Boca Grande, FL
This Edenic escape on the Gulf of Mexico is a real slice of Old Florida, with a much-photographed lighthouse watching over Gasparilla Island State Park, tree-lined streets without traffic lights, and long, quiet beaches touched by gentle surf.
Stay: The Gasparilla Inn, a member of the Historic Hotels of America and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is the classic resort and comes complete with a golf course. It’s closed during the hottest months, though; the best alternative is its sister property, the Innlet, which features a waterside restaurant and a relaxed vibe.
Eat: A funky Florida spot with character, Temptation—think murals of leaping tarpon and a neon martini sign—serves local grouper, pompano, and soft-shell crabs.
Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy
This small, serene island just off the Virginia coast is the gateway to the 37-mile-long Assateague Island National Seashore—a nature refuge that’s home to wild ponies, herons, woodpeckers, and foxes. It’s accessible to boaters and via car over the Route 175 bridge.
Stay: A Victorian-era home has been turned into Miss Molly’s Inn, a seven-room B&B that offers high tea in the afternoons.
Eat: The Chincoteague Diner is a welcome destination after a long day on the beach. Fill up on baskets of fried seafood (flounder, scallops, shrimp) or barbequed baby back ribs.
Lubec is all the way Down East, right near the border with New Brunswick, Canada. Its assets include an elegant Victorian/Greek Revival–style downtown, 97 miles of shoreline, two lighthouses, and easy access to the former Roosevelt summer home on Campobello Island, which is now an international park.
Stay: The Peacock House Bed & Breakfast, installed in an 1860 Federal-style residence, has ocean views, an eclectic library, and manicured gardens.
Eat: Stop by the Water Street Tavern for hearty bowls of haddock chowder, lobster “mac n cheese,” and views of the bay islands.
With its antiques shops and picturesque hiking trails, Gearhart—just north of the renowned, more-bustling Cannon Beach—is an in-the-know haven for Portland hipsters like Paige Powell and Gus Van Sant. In the evenings, people drive onto the hard-packed sand for wine and stargazing parties.
Stay: The 12 attached cottages of the Gearhart Ocean Inn, constructed in 1941, are an easy walk to the beach, and the owners will furnish a “clam gun” for scooping up clams from the sand.
Eat: The nicely refined Pacific Way Bakery & Café serves top-notch muffins and coffee in the morning, and later a menu that includes bay shrimp, designer pizzas, and flawless crab cakes. —Tom Austin
Santa Cruz, CA
Thrill-seekers flock to the Giant Dipper roller coaster at the Beach Boardwalk amusement park, but Santa Cruz has a surfeit of other attractions: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, surfers at Pleasure Point (and the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum), and frolicsome seals at Natural Bridges State Beach.
Stay: At the Casablanca Inn, most rooms have ocean views (and a handful have fireplaces, for when those NoCal nights get chilly). The restaurant looks out on the awesome expanse of the Pacific.
Eat: Center Street Grill is the go-to restaurant for salads, pastas, homemade hollandaise sauce, ahi tuna, and freshly squeezed lemonade and orange juice on the outdoor patio.
Sunset Beach, HI
Sunset Beach is the world capital of surfing, but in summer, all the wave-riding frenzy ebbs, and this town on the North Shore of Oahu becomes resolutely and wonderfully idle.
Stay: The oceanfront Ke Iki Beach Bungalows, a quick drive from the commercial district along the Kamehameha Highway, are all about easy atmosphere, to the sounds of the North Shore’s endless surf.
Eat: Ted’s Bakery, down the road from the mythical Pipeline, is a casual center of surfer life known for bento-box lunches, garlic shrimp, and mahimahi sandwiches. Finish it off with a slice of decadent Haupia chocolate pie.
An all-American classic—saltwater taffy and ice cream on the boardwalk, days of baking in the sun on Dewey Beach—with a lively art gallery scene and such august institutions as the Biggs Museum of American Art. In the evenings, visitors dance at places like the Rusty Rudder or Shag, or just stroll the boardwalk.
Stay: The Hotel Rehoboth, a plush boutique lodging, has a welcoming fireplace and a mod cottage-furnishings store off the lobby.
Eat: Eden, a high-end restaurant that often lives up to its name, features such dishes as a lobster and crab tower and a coffee-hazelnut rubbed pork tenderloin. —Tom Austin
Silver Lake Sand Dunes Area, MI
A beach staple of the Midwest, this strip along Lake Michigan—encompassing the towns of Hart, Mears, and Pentwater—has no shortage of massive sand dunes, beach buggies, and farmers’ markets along with over-the-top July 4th fireworks.
Stay: A simple affair overlooking the lake and a spread of sand, Dunes Waterfront Resort is not a bad way to get lost on a summer weekend.
Eat: That Place Restaurant, a 1950s and ‘60s theme joint with posters of James Dean and Elvis, is, well, the place to get a hamburger and shake.
Thomas J. Blazek
This is nature Texas-style, big and ready to roll, with an enormous flock of whooping cranes in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, stunning beaches along nearby Matagorda Island, and a 1,000-year-old oak known simply as “the Big Tree.”
Stay: A funky little place with classic beach lodgings, the Fulton Beach Bungalows overlook Aransas Bay.
Eat: Steve Lew’s BBQ Kitchen will take you way down home, with pulled pork and Texas-style sausage.
Gulf Shores, AL
Gulf Shores is near miles of splendid beaches along Bon Secour National Wildlife refuge and is a mainstay of the American seafood industry. Apart from the National Shrimp Festival every fall, the beaches are known for the strange occurrence of “jubilees,” random nights when crabs, fish, and shrimp flop up on the beach and make for easy pickings.
Stay: Magnolia Springs Bed and Breakfast is a charmer with stained glass in the den, elaborate woodwork in the great hall, and hearty three-course breakfasts.
Eat: Set in a circa 1897 building surrounded by Spanish moss and live oak trees, the Wash House Restaurant serves fried oyster lettuce wraps and beef spring rolls.