As my kids get older, it becomes more challenging to find long periods of time where we can get away for family vacations. Weekends and school vacations have become filled with sports, school activities, theater, and more. Day trips and quick weekend getaways are sometimes the best way to explore a new area on vacation without the commitment of a full vacation.
Living in the Northeast, we are lucky that there are so many options for fantastic East Coast day trips and weekend getaways. Depending on where on the East Coast you live, some of these can be easy road trips for a quick getaway. You can always find enough things to do for an entire vacation, however, there are also some activities you may prioritize for a day or weekend trip. Some of the attractions you’ll find at these beautiful places include beaches, National Parks, restaurants, shops, museums, tourist attractions, and more.
Disclosure: We’ve been on some complimentary and discounted media trips to these destinations over the years, but 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.
East Coast Day Trips and Weekend Getaways
Acadia National Park
Located on Maine’s Mount Desert Island along the Cadillac Mountains and the beautiful town of Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park is one of the most popular summer destinations in New England. Acadia offers outdoor activities like bicycling, birdwatching, hiking, swimming, boating, and more. It’s the perfect place in the summer months for nature lovers.
Camping is also available at Acadia, but be sure to make those reservations in advance. You’ll also need to purchase an entrance pass to enter the park for any of the activities. If driving up Cadillac Mountain, there’s a separate road vehicle reservation that you’ll need to have before you go.
The small seaside city of Portland Maine is one of my favorite small cities on the East Coast. This beautiful, charming city includes a historic district along the waterfront. While you can visit Portland at any time of year, I especially love visiting in the warmer months when you can take advantage of the water for activities like boat cruises. It’s really one of the best weekend getaways in New England.
Portland offers museums, delicious local restaurants, breweries, and shopping. We typically spend about three nights there every time we visit, but you could definitely pick a few things to do on a day or weekend trip.
North Conway, NH
I love visiting the White Mountains in the summer. The crisp mountain air, the gorgeous green mountains, and this beautiful small town combine to create a great summer vacation destination. Of course, if you enjoy skiing, there are also several ski resorts to visit.
Within North Conway, there are several fun things to do, including hiking, swimming, outlet shopping, and more. There’s also Story Land, a theme park for young children, which is located in the nearby town of Glen, NH. It’s a popular place for young families. You can also enjoy a scenic ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad. If you are planning on staying overnight, there are lots of great hotels in the area.
Newport is a beautiful, waterfront town located on the tip of Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island. There’s so much to do there, including scenic cruises, beautiful beaches, sailboat rides, the Tennis Hall of Fame, the Newport Mansions, Fort Adams State Park, the Cliff Walk, and more.
If you enjoy shopping, visit the waterfront shopping area in Brick Marketplace and along America’s Cup Avenue. Newport has some great hotels within walking distance of many of the attractions. Or, if you are in the area, you can also enjoy a day trip to the area.
One of the best summer getaways on the East Coast is Cape Cod. This region of Massachusetts has lots of small towns offering shops, beaches, museums, restaurants, and so much more.
Whether you are visiting Cape Cod for a day trip or a weekend, it’s best to choose just one or two towns to focus your visit. In the summer, it can be especially difficult to get around the different towns, because traffic can make commute times longer.
I especially recommend visiting the beaches on Cape Cod, including the ones that are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. They are usually not too overcrowded and are really beautiful. They offer various amenities depending on location. While you are there, be sure to try some of the fantastic Cape Cod seafood.
As you travel down to Cape Cod, you’ll pass Plymouth, MA, the site of the first Pilgrim settlement. This town is home to several historical sites, including Plymouth Rock, Plimoth Patuxcet Museums, and the replica Mayflower. They can all be visited in one day.
If you plan to visit Cape Cod and love history, you may want to stop in Plymouth on the way to the Cape. It’s an easy stop off Route 3 as you drive to the Cape from Boston and is a pretty short drive.
These two islands located off the coast of Cape Cod are extremely popular with seasonal guests. They are beautiful, with gorgeous beaches, fantastic summer restaurants, shops, and more. Because they are islands, you’ll either need to take a ferry or a flight to get there. Therefore, unless you are staying on Cape Cod, they probably aren’t great day trips.
However, many families enjoy long weekend getaways on both Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. It’s best to choose one of the two because it’s not easy to get between them. Book your accommodations and ferry well in advance – things book up early for summer vacations.
The historic city of Boston should definitely be visited at least once by families. I generally recommend spending more than a few days in Massachusett’s capital. However, if you live in the area and can make more than one visit, a weekend getaway could be perfect.
There are many different neighborhoods in Boston, so you can choose your preferred location based on where you plan on spending much of your time. We love the waterfront area, the Back Bay, and the Fanueil Hall area. But there are other great spots for a family vacation as well.
If you are only in Boston for one day, we recommend this itinerary, so you can see many of the historical attractions and learn more about American history. Of course, you could also plan your Boston day trip around a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
Depending on your plans, you may be able to save money on attractions by purchasing a CityPASS.
One of our favorite day trips from our home West of Boston is Rockport and Gloucester MA. These two beautiful towns offer great views, shops, restaurants, and much more.
For a day trip, you’ll probably have to choose between a beach day or a shopping/walk-around town day. Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester is one of my favorites, with lots of amenities for families.
If you’d prefer to walk around town, shop at quaint stores, and see art galleries, head to Bearskin Neck in Rockport. Find parking along the street and walk around the pedestrian streets.
Mystic CT was popularized by Julia Robert’s movie Mystic Pizza. However, it also offers some fantastic activities for families.
We love the Mystic Aquarium, which has both indoor and outdoor exhibits. Don’t miss the Beluga Whale exhibit, which is very popular with children.
Adjacent to the aquarium is the Olde Mistick Village, an old-fashioned shopping area with restaurants, boutiques, and more. It’s a fun place to walk around. There’s also Mystic Seaport Village, a recreation of an old seaport village.
Mystic is a convenient location between Boston and NYC. It’s also a stop on the Amtrak Northeast Corridor.
New York City
New York City certainly needs no introduction on this post. I recommend that every family visits at least once. No matter how long your visit is, it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one visit. So, you’ll need to prioritize based on your interests.
Some attractions to consider are the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, One World Observatory, Circle Line boat tours, Times Square, the Museum of Natural History, MoMath, the Central Park Zoo, and the Ride NYC. It’s also fun to get tickets for a Broadway show. If you have younger kids, think about going to a matinee.
You may need to make reservations for activities in advance, so it’s good to plan your itinerary before you go. Depending on which attractions you want to visit, a NYC CityPASS could be a great option.
Like NYC, Washington DC is one of those places where you can spend weeks and still not see everything. Many of these attractions in our nation’s capital do have to be planned in advance because you’ll have to request tickets from your United States Congressperson.
The Smithsonian Museums, including the National Air and Space Museum (temporarily closed) and the National Museum of Natural History, offer free admission. There are also many monuments and memorials, as well as the popular International Spy Museum. While city hotels can be expensive, there are lots of places to stay in the nearby suburbs.
Virginia Beach, VA
Virginia Beach isn’t just a famous beach, it’s also the name of a coastal town. It’s located on the coast of Virginia, in the area where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet. While Virginia Beach, with its 3-mile boardwalk, is the most famous of beaches, there are other beaches in the town.
In addition to visiting the beaches, there are other fun activities for families in the area. I especially love the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, a world-class aquarium with lots of exhibits. There’s also an adventure park, with zip lines and ropes courses, located adjacent to the aquarium.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
These North Carolina barrier islands are popular weekend vacation destinations. They offer over 100 miles of beaches (including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore). It’s a quiet destination, with vacation homes and resorts for overnight stays.
There are a number of towns that comprise the Outer Banks, including Nags Head and the historic city of Kitty Hawk. If you enjoy vacationing on the beach, this is a great option, especially if it’s within driving distance of your own.
Savannah is a gorgeous southern city offering beautiful sites, great museums, shops, and wonderful restaurants. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit for two days, and I think it would be a great day trip or weekend getaway. The two days weren’t quite enough time – I think you’d probably want to plan for a long weekend if you want to see several different attractions.
To get a good feel of the city, consider taking an Old Town Trolley Tour. It’s a hop-on, hop-off, tour, so it’s a great way to get around and to learn about the different attractions. Current or past Girl Scouts will also want to stop by the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace.
If you want to visit the beach, Tybee Island is a great option. It’s located not too far from Savannah on the coast of Georgia.
This gorgeous beach has been named one of the best beaches in the United States. It’s a lively area, with lots of waterfront restaurants and resorts, as well as boat tours of the area. It’s also home to the popular spring Sugar Sand Festival.
While you are in Clearwater, I recommend visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This famous aquarium focuses on rehabilitation and education and is a great place to learn about various marine animals.
Clearwater is a great day trip for a beach day or weekend getaway from other Florida cities. It’s also a great destination on its own.
Saint Augustine, FL
Saint Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, is a charming city with lots to do. In addition to a fantastic shopping and restaurant downtown area, St. Augustine is also located in close proximity to several beaches. It’s a great day trip or weekend getaway from Orlando Florida, especially if you’d like to visit the beaches.