The Best Places to Live on the Coast 2020
Port Aransas, Texas
There's an optimism at work on the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of 2017's Hurricane Harvey, and its epicenter is a sweet, beachy town of 3,480 on Mustang Island due east of Corpus Christi that's got inspiration written all over it. "Port A," as it's called locally, possesses 18 miles of tawny sands, world-class birding, top-rated schools, and a preference for golf carts over automobiles that marks it as a great place for families and next-chapter grown-ups. Since Harvey, the town has worked hard and fast to recover, with new additions to luxury vacation-home beach communities such as Cinnamon Shore and the New Urbanism–inspired Sunflower Beach Resort and Residences, as well as a new beach-and-bayfront resort and marina plus a conference center on the books for 2021. Nothing but blue skies for Texas's comeback kid, in other words.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $301,000
Huntington Beach, California
There's happy, and then there's Huntington Beach happy. Named a top 10 happiest city in the entire country in 2019, this surf-centric SoCal beach city of 201,874 has the formula just right—balancing a diversified economy from aerospace to surf shops with strong schools and healthcare, plus an ocean-loving lifestyle along all 9.5 miles of its broad, wave-blessed sands full of community fire pits and volleyball courts. Emerging in 2019 from the 110th anniversary of its founding, Surf City U.S.A. heads into its second century with an expanded Junior Lifeguard program for younger locals, new facilities and services for veterans and seniors, and improved infrastructure and support of solar energy projects, among a long list of community-building goals. Happy, indeed.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $830,400
It's tempting to say that Jacksonville has everything. But it does: 22 miles of beaches, more than 400 city parks, seven state parks, two national parks, three beach communities (fun-loving Jacksonville Beach, low-key Neptune Beach, and the luxurious village setting of Atlantic Beach), and a steady, gentle Atlantic swell that means you can surf every morning year-round, whether you're 5 or 65. What else? The youngest average age—36—in Florida, plus a growing economy, affordable real estate, and redeveloped urban districts like Riverside and Springfield luring tech startups, makers, and brewers (20 craft breweries at latest count). And while Jacksonville sprawls like a beach blanket over nearly 875 square miles, it is built out of more than 500 discrete neighborhoods that feel like small towns—each with its own commercial district and sense of identity—to its 940,577 residents.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $180,300
Is it a dream, or is one of the most paradisaical places on the Earth suddenly showing up as one of the country's best places to retire (at any age)? Indeed, that rich and vibrant city of 350,788 on O'ahu's south shore deserves a keen look not only as a vacation ideal, but as a place to make a home for good. "It's not just the beautiful sunsets or the captivating waters," says Andrew Pereira, communications director for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, "it's more about the people who live here. It's so diverse; we really have no majority ethnicity. And that aloha spirit from our host culture permeates the entire community." With a strong economy that's been diversifying beyond its military and tourism bases to technology and climate change–related industries (and with tourism stronger than ever), there's fresh opportunity for life in paradise—if you plan for its relatively high cost of living. But for that price, there's ever more promise: creative transportation plans to link already brawny biking trails to public transit, updated infrastructure, revived industrial neighborhoods, upgrades to parks, and the evergreen blessing of clean air and water. "Any day you can go from hiking in a rain forest to having lunch in urban Honolulu to going into the ocean with the surfboard and catching some beautiful waves," Pereira says. Now that's living the dream.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $660,300
When Kate Van Daele calls her hometown "chill," she's not talking about degrees Fahrenheit. Although to be fair, this city of 85,884 on the north shore of Lake Superior does get pretty cold in the winter. But what the Denver transplant says Duluth keeps in its warmed-up heart in January as well as July is a sensibility that feels as relaxed as a surf town. Perhaps it's that this greatest of American freshwater seas really looks like an ocean. But perhaps more to the point, it's Duluth's sense of supporting a pedestrian- and bike-friendly port city that now brims with a creative cadre of chefs, brewers, artists, and craftspeople (especially in the newly revived Lincoln Park Craft District), along with the youthful vibe provided by the University of Minnesota Duluth. "It has a similar vibe to Portland," she says, and it's luring more young residents like her from larger cities like Denver, Chicago, and Madison. "Schools, universities, businesses—we come together to support one another," she says. "It's a really cool place to be."
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $175,600
Talk about a place ready for its moment in the sun (all 252 days a year of it). This resort-forward little city of 23,376—a low-key beauty on the Gulf with Mediterranean architecture and 14 miles of bone-white beaches—has just emerged from a yearlong beautification project in its historic downtown. New rows of tall palms shade upgraded sidewalks (with ADA-compliant curbs), while median strips lush with hibiscus, jatropha, and jasmine add tropical verve to Venice's lively center for food, drink, shopping, and arts. (It's home to one of the largest community theaters in the country.) "We worked hard to keep the charm of downtown while rehabilitating the infrastructure so it will last for decades," says City Engineer Kathleen Weeden. Venice, it seems, is playing—beautifully—for keeps.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $244,700
"This is about your neighbor asking how the kids are, how the dog is," says Susan Cockrell, describing the folksy vibe in this gemlike port of just 404 residents in Virginia's River Realm region. "But it's also about your neighbors asking if you've tried the new wine at D&O." Cockrell has put her finger on the tide-driven magic along the creeks and banks of the Rappahannock as it empties into Chesapeake Bay: tiny-town intimacy infused with culinary sophistication that thrives in resorts like The Tides and Hope and Glory inns, new local-forward restaurants, and the aforementioned Dog & Oyster Vineyard. Further, Irvington's neighbors provide even more to love about the eight-town River Realm. Consider the offerings: ballet and opera productions by the Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts, a world-class public library in Lancaster, the community-run Lancaster Players in White Stone, and a high-end YMCA in Kilmarnock with an Olympic-caliber pool. "We're rural, but we have all the amenities," Cockrell says of the region. "We call it a place where you can catch your breath, calm your mind, and live your dreams."
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $297,600
PACIFIC NORTHWEST WARMER
It's like something out of a Frank Capra movie: Over a spring festival weekend, the residents of tiny Sequim (population 7,481), plus their county neighbors and visitors, vote via paper ballot on which community improvement projects the city should fund. This year, locals voted to purchase nine new outdoor hydration stations to support their lively recreation scene (including eight new pickleball courts), discourage plastic bottle use, and offer hospitable drink stops for local dogs. This is classic Sequim: close-knit but welcoming, old-fashioned but progressive, farm-forward (including more than a dozen lavender growers) but fishing and boating-fueled, and nearly always—because of a rain shadow created by the Olympic Mountains—sunny. Add to that a vibrant arts scene, an Audubon center that leads weekly bird walks, and the cosmopolitan riches of Seattle just two hours east, and it adds up to a vote for Pacific Northwest heaven.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $364,600
Great Neck, New York
LONG ISLAND GOLD
Nine tiny hamlets form Great Neck, the peninsular enclave on that stretch of Long Island's North Shore known as the Gold Coast for its opulent, Gatsbyesque mansions and history. Here at the terminus of the Long Island Railroad, it's an easy ride to and from Manhattan while feeling miles and eras apart once returned to the quiet roads, waterfront parks, and New England–style streetscapes here. Great Neck Village, with its 10,000 residents, is considered one of the best places to retire in the country (and No. 1 in New York), based on its top-flight access to healthcare and recreation. And while the median home price may seem Gatsby level, more reasonably priced condominiums and homes regularly pop up for sale for the Nick Carraways among us.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $1,251,200
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Lots of vacationers fall in love with a place and end up browsing real estate listings, but here on this surf-blessed barrier island, that ardor goes beyond the fantasy stage. "I've seen countless people fall in love with the area while visiting," says Michelle Clark, a local real estate professional for 15 years. And they convert in surprising numbers. "Many start by purchasing a second home," she says, "which eventually turns into their primary residence." Clark says the current real estate inventory is low because, well, people stay. "After all," she adds, "what's not to love about Wrightsville Beach?" With its small-town feel (just 2,542 year-round residents), four miles of broad beaches (the first in the state to be smoke-free), bright blue waters, fishing piers, walking trails, nature preserves, and easy proximity to the riches (and university life) of nearby Wilmington, Wrightsville strikes an ideal balance between play and work. And with three of the island's most beloved resorts emerging from renovations and updates last year, it might be just the time for that fall-in-love vacation.
MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $858,000