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Big cities on the water have their perks, but these 10 small towns – all recipients of USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards – offer a tranquility and charm that’s hard to find in more densely populated areas. Here are the 10 best coastal small towns in the U.S. for 2023.
No. 10: Cannon Beach, Oregon
Located in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest is this coastal Oregon town known for the unique and hard-to-miss Haystack Rock, a 235-foot-tall sea stack (one of the largest in the world). Stunning sandy beaches are perfect for splashing around or simply enjoying a breathtaking sunset. Shopping, dining, a lighthouse, and regular events are all draws of Cannon Beach.
No. 9: Nags Head, North Carolina
One of the Outer Banks’ most well-known 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.
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No. 8: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
“Rehoboth has it all,” says 10Best contributor Marla Cimini, including “awesome beaches, a fun boardwalk, many excellent restaurants and an array of things to do.” This coastal town on the Atlantic is also home to the Penny Lane Mall, Clear Space Theater Company, a summertime waterpark and Rehoboth Toy & Kite Company (both a big hit with families), and a number of breweries for kicking back.
No. 7: Sanibel Island, Florida
Not far from Fort Myers and Cape Coral is Sanibel Island, a Gulf Coast getaway known for top-notch resorts, white sand beaches and a laid-back vibe. In between beach days, locals and tourists alike enjoy golfing, perusing the local farmer’s market, dining and plenty of time at one of the nearby spas.
No. 6: St. Augustine, Florida
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is known as the nation’s oldest city, coastal or otherwise. Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas are excellent attractions from which to look out to the sea (they were used in part to watch for attacks coming from boats, after all). Also along the coast are the historic St. Augustine Sea Wall and Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.
No. 5: Provincetown, Massachusetts
A much-beloved town for the LGBTQ community, Provincetown (or P-town) is a charming vacation spot on the tip of Cape Cod. Featuring an eclectic mix of galleries and museums, bars and restaurants, cabarets, whale-watching opportunities, guesthouses and unique shopping experiences, there’s never a dull moment.
No. 4: Bayfield, Wisconsin
Fit for a postcard, the picturesque town of Bayfield is a gateway to the stunning Apostle Islands, boasting numerous lighthouses and some truly impressive caves and cliffs. When not cruising the islands, other points of interest include the Bayfield Maritime Museum, Bayfield Artists Guild, Bayfield Apple Company and Howl Adventure Center.
No. 3: Marblehead, Massachusetts
This quaint coastal New England town is just a short drive from Salem and Boston, but feels a world removed. History buffs enjoy checking out Fort Sewall and the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, while nature lovers will be delighted with a kayaking trip to nearby Crowninshield Island. Other attractions include the independent cinema Warwick Place and the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, where visitors can encounter beautiful migratory birds.
No. 2: Stuart, Florida
Part of Florida’s Treasure Coast, with the impressive Roosevelt Bridge to its north, is the under-the-radar town of Stuart. Walk along the St. Lucie River at Flagler Park or Shepard Park, both great spots for picnicking, fishing or otherwise relaxing. The Stuart Heritage Museum, Road to Victory Museum, and restaurant-lined downtown Stuart are all among the local attractions.
No. 1: Sandusky, Ohio
This Ohio town on the coast of Lake Erie is home to Cedar Point – one of the top roller coaster-laden amusement parks in the country. As such, Sandusky regularly welcomes families from all over and is prepared to do so with other attractions like Great Wolf Lodge Water Park, Sandusky Children’s Museum, and the Merry-Go-Round Museum, plus plenty of spots for yummy treats like Soda Pop’s.