Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Beach Trips: Breakers and Boardwalks

You might think that with sun, sand and seashore, all beaches are basically the same. But of course, you’d be wrong.

America’s Atlantic coast enjoys a great diversity of destinations, all as different as the historical, cultural and geological forces that created them. Though they have salt water in common, many beach towns on the Eastern Seaboard boast special characteristics, attractions and activities that set them apart from one another.

For groups, visiting beaches brings numerous options. Sun lovers can retreat to the shore and relax the day away, and explorers can get to know the various features that make each coastal city unique.

There are opportunities for historic tours, eco-adventures, live entertainment and first-class pampering at beach destinations across America. Here are five such places — some well publicized and others more intimate — that offer great opportunities for group travel.


 — Crystal Coast —

North Carolina

At the southern stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the area known as the Crystal Coast offers visitors access to an environment rarely seen these days: unspoiled beaches.

“Our area is not built up at all,” said Carol Lohr, executive director of the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority. “The Cape Lookout National Seashore area has 65 miles of undeveloped beaches, and that’s the jewel in our crown. The beach area on the mainland that is inhabited has a state park at one end. You can go over there some days and not see another living soul.”

Groups have several options for exploring the islands that make up the national seashore. Sightseeing cruises depart from the mainland town of Beaufort for a tour of the harbor and can include dinner and cocktail service. For a more immersive experience, a ferry from Beaufort takes visitors to the uninhabited Shackleford Banks, where they can see a herd of wild horses that have descended from horses aboard a ship that wrecked on the island in the 1700s.

“It’s a nine-mile island with 116 horses on it,” Lohr said. “The horses are completely wild but very protected. The horses come right up around you and walk right past you. You see them grazing and see the stallions looking after their mares and foals.”

The national seashore also includes Cape Lookout Lighthouse, an 1856 structure that is open for visitors to climb from May through September.


—  Virginia Beach  —


With the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and a prominent sand bridge within its borders, Virginia Beach, Virginia, has a variety of beach experiences for groups. Although the destination is perhaps best known for its three-and-a-half-mile Atlantic beach and boardwalk, groups touring the area can also experience eco-adventure, military heritage and culinary tours.

“We have Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where groups can do a number of ranger-led tours,” said Jim Coggin, tourism sales manager at the Virginia Beach CVB. “The eco-wildlife safari takes guests on a tram ride through the park, where they learn the importance of the area ecosystem. And one of my favorite experiences is called beachcombing. The rangers take groups out on a protected beach and talk about the things they find washed up on the shore, like sea foam and seashells.”

Virginia Beach residents also pride themselves on their area’s military heritage, and visitors can experience it in a number of ways. The first is by touring the Military Aviation Museum, which has one of the country’s largest collections of flyable World War I and World War II aircraft.

For a more modern experience, groups can tour Oceana Air Naval Station, the only master jet base on the East Coast. Visitors can go out to see the flight lines and watch the high-tech military jets take off and land.

Food and agriculture enthusiasts will enjoy a Virginia Beach Coastal Harvest Feast, which highlights some of the 126 working farms in the area.

“It can be done from one to five days,” Coggin said. “The five-day tour takes groups outside of Virginia Beach and visits some of the neighboring cities like Smithfield, where they learn the Smithfield ham story.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.