Downtown Helen: a unique Bavarian-style area with shops, restaurants, and pubs.
Where to Stay in Helen
As Helen started welcoming travellers several years back, hotels and inns have been popping up around the city.
Valhalla Resort Hotel looks like something out of a movie with stunning mountain panorama and distinctive decor. There are also simpler hotels closer to the city’s centre.
13. Amelia Island, Florida
Last up for the best hidden gem vacation spots on the East Coast is another dreamy beach destination. And a must-visit if you’re ever planning a trip to Florida.
Amelia Island is a barrier island situated on Florida’s Atlantic coast. With miles of sandy beaches and an abundance of local wildlife, it’s a nature lover’s paradise!
So, what is there to do on Amelia Island aside from relaxing on the beach?
- Egan’s Creek Greenway: an Instagram-worthy creekside trail with unmatched views and unique wildlife sightings.
- Fort Clinch State Park: miles of nature trails and coastline.
- Historic Fernandina Beach District: an area boasting trendy shops, restaurants, and bars along with some historical sites.
Where to Stay on Amelia Island
There’s a great selection of accommodations on Amelia Island, with various hotels and vacation rental companies. I recommend splurging on a hotel that’s close to the water, like the quaint Seaside Amelia Inn.
Some people also opt to stay closer to the city by Fernandina Beach. While the city centre is just a couple of miles from Amelia Island, there’s a lot more to do.
Personally, I prefer the more tranquil vibe on Amelia Island.
Enjoy These Hidden Gem Vacation Spots on the East Coast
I hope these cool places to visit on the East Coast have inspired you to get off the beaten path and experience somewhere new.
All of these hidden gems offer experiences like no other and make for some of the most unique vacation destinations in the world.
If you have any to add to the list, feel free to share them in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
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Polly is a freelance writer from the US. She loves to explore and spent over a year living in and traveling around Southeast Asia. Polly has many more places on her bucket list and currently travels around the United States. Along with writing and traveling, she loves coffee, craft beer, and spending time outdoors. You can see more of Polly at pollycloverwrites.com.