Most people head to a beach for their summer vacation. While I am not a big fan of the beach (I always get sunburned and can’t take the heat!), my kids love spending time on the sandy shores, jumping in waves and building sandcastles. I also believe that just because you spend the majority of your vacation at a beach, it doesn’t mean you can’t view some of the historical sites in the general area. In fact, historical sites are usually perfect for a rainy day or a sweltering afternoon.
Check out my list and my book recommendations to take on your vacation!
For this list, I focused on East Coast beaches since the California beaches are typically near larger cities with many historical sites. I’ve also visited every site listed below unless noted.
All book images are Amazon affiliate links.
I’ve never been to the beaches of Rehoboth or Dewey but I know they’re popular. Did you know that just a few miles from the boardwalk is Fort Miles, a WWII coastal defensive site and gun battery? I’ve now got this on my list to visit!
Florida is awash with many amazing beaches but there are also some fun historical places or museums to visit.
Amelia Island and the beaches around Jacksonville are near to the historic town of St. Augustine. While I haven’t had the chance to visit (yet!), I’ve heard it’s quaint and picturesque with over 400 years of history. Settled by the Spanish in 1565, it’s now the oldest city in America!
On the panhandle, the popular vacation destinations of Destin or my favorite beach, Seaside, is close to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. We absolutely fell in love with Seaside and can’t wait to go back to visit the museum.
In the Florida Keys, Key West has lots of historical and literary destinations, including Hemingway’s house and a Presidential historical site – Truman’s Little White House. I’ve not made it all the way down to Key West but have been to parts of the Keys. It’s as close to being in the tropics as you can get in the continental United States!
Savannah is a beautiful city with a rich culture and history. And it is close to some of the best beaches in Georgia such as Tybee Island. Savannah is home to a historical cemetery as well as the birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts. Just wandering its picturesque squares and gorgeous homes is worth the trip!
Cape Cod is known for its beaches and laid-back vibe. I’ve only visited once (on a very cold and windy May weekend!) but it’s somewhere I hope to visit again. Visit the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown to stand on the site where the Pilgrims lived for five weeks before they sailed to Plymouth. There’s also a presidential museum to visit on the Cape – the JFK Hyannis Museum.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a collection of islands that form a protective barrier for the rest of the state. As such, they are a unique place to go with the ocean on one side and the sound on the other, separated only by a skinny piece of land a few miles across.
Roanoke Island is the site of England’s first attempt at settling a colony in the New World in 1585 but it was abandoned a few years later, resulting in the Lost Colony. Learn more about the historical mystery at several museums, Roanoke Island Festival Park and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, and at the annual play, The Lost Colony.
The Outer Banks is also home to more modern history with the first flight of the Wright Brothers’ plane in 1903. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial to learn more about this fantastical feat. My kids loved it here, and you can really get a sense of the wonder standing on its wind-swept dunes!
Home to some of the Emerald Coast’s best beaches, Wilmington has a rich history too. We’ve loved exploring the WWII-era Battleship North Carolina and plan to visit the Moores Creek National Battlefield and Fort Fisher on our next visit.
I’ve already discussed how much I love Charleston on the blog. It’s my favorite city and is the perfect mix of history, culture, food, and fun. And it’s great for kids! I love staying on the Isle of Palms, just north of the city, for great beach access, or on Kiawah Island, about one hour from the city. With so much history in the surrounding area, you can visit the site where the Civil War began – Fort Sumter – while also learning about colonial times at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.
Virginia Beach is known for its wide, expansive beach and for its crowded boardwalk. But with it being in historic Virginia, it’s also known for being the site where the English colonists first stepped onto the shores of what would be Virginia in 1607. Visit First Landing State Park to stand on the actual ground where the settlers landed!
What’s your favorite historical site near a beach? Let me know in the comments!