Beach getaways continue to be one of the most popular vacations — who doesn’t love lazy days swimming, relaxing and taking long walks by the water? But for travelers who need a little more stimulation, consider a historic beach getaway to discover the town’s history.
As beach season is upon us, we picked the following three historic beach towns to help inspire your next beach getaway. Each of these towns boasts rich history and sparkling sandy beaches — so don’t forget your camera and swimsuit.
Charleston, South Carolina
From monumental battleships to glorious oak trees to gorgeous architecture, you will feel like you stepped back in time in Charleston. Settled in 1670, the oceanfront Southern town features plenty of attractions beyond the beach. You can see Civil War cannons up close, historic statues and Fort Sumter (where the Civil War began). For more than 100 years, shoppers have flocked to the open-air City Market. Dating back to 1841, this market sells everything from paintings and pottery to the town’s famous sweetgrass baskets.
Love gardening? Charleston is home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens at Middleton Place, a national historic landmark. Created in 1741, the gardens feature grand displays of perennials year-round, reminiscent of the legendary gardens found in Europe.
To stay: With rooms decorated in traditional Charleston style, the Market Pavilion Hotel is located in the historic district and situated right near the hub of action. Visit Marketpavilion.com
Key Biscayne, Florida
At five miles long and 1.5 miles wide, the picturesque island just south of Miami Beach is known for its sparkling white-sand beaches and clear blue waters. Its storied past is equally fascinating: Ponce de Leon discovered the island in 1513 and named it Santa Maria for its magnificent beauty. Furthermore, Tequesta Indian settlers once occupied Key Biscayne and referred to the island as the Favorite Path of the Rising Moon because of its spectacular full-moon vistas. (Local islanders say that Indian artifacts can be found to this day.) The idyllic beach town attracts vacationers of all ages — and, of course, historians.
To do: Visit Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, home to the historic lighthouse built in 1825, the oldest structure in Miami-Dade County. Then stay for the beach, ranked among the top 10 beaches in the country.
To stay: The oceanfront Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is a destination in itself, with two pools, tennis courts, several restaurants, a spa and more. Visit ritzcarlton.com.
Cape May, New Jersey
The beaches are only part of the allure of Cape May, America’s oldest seaside resort. Settled by whalers and fishermen during colonial times, Cape May was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and features one of the most abundant collections of 19th-century buildings in the country. Nature lovers are drawn to the dreamy shore town for the whale, dolphin and bird watching. The town is one of the hottest bird watching spots in the country, as birds rest there before continuing their migration south.
To do: Take a walking tour of the gorgeous pastel-painted Victorian houses. Visit the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, 1048 Washington St., 609-884-5404, capemaymac.org.
To stay: The historic Congress Hall, built in 1816 and recently restored, overlooks the ocean. Visit congresshall.com.