5 Best Coastal Cities for Vacation in the U.S.

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Numerous studies indicate that humans can derive a plethora of health benefits from being around water. Simple contact with water can put people in a deep, introspective mindset. Further, settling down somewhere by a coast can improve your physical health and well-being, so it's no surprise that when families go on vacation in the U.S., they often head to toward the coasts.

Coastal cities are also great for families traveling on a budget. You'll be spending most of your time outdoors on a public beach or in a park. Use the points from a travel credit card for airfare and lodging, and voila, you're enjoying a rejuvenating trip on the coast for cheap.

From deep blue oceans and sandy beaches to hands-on museums and interactive zoos, these coastal cities are the best for your next family vacation. They all offer plenty of free and inexpensive activities for all ages.

Monterey, California

If you were looking for one place that offers something for everyone, it would be hard to beat Monterey, California. It's a quaint but hip town, rich in history, and surrounded on all sides by natural beauty. The beaches along the Monterey peninsula are great places to not only take a dip in the Pacific but also view the wildlife. During the spring birthing season, you can find the beaches populated by mother sea lions and harbor seals with their brand-new pups.

For a little more up-close and personal view, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-see family attraction. With its location right on the bay, sea otters and seals can be seen right from the aquarium's windows, or for a greater adventure go whale watching with one of Monterey's various tour guides.

In town, get a dose of history by walking along Cannery Row. Made famous by John Steinbeck, it was once home to canneries and fisheries worked mainly by European and Asian immigrants. Today, it's filled with various shops and restaurants for eating out, where you can buy souvenirs or taste wines from many of Monterey's famous vineyards.

Ocean City, New Jersey

One of the top coastal attractions in the U.S. is the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. Block after block, visitors can find various restaurants and bars, local shops and art galleries. The boardwalk even features an amusement park right along the water. With eight miles of walkable boardwalk and beach front property, it's no wonder Ocean City is popular among families.

Its pristine beach is an excellent place to soak up some rays and catch some waves. You can rent surfboards, jet skis, kayaks, and more. For the anglers in the family, Ocean City offers year-round fishing.

There are several things to do inland, too. Downtown Ocean City is well known for its shopping, with many stores independently owned. The Ocean City Municipal Golf Course is a 12-hole public course that is open to non-residents and golfers of all ages.

Miami, Florida

If there is one major city that embodies the coastal experience, it is undoubtedly Miami, Florida. Just walking some of Miami's palm tree lined historic streets, featuring original Art Deco buildings that have been restored, is an attraction in itself.

Of course, if you go to Miami, you go for Miami Beach. The long, sandy beach is the top draw for bathing in the nearly constant Florida sun and swimming in the Atlantic. The whole family can also take a bike ride along the ocean on the path that runs for long stretches with the beach.

For a truly unique cultural experience, check out Little Havana. This Cuban neighborhood is a lively and colorful place famous for its Latin cuisine, cigar shops, and murals. You'll feel as if you walked into a whole different country.

As part of southern Florida, Miami is only a short drive from Everglades National Park. There you will be able to stroll its many trails or hop aboard an airboat to see wild alligators, snakes, and various birds.

Head Island, South Carolina

From its pristine beaches to its top-notch golf courses and an array of kids' activities, Hilton Head Island in South Carolina offers fun for the whole family. Because it is a small island, it is easy to navigate by bike or walking.

Of its several soft, sandy beaches, Coligny Beach Park is Hilton Head's most popular. With beach equipment rentals, bathrooms, and food vendors, it's the ideal place to spend the day in the sun.

Families can learn all about Southern heritage and the island's natural history at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Its campus features lavish gardens, age-old oak trees, and a butterfly house. It's also home to descendants of Marsh Tacky horses, a breed of wild horses the Spaniards brought to the island hundreds of years ago.

Portland, Oregon

No list is complete without featuring arguably the most scenic shoreline, the Pacific Northwest. Lush mountain forests, Pacific coves and capes, green living, world renowned art, these are among the things that define Portland, Oregon, and its surrounding landscape. Only a couple miles from downtown Portland, you can take a walk under the shade of the 10,000 trees that make up the Hoyt Arboretum, or trek a little further outside the city to the nearby Tualatin Mountains, which is home to Forest Park, one of the largest urban forest reserves in the country.

At the heart of Portland is Washington Park, which spans more than 410 acres of land. Here you'll find many of the city's most notable attractions, including the zoo, the Japanese Gardens, and children's museum. As Oregon's largest city, Portland also has many attractions you expect in a major city, such as the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Portland Art Museum, and a popular city hangout called Pioneer Courthouse Square that is known by the locals as Portland's Living Room. Built in an amphitheater style, people meet in the square to play chess, lounge around the fountain, or sit on one of its 24 rising steps to catch a live performance.

Tranquil State of Mind

From deep blue oceans and sandy beaches to hands-on museums and interactive zoos, these coastal cities are the best for your next family vacation. They all offer plenty of free and inexpensive activities for all ages. Most importantly, you are near the water at all times, which is sure to put you in a tranquil state of mind. What more can you ask for in a vacation?