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“West Coast, best coast” has a nice sound to it, but the debate is far from over when it comes to which side of the country wins the ultimate showdown. Although California weather is lovely, and the Pacific Northwest’s vivid green forests and majestic mountain views are a sight to behold, the East Coast is a true four-season region with diverse landscapes, ecosystems, and climates — each as gorgeous as the next.
Have you ever experienced an East Coast autumn? There’s nothing quite as intoxicating as witnessing the foliage of the Appalachian Mountains turn into bright oranges and reds seemingly overnight. What about a New England summer, when the hydrangeas bloom all over Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard? The cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. draw crowds from around the world in the spring, and there’s a reason so many people can’t get enough of the South’s beaches in the wintertime.
You could spend a lifetime exploring this section of the country, bookended by Maine and Florida, and still never witness all the glory of its many mountains, rivers, small towns, historic sites, national parks, and bustling cities — but it doesn’t hurt to try. While countless East Coast destinations can be described as “beautiful,” only a few made our list. From the glimmering waters of New York’s Lake George to the untouched wilderness of Cumberland Island, Georgia, here are 15 of the best places to visit on the East Coast.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
The full Blue Ridge mountain range spans 550 miles from Pennsylvania to Georgia, but Virginia and North Carolina lay claim to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The meandering drive grants visitors access to over 200 scenic overlooks, where they can stop to take in the sweeping views accented by the blue haze that gives these mountains their name.
Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, North Carolina
Western North Carolina is home to more than 250 waterfalls, many of which are found in the breathtaking Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, a mountainous area 70 miles from Asheville. Whether you’re visiting during the lush summer or vibrant fall, a hike to nearby Dry Falls or Cullasaja Falls shouldn’t be missed.
Bluffton, South Carolina
You might expect Charleston to appear on this list, but the smaller coastal town of Bluffton with its moss-draped oak trees and location along the May River earn it the “most beautiful” spot. Montage Palmetto Bluff, named one of the best resort hotels in South Carolina in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards, is one of the area’s top highlights, but visitors should also explore downtown Bluffton and the surrounding Lowcountry.
No other words describe Siasconset Village (more commonly known as ‘Sconset) better than “charming” and “photogenic.” A 40-minute bike ride from Nantucket’s downtown district, the village is popular for its two-mile public footpath, the Sconset Bluff Walk, which weaves between gray-shingled cottages and their accompanying flower gardens with views of the ocean down below.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
One of Georgia’s best-kept secrets, Cumberland Island — and its uninterrupted white-sand beaches, marshes, and maritime forests — is only accessible by ferry or private boat. At 16 miles long, the barrier island has just one hotel, Greyfield Inn, a population of wild horses, a historic district with ruins of a Carnegie-built mansion, and 9,800 acres of Congressionally designated wilderness.
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, New York
Now over 100 years old, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens is more than just a place within the Concrete Jungle to admire flowers and over 18,000 kinds of plants. It’s a 52-acre haven designed for inspiration, conversation, and education. Visitors can even take classes on floral design, pruning, propagation, and more. Walking through the different areas — including the Rose Garden, Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, and the Desert Pavilion — will leave you with a greater appreciation for the natural beauty found all over the world.
Yale University, Connecticut
Like many New England college campuses, Yale University’s grounds carry that unique mixture of excitement, nostalgia, and general wonder you can’t help but want to experience. The university’s Old Campus is immediately recognizable with its distinct layout of lawns, trees, walkways, and impressive Gothic architecture.
Vermont’s Covered Bridges
More than 100 covered bridges, dating from 1820, can be found in the state of Vermont. Their photogenic nature — especially during the peak of fall — is often the catalyst behind visitors exploring the Green Mountain State. Depending on which driving tour you embark on, you can see popular sights like Pulp Mill Bridge in Middlebury and Windsor Cornish Covered Bridge, the longest two-span covered bridge in the world.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Travelers can explore the waters of South Florida’s Biscayne National Park in a variety of ways — kayak, paddle board, and sailboat among them — but it’s known as one of the best places to scuba dive in the U.S. The national park is over 90 percent water and home to a mangrove forest, coral reefs, sea turtles, manatees, and over 600 native fish species.
Lake George, New York
Upstate New York boasts one of the most beautiful lakes in the United States. Thanks to a watershed that doesn’t produce much pollution, Lake George’s waters are clear, clean, and safe to swim in. It’s a gem within the Adirondack Mountains that makes for the perfect summer getaway.
Bushkill Falls, Pennsylvania
The self-titled “ Niagara of Pennsylvania,” Bushkill Falls is a series of eight waterfalls in the Pocono Mountains. Adventurous travelers can see them all — including Bushkill Falls (the main waterfall), Bridemaid’s Falls, and the Lower Gorge Falls — by setting off on a challenging two-mile, two-hour hike.
Signs you’ve reached Middleburg include rolling countryside outlined with stone walls, horses, farms, and a historic downtown district filled with antique stores, art galleries, and equestrian shops. The beauty of this Virginia town lies in both the bucolic landscape and its colonial architecture, as evidenced by the storied Red Fox Inn & Tavern, an 18-room hotel and pub first established in 1728.
Block Island, Rhode Island
You’ll take a short ferry ride from the mainland to reach Block Island, a seven-mile-long and three-mile-wide coastal destination known for its historic lighthouses and stunning scenery. On the southern end of the island, you’ll find Mohegan Bluffs, a set of large clay cliffs that offer incredible Atlantic Ocean vistas and access to the secluded, rocky beach, reached by climbing down 141 stairs.
National Mall, Washington, D.C.
There’s hardly a more iconic spot in Washington, D.C. than the National Mall. Dotted with monuments — Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Washington Monument, to name a few — the area also has pedestrian-friendly lawns and walkways. Its true beauty, however, really reveals itself when the Japanese cherry blossom trees bloom in the spring.