For a good lobster roll, Kristin Francis is willing to drive a few extra hours.
"It would make more sense for me as a New Yorker to hit the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore each summer," says the souvenir-shopping blogger. "But I skip these spots and take the longer drive to Chatham."
Travel + Leisure readers also loved the Cape Cod destination, ranking Chatham, Massachusetts, among the top 10 beach towns nationwide. As part of our annual America's Favorite Towns survey, readers evaluated hundreds of places for qualities like romantic hotels and live music. Not surprisingly, many of the towns that scored well for picnics, seafood shacks, and cool motels also sit right next to the shore.
Granted, beach towns come in a variety of flavors, from mansion-lined Newport, Rhode Island, to kooky Key West, Florida. One top beach town provides easy access to wine country. In another, you can get an up-close look at the pirate past. Either way, once you have found your ideal beach village, you want to keep coming back, like the tide itself.
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns Lined with white sand and live oaks, the biggest of Georgia’s Golden Isles won the beach-town contest for offering a triple threat of southern charm, serenity, and affordability. It’s not hard, after all, to get hotel rates here under $200 a night. St. Simons Inn, for instance, overlooks a 19th-century lighthouse, while the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, a former dance club, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. St. Simons also scored well with readers for its good picnicking spots, events like the 4th of July Sunshine Festival, and for romance. You two might rent a bike or catch a trolley to tour the area’s plantations. Photo: GoldenIsles.com
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns Beaufort dates back to 1709 and landed its silver-medal position for classic boardwalk culture as well as easy-access kayaking in Taylors Creek. Gazing across the dock to Carrot Island, you might see wild horses, which have been a local staple since the town’s pirate days. While other beach towns boast about current celebrity visitors, Beaufort still has the remnants of its most famous (or infamous) regular: Blackbeard, whose pirate ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, sank here. Today, “Queen Anne’s Revenge” also refers to a restaurant on the boardwalk, where you can eat fresh stuffed shrimp, choose from 400 craft beers and wines, and listen to Beaufort’s highly ranked live music. Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Coast Tourism Authority
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns This barrier island off the northern coast of Florida has a worldly past, having existed under eight different flags, including Spain, Mexico, and France. Its dominant personality is now Victorian charm, manifested in such spots as the Palace Saloon, which purports to be the oldest bar in Florida (readers also ranked the town in the top 10 for good beer-quaffing). Another old-fashioned perk: Amelia Island State Park is one of the few beaches in the U.S. where you’re still allowed to ride horses right on the sand. Photo: Ian G Dagnall / Alamy
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod, comes across as both elegant and fun loving. You can hike the paths alongside the dunes at the Province Lands Trail and then kick back at Victor’s, known for its live jazz, cherry-blossom martinis, and raw bar, with local oysters and crab claws for 99 cents each. T+L readers ranked it in the top 10 for both active locals and B&Bs like the new unfussy Salt House Inn. P-town also scored highly as a gay-friendly and girlfriend-getaway destination. Photo: nobleIMAGES / Alamy
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns This historic town on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island scored in the top 10 for its vacation homes—and no wonder, since former part-time locals have included folks with last names like Vanderbilt and Morgan. For a lovely coastal stroll with mansion views, follow the Cliff Walk. And when you’re ready to swim, head to popular Easton’s Beach. Newport also ranked in the top 10 for its ice cream, such as the ironically dubbed Awful Awful shakes at Newport Creamery. Photo: Kate Appleton
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns Chatham still supports a commercial fishing operation, but clearly has a softer side: readers ranked it at the top of the survey for its sense of romance. One swoon-worthy hotel is the luxurious clapboard Chatham Bars Inn, set on 25 acres with its own private beach, spa, and more than two-dozen shingled cottages. Among public shores, Chatham Lighthouse Beach is considered the most scenic. The good times here on Cape Cod don’t die down after Labor Day: thanks in part to its annual Pumpkin People display, Chatham also ranked near the top for being a cool Halloween destination. Photo: Cape Cod Chamber
See More of America's Favorite Beach Towns If your idea of seaside bliss is waves crashing into the rocks, this former artists’ colony on Monterey Bay offers beach-town perfection. Readers’ favorite time to visit here was fall—perhaps because that’s also harvest time for the wineries (such as Heller and Galante) in neighboring Carmel Valley. Readers also loved the town for its romantic hotels; check in to the château-style L’Auberge Carmel or Mission Ranch, an old dairy farm saved from developers by past mayor Clint Eastwood. Photo: Peter Horree / Alamy
--Katrina Brown Hunt
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