The Last Best American Beach Towns

What makes a superior beach town? I’ve thought about that often, usually while gorging on steamed clams with butter or pedaling a bike along a seawall.

America does beaches extremely well, a point I didn’t begin to realize until my 20s, when I tried to sunbathe on a jam-packed stretch of Spanish shore. But too many of the towns along our coastlines have become charmless and generic. They feel like shopping malls with sand.

A great beach town must have shores that are spacious, picturesque, relatively uncrowded, and clean. Beyond that, its local culture not only has to service tourism but also transcend it. The town must have a prettiness about it that makes even a stroll to the grocery store an occasion for delight.

Finally, it has to be timeless, meaning that though restaurants come and go and shops get sold, the contours and vistas around them remain recognizable through generations.

My favorites go further. Their allure springs from distinctiveness. On first visit, they already feel comfortable, even familiar, while having that ineffable sense of being unlike anywhere you’ve been before.

Traveling around the country, I’ve rejoiced each time I have come across another of these American idylls. Weary of vacations that feel homogenized down to the margarita mix, I’ve resolved to celebrate as many as I can, lest the thousands of miles of U.S. coastline become one long, featureless stretch of big-box hotels and franchised stores, impossible to tell apart.

Here are seven of America’s last best beach towns:

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