America's Happiest Seaside Towns 2013

Find our 2013 annual list of the best places to live on the coast, ranked by you! And the winners are...

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#1 Beaufort, South Carolina
Photo: Christopher Shane

1. Beaufort, South Carolina

Lowcountry friendliness and urban refinement strike just the right balance in this beautiful South Carolina town known for its historic antebellum architecture, exquisite local cuisine, and rich African-American heritage.

Beaufort sits on Port Royal Island, in a verdant curve of the Intracoastal Waterway in the heart of the Sea Islands, as it has for a little more than 300 years (making it the second-oldest city in South Carolina). It is glorious strolling here; much of the architecture remains intact, thanks in large part to the Historic Beaufort Foundation (which puts on a stunning Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens every October).

Beyond being an elegant and welcoming urban center of 12,534 locals, Beaufort is also a springboard for exploring natural environs, including Hunting Island, a 5,000-acre state park with more than three miles of pristine beach known as among the most sublime in the state. And then, as any local will tell you, there's the shrimp. And the sweet tea. And the mandevilla-perfumed breezes that imbue the slowed pace of Lowcountry life. All of it, in Beaufort.

Where to stay: The 1805 Cuthbert House Inn welcomes guests with spacious rooms, complimentary evening drinks, and a veranda with commanding water views. Rates start at $159; cuthberthouseinn.com.

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