Explore America's Best Little Beach Towns
Published July 10, 2012
While the sparkling shores of Malibu and the beautiful people of South Beach may get most of the attention on travel guides to “top U.S. beaches,” there’s something to be said for the lesser-known sandy spots that the locals know best. Small beach towns dot the coastlines of America and are home to picturesque shores, quaint shops, and delectable dining experiences. Before you plan your next sun-and-sand vacation, consider the following coastal havens, where summer was meant to be savored.
Nags Head, NC
Along the shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, you will find this jewel of a coastal town. Enjoy activities like shipwreck snorkeling, shopping for local arts and crafts, or simply strolling through the homes built in the classic coastal architectural style. Nags Head prides itself on minimal development and lots of natural, open spaces.
Eat: When visiting Nags Head, an absolute can't-miss dining spot is Tale of the Whale. The prices are reasonable and the views are sensational. You'll want to save room for the large portions of fresh local seafood, or simply request a doggy bag from the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Play: Nags Head Dolphin Watch offers visitors a two and a half hour boat trip that includes a coastal tour of Nags Head followed by an up-close and personal, boat-side view of the local Atlantic dolphin pods. If you prefer your adventures to be by air rather than by sea, check out Kitty Hawk Kites Hang Gliding School. The expert staff will teach you how to hang-glide and then take you out to experience your first flight from the dunes, where Orville and Wilbur first took to the air.
Stay: The vibe in Nags Head is one of relaxation and comfort - and nowhere is that better embodied than at the First Colony Inn. Embracing an old beach house style, it boasts sizeable porches that are perfect for reading, easy access to the beautiful beach, and an impressive afternoon tea spread.
If you continue your travels north on Interstate 95, you will come across York, Maine, an enchanting little town that seamlessly blends New England history with coastal charm. Take in the natural beach habitat as you relax on Long Sands Beach or watch from a distance as the ocean-going vessels make their way in and out of York Harbor.
Eat: After working up an appetite combing the beach at Long Sands, stop in at the Union Grill & Pub for your choice of fine dining in the restaurant or pub fare in the bar. The menu is a long-standing favorite of locals and visitors alike, and the daily specials are not to be missed.
Play: If you find time to tear yourself away from the tranquility of the beach, you might enjoy taking in a mealtime cooking class at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School, or exploring the scenic Cape Neddick “Nubble” Lighthouse.
Stay: To truly experience the “off the beaten path” atmosphere of York, book your stay at the Morning Glory Inn. Located near the York River and surrounded by tranquil woods, this pre-revolutionary home boasts ocean views and a generous breakfast buffet.
If you’re dreaming of a quiet coastal getaway, escape to the tranquil beach setting of Cambria, California. This small beach town boasts a thriving artist colony, which is evidenced by its unique shops and quaint eateries.
Eat: If the ocean air fails to put you in the mood for romance, Madeline’s restaurant will, with its one of a kind, wine-centric menu and charming atmosphere. Locals and visitors alike rave over the scallop appetizer and the lamb entrée.
Play: A trip to Cambria is not complete without a trip to Moonstone Beach to beachcomb for the location’s namesake moonstones. These cloudy, iridescent gems are scattered along the scenic beach and provide hours of relaxing fun for visitors of all ages. Afterwards, make the 6 mile trek north, up the coast to San Simeon to see the legendary Hearst Castle. Once home to the publishing magnate, this ornately decorated dwelling offers docent guided tours to give you some insight into the lavish life lived by one of America’s most powerful families.
Stay: To complete your relaxing escape, make yourself at home in the El Colibri Boutique Hotel and Spa. This small but enchanting property boasts breath-taking ocean views, a cozy wine bar, and fireplaces in each room.
(Article continued on page 2.)
Ucluelet, British Columbia
If you are more interested in becoming one with nature than kicking back in a beach chair, you will genuinely appreciate the beach town of Ucluelet (or Ukee as the locals call it) on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Eat: Restaurants in beach towns that serve local, fresh seafood are not rare. However, Norwood’s Restaurant takes it to a whole new level with the novel preparations and unique presentations of their specialty dishes. You will not be disappointed in your experience here.
Play: The main draw of Ucluelet is the interface with nature, so take full advantage of all that Mother Nature has to offer by booking a cruise with Archipelago Wildlife Cruises, where your tour will get you up-close and personal with bears, sea lions, whales and more. If you’d like to inject some adrenaline into your vacation, check out West Coast Wild Adventures for an educational and exciting guided tour of the area via zip line.
Stay: To take advantage of the spectacular scenery while enjoying luxurious accommodations, stay at the Snug Harbour Inn. The additional amenities of this bed and breakfast include an outdoor hot tub and a telescope, through which you can watch sea otters playing on the beach or view an eagle’s nest from a safe distance.
What’s your favorite coastal spot? Share your best-loved beach town with your friends and neighbors by adding a comment below.