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Best Coastal Small Town (2021)

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Forget about Miami and Los Angeles! These 10 small towns – each with a population of fewer than 25,000 people – were selected by our readers as the 10 Best Coastal Small Towns. Each offers uncrowded, unpretentious, and affordable seaside fun in small packages that prove bigger isn't always better. 

  • Bucksport

    Bucksport
    Maine

    Located by the Penobscot River, Bucksport’s downtown waterfront area draws visitors to enjoy its recreation and other amenities. 10Best Contributor Deborah Fallows suggests that you “stop for a craft beer (made by real friars) at the Friar’s Brewhouse, visit the history museum, or try a glass of wine at Verona Wine and Design.” Local bodies of water such as Silver Lake and Jacob Buck Pond offer opportunities for fishing (including a winter fishing derby), kayaking, and canoeing. Recreational boaters seeking saltwater activities can utilize a public dock located directly off Main Street.
    Photo courtesy of Florania Medeiros // Getty Images

  • Georgetown

    Georgetown
    South Carolina

    The small community of Georgetown on the Carolina coast is what Charleston used to be – 200-year-old homes (more than Charleston in fact), lots of Southern charm and none of the crowds. Local restaurants serve up Low Country specialties, and outdoor adventures might include kayaking, fishing or paddleboarding.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / michaelgatewood

  • Rockport

    Rockport
    Texas

    Across the Aransas Bay from Corpus Christi, the streets of Rockport are lined with art galleries – the town claims to have the highest percentage of artists in Texas. The pedestrian-friendly downtown is filled with shops and restaurants, and more often than not, accommodation takes the form of old fashioned motel courts. Windswept oak trees and large swathes of protected coastal wetlands make this section of the Texas Gulf Coast one of the loveliest.
    Photo courtesy of Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce

  • Southport

    Southport
    North Carolina

    The historic maritime town of Southport has been a pitstop of seafarers – everyone from pirates to fishermen – since the 1500s. Today the historic streets are lined with boutique shops and seafood restaurants where visitors tuck into crab cakes and steamed shrimp on waterfront patios. The town is also the jumping off point for ferry trips to nearby Bald Head Island.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / Rick Lanier

  • Ocean Springs

    Ocean Springs
    Mississippi

    Known as the “City of Discovery,” the historic coastal town of Ocean Springs is the perfect place for visitors to relax and enjoy. After exploring downtown with its quaint cottage-like Main Street, artistic flair, and small-town appeal, head to the beach for a day in the sun. Stroll along miles of soft white sand, and find more tranquil stretches of beach for romantic walks or moonlight picnics. Take a boat cruise and enjoy dinner and a magnificent sunset, or paddleboard, kayak, or canoe along river bayous and through constantly developing natural marshlands.
    Photo courtesy of ArtistheJourney // Getty Images

  • Bay Saint Louis

    Bay Saint Louis
    Mississippi

    The quaint seaside town of Bay St. Louis calls itself “a place apart,” and it’s easy to see why. The friendly community has everything you’d want from a small town seaside escape – a store-lined Main Street, restaurants serving fresh Gulf seafood, museums and an 8.5-mile canoe and kayak trail.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / ArtistheJourney

  • Nags Head

    Nags Head
    North Carolina

    One of the Outer Banks’ most popular tourist destinations, Nags Head is popular with visitors for its wide variety of restaurants, natural and historical attractions, and magnificent ocean views. Nags Head beaches are pet-friendly, and water lovers will find outlets for many of their favorite sports, including kayaking, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. The historic Jennette’s Pier offers exceptional “in-shore” fishing and is home to a small museum and educational research center. For those seeking more adventure, the Bodie Island Lighthouse gives visitors a spectacular ocean view from the top of the 156-foot tower during the summer months.
    Photo courtesy of Meinzahn // Getty Images

  • Del Mar

    Del Mar
    California

    Located just twenty miles north of San Diego, the quaint seaside village of Del Mar is rich in natural beauty and history, with a touch of European charm. Originally known as a retreat for Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, today Del Mar welcomes visitors from around the globe who enjoy the unique shops, breathtaking vistas, spectacular ocean views, and award-winning restaurants. The two-plus miles of Del Mar’s sandy beach offers a beautiful place to relax or walk, and the beaches are dog-friendly. 10Best Contributor Eric Grossman tells us: “I love the race track 'where the surf meets the turf,' but there’s a lot more to recommend about tiny Del Mar, including Dog Beach, where you’re always likely to see cute pups frolicking on the sand.”
    Photo courtesy of Marcel Fuentes // Getty Images

  • Beaufort

    Beaufort
    South Carolina

    Beaufort is more than a hidden Lowcountry South Carolina jewel – it’s a life-changing destination that has enchanted visitors since 1512. 10Best Contributors Cele & Lynn Seldon add: “The smell of the plough mud, the briny breezes, and the charming antebellum architecture makes for the perfect trifecta.” Enjoy the winding, historic streets with their moss-draped live oak trees, or learn about sea life on an educational boat tour of the Checheessee River. For the more adventurous, kayak tours offer paddling opportunities and perhaps even a chance for dolphin sighting!
    Photo courtesy of iStock / styxclick

  • Cape May

    Cape May
    New Jersey

    Known as “America’s Original Seaside Resort,” Cape May became a vacation destination since the idea of vacationing in a different location began. Initially settled by fishermen and whalers in America’s colonial days, the city was named a National Historic Landmark In 1976. 10Best Contributor Marla Cimini notes that this “southernmost point in New Jersey is filled with quaint architecture and offers a family-friendly vibe for your vacation!”
    Photo courtesy of iStock photo

The top 10 winners in the category Best Coastal Small Town are as follows: 
  1. Bucksport - Maine
  2. Georgetown - South Carolina
  3. Rockport - Texas
  4. Southport - North Carolina
  5. Ocean Springs - Mississippi
  6. Bay Saint Louis - Mississippi
  7. Nags Head - North Carolina
  8. Del Mar - California
  9. Beaufort - South Carolina
  10. Cape May - New Jersey
Congratulations to all these winning towns!
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10Best Editors

10Best Editors

10Best Editors

Allison Tibaldi

Allison Tibaldi

Allison Tibaldi

Amber Gibson

Amber Gibson

Amber Gibson

Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith

Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton

Eric Grossman

Eric Grossman

Eric Grossman

Gerrish Lopez

Gerrish Lopez

Gerrish Lopez

Marla Cimini

Marla Cimini

Marla Cimini

Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon

Cele and Lynn Seldon

Sherel Purcell

Sherel Purcell

Sherel Purcell

Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows
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