The United Nations General Assembly calls for ecosystem restoration to be a primary intervention strategy used to counter the continued loss of natural habitats worldwide, while supporting human health and wellbeing globally. Restoration of coastal marine ecosystems is perceived by many to be expensive and prone to failure, in part explaining its low rates of implementation compared with terrestrial ecosystems. Yet, marine ecosystem restoration is a relatively new field, and we argue that assessments of its potential to answer this call should not rely on typical outcomes, but also to learn from successful outliers. Here, we review successful restoration efforts across a suite of metrics in coastal marine systems to highlight ‘bright spots’. We find that, similar to terrestrial systems, restoration interventions can be effective over large spatial expanses (1,000s–100,000s ha), persist for decades, rapidly expand in size, be cost-effective, and generate social and economic benefits. These bright spots clearly demonstrate restoration of coastal marine systems can be used as a nature-based solution to improve biodiversity and support human health and wellbeing. Examining coastal marine restoration through a historical lens shows that it has developed over a shorter period than restoration in terrestrial systems, partially explaining lower efficiencies. Given these bright spots and the relative immaturity of coastal marine ecosystem restoration, it is likely to advance rapidly over the coming decades and become a common intervention strategy that can reverse marine degradation, contribute to local economies, and improve human wellbeing at a scale relevant to addressing global threats.