Sara Gray

The northeast coast has attracted newcomers since Plymouth Bay lured the Pilgrims ashore in 1620. Modern transplants have scanned this coastline and found safe harbor.

Setting:

The Northeast―from rugged Maine to cosmopolitan NewYork―has been the country's densest population center sincethe Revolution. Yes, it's crowded, but along sections of its coast,there's still breathing room. Whether you seek an island that takesyou away from it all or a city in the center of it all, theNortheast has options.

It's a region of contrasts. Maine isles sprout slender pines;the island of Manhattan seems to grow towers of glass and steel.Quiet coastal villages such as Maine's Wiscasset, bisected by onemain highway, counter cities such as Boston, encased by a complexmatrix of highways and jumbled, if charming, city streets. Saltytowns such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine, havetransformed into artsy hubs.

Islands offer contrasts, too. Long Island has its string of tonyHamptons on the South Fork and cradles quieter towns, such asGreenport and Orient, on the North Fork. Massachusetts has itsfamous island pair―Nantucket (exuding a regal, yacht-clubaura tempered by its hardworking whaling heritage) and Martha'sVineyard (a sprawling island with varied towns to sample). AndMaine offers less developed isles such as Little Cranberry Islandnear Acadia National Park.

Attractions:

Wall Street and the arts lure many to New York City. Culture anda smaller metropolitan setting entice them to Boston. A simpler wayof life―with less traffic, open waters, seafood, and cleanerair―takes them to coastal villages. And many appreciate thatthe best of both worlds is within driving distance. With majorairports nearby and commuter railways extending farther outsidemetro areas, the quaint coastal towns have received moreattention.

In Maine, Acadia National Park draws millions of visitors eachyear, but the entire shoreline offers scenic wonders. FromPortland, the coast stretches south toward harbor towns andnortheast (or Down East, as locals call it) in a meandering maze.From Midcoast Maine north, a series of charming towns, such asCamden, dot Route 1 on its way to the easternmost town inAmerica―remote Eastport.

At 18 miles, the New Hampshire Seacoast, as it's known, is shortand sweet, but its 25 coastal towns have New England character andplenty of beach access.

Boston naturally serves as Massachusetts' population andcultural center. Some make their home in Cape Ann to the north orthe larger Cape Cod to the south, flanked by Nantucket and Martha'sVineyard.

Because of its size, airport, and cultural offerings, Providenceanchors Rhode Island's coastline. Newport, with its naval complexand historic ties, is another city of interest. Block Island,accessible by air and ferry, is a beauty with some 900 year-roundresidents.

As venerable as they are, the small Connecticut enclaves ofMystic and Stonington seem to have a humble seafaring persona thatdiffers from the swank towns of Greenwich and Westport or thecommunity of Rowayton, part of Norwalk. These three well-heeled,lovely-to-live-in towns have a certain prestige attached andmaintain interest in Manhattan happenings. Any of the state'scoastal cities pair proximity to metro areas with small-towncharm.

In New York, of course, there's "The City," as locals refer toManhattan. But there's more. Long Island's pastures and open spacespossess character not found on Fifth Avenue. Shelter Island feelslike a quiet old farmstead and oozes a Victorian feel, while FireIsland combines coastal beauty with a sometimes raucous socialscene. The airport at Long Island's Islip offers an easyalternative to La Guardia and Kennedy.

Drawbacks:

There's both the buzz and congestion of the cities and the harshreality of winter. Some oceanfront properties have been developedin haphazard fashion, leaving a mishmash of beach house styles.

Down East Maine is just that―way down east, and residentsof those rural towns may feel isolated at times.

New Hampshire has a limited amount of coastal property, andproperty taxes are high. Massachusetts has that darn traffic aroundBoston (expected to improve in the wake of the "Big Dig" roadproject). Rhode Island and Connecticut offer access to big cities,but the commute can get old. In some eyes, a detractor to Mystic,Connecticut, and its environs is the booming casino that openednearby. Marketing plans often include deals or packages based inMystic, which might help tourism but bothers some residents.

New York is, well, New York, in all its glory and with all itsissues, from terror threats to high-priced restaurants andhard-to-find, expensive housing.

Housing Options:

On Nantucket, saltbox houses huddle on dunes in cloaks ofsignature gray shingles. In Long Island's Southampton, brick andmarble edifices hide behind green hedges, while the same island'ssmall town of East Marion features farmhouses that hug the highway.Maine has its share of farmhouses, too, with simple and austerelines.

Throughout New England, Federal-style homes mingle with grandVictorian summer cottages. Designs for new construction often callon such traditions, mimicking elements of old sea captain's housesbuilt in the Federal style or playing with Victorian farmhousedetails.

Housing Costs:

The average condo price in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, areasold in the last half of 2003 was $236,000, while some waterfrontcondos ran more than $1 million. In the nearby beach town of Rye,New Hampshire, condos on or near the water range from $600,000 to$1 million. Single-family homes near the water in Rye can run $1 or$2 million. Ditto or even much higher for a house in charmingBellport, New York, out on Long Island. In the actual Hamptons,millions are the norm. Rhode Island's Block Island is also prettypricey: Average single-family home price? $1.4 million. Maineoffers the best property values for your money. There's still someundeveloped land, and property taxes are relatively low. On LittleCranberry Island, Maine, a house away from the ocean, but nearenough, goes for $225,000, and a five-bedroom, historic home at theisland's center goes for $385,000.

Your Next-door Neighbors:

The region draws people from all over the globe, includingprofessionals, creative types, and fishermen. Smaller townsmaintain a core of natives who might size up newcomers, but NewEnglanders prove warm, friendly, and open, even if they arepractical and no-nonsense. Out on Long Island and on Martha'sVineyard, you'll rub elbows with celebrities, but if you become aresident, you'll soon stop staring. From artists and chefs whoflock to islands and coastal hamlets to retirees living out theirdreams, this region welcomes one and all.

How You'd Spend Your Free Time:

You might walk down to the water to catch a glimpse of theHudson in New York, or roam a broad beach all by yourself in RhodeIsland. Big cities bring big bands such as the Boston Pops or thebright lights of Broadway, but clamming in Rhode Island or NewHampshire asks a smaller ticket price. Highway 6 on the north partof Cape Cod offers endless antiquing, and some make a pastime ofattending the yard sales out on Long Island. In Maine, trek over toa lobster dock to grab tonight's dinner. And in Newport, RhodeIsland, you might attend a holiday ball at one of the historicmansions in town. In Connecticut, residents join local sailingclubs where members bring their own meat to grill while they cheerkids' sailing races.

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