New England has a gorgeous coastline, and along the way, you’ll also find some quaint small towns filled with historic sites, beaches, shops, art galleries, and museums. Whether you are taking a road trip visiting multiple towns, or want to choose just one or two of these, there’s so much to see and do along the New England coast.
Keep in mind that summer is generally the best time to visit, although there will be more crowds and prices will be higher. In the off-peak season, however, you’ll find that some attractions and restaurants are only open seasonally and may be closed. Here are some of the best New England coastal towns to consider for your next family vacation.
Disclosure: We’ve received complimentary stays/attraction tickets over the years in some of these places. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links and a purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.
The Best New England Coastal Towns For Families
Portsmouth New Hampshire
Portsmouth NH (not to be confused with the one in Rhode Island), is a seaside town located in a small coastal area of New Hampshire between Maine and Massachusetts. Attractions in Portsmouth include Water Country water park, Strawbery Banke living history museum, and several outdoor parks. There are also waterfront shops and restaurants in a nice downtown area.
Portsmouth is located about an hour outside of Boston, and the nearest airports are Boston Logan Airport or Manchester Airport. Popular hotels include the Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites, and the Residence Inn Portsmouth Downtown/Waterfront.
This coastal Southern Maine town is known as the summer home of the Bush family. It offers art galleries, quaint shops, and restaurants, along with beaches, sailing trips, and more.
Kennebunkport is about an hour and a half to two hours from Boston, and you can also access it on the Amtrak Downeaster train. It’s closest to Portland Airport or Boston Logan Airport.
The first time I visited Rockport Massachusetts, I was so surprised that such a quaint coastal town was located so close to my home. I love visiting there and try to go at least once per summer season.
The most popular thing to do in Rockport is to visit Bearskin Neck, a pedestrian area with art galleries, fresh seafood restaurants, shops, and ice cream shops. You can grab lobster rolls from Roy Hook and eat them outside facing the water.
Don’t forget to take a photo of Motif No. 1, a replica fishing shack. Rockport also has several beaches, and you can also go to nearby Gloucester to visit one of their beautiful beaches.
Rockport is located in Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Boston Logan is the most convenient airport. It’s about an hour North of Boston.
Ogunquit is a little coastal Maine beach town located in Southern Maine. It’s not too far from Boston, making it an idea location for your New England summer vacation.
While you are there, you can visit the various art galleries, gift shops, and restaurants located in Perkins Cove, right on the waterfront. There’s also Marginal Way, a beautiful path running along the waterfront that is fun to walk. Of course, you can’t miss Ogunquit Beach.
Ogunquit is also known for its art community, and the Ogunquit Playhouse offers musicals, shows, and other performances. Because parking can be challenging in the area, there’s a seasonal shuttle that guests can take to get around.
During our trip to Ogunquit, we enjoyed staying at the Meadowmere Resort, which is a short walk from all of the action.
At the very tip of Cape Cod is Provincetown, a vibrant community that is especially popular in the summer months. Provincetown offers some of the best beaches in Massachusetts (including the Cape Cod National Seashore), as well as museums, shops, theater, boat tours, and so much more. Commercial Street is where much of the action is, so it’s best to find parking and then walk around.
In the summer season, there are ferries from Boston that can take you to Provincetown for a day trip. Otherwise, the drive from Boston can be a little long for a day trip. There’s an airport in Provincetown as well, which is served by Cape Air and Jetblue.
During our overnight trip to Provincetown, we stayed at the Harbor Hotel. It’s a modern motel that is on the quieter side of Provincetown.
Nantucket Island, located off the coast of Cape Cod, almost feels like a different country. This small island is accessible via ferry or plane and offers beaches, restaurants, shops, museums, and more. Don’t miss a trip to the Nantucket Whaling Museum, which showcases the history of whaling in the area.
There are several hotels, resorts, and vacation home options in the area. During one of our stays, we enjoyed a weekend at the White Elephant Hotel, located right in the center of town. You could definitely spend a week relaxing in Nantucket, but a long weekend would be the perfect amount of time.
Located on Cape Cod, Hyannis is a village in the town of Barnstable. It’s more of a city than a village and is where you’ll find many of the chain stores on the Cape, like Target, Home Depot, and Kohls.
However, beyond those chains is a beautiful harbor where you can take ferries to the islands, charter a fishing boat, or board a whale-watching cruise. Along the waterfront, there are artist shanties with handicrafts from local crafters.
Hyannis also has a small airport called Barnstable Municipal Airport. It’s serviced by JetBlue, Cape Air, and Nantucket Airlines. Local hotels include Cape Codder Resort and Spa, The Hyannis Harbor Hotel, and The Anchor In.
Located over the Rhode Island border is the fishing village of Mystic, CT, home of Mystic Pizza. It’s located a little less than two hours from Boston, although Providence Airport is the closest.
Attractions in Mystic include Mystic Seaport, the largest maritime museum in the United States, the Mystic Aquarium, and Olde Mistick Village. Most of these attractions are outdoors, so it’s best to visit when the weather is nice.
When we stayed in Mystic, we enjoyed an overnight at the Hilton Mystic. It’s located across from the aquarium and Old Mistick Village, and also has an overnight pool.
This elegant coastal New England town is located on the “elbow” of Cape Cod. In addition to a fun main street area with shops and restaurants, Chatham offers other attractions.
These include the Chatham Lighthouse, beaches, and the Fish Pier where you can watch seals play in the water right in front of you. If you are thinking of staying overnight, the Chatham Bars Inn is a luxury resort located right on the waterfront in Chatham.
Made popular from the TV show Wicked Tuna, as well as the movie The Perfect Storm, the town of Gloucester is located adjacent to Rockport in Cape Ann. It offers beaches, whale watching cruises, delicious restaurants, parks, fishing charters, and more.
Growing up in Rhode Island, I always loved to visit Newport. This gorgeous town is less than a two-hour drive from Boston and was once the summer vacation destination for affluent American families like the Vanderbilts. Their gilded-age summer homes are now open seasonally to touring guests.
Other activities in Newport include sailboat rides, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Fort Adams State Park, the Cliff Walk, beaches, and shopping. Newport is also host to several popular summer live music festivals including the Newport Jazz Festival and the Newport Folk Festival. When visiting the area, be sure to take a scenic drive on Ocean Drive through the historic district.
We recommend staying at the Hotel Viking, which is located within walking distance of the shops and restaurants of Thames Street.
Kittery Maine is located right past Portsmouth, NH over the New Hampshire border. It’s popular due to its outlet shops, which are all located on route 1. Other activities include Take Flight Adventures and Fort McClary State Park. Be sure to stop at Yummies – a candy shop filled with all sorts of sweet treats.
Our favorite restaurants are Robert’s Maine Grill and Raw Bar and Bob’s Clam Hut. Bob’s especially gets very busy in the summer, so visit early.
The Hampton Inn and Suites is a brand-new hotel located right near the outlets. Or travelers can stay in nearby Portsmouth NH.
Bar Harbor, ME
Want to visit Acadia National Park? Bar Harbor Maine is the best town to stay in for your Acadia trip. Other things for families to do include boat tours, water sports, shopping, and more.
Within Acadia, there are a variety of activities including hiking, biking, birdwatching, swimming, boating, and more. It’s an extremely popular destination in the summer.
Bar Harbor is located almost five hours from Boston. There is a small airport nearby, called the Hancock County–Bar Harbor Airport. It’s serviced by JetBlue and Cape Air.
If you are looking for a New England coastal destination with museums, restaurants, shops, boat rides, baseball, and more, Portland is a great place to visit. This Maine city is most popular in the summer months, but we usually visit in the winter and love it.
Popular activities include the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine, the Portland Museum of Art, the Portland Head Light, and the Casco Bay Lines.
We have stayed in several hotels in Portland – here are our favorites.