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10 Great Places to Explore on the East Coast

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

April 20, 2022 — Highways are filling up with snowbirds headed north right now. Those trips provide the perfect excuse for exploring the many wonderful East Coast towns along the way. Here are 10 towns that we think are definitely worth a detour, either for a night in a B and B, or a leisurely lunch to break up the drive. In this installment we will concentrate on charming or interesting towns near the coast. But if your trip takes you along the western route, see our 2 part series on great retirement towns along that route through western Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia.

Colonial Beach, VA. This old town on the Potomac River in northeastern Virginia is near the birthplaces of Presidents Washington and Monroe. During the 19th Century it was a very famous beach resort. When the Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened up the ocean beaches of eastern Maryland, that helped lead to Colonial Beach’s decline, but that left a lot of charm.

Williamsburg, VA. Colonial Williamsburg is actually a living representation/restoration of the 18th century colonial capital. History buffs love the shops and cafes in the downtown area that look like museums. It often looks like Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson is that customer at the next table.

Solomons Island, MD has a spectacular setting on Chesapeake Bay.  The Tiki Bar of Solomons attracts unbelievable crowds in season, while the Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center in Solomons is a Smithsonian-affiliated forested sculpture park.  Boaters love that it has harbors, marinas, and restaurants galore.

Edenton, NC. On North Carolina’s coastline, this town is known for its lovely homes and tree-lined streets. The waterfront and the wide main shopping street are exceptionally beautiful. Many of the homes are mansions dating from before the Civil War.  The first permanent settlement in North Carolina, Edenton is proud of its history. 

Beaufort, NC. Not to be confused with Beaufort, SC (although it is a worthy of a visit too), this old seaport has history and beautiful homes. The pirate Blackbeard lived here in the 1700’s, leaving his young (and 14th!) wife a widow. The Town Hall is on a green with banyan trees, while the commercial center is on the old port. Lots of excellent restaurants here.

Murrells Inlet, SC. Just a few miles south of Myrtle Beach, the town was once primarily a fishing village. Today, Murells Inlet is considered to be the Seafood Capital of South Carolina, enjoyed by tourists and retirees alike.

Charleston, SC. “The Holy City”, founded in 1670, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. Until  the mid 1800’s it was one of the 10 largest cities in North America. Many active adult and 55+ communities are in the area. Charleston’s popularity as a tourist destination is based on its long and colorful history, as well as its streets lined with majestic and Spanish moss draped live oaks. 

Bluffton, SC is on the coast of South Carolina just off of Hilton Head Island and near the Georgia border.  The town is located on a bluff overlooking the May River in an area long known for tourism. In the old town near the river, visitors will discover art and antique galleries and the Riverfront Pocket Park and Garden. The area is famous for its Bluffton oysters.

Edisto Island, SC. A beautiful and relaxing island, it has a small population which swells in the season. Edisto Beach lies about 40 miles southwest of Charleston. The beach is uncommercialized with building restrictions and limitations to keep the island’s marshes, beaches, and forests untouched. Edisto Island offers a laid back way of life, and has a history that includes Native Americans, Civil War clashes, wealthy cotton plantation owners, and the enslaved African-Americans who worked on them.

Fernandina Beach, FL. This old town at the top of Florida’s eastern coast is just above beautiful Amelia Island, a 13.5 mile long barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean. Fernandina Beach has a charming downtown with an artsy feel and many quiet neighborhoods featuring Victorian homes. There are cute shops and many interesting restaurants.

That’s it for this installment. If you visit any of these towns please let everyone know how it goes in the Comments section below. These stops are a great way to not only break up your trip north or south, but also a chance to visit potential places to retire that you might not have considered before.

For further reading:
All Blog articles in our Snowbirding Blog

Posted by Admin on April 19th, 2022

7 Comments »

  1. Charleston is a wonderful city. Beautiful historic homes and buildings, great parks, and cobblestoned streets. It has lots of cultural activities and some great well know restaurants. I’ve stayed in town which is lots of fun, but also at the nearby island resorts. Great if you want a more laid back experience with beach and golf. Only about 30 minutes or so from downtown Charleston.

    by Staci — April 20, 2022

  2. I enjoyed this article. We visited Murrells Inlet and Pawley’s Island 1 1/2 years ago. We enjoyed Pawley’s a lot more than Murrell’s Inlet. The area along the water at MI was quaint, however we did not care for any of the menu choices if you want to eat healthy, or have food allergies. They did offer lots of fried items. Most of the rentals on Pawley’s are at least 2 stories due to the weather, so if you cannot do stairs, look for places with an elevator.
    Nags Head, NC near Kittyhawk was also an interesting coastal visit, especially for aviation enthusiasts. Visit the museum for the history of flight.

    by cap — April 21, 2022

  3. I have been fortunate to have traveled to many of the towns on the list in search of retirement destinations and I’m happy to share some of my insights here. Keep in mind that these are towns, not cities, and most will be limited in the types of specialty shopping and box stores that people are accustomed to in urban and suburban areas. There is usually a Walmart though, in relatively close proximity! The variety of medical specialists may be limited and hospitals may perform less procedures than you may be used to in larger hospitals.
    Like real estate all over the country, housing prices have increased in these areas, especially those perceived as resort or vacation destinations. As the climate changes, coastal flooding is also a concern in many of these towns.

    Edenton NC-
    Edenton is a charming, historic town on the banks of the Albemarle Sound. It has a walkable downtown with waterfront parks, shops, and restaurants. There are quaint neighborhoods located within walking distance to downtown attractions. There is a hospital in town. Edenton is a bit isolated from any larger towns. It is equidistant from both Norfolk VA and Greenville NC (about 70 miles) where the nearest airports are located.

    Beaufort NC-
    Beaufort is a beautiful, historic waterfront town located on the Atlantic Ocean on the southern end of the Outer Banks. It has lots of great seafood restaurants. Beaufort is next to the beaches of the Emerald Coast. It’s 40 miles south of New Bern NC where major services and an airport are located. Morehead City, along the corridor between Beaufort and New Bern has plenty of shopping and box stores. There is a hospital located there.
    Hurricanes and coastal flooding can be a concern.

    Bluffton SC-
    Bluffton is a small, well preserved historic village on the bluffs of the May River. It is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Highway 278 leading to Hilton Head. Bluffton is a beautiful, residential town with a few restaurants and a waterfront park. Outside of town there are many housing developments, including Sun City Hilton Head. The beaches of HIlton Head are just a few miles away. Hilton Head has plenty of shopping and there are stores along the 278 corridor. There is an airport on HHI, but the larger airport is in Savannah- 26 miles away.

    Edisto Island SC-
    Edisto Island is a remote island on the Atlantic Ocean south of Charleston- 45 miles away. There are few services on the island besides restaurants, grocery and convenience stores. Edisto has no hotels, only vacation rentals. There is a beach and golf course–it is definitely a place to get laid back and explore the low country!! In recent years it has been the unfortunate target of many hurricanes.

    Fernandina Beach FL-
    Fernandina Beach is a town located on Amelia Island. The town itself sits on the Amelia River. It has great waterfront restaurants and shops. Amelia Island has lots of open space, public beaches and parks for hiking. There are many hotels, resorts and vacation rentals. Amelia Island has many full time residents, so there are more services and shopping on the island than other locations. What’s not found on the island can be found on the corridor to Jacksonville and I-95. The Jacksonville Airport is 26 miles away. There is a Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville- about 1 hour away.

    I hope this has been helpful and given some insight into some of my favorite places. As for me, I’m still looking!!
    Flo Williamson

    by Moderator Flo — April 23, 2022

  4. A correction: Edenton is about 70 miles from Greenville, NC — not SC.

    Editor’s comment: Thanks to Moderator Flo for these nice additions, and to RichPB for the NC correction. I seem to make that kind of Greenville mistake too often myself! Don’t miss our writeup about Edenton: A Town So Pretty It Hurts

    by RichPB — April 24, 2022

  5. I love this article although it just makes me jealous of other snowbirds who travel by car up and down the east coast and take the time to add some interest to their trip,( and actually may go off the beaten path). Unfortunately I don’t have a driving partner that would agree to stop at a pretty little town or a historical site, or even a state park. It’s almost a race to get to our northern home each spring. I think I will make an itinerary for our trip next time . The list of towns and descriptions in this blog all sound so nice and worth a stop, thanks for the suggestions!

    by Pauline — May 4, 2022

  6. While visiting friends in Myrtle Beach we went to Murrells Inlet more than once for dinner but I didn’t get a town feeling and not sure what there is to explore. It was just a highway with many restaurants and traffic. But it was a great place to eat seafood and if you are in the Myrtle Beach area it’s worth the visit just for that. Did I miss something in Murrells Inlet ?

    by Barbara — May 8, 2022

  7. The Marshwalk at Murrels Inlet is so much fun…

    https://marshwalk.com/

    by dan — May 9, 2022

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