2012 America's Happiest Seaside Towns
By Tracey Minkin
Home to five award-winning golf courses, 30-plus miles of paved paths ideal for biking, and shopping at local hub Freshfields Village, residents often kayak down the tree-shaded Kiawah River to watch egrets, herons, and bald eagles enjoying their sanctuary.
Where to Stay: The beachfront Sanctuary Hotel has spacious suites with access to five golf courses and a spa. Rates start at $440; 800/576-1570 or kiawahresort.com.
With rich cultural offerings (including resident orchestral and theater groups), this town of just fewer than 20,000 people offers big-city-pay-offs minutes from beaches with some of the finest snowy white sand in the region. A strong arts community has kept the downtown scene as beautiful as the shoreline. Shopping mavens love to scout for antiques and artisans finds at Tin City, an open-air marketplace. Always a center for fresh seafood, the town as undergone a recent culinary boom. And with so much within reach of its neighborhoods, it's one of the most walkable cities on our list.
Where to Stay: The boutique Inn on Fifth is blocks from the beach in Old Naples, with plush pillow-top beds, a spa, and more than 20 nearby restaurants. Rates start at $159; 239/403-8777 or innonfifth.com.
The zeitgeist here echoes its bohemian roots as an artists' colony while also hosting well-heeled inhabitants. Café life informs the pace—start your morning like locals do, with an espresso at Poggio, Sausalito Bakery & Café, Il Piccolo Café, or Caffe Tutti. Then wind down your day with wine tasting—and if you score a night on a Sausalito houseboat, your life is pretty much complete.
Where to Stay: For stunning views of the San Francisco skyline and bay, the hillside cottages and guest rooms of Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa boast sleek design. Rates start at $250; 415/331-3125 or casamadrona.com.
These layers add to the charm of this town of about 5,800 residents. Grand homes, from sprawling Queen Anne to Midwestern Prairie-style, keep company with seasonal cottages, most in walking distance of the beach. Locals enjoy seven city parks, outdoor concerts on the village green, and the annual 4th of July parade. Plus, the schools are ranked among the best on our list.
Where to Stay: The Tudor-style Deer Path Inn is a historic retreat just south of town. Rooms are grand but cozy. Rates start at $170; 847/234-2280 or dpihotel.com.
Perhaps most emblematic of the welcome in Tiburon is in the philosophy of one of its oldest restaurants, the beloved waterfront hangout Sam's Anchor Cafe (one of the only restaurants in the San Francisco Bay with a public dock): "Pull up. Tie up. Stay a while." It's that kind of place.
Where to Stay: The luxury spa rooms at The Lodge at Tiburon are painted in soothing blue tones. Most have private balconies and patios. Rates start at $168; 415/435-3133 or lodgeattiburon.com.
While some other California coastal towns piled up commerce on their shores, Laguna fought for open space, and now its nearly 25,000 residents reap the benefits of sweeping views and unparalleled public access to some of the most unspoiled coves in America.
Where to Stay: Casa Laguna Inn & Spa is a romantic escape within walking distance of the beach. Rates start at $159; 800/233-0449 or casalaguna.com.
Where to Stay: Oceano Hotel & Spa offers suites with fireplaces and organic bamboo linens. Rates start at $199; 888/623-2661 or oceanohalfmoonbay.com.
Where to Stay: Captain's House Inn is a AAA four-diamond property. Don't miss the gourmet breakfast. Rates start at $185; 800/315-0728 or captainshouseinn.com.
Life in Jupiter is easygoing and low-key, and yet there's access to plenty of luxury amenities, whether you're a visitor or a resident. On the down-home front, baseball devotees love the proximity to spring training—both the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins train and play at Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium. And tying it all together are those lovely Florida Atlantic coast beaches—long, broad, and ranked consistently among the healthiest beaches on our list.
Where to Stay: Jupiter Beach Resort is nestled on 1,000 feet of sandy shore. Rates start at $181; 866/943-0950 or jupiterbeachresort.com.
Long a favored harbor for American whaling vessels, Lahaina maintains an exotic tinge of a mid-19th-century Hawaiian seaport in its architecture and vibe. The seafaring tradition continues each year, when the town hosts the finish of the Vic-Mauo Yacht race, the longest offshore sailboat race on the West Coast, held every June through July.
Where to Stay: Plantation Inn sits in the historic district. Rates start at $158; 800/433-6815 or theplantationinn.com.
Since the late 1800s, Marblehead has been able to claim its title as yachting capital of the United States, counting six yacht clubs and the oldest junior yacht club in America. On any weekend, the harbor fills with the furled sails of regatta competition. Less than an hour from Boston, Marblehead boasts a highly educated population that has driven the town to maintain some of the highest-ranked schools on our list.
Where to Stay: Harbor Light Inn is sweet and romantic. Rates start at $145; 781/631-2186 or harborlightinn.com.
Where to Stay: The Sandpiper offers quaint rooms and cabins. Rates start at $140; 877/557-4737 or sandpiperstinsonbeach.com.
Cohasset's beauty drew painter Maurice Prendergast, who captured its colors in famous oils. With only 7,500 residents, Cohasset offers a large park, two beaches for residents, and a wildlife sanctuary. Shh. Don't tell another soul.
Where to Stay: Red Lion Inn Resort's rooms have brick or gas fireplaces. Rates start at $230; 781/383-1704 or redlioninn1704.com.
Did that famous Pilgrim envision the community that would grow here, out of shipping and farming (Duxbury is dotted with the deep red of cranberry bogs, and its oyster farming is on the rise), to hold one of the United States' top 12 public high schools? Perhaps. A community commitment to education keeps this town of 14,200 residents a desirous outpost for Boston commuters. And clean air and spacious views of the bay make it a year-round escape for retirees.
Where to Stay: Winsor House Inn embodies New England hospitality. Rates start at $110; 781/934-0991 or winsorhouseinn.com.
A favorite getaway spot for the Baltimore-Washington area, this tiny settlement of 2,400 boasts marinas, seafood joints (including a heralded spot, Stoney's Seafood House), a well-worn boardwalk forstrolling, and the gorgeous Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center, which shows world-class work on loan from the National Gallery of Art or the Smithsonian. It's like finding a pearl. And still getting to eat the oyster. Every day.
Where to Stay: Solomons Victorian Inn serves breakfast with a harbor view. Rates start at $110; 410/326-4811 or solomonsvictorianinn.com.
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