The South's Most Under-the-Radar Beaches

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Photo: akaplummer/Getty Images

As much as we love the bustling beaches of the South, the likes of South Carolina's Hilton Head, Florida's Seaside, and Georgia's St. Simons Island, sometimes we just want to kick it and relax. There's something refreshing about picking a spot where the beaches aren't quite so crowded, the seafood is freshly caught as a rule, and those old beach chairs you're sitting on might be just a little bit rusty. Luckily, the South is full of these under-the-radar gems. Like every seashell picked up on your lazy walk down the shoreline, every Southern beach is a little bit different—and has something that makes it special. From the powdery white sand of the Panhandle to the cerulean water of the Keys, the barrier islands of the Outer Banks to the sea islands of Georgia, every Southern coastline has something that keeps us coming back for more. For those looking for a beach with off-the-beaten-path appeal , here are the South's most secluded beaches.

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Looking For a Secluded Southern Getaway?

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Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island Ntl Seashore, Maryland, United States
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On this island, wild ponies wander the beaches and munch on the marsh grasses, making it—oh, I don't know—one of the coolest things you'll see all summer. Assateague hugs the Mid-Atlantic coast as a barrier island and exists as a wildlife refuge. Enjoy its quiet, rustic terrain complete with droves of horseshoe crabs, bands of wild ponies, and a scenic drive from nearby Chincoteague that's more than worth it.

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Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Bald Head Island
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Nature lovers will find a wonderful destination in Bald Head Island , North Carolina, a small and secluded spot that can be found east of the Cape Fear River. Filled with preserves, it's the northernmost subtropical island on the east coast and offers miles of natural wonders to explore.

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Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Sycamore House Bay St. Louis Mississippi
Ellis Anderson

Bay St. Louis is one of those nostalgic towns that you'll find yourself missing after you leave. The artsy beach town feels old-fashioned, but with a twist. Check out its Old Town for shops, art galleries, and good eats like The Buttercup on Second Street restaurant; and make a pit stop at The Mockingbird Café , a coffee house by day and restaurant and pub at night.

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Big Pine Key, Florida

Big Pine Key
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You'll be surrounded by the blues of the sea and the sky on a visit to Big Pine Key . As you make your way along Florida's A1A, stop here to see the sands of Calusa Beach and Bahia Honda State Park, a sanctuary for swimming and wildlife watching. You can also take a guided snorkeling tour at a nearby marine sanctuary.

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Bulls Island, South Carolina

Bulls Island, South Carolina
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Hop aboard the Bulls Island Ferry to explore Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. You'll have opportunities for birding, hiking coastal trails, wildlife watching, and joining tours led by naturalists at the 66,000-acre refuge located just 30 miles north of Charleston. Head to Boneyard Beach to see oak, cedar, and pine trees on the sands.

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Caladesi Island, Florida

Caladesi Island
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Home to Caladesi Island State Park , this Florida destination is found west of Dunedin near Clearwater. It's accessible by boat, and those who know treasure the undeveloped barrier island for its unspoiled beaches and ocean views. There are boat docks and kayak rentals; don't miss an opportunity to explore kayak trails through the mangroves.

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Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles Virginia
Scott Suchman

Quieter than better-known Virginia Beach on the Atlantic, this beach town showcases the beauty of Chesapeake Bay. Spend the afternoon fishing from the Cape Charles Fishing Pier, or fancy a stroll along Bay Avenue, which offers beach access at every block. This Eastern Shore gem has slowly transformed itself into an enlivened, yet laidback, beach town with great seafood and charming historic homes.

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Cape San Blas, Florida

Cape San Blas, Florida
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Located along the Florida Panhandle and near Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas offers you miles and miles of beaches without the crowds. Here, you'll enjoy some of the freshest seafood you can get your hands on. (Take a visit to the Indian Pass Raw Bar for that, or catch it yourself.) If you find yourself getting sun burnt and stir crazy, check out the historic Cape San Blas lighthouse. Unlike some busier beaches, this secluded beach allows your four-legged friend to get in on the action too without the crowds!

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Cedar Key, Florida

Cedar Key beach
Gately Williams

Find solitude and serenity upon entering this glorious speck of Old Florida overflowing with salt-crusted charm. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, this cluster of barrier islands is midway between Tampa and Tallahassee. Stay at the historic Island Hotel & Restaurant with its ten rooms reminiscent of the old-school fisherman's Florida—and its in-house ghosts too, as the rumors say. Grab a drink at its quirky Neptune Bar, so-called because of its hand-painted mural behind the bar of the maritime god.

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Corolla, North Carolina

Corolla, North Carolina
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This beach town on the northernmost end of the Outer Banks has a unique end-of-the-road appeal, making it perfect for big families spending a relaxing, no-fuss vacation together. In the historic Corolla village, venture up a winding staircase—220 steps, to be exact—to the top of the redbrick lighthouse that stands overlooking the North Carolina waters. If you're wondering just how relaxed and tranquil this town is, just ask the roaming wild Spanish mustangs on the beaches.

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Cumberland Island, Georgia

Greyfield Inn
Wynn Myers

This quiet, undeveloped beach sits just off the southern end of Georgia's 100-mile coastline. Cumberland Island is under control of the National Park Service, but you can still stay at the magnificent Greyfield Inn , a refurbished mansion on the island that was built by the Carnegie family over 100 years ago. (In fact, it's still owned and managed by members of the Carnegie family.) Otherwise, a ferry either from nearby St. Mary's or Fernandina Beach will get you there for a daytrip.

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Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
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Accessible only by boat, Daufuskie is place where time just moves a little bit slower. You'll find this unassuming little island close to popular Southern towns Hilton Head Island and Savannah; but its history makes it one of the most interesting plots of land in the sea. Historic, yet quirky, slow-paced, yet bursting with personality, Daufuskie Island offers you a completely unique experience.

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Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island Sunset
Robbie Caponetto

This barrier island boasts stunning beach and bay views, while offering plenty of outdoor activities, ranging from windsurfing to fishing, to punctuate the hours spent lazily laying on the beach. To make it here, choose either to drive over the bridge or ride the ferry, both of which cross over Mobile Bay. Make sure to pay a visit to the charming nearby town of Fairhope, Alabama , for the great local shops and restaurants. Check out the northern shore of the island to see Shell Mound Park , a beautifully preserved archaeological site with shell mounds dating back hundreds of years.

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Deer Island, Mississippi

Deer Island
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This secluded spot on the Mississippi coast is a great getaway close to the water. When you reach Deer Island , launch a canoe or paddleboard, wander the sands, and take in a Gulf sunset or two. Find Deer Island and its seaside preserve—home to several endangered species—off the coast of Biloxi.

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Dog Island, Florida

Dog Island, Florida
Facebook/Pelican Inn on Dog Island

This relic isn't for the faint of heart: it's the definition of secluded. Grab everything you need—and we mean everything—in the coastal town of Carrabelle before making the three-mile ferry ride across the Saint George Sound. It's ideal for those who want quiet, and for those who just want to shell, swim, walk along the soft white beaches, take stunning sunrise-to-sunset photographs, and revel in the island's wildlife. No bells and whistles needed.

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Fripp Island, South Carolina

Fripp Island, South Carolina
Courtesy Fripp Island Resort

Only three and a half miles long and about a half-mile wide, Fripp Island is a real-deal sanctuary. The island boasts a popular trail maintained by the Audubon Club that not only gives spectacular views of land and water wildlife, but of more than 175 bird species as well. Beyond access to beautifully preserved and quiet beaches, you're set with a handful of restaurants along with activities like tennis, golf, and boating. (Just because this island is little, doesn't mean it's boring.) It's only about 25 minutes from Beaufort, and it's drivable to Hunting Island State Park.

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Keewaydin Island, Florida

Keewaydin Island
D E N N I S A X E R Photography/Getty Images

Keewaydin is an 8-mile-long barrier island found located between Naples and Marco Island on the Florida coast. Mostly undeveloped and untouched, the beaches here are great getaways for vacationers seeking quiet days on the sands. They're accessible by boat, so ride a rental out to the beach or hop the Hemingway Water Shuttle. (They're also pet friendly!)

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Mustang Island, Texas

Mustang Island, Texas
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It's time to pay a visit to the Texas coast, but instead of venturing to well-known South Padre Island and Galveston, embrace the solitude of Mustang Island, home of Mustang Island State Park. The wild horses that gave Mustang Island its name might be long gone, but you can still enjoy the natural surroundings by heading up the park's paddling trail that follows the western shoreline of the island and includes 20 miles of amazing shallow-water fishing. To make things easy, Port Aransas is close enough to provide your fill of hotels, restaurants, and shops.

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New Smyrna Beach, Florida

New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Robbie Caponetto

Florida's State Road A1A winds through some of the coolest beach towns in the South—and New Smyrna Beach shows Florida's A1A at its colorful, funky best. New Smyrna Beach, just like Flagler Beach up the road, is a surfer's dream (or anyone's dream, really) with its laidback attitude, quirky charm, and slow pace of living. Book your stay at The Salty Mermaid Oceanfront Hotel , a retro-cool renovated motor court, for beachfront views. Walk along the sandy main street, Flagler Avenue, for casual eateries, fun shops, and unobstructed beach access. This little town is so chill you'll find it hard to go back to real life.

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Ocracoke, North Carolina

Sailboat Ocracoke Village North Carolina
Robbie Caponetto

You'll need a boat or private plane to reach this tiny, secluded beach town. (Er, we'll take the boat, please.) About 16 miles long, Ocracoke is a part of the string of barrier islands that makes up the Outer Banks. At the widest part of the island, you'll find its little sound-side village with fewer than 1,000 year-round residents. Here, lodging is full of local charm, from pleasantly shingled Castle Bed & Breakfast to waterfront Ocracoke Harbor Inn . Ocracoke's white lighthouse dates back to 1823, making it the second oldest functioning lighthouse in the United States.

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Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Padre Island
Trina Dopp Photography/Getty Images

Padre Island National Seashore includes the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island on the planet. It comprises 70 miles of unspoiled coastline where visitors can camp, kayak, and beachcomb to their hearts' content. Don't miss Malaquite Beach on the north side of the island for ocean breezes and broad seaside views, and plan a morning to kayak the Laguna Madre for an unforgettable ocean experience.

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Sandbridge Beach, Virginia

Sandbridge Beach, Virginia
Sherry Smith/Getty Images

At the north end of the Outer Banks is Sandbridge , Virginia, an area south of Virginia Beach that's located on the Currituck Banks Peninsula and neighbors the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You don't get much closer to the Atlantic than this uncrowded stretch of sandy beaches where visitors can enjoy hiking, kayaking, and fishing.

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Shell Island, Florida

Shell Beach
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This Florida spot located near Panama City is a destination for those searching for an abundance of seashells and unspoiled beaches near the bustle of PCB. Shell Island is a barrier island on the Gulf, a 7-mile stretch of undeveloped land on St. Andrews Bay filled with cockles, periwinkles, and lots more special shells, so keep an eye out for treasures buried in the sand.

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Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Sunset Beach, NC
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This North Carolina community is located on the border of South Carolina and also neighbors Bird Island Reserve, a nature preserve with 1,200 acres of salt marsh and tidal creeks. The reserve neighboring Sunset Beach is open to visitors, who can reach it by walking along the seashore to glimpse the protected areas where birds, plants, and animals thrive in the salt air.

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