For a really good lobster roll, Kristin Francis is willing to drive a few extra hours.
"It would make more sense for me as a New Yorker to hit the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore each summer," says the souvenir-shopping blogger. "But I skip these spots and take the longer drive to Chatham." Along with the lobster at Chatham Pier Fish Market, she loves the handblown vases at Chatham Glass Company and the fudge at Chatham Candy Manor. "It has that small-town vibe."
Travel + Leisure readers also loved the Cape Cod destination, ranking Chatham, MA, among the top 10 beach towns nationwide. As part of our annual America's Favorite Towns survey, readers evaluated hundreds of places for qualities like romantic hotels and live music. Not surprisingly, many of the towns that scored well for picnics, seafood shacks, and cool motels also sit right next to the shore.
Granted, beach towns come in a variety of flavors, from mansion-lined Newport, RI, to lovably kooky Key West, FL. One top 25 beach town provides easy access to wine country. In another, you can get an up-close look at the local pirate past. Either way, once you have found your ideal beach village, you want to keep coming back, like the tide itself.
Mary Castillo, for instance, goes to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, twice a year and gets more attached each time. During the summer, she looks forward to seeing dolphins surfing the waves, and in the winter, "after the storms, the sand is swept clear to reveal the bedrock underneath," says the mystery writer. "When we walk on Carmel Beach, it's never the same, and yet it feels like home."
For all of America's favorite beach towns, click here.
No. 1 St. Simons Island, GA
Lined with white sand and live oaks, the biggest of Georgia's Golden Isles won the beach-town contest for offering a triple threat of southern charm, serenity, and affordability. It's not hard, after all, to get hotel rates here under $200 a night. St. Simons Inn, for instance, overlooks a 19th-century lighthouse, while the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, a former dance club, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. St. Simons also scored well with readers for its good picnicking spots, events like the 4th of July Sunshine Festival, and for romance. You two might rent a bike or catch a trolley to tour the area's plantations.
Courtesy of Crystal Coast Tourism Authority
No. 2 Beaufort, NC
Beaufort dates back to 1709 and landed its silver-medal position for classic boardwalk culture as well as easy-access kayaking in Taylors Creek. Gazing across the dock to Carrot Island, you might see wild horses, which have been a local staple since the town's pirate days. While other beach towns boast about current celebrity visitors, Beaufort still has the remnants of its most famous (or infamous) regular: Blackbeard, whose pirate ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, sank here. Today, "Queen Anne's Revenge" also refers to a restaurant on the boardwalk, where you can eat fresh stuffed shrimp, choose from 400 craft beers and wines, and listen to Beaufort's highly ranked live music.
Ian G Dagnall / Alamy
No. 3 Amelia Island, FL
This barrier island off the northern coast of Florida has a worldly past, having existed under eight different flags, including Spain, Mexico, and France. Its dominant personality is now Victorian charm, manifested in such spots as the Palace Saloon, which purports to be the oldest bar in Florida (readers also ranked the town in the top 10 for good beer-quaffing). Another old-fashioned perk: Amelia Island State Park is one of the few beaches in the U.S. where you're still allowed to ride horses right on the sand.
nobleIMAGES / Alamy
No. 4 Provincetown, MA
Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, comes across as both elegant and fun loving. You can hike the paths alongside the dunes at the Province Lands Trail and then kick back at Victor's, known for its live jazz, cherry-blossom martinis, and raw bar, with local oysters and crab claws for 99 cents each. T+L readers ranked it in the top 10 for both active locals and B&Bs like the new unfussy Salt House Inn. P-town also scored highly as a gay-friendly and girlfriend-getaway destination.
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