The 9 Top Beach Towns in the U.S.
March 27, 2019
The United States is home to some of the best beach towns in the world, and we’ve chosen some of the very best in terms of weather, activities, beaches, and quality of life. From San Diego on the west side to Miami on the east, here are the best U.S. beach towns.
1. San Diego, California
San Diego is more of a collection of towns, and each of its beach neighborhoods sports its own vibe. From bohemian Ocean Beach to the bustling nightlife of Pacific Beach, San Diego is diverse, and irresistible no matter what you’re looking for. And the pleasant year-round weather makes nearly every day a beach day.
San Diego’s coastline is its main attraction, extending 70 miles up and down the county. From La Jolla with its sea caves and 300-foot sea cliffs to Mission Beach with its nostalgic, wooden rollercoaster, to sunset worthy Sunset Cliffs in Point Loma, beaches in San Diego are plentiful. Beyond beaches, must-see sites in San Diego include Balboa Park, Coronado Island, and North Park, with its trendy brunch spots and bars.
2. Santa Barbara, California
Known as “The American Riviera,” Santa Barbara is home to wineries, lush gardens, year-round festivals, and nearly endless sunshine, with a climate as Mediterranean as its architecture. Santa Barbara is home to miles of pristine public beaches, many of which serve as popular surf or stand-up paddle boarding spots. From Arroyo Burro, popular with dog owners, to Summerland with its horseback riders, beaches in Santa Barbara are not to be missed. Even if you’re not big on watersports, watching the sunset can be just as spectacular.
Downtown Santa Barbara, home to the popular Funk Zone, is home to wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, and an assortment of pubs and nightclubs. Late-night spots include Wildcat Lounge and Cold Spring Tavern, while the Urban Wine Trail invites guests to try 20 tasting rooms in the city.
3. Santa Monica, California
Beyond the Santa Monica Pier with its solar-powered Ferris wheel, Santa Monica is a dynamic beach town. Located on the westside of Los Angeles, just a stone’s throw from its grittier neighbor Venice, Santa Monica beams with its array of acclaimed eateries, shops, spas, and picture-perfect weather.
Santa Monica State Beach offers up miles of coastal beauty with mountain views, favored by surfers, joggers, and cyclists alike. The Santa Monica Pier is a treasure for families, while Third Street Promenade beckons to shoppers just two blocks from the beach.
Locals from all over LA head to Santa Monica for rooftop happy hours or all-night dancing at hotspots like Circle Bar or Bar Copa. Like a literary angle to your bar hopping? Head to Barkowski, a Charles Bukowski-themed watering hole.
4. Miami, Florida
With good-looking people and even better-looking beaches, Miami dazzles with its artsy aesthetic. Art-deco buildings give way to white sands, while a burgeoning art scene makes you crane your neck to try to take it all in. Weather is almost always warm and sunny with July bringing average temperatures in the 80s.
From South Beach to Sunny Isles Beach and beyond, Miami's sugar-sand beaches offer a little bit of everything. Haulover Beach is clothing-optional, while Sunny Isles is kid-friendly. Popular nightlife destinations include trendsetting rooftop bars, Latin dance clubs and even an assortment of dive bars. The city is also receiving a lot of attention for its rising culinary scene, which includes everything from classic Cuban food to new foodie favorites such as Kyu and Coyo Taco.
5. Key West, Florida
Located 150 miles southwest of Miami, Key West lures visitors and new residents with its average temperature of 79°F, its charming 19th-century architecture and its laid-back lifestyle. The continental United States’ southernmost city has some stellar beaches, including Smathers with its 2-mile shoreline, Dog Beach for dog-lovers, and South Beach for families.
For nightlife, head to Capt. Tony’s Saloon, formerly the Hemingway haunt Sloppy Joe’s. Durty Harry’s is a little more expansive with eight separate bars and clubs, both indoor and outdoor, if you like to wander while buzzed.
6. Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii
Located on the leeward side of the island of Oahu, Kailua trades in the bustle (and prices) of touristy Waikiki for a small-town feel with larger-than-life scenery. The year-round warm weather synonymous with the Hawaiian isles makes it easy to explore Kailua’s many offerings by bike, foot, or surfboard.
From the calm surf at Kailua Beach Park to more bodysurfing-friendly waves a mile south at Lanikai Beach, beach time is a daily passion for Kailua locals and visitors alike. Beyond the beach, Kailua attractions include hiking the Olomana Three Peaks Trail and Maunawili Falls.
When your daily adventures come to a close, head to Kailua Town Pub and Grill for one (or a few) of their 30 beers on tap, or Windward Bar, which is located within Whole Foods and serves organic wines and draft microbrews.
7. Blue Hill, Maine
This quaint seaside village on the western shore of Maine's Blue Hill Bay might seem like a sleepy town at first glance, but it shouldn't be underestimated. The area is a scenic hub for artists and writers whose living conditions range from luxury coastal homes to farmhouses to mobile homes.
With soft sand and waters teeming with lobsters, Blue Hill’s beaches encompass 26 miles of unspoiled coastline. When the weather permits, Blue Hill Mountain is a popular hike with expansive coastal views over the Blue Hill Peninsula. Summer high temperatures average 76°F. Winter is on the much cooler side, but even on colder days, Blue Hill shines with its galleries, local crafts, and seafood restaurants. Nightlife options include Deepwater Brewing Company and The Boatyard Grill for al fresco drinks in a boatyard.
8. Long Beach, New York
Though New York is more commonly associated with big-city living, Long Beach features another side. Just a 45-minute train ride from Penn Station, the barrier island features a variety of classic eateries and eccentric shops.
Surfers flock to the beach at Lincoln Road, which can be surfed year-round. Other activities include seasonal flying trapeze, art galleries, and a nightlife scene that includes Speakeasy, Shine’s Bar, and Lost at Sea.
While cooler in the winter months of course, the beach town maintains a casual, outdoorsy vibe, where locals ditch the cars and speed walking of nearby Manhattan for leisurely strolls and bike rides to get from the 2-mile beachfront boardwalk into town.
9. Port Angeles, Washington
Though beach towns like Port Angeles tend to be a little gloomier in comparison to those in more southern states, this one makes our list because of its affordability. Port Angeles is one of the best beach cities in the United States to live in if you’re on a budget and happen to enjoy hiking more than surfing.
From serene bays to the jagged coastline of the Pacific Ocean, Port Angeles beaches are clean and dreamy, even under a cloud layer. It’s more popular for whale watching than sunbathing, and this is no small thing. Orcas, humpbacks, gray, and minke whales can all be seen from the shore. Nature lovers will appreciate the town’s close proximity to the Olympic National Park, which encompasses nearly a million acres. Popular outdoorsy activities include boating, fishing, and skiing in winter.
Port Angeles has a quiet nightlife scene, but there are a few notable breweries, gastropubs, and nightclubs within reach such as Bar N9NE and The Dam Bar. If this isn’t enough, it’s good to know that a short, scenic ferry ride across Puget Sound will deliver you to Seattle.
Written by Erica Garza for Knockaround.