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14 best beaches within a day’s drive of Atlanta

Summertime means beach time, and these nearby escapes are waiting

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When the temps rapidly climb around Atlanta, many of us start planning our escape to the beach. And there’s no shortage of go-to spots, ranging from lakefront beaches at Lake Lanier and Callaway Gardens to the always popular Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Along with Florida hotspots such as Daytona and Panama City beaches, and all the splendors of 30A.

But many other great beaches can be found within a day’s drive of Atlanta—and being slightly more under-the-radar, many crowd-averse vacationers would consider them better. In fact, there are so many, you could visit a different one each summer week for the next 10 years or so. Take a look, start packing bags, and get ready for fun in the sun.

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1. Ormond Beach, FLA

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A little more than six hours from Atlanta, Ormond Beach resides on Florida’s east coast just north of Daytona Beach. This beach is perfect for those looking for fewer crowds and more elbow room. Once the summer playground for the rich and famous, such as John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler, today the beach remains a favorite summer spot for those wanting to skip the busy oceanfront property farther south. 

2. Hatteras, NC

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Located at the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Hatteras is a 10-hour haul from Atlanta, but it’s totally worth it. Thanks to its location, the crowds are lighter than those found farther north on the Outer Banks. Rent one of the oceanfront vacation homes that line the beach, and you’ll be just steps away from the sand and surf. 

In the foreground is a sandy beach. In the distance are various beach houses. Karon Warren

3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, FLA

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7525 W County Hwy 30A
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459
(850) 267-8330
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Within this 1,600-acre state park on the Florida Panhandle, there are 3.2 miles of pristine beaches without the crowds of Panama City Beach or Destin. Plus, in addition to the beach, you also can fish, go kayaking, hike, bike, and more. There are even onsite accommodations with camping and cabins. And it’s just five hours from Atlanta. 

4. Driftwood Beach, GA

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(800) 933-2627
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Of course we had to include some Georgia favorites, and Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island is in that mix. Taking its name from the driftwood trees—yes, trees, not a branch here and there—that ornament the sand, this beach is ideal for photo ops. It’s also a great place to build sand castles, splash in the waves, and work on a tan, all within a five-hour drive from Atlanta. 

5. Vilano Beach, FLA

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Approximately six hours from Atlanta, Vilano Beach, northeast of St. Augustine, is well-known for its coquina sands and near-shore break that’s popular with surfers. It’s close enough to see the historic sites of St. Augustine, but offers a small-town feel to visitors wanting a more intimate beach vacation. 

6. Pawleys Island, SC

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For those who usually visit Myrtle Beach, consider heading a short ride south to Pawley’s Island instead. Approximately six hours from Atlanta, this South Carolina destination harkens to a time gone by when families rented beach homes, cooked out every day, and napped in a shaded hammock. There’s no hustle and bustle here, which is what makes it so perfect for a beach getaway. 

In the foreground is a sandy beach. In the distance is the ocean. It is sunset and the sky is purple, pink, and blue. Colette Boehm

7. St. Simons Island, GA

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Another Georgia beach that must be included lest we incite the masses, St. Simons Island continues to attract beachgoers year after year. Just four and a half hours from Atlanta, St. Simons Island combines the beauty of unspoiled beaches with the historic allure of live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Plus, you’ll find a range of accommodations to suit most every visitor’s need and budget. 

8. Pensacola Beach, FLA

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Just five hours from Atlanta, Pensacola Beach on the Florida Panhandle offers beachgoers something unlike anything else they’ll see and do at the beach. While playing in the water or relaxing in a beach chair, you will have an up-close-and-personal view of the Blue Angels as they practice their air show routines. It’s an amazing experience, and one you won’t soon forget. 

9. Ponte Vedra Beach, FLA

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On the opposite coast of Florida, south of Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach welcomes visitors to experience the peach and cinnamon coquina sands of this wonderfully uncrowded beach. A great place to find ancient sharks’ teeth, Mickler’s Landing is a popular access point for visitors. Plus, it’s only about five and a half hours from Atlanta. 

10. Tybee Island, GA

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A quick four-hour drive from Atlanta, Tybee Island still ranks high with Atlantans who love to visit the beach—in a true laidback, beach-town setting. Of course, its 20-minute proximity to Savannah probably plays a significant role in choosing this option. Although it can get busy during summer months, Tybee Island remains less crowded than many other beaches within a day’s drive of Atlanta. 

11. New Smyrna Beach, FLA

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Located on Florida’s central east coast, south of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach is a hidden gem with an eclectic mix of old and new, of subtle sophistication and bohemian soul that is as “real” as Florida gets. Here, visitors will find a laidback, family-friendly surf culture along 17 miles of white-sand beaches. And this little beach town is just six and a half hours from Atlanta.

12. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, AL

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12295 AL-180
Gulf Shores, AL 36542
(251) 540-7720
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While the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach along Alabama’s Gulf Coast always attract a lot of visitors, and justifiably so, there’s more to experience in this area. At Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, approximately five hours from Atlanta, you’ll find a pristine beach sans the crowds not far away. In addition to beach fun, you also can hike the one-mile Jeff Friend Trail, go fishing, or explore the water by kayak or canoe. 

13. Crescent Beach, FLA

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Approximately six hours from Atlanta, south of St. Augustine, Crescent Beach welcomes visitors with miles of broad, white sand along a crescent shape shoreline with an irresistible appeal for anyone seeking the picture-perfect beach vacation. From relaxing in the sun to improving your surfing and boogie board skills, there’s as much to do at this beach as you want. 

14. Jensen Beach, FLA

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Farther south on Florida’s east coast, just north of West Palm Beach, Jensen Beach offers an escape not quite as crowded as the more popular destinations to its south. Located on Hutchinson Island, beachgoers can enjoy fun in the sun, play some beach volleyball at the onsite courts, and have a picnic in one of the many pavilions. It’s eight hours from Atlanta, and this beach is worth the drive. 

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1. Ormond Beach, FLA

Ormond Beach, FL

A little more than six hours from Atlanta, Ormond Beach resides on Florida’s east coast just north of Daytona Beach. This beach is perfect for those looking for fewer crowds and more elbow room. Once the summer playground for the rich and famous, such as John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler, today the beach remains a favorite summer spot for those wanting to skip the busy oceanfront property farther south. 

2. Hatteras, NC

Hatteras, NC 27943
In the foreground is a sandy beach. In the distance are various beach houses. Karon Warren

Located at the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Hatteras is a 10-hour haul from Atlanta, but it’s totally worth it. Thanks to its location, the crowds are lighter than those found farther north on the Outer Banks. Rent one of the oceanfront vacation homes that line the beach, and you’ll be just steps away from the sand and surf. 

3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, FLA

7525 W County Hwy 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

Within this 1,600-acre state park on the Florida Panhandle, there are 3.2 miles of pristine beaches without the crowds of Panama City Beach or Destin. Plus, in addition to the beach, you also can fish, go kayaking, hike, bike, and more. There are even onsite accommodations with camping and cabins. And it’s just five hours from Atlanta. 

7525 W County Hwy 30A
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

4. Driftwood Beach, GA

Jekyll Island, GA 31527

Of course we had to include some Georgia favorites, and Driftwood Beach at Jekyll Island is in that mix. Taking its name from the driftwood trees—yes, trees, not a branch here and there—that ornament the sand, this beach is ideal for photo ops. It’s also a great place to build sand castles, splash in the waves, and work on a tan, all within a five-hour drive from Atlanta. 

5. Vilano Beach, FLA

Vilano Beach, FL 32084

Approximately six hours from Atlanta, Vilano Beach, northeast of St. Augustine, is well-known for its coquina sands and near-shore break that’s popular with surfers. It’s close enough to see the historic sites of St. Augustine, but offers a small-town feel to visitors wanting a more intimate beach vacation. 

6. Pawleys Island, SC

Pawleys Island, SC
In the foreground is a sandy beach. In the distance is the ocean. It is sunset and the sky is purple, pink, and blue. Colette Boehm

For those who usually visit Myrtle Beach, consider heading a short ride south to Pawley’s Island instead. Approximately six hours from Atlanta, this South Carolina destination harkens to a time gone by when families rented beach homes, cooked out every day, and napped in a shaded hammock. There’s no hustle and bustle here, which is what makes it so perfect for a beach getaway. 

7. St. Simons Island, GA

St Simons Island, Georgia 31522

Another Georgia beach that must be included lest we incite the masses, St. Simons Island continues to attract beachgoers year after year. Just four and a half hours from Atlanta, St. Simons Island combines the beauty of unspoiled beaches with the historic allure of live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Plus, you’ll find a range of accommodations to suit most every visitor’s need and budget. 

8. Pensacola Beach, FLA

Pensacola Beach, FL

Just five hours from Atlanta, Pensacola Beach on the Florida Panhandle offers beachgoers something unlike anything else they’ll see and do at the beach. While playing in the water or relaxing in a beach chair, you will have an up-close-and-personal view of the Blue Angels as they practice their air show routines. It’s an amazing experience, and one you won’t soon forget. 

9. Ponte Vedra Beach, FLA

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082

On the opposite coast of Florida, south of Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra Beach welcomes visitors to experience the peach and cinnamon coquina sands of this wonderfully uncrowded beach. A great place to find ancient sharks’ teeth, Mickler’s Landing is a popular access point for visitors. Plus, it’s only about five and a half hours from Atlanta. 

10. Tybee Island, GA

Tybee Island, GA 31328

A quick four-hour drive from Atlanta, Tybee Island still ranks high with Atlantans who love to visit the beach—in a true laidback, beach-town setting. Of course, its 20-minute proximity to Savannah probably plays a significant role in choosing this option. Although it can get busy during summer months, Tybee Island remains less crowded than many other beaches within a day’s drive of Atlanta. 

11. New Smyrna Beach, FLA

New Smyrna Beach, FL

Located on Florida’s central east coast, south of Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach is a hidden gem with an eclectic mix of old and new, of subtle sophistication and bohemian soul that is as “real” as Florida gets. Here, visitors will find a laidback, family-friendly surf culture along 17 miles of white-sand beaches. And this little beach town is just six and a half hours from Atlanta.

12. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, AL

12295 AL-180, Gulf Shores, AL 36542

While the beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach along Alabama’s Gulf Coast always attract a lot of visitors, and justifiably so, there’s more to experience in this area. At Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, approximately five hours from Atlanta, you’ll find a pristine beach sans the crowds not far away. In addition to beach fun, you also can hike the one-mile Jeff Friend Trail, go fishing, or explore the water by kayak or canoe. 

12295 AL-180
Gulf Shores, AL 36542

13. Crescent Beach, FLA

Crescent Beach, FL 32080

Approximately six hours from Atlanta, south of St. Augustine, Crescent Beach welcomes visitors with miles of broad, white sand along a crescent shape shoreline with an irresistible appeal for anyone seeking the picture-perfect beach vacation. From relaxing in the sun to improving your surfing and boogie board skills, there’s as much to do at this beach as you want. 

14. Jensen Beach, FLA

Jensen Beach, FL 34957

Farther south on Florida’s east coast, just north of West Palm Beach, Jensen Beach offers an escape not quite as crowded as the more popular destinations to its south. Located on Hutchinson Island, beachgoers can enjoy fun in the sun, play some beach volleyball at the onsite courts, and have a picnic in one of the many pavilions. It’s eight hours from Atlanta, and this beach is worth the drive.