Best Day Trips On The East Coast: A North To South Guide

We have eaten the lobster rolls, checked out the best viewpoints,  discovered the trails, and come back with a list of the best day trips on the East Coast.

When looking for a quick local getaway or a dazzling hours-long drive to a new destination, you won’t want to waste time looking for automated day trip itineraries created by the tourist board leading you to the nearest tourist trap. 

You no longer have to rely on outdated resources and random suggestions from your Aunt Jan who traveled to Connecticut twenty years ago.

We have done the research for you!

What are the best day trips along the east coast?

The best day trips on the East Coast include adventures to Harpswell, Maine, Niantic, Connecticut, and Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts. These destinations have the best viewpoints, freshest local food delicacies, and great storytelling content for your next travel humble brag. 

The best day trip is not always one that includes back-to-back visits to “must-see” sites, overflowing with tourists. 

The ultimate day should always leave room for making memories, meeting locals, and hopefully leaving you also feeling like a local. 

After all, strictly tourist destinations are not always the most authentic way to experience prime locations, it is often who and what surrounds them that brings the real magic in the experience.

Hidden gems are hidden for a reason!

Using first-hand knowledge as well as consulting locals and fellow travelers alike, we have compiled a list of unmissable day trips on the East Coast. 

Each day trip was quality tested by ourselves and fellow adventurers who vouch for these adventure-worthy locales. 

A Complete List Of The Best Day Trips On The East Coast 

The East Coast day trip can not be categorized as any one type of adventure. 

Rather, the 2069 miles that run the eastern border of the United States comprise an incredibly diverse array of natural wonders, viewpoints, and foodie experiences that are not bound by state borders, but only the limits of your own imagination. 

Below we break down our recommendations by state to make it easy for you to create your own bucket list of ideal day trip destinations

After all, Benjamin Franklin said it best: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

To help, we’ll give you the particulars about where to go, recommended experiences, and if you’re like us you want the most crucial details on what to eat when you get there. 

These day trips are listed going north to south of the eastern coast with the most. 

We omitted (possibly controversially) Georgia and Florida as we feel these might be better suited for a Southern Side Day Trip list instead. 

Without further adieu, let’s set off! 

Harpswell, Maine

Best Day Trips On The East Coast

Where To Go

Harpswell, Maine is life as it should be. 

From the beaches to the mountains, the perfect east coast island-style day trip is waiting for you.

Located in the Gulf of Maine, just off of Route 24, Harpswell is a refined mashup of Maine’s brawny coastline and New England culture in vibe.

Harpswell is actually not a singular town but rather a  dozens of islands intermingling in some sort of movie set-like setting. 

The main showboats of this island destination are Bailey Island, Sebascodegan Island, and Orr’s Island all of which are small enough to be explored together as part of a well-mapped day trip. 

Several boat cruise tours leave out of this area and highlight fascinating local historical and natural sights like painting perfect lighthouses making this a romantic way to check out the area from a watery perspective. 

What To See

With the lofty distinction of being Maine’s first state-owned saltwater beach, Reid State Park is home to some of the state’s most pristine sandy beaches that are perfect for a picnic-themed day trip that has no set itinerary.

Reid State Park is also home to one of the best viewpoints in Harpswell, Griffith’s Head overlook. 

This rocky outcrop gives a stunning vista of the sweeping Maine coastline where you can easily spot several of the lighthouses that look like Bob Ross himself had a hand in creating as well as numerous neighboring islands.

What To Eat

These excursions will no doubt lend themselves to a need to refuel.

Iris Eats Maine is nearby to whose sole lot in life is to recharge you with what can only be described as gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with the Maine style works. 

The locally sourced menu from a former traveling yacht chef is the epitome of Maine soul food. 

Her abode is the equivalent of a warm Maine hug…with a side of classic whoopie pie for dessert.  

Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

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Where To Go

In a place known as “The Granite State”,  it goes without saying that given a one-day trip, you’d want to see the absolute best example of granite. 

Franconia Notch State Park is a giant salute to this homage.

Just north of Lincoln, New Hampshire, and nestled in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, the state park terrain supports a number of recreational activities including rock climbing, fly fishing, and is an enviable day trip for any bird watching fanatic. 

What To See

Within Franconia Notch State Park, there lies one of the East Coast’s most phenomenal natural wonders: Flume Gorge.

The two-mile trail through a covered bridge, past waterfalls and caves is suitable for the whole family. 

Your efforts traversing sections of gravel, boardwalk, and some light stairs will reward you with an astonishing view of the 800-foot-long chasm of granite that dates back to Jurrasic times.  

All too often we forget how old the earth is, and Flume Gorge is here to remind us of just how recently we humans have been around and how much we have still left to discover. 

What To Eat

This foodie stop plays double duty; The One Love Brewery not only are its servings notoriously hearty, but the great outdoor seating with incredible views of the White Mountains also lends itself to staying awhile.

This brewery restaurant offers an experience in itself for craft beer lovers as it lovingly serves up a vast array of tasting choices and aptly operates as a great refuel station after an active day touring the nearby state parks. 

We highly recommend the house classic: Poutine!

Block Island, Rhode Island

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Where To Go

Getting to Block Island requires an adventurous spirit and a scenic ferry ride but the payoff is some of the most pristine natural surroundings that Rhode Island has to offer. 

Representing 17 miles of free public beaches, this tiny island’s undulating green hillsides and dramatic bluffs can leave you squinting your eyes and seeing Ireland instead of Rhode Island. 

It’s no wonder the Nature Conservancy recently added Block Island to its 12 “Last Great Places” in the Western Hemisphere list of conservation sites it has deemed untouched and left wild. 

Be on the lookout for the gulls, swallows, and other migratory birds that frequent the protected areas along the winding sandy paths. 

What To See

This magical island paradise is home to many secluded beach nooks and quaint cafes that let you feel as if you’ve left the grind far behind.  

The Old Harbor Historic District is the perfect place to set off from and return to with meals on either side of your beach wanders. 

Between, you’ll want to check out Mansion Beach, considered to be Block’s Islands pride of the shoreline with not only sugar soft sand but also a great story. 

The parking lot to this beach was built upon the remains of a once-elegant beach house that burned to the ground in the 1960s, hence Mansion Beach’s bespoke name. 

What To Eat

The Beachhead Restaurant located at the periphery of the Old Harbor district holds its claim to fame in its classic cold lobster rolls and postcard-worthy views over Crescent Beach

This legendary establishment is the cherry on top to any day trip to Block Island.

Niantic, Connecticut

Where To Go

Niantic is a getaway for those looking to leave the hustle and bustle of demanding city life behind in exchange for the relaxing rehab of village life. 

This charming shoreline village is known for its niche antique shopping, and gourmet moments, and is just 20 minutes south of equally endearing Mystic, Connecticut. 

This eclectic stop can easily be accessed by car, train, or even boat making for a number of side adventures to be had even before arriving! 

What To See

A highlight of this quirky town is its famous Book Barn which houses an astonishing half a million titles in five buildings spread out over a mile of lush gardens.

Once described as a “library themed carnival” this fantastical bookstore includes resident reading cats, a playground, and charming wagons for wheeling your books to the register. 

What To Eat

Sometimes the most memorable meals aren’t served with fine table settings and white cloth service and this is true in the case of  Skipper’s Seafood Restaurant

This family-owned down-to-earth restaurant, which is a stalwart favorite of locals and visitors alike,  will dare you to find a better lobster roll anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard. If the patio views of the Niantic boardwalk don’t get you, the local fried clams certainly will. 

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

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Where To Go

Easily accessible by ferry from Cape Cod, New York, or Rhode Island this well-known day trip destination hosts six towns over 100 square miles. 

While it has been well traversed by day-trippers over the years, this destination never fails to offer a different flavor for each of the seasons.  

A variety of festivals, community events, and ever-changing seasonal menus keep Martha’s Vineyard quite literally “fresh” all year round. 

What To See 

When you have checked off your bucket list of all of Martha’s Vineyard’s beautiful beaches it’s only logical to cross over to the wild side.

If you’ve never met a golden doodle crossed with a camel; there is no better time than this day trip and the Island Alpaca Company of Martha’s Vineyard is here to accommodate this adventure! 

Here you can become one with some of the 70 alpacas that reside here with tours and up close and personal encounters with these gentle long-lashed vegetarians. 

The gift shop is overflowing with options to accommodate your newfound alpaca fanaticism including Alpaca yarn to take home so that you can get started early on knitting your bespoke Christmas gifts.

After all, nothing says I love you like handcrafted Alpaca socks from your alpaca friends on Martha’s Vineyard.

What To Eat

To round off a busy day hopping around Martha’s Vineyard’s world-class beaches and alpaca farms, you can take a hop skip up to Edgartown and pull into Alchemy Bistro

This local favorite features a vibrant bar scene upstairs as well as a much-raved-about gourmet casual menu downstairs

The fried oysters are phenomenal and the people watching, no matter what time of day, might be even better. 

Niagra Falls, New York 

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Where To Go

A comprehensive list of Best Day Trips On The East Coast isn’t complete without a visit to one of the “World’s Greatest Natural Wonders”, Niagra Falls.

Most people are aware of the three falls (Bridal Veil, American, and Horseshoe Falls) that combine to make this one of the most magnificent natural spectacles on earth, but few might realize that the Niagra Falls greater area is also heaving with museums, waterparks, and hiking trails. 

On subsequent day trips, it’s worth checking out the many cultural stops outside of the crown jewel of the falls themselves including the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum and Niagra Falls Art Gallery.

What To See 

The oldest state park in America,  Niagra Falls State Park, is definitely jockeying to be the full focus of any day trip to this area! After all, it is the host to one of the most formidable natural wonders on earth.

There are a number of excellent viewpoints to take in the show including Goat Islands Cave of Winds, Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, and Hurricane Deck observation point.

While the vast majority of daytrippers will view this wonder safely from a viewpoint, boat cruise, or even helicopter, we’d like to recommend a one-of-a-kind experience: ziplining. 

We can see you shaking your head from here. 

Stay with us on this; Ziplining in Niagra Falls might be just one of the best day trips you’ve never had. 

This is a breathtaking way to experience 20% of the United State’s drinking water supply rushing under you at 700,000 gallons a second.

While many people will take home a beautiful portrait of them standing in front of the falls from the safety of a cordoned viewpoint, you’ll have the photo of a lifetime while dangling in a refreshing position above it all. 

You’ll thank us later!

What To Eat

Many waterfall revelers will opt for the famous Top Of The Falls Restaurant, a magnificent choice that will likely not disappoint. 

It will most certainly provide out of this world views of the famed falls and offer a reliably great menu, yet what is life without a little risk! Have you ever had lunch in a silo?

For an equally unique vantage point, The Silo, a once fully functioning coal silo,  is located “just a splash away” and downstream from the mighty water machine of Niagra Falls. 

The Silo offers an equally worthy view of the Niagra River and pleases the masses with its Haystack Sandwich and equally phenomenal views. 

Cape May, New Jersey

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Where To Go

Cape May is many things but one it is certainly not is what you think of when someone says, “Let’s go on a day trip to New Jersey”! 

Designated as “America’s Oldest Seaside Resort”, you’ll find Cape May where the Delaware Bay connects with the Atlantic Ocean.

Full of charming Victorian touches, Cape May is the antithesis to the Jersey Shore’s gluttonous delights, where it brings a tranquil anecdote to city life.

Cape May has been designated a National Historic Monument owing to its over 600 Victorian era abodes.

This swath of seashore offers not only fantastic beachcombing along its stunning waterfront, but also offers many spontaneous adventures.

Carriage rides, tours of the local Naval Air Station Wildwood,  or a shopping excursion to the nearby Washington Street pedestrian mall are all side ventures that can be had on a day trip to Cape May.

What To See

We hope you’ve brought your sea legs on this day trip as the Cape May Whale Watcher is a 110-foot boat waiting to get you closer to the surprising natural marine life sightings that occur just off the Cape May coastline. 

While you might not connect the great state of New Jersey with whales, dolphins, and other aquatic wildlife sightings, Captain Jeff is here to prove otherwise with his comfortable sightseeing vessel that offers guarantees of marine mammal observations or a free non-expiring pass is provided.

This is an amazing way to experience New Jersey from a fresh perspective. 

What To Eat

Backstreet Simply Delicious is considered a “hidden gem” for a reason in that even frequent visitors can miss its location off the beaten path of the main thoroughfare. 

This Cape May secret is in an unassuming area of town but makes up for it in its deeply local and thoughtfully created menu. 

Backstreet Simply Delicious gives new swagger to classic items such as Corn and Crab Chowder as well as Flounder and Colossal Crab mains, giving it a top spot on edible must-dos in Cape May. 

Arden, Delaware

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Where To Go

This storybook perfect town is a lovely day trip for families looking to slow down.

Founded as a single tax community in 1900, Arden, Delaware has retained a unique pride and artisan flair for over 100 years. 

This petite town at just 0.3 square miles and home to only 430 residents makes up for in personality what it lacks in size.

It can easily be traversed in an hour, but don’t be discouraged about creating a trip itinerary as there are plenty of places to get lost in its quirkiness. 

Every detail of this town feels like it was created as part of a romantic Shakespearean story meant to transport you back to a simpler time. 

In theme with this, and if you time it right, you can catch a play by the local actors in the Shakespeare Gild who perform regularly around town. 

Not to be outdone, there is also a Poetry Gild, a Dinner Gild, and a Concert Gild, all helmed by locals who put together gatherings regularly and welcome the attendance of passers-through. 

You can refer to their schedule here to attend one of the many yearly events that are held. 

What To See

While this takes a bit of timing in planning, the Arden Fair is a national treasure that has been launched the weekend before Labor Day for over a century. 

Proclaiming over 100 vendors of handmade crafts, antiques, and live music, it is an ideal day trip getaway for the whole family and gives a memory only Arden can create. 

What To Eat

When you are ready to leave the Shakesperean wonderland that is Arden behind, a refreshment awaits at Chelsea Tavern in nearby Wilmington, Delaware. 

This gastropub has great outdoor seating and accommodates all the looky-loos in your party who are keen to people watch from its open-air patio. Craft beers and Catfish Fritters have elevated this stop’s status to the Reader’s Choice, Best of Downtown Wilmington list. 

St. Michaels, Maryland

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Where To Go

While no formal judging was involved, we’re going to take liberties and call St. Michaels “Maryland’s Cutest Coastal Town”.  

Generally described as a historic waterfront town with an amazing opportunity to revisit the historic invasion of the British in 1813, we would also like to point out its equally historic designation as the idyllic Chesapeake Bay setting for the classic movie: Wedding Crashers.

If the Inn at Perry Cabin looks familiar, it might be because this colonial mansion was featured in the infamous reception scene of the famous Owen Wilson movie. 

For the kids, Talbot Street offers frequent ice cream stops while adults rolling solo can enjoy a tour of the local brewery, winery, or distillery. 

If you sensed that St Michaels has a theme, we assure you it is not just in its’ alcoholic refinements. 

Not just a petite town churning out crab cakes, St. Michaels has an abundance of charm and activities for the whole spectrum from tots to newly Tinder’d couples. 

What To See

Grab a rented bike from TriCycle and Run and take a leisurely ride along the St. Michaels Nature Trail

This is an ideal way to see all the best that St Michaels has to offer where pitstops abound. 

This 1.3-mile paved nature trail starts at South Talbot Street and runs northwest and includes optional side adventures to be found at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Waterfront Park, and St. Michaels Heritage Museum. 

Amateur photographers will love the covered wooden bridge and picturesque horse farm that are wonderful spots to catch a great shot for your “Best Of Day Trips” photo album. 

What To Eat

St Michaels is well known for its culinary variety, especially when it comes to representing the local seafood fare it is known for. 

If your day trip is on theme for a special occasion then you can’t go wrong with the highly awarded and reservations recommended options of either Bistro St Michaels or Awful Arthur’s Seafood Company

However, if you happen to be traveling with a plant-based eater, we highly recommend Gina’s Cafe, a cozy low-key option whose menu is friendly for vegetarians and pescatarians alike. 

We know how difficult it can be to feed both types to satisfaction and Gina’s does not disappoint. 

Believe it or not the “Chum Bucket” is a veggie-friendly appetizer platter that will satisfy everyone!

Dupont Circle, Washington D.C

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Where To Go

If you are in fact, fact-checking us on whether Washington D.C is a “state”, whereas we told you we would break this list down by said “states”, no need. 

Guilty as charged. 

While not technically a state this District has an abundance to offer for even the most seasoned D.C daytripper, which is why we dug deep to find an off-the-beaten-path recommendation for your next day trip jaunt. 

Although many of the previous options have assumed that you are wanting to escape the hustle of the cosmopolitan or even suburban pace of life to visit some of the quieter locations included on this list, the Dupont Circle of Washington DC is an answer for the opposite. 

For the people who are looking for some lively cosmopolitan excitement, you’ll find a vast array of dining, entertainment, and historic landmarks amongst this vibrant neighborhood’s offerings.  

Named after Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont, the centerpiece of the neighborhood is the  Dupont Circle Fountain. It is here that they host movie screenings and art events.

It is also here where streets extend away from it towards Embassy Row, the shopper’s paradise of Connecticut Avenue, and The Spanish Steps where many a romance has begun. 

What To See

The following day trip guidance applies to all the historic revelers who have already been to Woodrow Wilson’s House, paid their respects to Abe at the Lincoln Memorial, and revisited their ancient political science notes from college in preparation for the White House Tour. 

After you have done your civic duty in reaffirming your history knowledge, you are welcome to reward yourself by becoming a swinger. 

Tucked just south of Dupont Circle, Swingers is exactly what you would guess… indoor “crazy golfing” accompanied by cocktails. 

While this experience is for a 21+ crowd, it certainly does not disappoint in its uniqueness. 

Inside you’ll be greeted by the District’s best street food vendors, live DJs, and crazy mini golf courses all designed to leave you feeling like the Tiger Woods of Happy Hour.

What To Eat:

In a place dubbed an “internationally local” neighborhood, there is a plethora of world-inspired culinary delights all laying claim to the quintessential Dupont Circle dining experience. 

Our choice however is the onion of options.  

Kramers is as eclectic as its neighborhood constituents and peeling back the “onion” layers reveals it to a much more complex dining option than it seems!

From the outside, this cultural landmark appears as an ordinary bookstore, but inside a James Beard winning menu awaits featuring modern American Cuisine with a dash of French eloquence. 

Beyond the bookstore a solarium dining space will transport you away from the city sidewalk you arrived from. 

Even deeper into Kramer’s, you will find a craft cocktail bar open 24 hours on the weekends and offering a refined vibe that can only be found in Dupont Circle.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

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Where To Go

A sleepy beach town, Virginia Beach is not. 

Moderate temperatures, excellent recreation options (if you are a cyclist, this is paradise), and rich naval history exacts a full plate of fun for all in this paradise that might take a nap, but never fully goes to bed.

What To See

If your happiness barometer rises with talk of naval history, Virginia Beach is an ideal day trip destination for you. 

One of the finest examples of naval fanaticism lies within the Naval Aviation Monument Park

This standout plaza spans 16,000 feet of Virginia Beach oceanfront with breezy views of the Atlantic. 

Here you can explore the many bronze statues paying homage to three eras of naval aviation.

You’ll find it truly remarkable to take in the magnitude of the many chronicled naval launches that occurred here in historical wartime contexts. 

Not far from this site there are also some noteworthy green spaces that create a beautiful strolling opportunity with contrasting ecosystems in comparison to the usual beach vistas.

Of note; First Landing State Park creates a beautiful shift from the busy beach boardwalk with contrasting bald cypress swamps, maritime forests, and lagoons. 

There are also wonderful weekend camping opportunities to be found nearby if you feel inspired to extend your day trip to a weekend mini-vacation including North Bay Shore Campground and Virginia Beach KOA.

What To Eat

Doc Taylor’s Seaside Market Lounge could be buoyed by local traffic alone as a standout hidden gem in the boardwalk area of Virginia Beach. 

Interestingly, this once pink motel hosted the practice of the very real physician, Doc Taylor, and today its walls are lined with memorabilia of his memory and times long gone.

Nowadays the only medicine coming out of this beloved establishment are prescriptions of Catfish Po’Boys and The Doctor’s World Famous Bloody Mary.

Durham, North Carolina

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Where To Go

Durham just might be the most newly designated “hip city” on the East Coast. 

Surrounded by higher education pillars such as Duke University and driving distance to Wake Forest University, this city’s young population sets the bar high for keeping these young minds stimulated every day of the week. 

Durham’s ability to be both a thriving modern metropolis as well as an artsy hub of bohemian hipness gives it a unique flavor worthy of many day trips over.

Amiable weather, low costs, and a vibrant community make this an enjoyable respite any time of the year. 

What To See

 If you haven’t caught on yet, we believe any day trip can be made complete with a unique animal experience. 

We also love an excursion that has a positive social impact! The Duke Lemur Center is unreservedly in homage to this fact. 

This unique stop in Durham is doubly served by the fact that the lemur happens to be the most endangered mammal on earth making this both a valuable educational experience for adults and children while also giving monetary support to support endangered species efforts. 

The center offers on-site tours, day camps, and workshops all of which offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience to encounter this special animal while supporting breeding and conservation efforts to maintain the lemur’s population. 

What To Eat 

Have you even been to Durham if you didn’t go to It’s A Southern Thing for a meal? This on theme restaurant serves up the quintessential North Carolina experience. 

Locally owned and committed to serving you the most authentically southern experience it is only made better by its fun industrial-chic atmosphere. 

Also worth a stop in Durham is Guglhupf Bakery, Café, and Biergarten

Provider of both vegan and gluten-free options, as well as local and seasonally sourced mains, Guglhupf, is giving modern german fare a North Carolina twist.

Its upcycled decor and outdoor patio serve Biergarten vibes aplenty, and if you don’t believe us, take the lines outside as evidence. 

Greenville, South Carolina

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Where To Go

In 2021, Greenville, South Carolina was named one of the “Best Small Cities in the United States” by Conde Nast who described this quaint family-oriented spot as a “food lover’s town with farm-to-table scenery”.

The centerpiece of this lush little city is a one a kind floating suspension bridge set against a downtown that boasts a thriving art scene and spectacular urban trail system. 

What To See 

While we wouldn’t normally send a fellow day tripper straight to shopping, the historic West End area in Greenville is an exception. 

This revitalized area of town has a nostalgic vibe with a plethora of local retailers featuring South Carolina’s finest homegrown art and edibles. 

Stroll down Main Street over picture-ready Liberty Bridge to find Mast General store for a throwback in time where antiques line the walls, and anybody born pre-Millenium will feel right at home, while those born after will get a feel for what simpler times held. 

What To Eat

For a real taste of Greenville, stop at Tupelo Honey where revitalized southern traditions meet scratch craftsmanship. 

The owners place special emphasis on supporting local responsible farmers who harvest in season and in doing so are conscious of the environmental footprint they leave behind.

As a bonus to day-trippers, this means a menu that rotates with the season as well as “Forever Free” proteins which means that they are absent of antibiotics or hormones. 

We love an ecologically considerate Southern dining option!