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America's most beautiful coastal views

From towering Pacific Northwest sea stacks to mile upon mile of mirage-like tidal flats, these 10 littoral landscapes take ocean views to a new level.
Image: Newport Beach, R.I.
America's wealthiest families started building their "summer cottages" (read: stately mansions) in Newport Beach, R.I., in the mid 19th century, attracted by the gorgeous views. Not much has changed since then, except that many of the historic homes — which overlook sweeps of ocean so immense it's easy to forget that Rhode Island is our smallest state — are now open to the public.Onne van der Wal
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People often talk about how moving the shore is — a place that relaxes, awakens, and recharges. Then there are those whom, well, it literally moves: “Our family loved going to the beach so much that we spontaneously picked up and moved our family of six there! No job, no plan, no idea whether we’d truly like it or not.... We just did it,” says Mike Ragsdale, formerly of Birmingham, Ala., now of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. “That was almost four years ago, and we all agree it was the best thing we ever did as a family.”

What is it about ocean shorelines that has such power? They touch every sense: the redolence of fresh sea breeze, the sand underfoot, the sparkling sunsets, and the white noise of crashing waves.

Whether you’re reclining on windswept sands or trekking across dizzying bluffs, the ebb and flow of the water is hypnotic, and its sheer expanse grounding. Something as vast as the ocean just puts all of life’s little worries into perspective.

“For me, it’s the freedom that comes with a coastal visit that’s particularly appealing,” says Jeanna Zelin, founder of Retreats by the Sea, which organizes luxury wellness getaways to such beachside destinations as Portland, Maine; Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Chatham, Mass. “You’re on vacation, so there’s no work to be done. Plus, the textures and scents and sounds of the surf carry your mind away — you turn off your left brain and just start feeling.”

Zelin’s lifelong affinity for the beach stems from childhood summers on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where wild ponies roam on certain shores. Those on Shackleford Banks have a special story, says Zelin: “The origin of the Shackleford horses, according to my relatives in North Carolina, is a mystery — with the most common legend telling the story of Spanish mustangs swimming ashore from a wrecked ship.” Camping next to meandering horses, especially ones with such an exotic backstory, makes for the most romantic and rustic of beach scenes.

Treasures can be found along all of the United States’ coasts, 95 thousand miles of eastern, western, northern, and southern shoreline that exemplify the diversity our country has to offer. Rent a convertible, crank up some Beach Boys, and cruise down the glittery glam beaches that line California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Or, for a more isolated drive, try winding in and out of the majestic fjords draping southeast Alaska’s forested border, a haven for bald eagles and humpback whales.

So whether you crave a bracing hike along blustery seaside cliffs or a relaxed afternoon under the fiery sun, the U.S. has a shore to match your every mood — and views that will blow you away.