These hidden coastal gems might be lesser-known but they are equally alluring.

By William Scheller with Susan Haynes Kay Scheller Kristen Shelton and Kimberly Turnbull
February 28, 2007
Matthew Gilsom

Fairhope, Alabama
Here's a sentence you don't read every day: Alabama (home tothe editorial offices of Coastal Living) shelters one of the country's best-keptsurprises. Trust us on this one. Just veer off U.S. 98 ontoAlternate 98, parallel to Mobile Bay, and follow the leafy, gentlycurving two-lane road into a dictionary-perfect "Smalltown,USA"―Fairhope.

Turn right onto Fairhope Avenue, pass the two-story storefrontswith rockers out front, and take in this panorama: Protected greenparkland saddles the waterfront bluffs to the left and right. Belowtheir slopes, the Mobile Bay shoreline appears like a NormanRockwell painting come to life. Fishermen deftly cast their linesfrom the public pier, families picnic on the sand or beneath theshade of mossy live oaks, and, some days, the local schoolteachertakes her first-graders to the shallows to learn about the seacreatures. North and south from the beach, you'll see the parade ofprivately owned dock pavilions. These piers with gazebo-likestructures are enduring icons, signaling a way of life on Alabama'sEastern Shore.

Founded in 1894, the town claims a long history and unusualbeginnings that have given it cultural cachet. It has attractedwriters ranging from Upton Sinclair and Sherwood Anderson toWinston Groom and Fannie Flagg, and its legendary Page and Palettebookstore holds a lively schedule of author appearances andreadings. Like Mobile across the bay, Fairhope hosts its own MardiGras, along with an annual arts and crafts festival.

The town's nearby attraction, Weeks Bay National EstuarineResearch Reserve, comprises almost 6,000 acres of land and water inand around Weeks and Mobile bays. The reserve offers spectacularbirding―more than 350 species have been spotted―alongwith good salt- and freshwater fishing; hummingbird and butterflygardens; and nature trails, including a boardwalk through a swampforest where rare pitcher plants thrive.

what the locals know
Anil Vira, owner of Fairhope's BaronsInn, tells us that sometimes, when the wind blows from theeast―usually when the weather is hot―thousands of fish,including flounder, eel, crab, and shrimp, head for shallow waters."This phenomenon is known locally as 'Jubilee,'" says Anil. "In theearly days, people would run through the streets, banging on potsand pans, yelling, 'jubilee!' when it happened. Now they watch thesky for hovering seagulls, then run down to the waterfront withpails to scoop up the bounty. Some restaurants will even cook upyour catch."

Population: 14,106
Median Home Price: $187,288
For More Info:

Pacifica, California
According to the laws of suburbanization, Pacifica shouldhave been inundated with tract houses years ago. After all, it'sjust 15 minutes south of downtown San Francisco, perched on theshoulder of a peninsula that's experienced phenomenal growth inrecent decades. But the lion's share of that growth (along withinterstate highways and an international airport) has been over onthe bay side. Pacifica stands serenely on the ocean side, where thesouth-of-the-Golden-Gate portion of California Route 1 begins itscoast-hugging lope to L.A.

The city lies in a protected area, surrounded on its landwardside by part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, andenjoys the largest ratio of open space to population on the SanFrancisco peninsula. Not surprisingly, this is prime outdoorrecreation country. Anglers fly-fish for salmon and striped bass;birders head for the brown sands of Sharp Park Beach to watchpelicans, loons, phalaropes, cormorants, and terns; surfers catchbig waves at Linda Mar and Pacifica State beaches; and mountainbikers and paragliders enjoy the hillsides embracing the city.There's also the Sharp Park Golf Course, designed in 1931 byrenowned links architect Alister MacKenzie.

If you're a fisherman (or even if you're not), you shouldn'tmiss the Pacifica Pier. Often called the best fishing pier inCalifornia, this 1,140-foot-long wharf offers the only dry place onthe Bay Area where you can catch salmon without stepping foot on aboat. Anglers regularly hook the coveted fish, as well as varioustypes of surfperch, and even sharks off the pier.

This town also hosts one of the West Coast's stranger annualevents: Pacifica's Fog Fest. Residents have jokingly proclaimedtheir city, with an average 270 days of sunshine per year, the fogcapital of the state. Arts and crafts exhibits, festival foods, anda parade draw some 50,000 people each year. The big party is heldon the last weekend of September, when the local weather is nearlyalways lovely.

what the locals know
Pacifica resident Chris Hunter advisesthat "you have to look closely to get into our part of the GoldenGate National Recreation Area. Watch for a sign along thenorthbound lane of Highway 1 that reads, 'Shelldance Nursery andOrchids.' If you take this winding road, you'll end up not only atone of my favorite nurseries, but also at a trailhead for SweeneyRidge. Hike up to the Discovery Site for views of San FranciscoBay."

Population: 40,000
Median Home Price: $749,000
For More Info:

St. Michaels, Maryland
During the War of 1812, St. Michaels earned the nickname "TheTown That Fooled the British." The ruse was simple: When locals gotword that a nighttime bombardment was coming their way, they hunglanterns in treetops and atop ships' masts, so that the enemygunners on Chesapeake Bay overshot all but one of the houses in thevillage.

St. Michaels was also overshot―and overlooked―by themarch of progress along the bayfront. The town lies on Maryland'sEastern Shore, southeast of Annapolis, and until the 1952 openingof the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, most of its neighboring communitieswere backwaters given over largely to shipbuilding, tobaccofarming, and harvesting what H.L. Mencken called an "immenseprotein factory" of crab and oysters. Even now, though shellfishstocks in the bay have been substantially depleted, you can passthrough St. Michaels to the end of the peninsula and watch watermenleaving to harvest oysters on their wooden skipjacks, the lastsailing vessels still in regular commercial use in the UnitedStates.

The Bay Bridge brought regional development, but St. Michaelsoccupied such a narrow slip of land that the town has never hadmuch room to expand. It's also benefited from long-standing localtaste for historic preservation. The compact village center boastsa wealth of 18th- and 19th-century structures, including the onehouse struck by a British cannonball. The historic district isanchored by the renowned Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, whichfeatures a collection of 85 vessels that trace the evolution ofregional boatbuilding. The museum's Hooper Strait Lighthouse, movedhere from Tangier Sound farther south, has become as much a symbolof St. Michaels as the mountains of steamed crab served on the deckat The Crab Claw Restaurant.

St. Michaels is a town for walkers and cyclists, where nothingis far from anything else. Heading out of the village can mean anexcursion on some of the best sailing waters in the nation (thereare a couple of downtown marinas and a local yacht club), a drive35 miles south to view eagles and ospreys on the 27,000-acreBlackwater National Wildlife Refuge, or a trip across the DelmarvaPeninsula to the Atlantic. Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington,D.C., are just a few hours away via the Bay Bridge.

what the locals know
Museums are often regarded primarily asattractions for visitors, but it's become a regular ritual for manySt. Michaels residents to head down to the grounds of theChesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and enjoy spectacular sunsets overthe water.

Population: 1,139
Median Home Price: $795,000
For More Info:

Port Townsend, Washington
The standard take on the Pacific Northwest is that it rainsan awful lot. But Port Townsend, located on the tip of the QuimperPeninsula just south of the San Juan Islands, enjoys a sunnymicroclimate. Protected from prevailing weather patterns by theOlympic Mountains, it averages less than 20 inches of rain a year,and often basks under clear skies while towns like Port Angeles tothe west keep umbrella makers in business.

Getting here requires some planning. If you start in Seattle youcan take a 30-minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island (bring awindbreaker so you can stand outside as you cross Puget Sound);travel another hour in the car to the Hood Canal Bridge. Then driveup the eastern side of the Olympic Peninsula to the edge of theStrait of Juan de Fuca. Think you'll be tired when you arrive?Don't worry―the stunning coastal scenery will revive you.

Like a village out of a musical, Port Townsend is a town thattime forgot―only in this case, time suddenly remembered andbrought it back to life. Historic mansions occupy some of the primereal estate here, and smaller Victorian houses painted vivid colorsline the narrower streets. Many of the finest homes date to thelate 1800s, when boosters promoted the town as a major railterminus. Unfortunately, the Northern Pacific Railroad failed tocooperate, and the community all but disappeared.

Then, about 1970, urbanites looking for lovely surroundings andcheap real estate discovered Port Townsend. Here was a compact,walkable town with a picturesque waterfront far enough from Seattleto keep sprawl at bay.

The community they created was a match for the setting. Today itpulses with environmentally friendly businesses, art galleries,plenty of live theater, and festivals celebrating jazz, blues, andclassical music.

Visit in September and you can catch the 31st Annual Wooden BoatFestival―"the Woodstock of wooden boats," sponsored by thelocal Wooden Boat Foundation and Northwest Maritime Center. Bothorganizations occupy space on the town's historic waterfront, wherethey educate students and visitors about the region's sailingheritage and environment.

Sea kayakers often set off from their dock to ply Port TownsendBay and Admiralty Inlet. And when they come home, they can strolldown to the brewpub―without their slickers.

what the locals know
Susan Grantham, who works with the PortTownsend Chamber of Commerce, likes to take in movies at theVictorian-era Rose Theater. "The Rose shows first-run pictures aswell as independent and art films," says Susan. "All movies beginwith a live introduction by the staff, and the 20-plus toppings forthe popcorn can't be beat. Monday is 'fabulous door prize night,'so save your ticket stub for the drawings."

Population: 8,900
Median Home Price: $399,000
For More Info:

Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia
Mention "Annapolis" to most people and they think you'retalking about the capital of Maryland. But there's anotherAnnapolis in North America, one a lot older than the city onChesapeake Bay. It's a lot smaller, too―but favored by anequally lovely waterside location.

Annapolis Royal―this Nova Scotia town's fullname―stands at the head of an arm of the Bay of Fundy calledthe Annapolis Basin. The French sailed into the basin in 1605 andset up the first permanent European enclave north of Florida (their"Habitation" has been faithfully re-created by Parks Canada, and isa popular local attraction). Over the next century, the settlementchanged hands between the French and British seven times,eventually acquiring its present name and status as the Britishcapital of Nova Scotia in 1710.

In 1749, Halifax became the colonial capital, and AnnapolisRoyal gradually settled into life as a grandly named backwater. Butit would be difficult today to find a townsperson who wishes thingshad turned out otherwise. Halifax, with its superb Atlantic harbor,got the glory and the bustle, while Annapolis, with itsstupendously variable Fundy tides, got to mellow in relativeobscurity as a center for shipbuilding, fishing, and agriculture.Today, it's a popular haven for retirees, artists, and artisans,several of whom showcase their work in local galleries. A busycultural schedule revolves around King's Theatre, a vest-pocketvenue for plays and live music including Nova Scotia's signatureCeltic-oriented ceilidhs (kay-lees).

For such a small town, the housing stock is impressive, with arich amalgam of historic architecture and four of the oldest framebuildings in Canada. Few towns in Atlantic Canada are better set upfor walking, with views of the broad basin and its forested shoresat nearly every turn, and the parklike grounds of Fort Anneflanking the water side of busy little Saint George Street. Aspecial treat is the 10-acre Historic Gardens, with plantingsrepresenting the area's past, as well as 2,000 bushes of more than230 varieties of roses.

It's almost become a cliché among American visitors thatmuch of rural Nova Scotia resembles the New England of twogenerations ago. Considering the architecture, the setting, and theslower pace of life here, they may have a point.

what the locals know
Paul Stackhouse and Val Peterson, who runthe Hillsdale House Inn in Annapolis Royal, like to hike the trailsat scenic Delap's Cove, along the Bay of Fundy just 15 miles fromAnnapolis Royal. Two trails, totaling more than 4 miles, meanderthrough 130 acres of canopied forests and along bay shores. Aspecial highlight of the area is a 43-foot waterfall.

Population: 550
Median Home Price: $100,000 Canadian; $85,056 U.S.
For More Info:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Beer was just one of the products that made Milwaukee famous.In fact, this was the quintessential American factory town. LikeCarl Sandburg's Chicago, 90 miles south, it was a melting pot onthe shores of Lake Michigan.

Some manufacturers still thrive here: Milwaukee remains the homeof Miller Brewing Company and a firm started in 1903 by Messrs.Harley and Davidson. But beer and motorcycles are shipped by railand truck nowadays, leaving the once-hardworking lakefront largelyto pleasure boaters. The county-operated McKinley Marina is one ofthe largest in Wisconsin, and the South Shore Yacht Club hosts anumber of annual races and regattas on the big, breezy lake.

To take advantage of all that water, Milwaukee beganconstruction of the RiverWalk downtown in 1999. Today thepedestrian pathway connects the historic Third Ward to SchlitzBusiness Park, and provides a striking setting for art, especiallysculpture.

Further burnishing the city's image are the financial andservice behemoths based here (Northwestern Mutual Life Insurancehas long been a downtown presence), and the continuing influence ofMarquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.UWM's sprawling East Side campus anchors an upscale neighborhoodwith a student-quarter edge, tucked along the lake between downtownand a gold coast of beer barons' mansions.

The German immigrants who built Milwaukee were a civic-spiritedlot. They brought with them a sense of community that stillmanifests itself in a superb county park system (with much of itsacreage along the lake), and a devotion to institutions such as theMilwaukee Symphony; the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, with threetheaters in a rehabbed power plant; and the Milwaukee Art Museum.The museum's new home is a striking 2001 building featuring asoaring pair of winglike sunscreens that can be repositioned totake advantage of changing light conditions.

Tour the galleries to enjoy temporary exhibitions, or just starethrough the windows for an instant reminder of the reasonMichigan's a great lake. (Keep an eye out for a feature story aboutthe Milwaukee Art Museum in an upcoming issue of Coastal Living.)

what the locals know
John McGivern, a Milwaukee actor, writer,and comedian, suggests that new arrivals head south from downtownon Water Street to Walker's Point, a neighborhood filled withlate-1800s Cream City brick homes (so called because of the creamycolor of the bricks) that stretches from Lake Michiganapproximately to Sixth Street. First Street is lined with antiquesshops, including the eclectic, three-story Fox Skylight Gallery ofAntiques.

Population: 578,887
Median Home Price: $159,000
For More Info:

New London, Connecticut
You might say that New London's modern era began in the1970s, when a group of protesters rallied in front of the historicdowntown train station (designed by Henry H. Richardson) and stooddown a city wrecking crew. That victory led to the city'spresent-day status as, in the words of a community activist, "oneof the last places with this much waterfront and this muchpotential."

Like many historic coastal communities, New London struggleswith competing visions of revitalization. Just a few years ago, itwas at the center of the controversial Supreme Court decisionallowing municipalities to use eminent domain to seize land forprivate development. But the furor over that decision led to theformation of a new political party―now with two seats on thecity council―that's determined to put the brakes on eminentdomain and save what makes New London unique.

There's no shortage of history here, or housing stock to go withit. Wander a few blocks off State Street, downtown's main drag, andyou'll pass block after block of 18th- and 19th-century buildings.None of them are far from Ocean Beach (a seaside park with aboardwalk and pavilion) and the venerable Dutch Tavern, whereEugene O'Neill used to take his libations. Nearby, on the groundsof old Fort Trumbull, which once guarded a harbor forested with themasts of whaling ships, the U.S. Coast Guard is building its newmuseum.

And that old gem of a train station? It's in fine shape,standing alongside a lovely waterfront park. Best of all, trainsactually stop there! Amtrak's Acela Express will get you to Bostonor New York in about two hours.

what the locals know
Richard Humphreville, a New Londonfurniture maker who has played a leading role in the city'srevitalization, is especially proud of the lively local art scene.One of his favorite galleries is the Hygienic, a onetimeluncheonette whose looks are deceiving―the front room stillhas the original counter, stools, and coffee urns. "In the winter,the Hygienic Art Show is a major event," says Richard, "and thereare shows in the garden in summer."

Population: 26,000
Median Home Price: $250,000
For More Info:

Jersey City, New Jersey
Until recently, anyone caught using the words "Gold Coast"and "Jersey City" in the same sentence was relegated to the ranksof the seriously confused. By the 1970s, New Jersey'ssecond-largest city (after Newark) looked like a place that had alot more past than future.

Today, Jersey City is all about the future, thanks largely to asimple calculation on the part of financial service titans. Peeringfrom their Manhattan offices at the forlorn landscape across thetidal Hudson River, Wall Street's planners did the real-estatemath, and the "Gold Coast" became a reality. Out of a landscape ofwarehouses, riverfront factories, and abandoned rail yards grew anew urban center with office towers, retail space, and thousands ofhousing units located in handsome old structures and brand newbuildings. It's all practically in the shadow of the Statue ofLiberty, at the point where the Hudson meets Upper New YorkBay.

While the renaissance in residential property recently hasspread inland from Jersey City's shoreline―even the city'sgargantuan former Medical Center, near the less attractive WestSide, is being converted to luxury condos―the poshestneighborhoods are along the river and bay. Developments such asNewport and Liberty Harbor offer waterfront town houses andhigh-rise condos, while the under-construction Trump Plaza JerseyCity is expected to contain the tallest luxury residential towersin the state. All are an easy hop from lower Manhattan via PortAuthority Trans-Hudson (PATH) subways, ferries, and (for die-harddrivers) the Holland Tunnel. Newark Liberty International Airportis only nine miles away.

Commuting convenience isn't Jersey City's only amenity. The new,private Liberty National golf course carpets a former waste siteand features an 18th hole less than 1,000 yards from Lady Liberty'ssandals. Nearby, the Liberty Science Center (OK, the statue hasexerted a numbing influence on local nomenclature) is set to reopenthis July following a 100,000-square-foot expansion. And theAmerican Podiatric Medical Association named Jersey City one of the"Best Walking Cities" in America.

All this, plus something no New York City address can offer: aview across the Hudson of New York City.

what the locals know
Joan Mara, who grew up in Jersey City andworks for a prominent developer on the revitalized waterfront,advises newcomers to sample the community's phenomenal ethnicdiversity. "Check out the short stretch of Newark Avenue betweenKennedy Boulevard and Tonnelle Avenue," she says. "It's JerseyCity's Little India―within the space of a block, you can dinealongside Indian families, order a custom-made sari, buy Indianwedding jewelry, or get a henna application."

Population: 240,055
Median Home Price: $385,000
For More Info:

Check out these coastal hot spots.