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...
By Tracey Minkin
Originally a popular destination on the stagecoach route from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, Pescadero maintains the stage-stop flavor with colorful shops and eats—and is full of natural splendor, like those towering redwoods of Butano State Park.
Where to stay: Costanoa Lodge ecoresort is a log-cabin dream perched on an ocean bluff—with main lodge, cabins, and tent bungalows. Rates start at $89; costanoa.com.
It's a combination of brains and beauty hard to match anywhere. The rocky shoreline is equally without peer for sheer breathtakingness. And there's the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course—because of course, heaven has 18 holes.
Where to stay: The Grande Colonial hotel is steps from the shore (and seal sightings!) with rooms and suites in soothing shades. Rates start at $219; thegrandecolonial.com.
With a Buddhist stupa consecrated by the Dalai Lama himself, two tattoo parlors, one hemp store, and what is considered the best natural foods store on Maui, Pa'ia is charmingly, distinctively a unique place of 2,668 happy souls—who enjoy five beaches in walking distance of town.
Where to stay: The boutique Paia Inn is a dreamy getaway in the heart of it all by a sugar-sand beach, with garden, town, and ocean views. Rates start at $259; paiainn.com.
All that makes for happy locals, including many who have moved here from nearby Boston—and with the additional blessing of sandy beaches, it's a miracle the whole metropolis hasn't relocated.
Where to stay: The White Barn Inn is a luxury 1820s converted farmhouse and barn that sets the mood for romance with fireplaces and fresh flowers. Rates start at $370; whitebarninn.com.
In fact, many New Englanders don't even know this gem, making it all the more dear for those 4,000 or so who call it home. But art—and beauty—does come at a price. It's one of the most expensive spots in the state (as well as the nation). And yet this village has a low-key sensibility, with pizza joints, ice-cream parlors, and a volunteer fire department.
Where to stay: The family-owned Norwalk Inn on the Norwalk River offers 72 rooms and verdant grounds a 10-minute drive from Rowayton. Rates start at $99; norwalkinn.com.
Newport's rich setting has drawn a wonderful variety of shops, hotels, and dining options. And in the center stands the International Tennis Hall of Fame, with its pristine grass courts and shingled veranda.
Where to stay: The Chanler at Cliff Walk is an impossibly romantic historic mansion of individually decorated suites with fireplaces. Rates start at $649; thechanler.com.
The heart of Sag Harbor beats most strongly on Main Street, where Long Wharf is a gathering spot known for the town's iconic windmill. Locals also love Long Beach's three miles of white-powder sands.
Where to stay: Check in to the 1846 American Hotel—still the social hub of town, with eight bedrooms and a 75-foot yacht for rent. Call for seasonal rates; theamericanhotel.com.
As for the quiet, away-from-it-all life that Sanibel offers its 6,469 residents, consider that there are no stoplights, nor buildings taller than the tallest palm tree. And the shell-seekers know that Bowman's Beach, a natural stretch accessible only via pedestrian bridge, is one of the best for shelling (and birding).
Where to stay: Song of the Sea inn's cozy rooms and suites offer private, screened-in balconies overlooking the pool or ocean. Rates start at $199; theinnsofsanibel.com.
Summers in Harwich Port, one of seven villages in the city of Harwich, are distinctly old-fashioned, with music strolls, band concerts, and crafts and art guild shows livening the scene, while the warm waters of Nantucket Sound offer carefree swimming. Nearby Red River Beach is a favorite with easy access for boaters, plus ice-cream truck visits.
Where to stay: Located on 27 acres of gardens and marshes, the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club looks out on beach, bay, and sea. Rates start at $420; wequassett.com.
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.
Think your town should be on next year's list? Click here to upload a photo and let us know why, and browse other readers' nominations.