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Picture the perfect beach. Maybe you're picturing surly hot-dog vendors and teenage taffy pullers, or butter dripping off a lobster roll onto your towel. The US has beaches for every taste.
And the towns that crop up around these blissed-out beaches—from New England to New Jerseyfrom California to Michigan —are world-class destinations unto themselves. The 20 below represent the best of the best, places where those sands give way to dreamy towns, where the locals vibe with the visitors, and the food and drink become the stuff of endless summer memories.
Pack extra sunscreen. In the not-so-distant past, Asbury Park was best known as a dated Springsteen reference —a once-great tourist destination turned as stale as months-old saltwater taffy. The tide has shifted. AP's iconic boardwalk vibes have now made way for a " Brooklyn on the beach " feel, an energy that extends into the city's legendary and recently returned! Want to drink? Asbury Festhalle and Biergarten is on point for al fresco imbibing, holding rank alongside the always-lively Johnny Mac's and the delightfully divey Bond Street Bar atop the list of the plus bars in town.
Wanna try out vintage pinball? The Silverball Museum Arcade has more than machines. A bustling art scene, a longstanding LGBTQ community, and obviously a beautiful beach make Asbury Park worth fully greeting again, boss. Don't leave without: Perusing—and posing in front of—the many murals of Sunset Pavilion. It's a perfect macro? Jennette's Pier is among the best spots to people-watch in this laid-back slice of the Atlantic, where fresh seafood from old-school family restaurants is unparalleled.
Aviation geeks should check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, then lope up the foot hill where the Brothers Wright conducted their glider tests. And in Kitty Hawk, the canals crisscrossing the village make for excellent kayak adventures. Saugatuck is to western Michigan what Provincetown is to Cape Cod.
Nicknamed "The Great Art-Doors," Saugatuck—along with its sister city across the river, Douglas—has gained a reputation as Michigan's premiere gaycation spot. Hit the Saugatuck Brewing Company 's pub for made-from-scratch pub food washed down with a blueberry lemon shandy.
Climb the steps to the top of Mount Baldhead a giant sand dune, actually for a gorgeous overlook of Oval Beach and the surrounding dunes. That Goonies -famous landmark might be the postcard star, but tiny Cannon—with its dog-thronged beaches, smattering of restaurants, wealth of breweries, and overabundance of galleries—is bursting at the seams with treasures. This is a highly walkable slice of West Coast pleasures, where the waterfront is dotted with cabin rentals and micro hotels that beg for extended stays.
Here, you'll feel like a local after all of five minutes.
You can find it at the Harborside Bar and Grillwhere the drink was invented, but Marylanders debate who serves the best one. Best bar hop to decide for yourself. Outdoor adventurers will be happy with its array of paddle boarding and kayaking tours, plus snorkeling trips to nearby spots like Passage and Egmont Keys, where you can see stingrays, manatees, sharks, and dolphins.
But at the end of the day, this is a bonafide sleepy town the speed limits seldom exceed 35mphso be prepared to blissfully check out on its pristine, quiet white sand beaches from sunrise to spectacular sunset. But don't sleep on some of the world's best mobile poke, either. But this upscale retreat on the Atlantic is fun for all, with its classic boardwalk, amusement park, and free summer concerts. While most of the youths and boozy beach parties keep to Dewey Beach three miles down the road, Rehoboth boasts the better bar and restaurant scene.
Waveriders, tourists, and longtime locals alike are drawn to this tropical outpost for some of the hemisphere's best surf and sunsets. There are plenty of hotels, but the picturesque pastel-colored rental homes with white Bahama shutters and white picket fences will captivate you. What truly sets this tiny, square-mile island apart is its long, funky history.
Want something a little more sophisticated? The palm tree-lined coast of this bougie SoCal oasis has a Mediterranean flair and a magnificent backdrop of scenic mountains and crystal blue water. Summer in Maine is a heartbreakingly brief affair, but oh so worth it, if only for three months of pure bliss. And Ogunquit, located right off Route 1 on the southern tip of Vacationland, is the state's summer sweet spot, swelling from a usual population of 1, residents to more than 80, between May to September.
Folly's waves are known for their steep drops, drawing surfers from around the state to the island's "Washout" break.
To lose the crowds, both ends of Folly are nature preserves that harbor endangered seabirds, loggerhead turtles, and bottlenose dolphins aplenty. If you've got the stamina to hoof it a half mile beyond where the road ends, the 19th-century, candy cane Morris Island Lighthouse emerges directly from the surf at the island's east end. Its namesake island provides one of Charleston's most iconic views. By late afternoon, migrate to Surf Bar temporarily closed, but worth keeping an eye on for a Painkiller cocktail, or Lowlife Bar where, despite the name, you'll find friendly locals digging into tall drinks and hearty seaside comforts.
Don't leave without: Walking 1, feet out over the ocean on the Folly Beach Pier. Grab a cocktail from the open-air bar for the stroll or rent a fishing rod and bait from the onsite tackle shop. A historic village turned surf town, Paia is—well, everything a tiny Hawaiian surf town should be: funky, bohemian, and blissfully free of gigantic resorts. Most visitors breeze through town on the way to Hanabut sticking around for a night or two at the Paia Innmere steps from the sandy shore, has its rewards.
For one, you might see Willie Nelson; according to local lore, he periodically shows up to play an impromptu show. Be sure to visit the crystal clear blue waters and scenic shores of Baldwin Beach Parkjust outside town. Aside from hosting the supremely fun annual Hangout Music Festival hopefully returning inGulf Shores is very likely the scenic highlight of Alabamaa picturesque mash-up of pastel houses and high-rises.
The sand is perfect powdery white and the water is clear and blue, a big reason why this is one of the best destinations on the Gulf Coast. Quintessential vacation wonderland Cape Cod is 77 miles of sandy shoreline, lobster rolls, and Rockwellian towns.
Of the latter, few are more adorable than Wellfleet on the Outer Cape, where life is quieter and the pace slower. Marconi Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, has wide beaches dotted with massive sand dunes. The water is a bit cooler here, and the waves harsher as they roll on from the Atlantic. Just a short drive from Wellfleet on Route 6 is Provincetown, at the tip of the cape. Take Commercial Street through town until you reach the pier overlooking Wellfleet Bay. The mile bike trail runs from South Wellfleet down to Yarmouth through salt marshes, cranberry bogs, evergreens, and pine forests.
Tiny but mighty Rhode Island happens to have the best surfing in New Englandand the best place to do it is Narragansett. Small and quaint xCarmel-by-the-Sea proudly displays its Spanish colonial roots in the smallest details, from Spanish tilework to cottages seemingly plucked from a fairy tale. There are no ugly views on this scenic drive—think dramatic, majestic cliffs, secluded beaches, and magical redwood forests.
Virginia Beach is a destination with two faces. One has long lived as a laid-back, middle-class family summer vacation hub with a crowded boardwalk, high-rise hotels, and endless frozen-custard shops. Suddenly, Virginia Beach is a destination beyond the boardwalkers: Just ask hometown hero Pharrell, whose Something in the Water festival will hopefully return next year.
On Atlanticthe annual summer entertainment lineup that is free and open to the public. Magicians, chalk artists, stilt walkers, and other acts take over Atlantic Avenue, endlessly entertaining visitors. This quirky hamlet on the Gulf has a tiny historic downtown that punches way above its weight. The town is so fun you might forget the beach is even there, but hit Paddles Up on Government Street and find some water-bound expeditions. Want more Thrillist? Travel Beaches. Asbury Park, New Jersey.
Nags Head, North Carolina. Cannon Beach, Oregon. Ocean City, Maryland. Anna Maria Island, Florida. Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii. Rehoboth, Delaware. Tybee Island, Georgia. Santa Barbara, California. Ogunquit, Maine. Folly Beach, South Carolina. Paia, Maui, Hawaii. Gulf Shores, Alabama. Wellfleet and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Narragansett, Rhode Island. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Virginia Beach, Virginia. Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Make Fun. Thrillist Serves. Social Media Links.St Olds shores sex chat
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The 20 Greatest Beach Towns in America