Georgetown, S.C. wins Best Coastal Small Town

Pismo Beach, Calif. takes second place

Move over L.A., Miami and Honolulu! Our 10 winners for Best Coastal Small Town – each with a population of fewer than 25,000 people as of the last census – offer uncrowded, unpretentious and affordable seaside fun in small packages that prove bigger isn't always better.

  • 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), scenic plantations, 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 / Joesboy

  • Pismo Beach
    California

    Situated on California’s central coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Pismo Beach offers long white sand beaches, spectacular sunsets and access to numerous area wineries. Visitors can rent rods to fish off the historic pier or grab a wetsuit to try out surfing or body boarding. This classic California beach town feels straight out of the 1950s.
    Photo courtesy of Pismo Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau

  • Eastport
    Maine

    Eastport, the easternmost city in the United States, serves as a coastal gateway to Downeast Maine and Fundy Bay. While rich in natural beauty, this small town also packs a cultural punch thanks to the many artists, filmmakers and writers who call Eastport home.
    Photo courtesy of Kim Carpenter / Flickr

  • Vermilion
    Ohio

    Vermilion, located on the south shore of Lake Erie, feels more like a New England seaport, complete with a historic lighthouse and rich nautical heritage. Popular in the warm summer months, Vermilion’s walkable streets feature small boutique shops, art galleries, ice cream parlors and local restaurants, and summer evenings often involve concerts on the green.
    Photo courtesy of Tysto / Wikimedia Commons

  • Gulf Shores
    Alabama

    Visitors to Gulf Shores, at the heart of the Alabama Gulf Coast, will be met with sugary-white sand beaches, Southern-style fresh seafood, championship golf courses and nearly any water sport you can imagine, thanks to the many nearby back bays and rivers. Preserves and state parks protect much of the region make Gulf Shores an ideal base for a natural coastal escape.
    Photo courtesy of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism

  • Cape May
    New Jersey

    A Victorian gem on the New Jersey seashore, Cape May is one of the oldest resort towns in the country. The entire city is a National Historic District with some 600 preserved 19th century buildings. Colorful gingerbread buildings, excellent birdwatching opportunities and a relaxed vibe make this a favorite escape, even today.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / sparhawk4242

  • St. Simons Island
    Georgia

    St. Simons Island, the most developed of Georgia's Golden Isles, combines the best of a beach resort and the Old South. Sandy beaches, golf courses, tennis facilities and more than 100 restaurants, many specializing in fresh-caught seafood, are best explored by biking or driving the oak-lined winding roads connecting the island's villages.
    Photo courtesy of GoldenIsles.com

  • Mystic
    Connecticut

    The town of Mystic, Connecticut, once a major whaling center and shipbuilding port on the East Coast, holds tight to its seafaring history with attractions like the Mystic Seaport Museum. The excellent Mystic Aquarium caters to families, while the town itself has ample boutiques, galleries and restaurants to help pass the time.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / shunyufan

  • 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 Gerry Dincher / Flickr

  • Bayfield
    Wisconsin

    Gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, charming Bayfield features hilly streets lined with Victorian-era homes and quaint bed and breakfasts. This historic coastal town on the shores of Lake Superior in far northern Wisconsin is particularly charming come autumn, when the foliage is at peak color and the apple harvest is in full swing.
    Photo courtesy of iStock / Jacob Boomsma

The top 10 winners in the category Best Coastal Small Town are as follows:

  1. Georgetown, S.C.
  2. Pismo Beach, Calif.
  3. Eastport, Maine
  4. Vermilion, Ohio
  5. Gulf Shores, Ala.
  6. Cape May, N.J.
  7. St. Simons Island, Ga.
  8. Mystic, Ct.
  9. Southport, N.C.
  10. Bayfield, Wis.

A panel of experts partnered with 10Best editors to picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Marla Cimini (USA TODAY), Beth D'Addono (100 Things To Do in New Orleans Before You Die), Deborah Fallows (Our Towns: A 100,000 Journey into the Heart of America), Eric Grossman, Anna Hider (Roadtrippers), Geneva Ives, Gerrish Lopez, Sherel Purcell and Chelle Koster Walton were chosen based on their knowledge and experience of travel in the United States.

Congratulations to all these winning small towns!

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Marla Cimini

Marla Cimini

Beth D'Addono

Beth D'Addono

Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows

Eric Grossman

Eric Grossman

Anna Hider

Anna Hider

Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives

Gerrish Lopez

Gerrish Lopez

Sherel Purcell

Sherel Purcell

Chelle Koster Walton

Chelle Koster Walton