Courtesy of Crystal Coast Tourism Authority

With boardwalk rides, historic mansions, and homemade fudge, the best seaside towns offer charms that stretch beyond the sand.

No. 2 Beaufort, NC

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Beaufort dates back to 1709 and landed its silver-medal position for classic boardwalk culture as well as easy-access kayaking in Taylors Creek. Gazing across the dock to Carrot Island, you might see wild horses, which have been a local staple since the town’s pirate days. While other beach towns boast about current celebrity visitors, Beaufort still has the remnants of its most famous (or infamous) regular: Blackbeard, whose pirate ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, sank here. Today, “Queen Anne’s Revenge” also refers to a restaurant on the boardwalk, where you can eat fresh stuffed shrimp, choose from 400 craft beers and wines, and listen to Beaufort’s highly ranked live music.

America’s Favorite Beach Towns

No. 2 Beaufort, NC

Beaufort dates back to 1709 and landed its silver-medal position for classic boardwalk culture as well as easy-access kayaking in Taylors Creek. Gazing across the dock to Carrot Island, you might see wild horses, which have been a local staple since the town’s pirate days. While other beach towns boast about current celebrity visitors, Beaufort still has the remnants of its most famous (or infamous) regular: Blackbeard, whose pirate ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, sank here. Today, “Queen Anne’s Revenge” also refers to a restaurant on the boardwalk, where you can eat fresh stuffed shrimp, choose from 400 craft beers and wines, and listen to Beaufort’s highly ranked live music.

Courtesy of Crystal Coast Tourism Authority

America’s Favorite Beach Towns

For a really good lobster roll, Kristin Francis is willing to drive a few extra hours.

“It would make more sense for me as a New Yorker to hit the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore each summer,” says the souvenir-shopping blogger. “But I skip these spots and take the longer drive to Chatham.” Along with the lobster at Chatham Pier Fish Market, she loves the handblown vases at Chatham Glass Company and the fudge at Chatham Candy Manor. “It has that small-town vibe.”

Travel + Leisure readers also loved the Cape Cod destination, ranking Chatham, MA, among the top 10 beach towns nationwide. As part of our annual America’s Favorite Towns survey, readers evaluated hundreds of places for qualities like romantic hotels and live music. Not surprisingly, many of the towns that scored well for picnics, seafood shacks, and cool motels also sit right next to the shore.

Granted, beach towns come in a variety of flavors, from mansion-lined Newport, RI, to lovably kooky Key West, FL. One top 25 beach town provides easy access to wine country. In another, you can get an up-close look at the local pirate past. Either way, once you have found your ideal beach village, you want to keep coming back, like the tide itself.

Mary Castillo, for instance, goes to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, twice a year and gets more attached each time. During the summer, she looks forward to seeing dolphins surfing the waves, and in the winter, “after the storms, the sand is swept clear to reveal the bedrock underneath,” says the mystery writer. “When we walk on Carmel Beach, it’s never the same, and yet it feels like home.”

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