Beach, San Diego, California
Here's a bar where you can sink your toes in the sand while scoping out the downtown San Diego skyline. The city's first rooftop bar feels modern and comfortable, with sleek loungers, hanging chairs, and private cabanas. At night, this W Hotel bar turns up the heat as locals and guests mingle beside the fire pit and cruise the heated sand floor. In summer, Beach becomes a theater, showcasing flicks under the stars; 619/398-3100 or wbeachbar.com.
Pavilion Bar & Café, Charleston, South Carolina
Atop the Market Pavilion Hotel, every order comes with a generous serving of downtown Charleston and its harbor. Pair the panoramic view with a skyline martini, one of the bar's signature cocktails. Sip a drink by the cascading pool with fountains and decorative fiber-optic lights; 877/440-2250 or marketpavilion.com.
Plunge, New York, New York
Overlooking Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking District, Plunge at the Hotel Gansevoort attracts a chic crowd. The hot spot provides a place to see and be seen, with specialty drinks and a light menu. The outdoor bar features 360-degree views of the city and river (there's a retractable glass roof for use in inclement weather). The terrace includes a landscaped garden with private cabana; 212/206-6700 or hotelgansevoort.com.
Castaways Bar & Grill, Chicago, Illinois
Climb aboard Castaways, a shipshape restaurant on Chicago's North Avenue Beach. The lakefront icon draws beachgoers with casual fare and ice-cold beer, so be prepared for crowds. On any given summer day, you'll find the Bar & Grill filled with visitors sipping margaritas and rum drinks while soaking in the sunshine. Open May through September; 773/281-1200 or stefanirestaurants.com/castaways.htm.
The Rooftop Surfclub, Victoria, British Columbia
The newly designed patio at the Sticky Wicket Pub & Restaurant resembles a West Coast surf hut, with a longboard tabletop, vibrant blue-and-green-stripe chair cushions, and a surfer-shape topiary (complete with board shorts). And here's the main attraction: 90 tons of sand form what may be the only two rooftop beach-volleyball courts in the world. Open May through September; 800/663-7476 or strathconahotel.com.
Tarpon Club, Seaside, Florida
The top deck at Bud and Alley's Restaurant buzzes with suntanned locals and visitors eager to unwind. This Gulf Coast restaurant knows how to make you feel welcome. But beware when busy: This place is not for the crowd-shy. For an unbeatable view, stop by at sunset. Order a mojito or a Beach Libations Rum Punch and listen for the 1888 steam train cast-iron bell, rung each night on the deck; 850/231-5900 or budandalleys.com.
Sky Bar, Virginia Beach, Virginia
This waterfront rooftop bar seems to float above the boardwalk. It takes full advantage of its 21st-story location atop the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront, with clear railings to preserve the view and an infinity pool that appears to spill into the ocean. Open daily; 31ocean.com.
Rooftop Lounge, Miami Beach, Florida
Steps away (and up) from the beach, the Townhouse Hotel patio promises ocean breezes and great views from king-size waterbeds shaded by fire-engine-red umbrellas. Every Friday and Saturday night, the lounge hosts lively soirees for the see-and-be-seen; 877/534-3800 or townhousehotel.com.
Sky Terrace, San Francisco, California
From Mission District restaurant Medjool's fifth-floor terrace, enjoy 360-degree views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and San Francisco. The tapas menu offers everything from grape leaf-wrapped sea bass to hamburgers. Cash only; 415/550-9055 or medjoolsf.com.
The Top, Key West, Florida
Once popular for "penny cocktail hour," The Top has been drawing a crowd since 1949. The seventh-floor bar at the Crown Plaza Key West-La Concha is the place to go for panoramic views of the Key, the Gulf, and the Atlantic Ocean. Patrons enjoy front-row seats for spectacular sunsets; 800/745-2191 or laconchakeywest.com/thetop.htm.