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With boardwalk rides, historic mansions, and homemade fudge, the best seaside towns offer charms that stretch beyond the sand.
No. 8 Fairhope, AL
America’s Favorite Beach Towns 2014
No. 8 Fairhope, AL
Readers gave this Gulf Coast town—where five rivers converge—high marks for its sense of local pride. One source of that self-esteem could be the regular slate of festivals, from antique shows and arts and crafts festivals to the annual L.A. Songwriters’ Festival (here, “L.A.” means Lower Alabama). Come summer, Fairhope’s location on Mobile Bay brings the possibility of jubilees—a natural phenomenon when live flounder, crabs, or shrimp suddenly wash ashore by the thousands. For a good vantage point, stay at one of the town’s bay-view B&Bs, such as Emma’s Bay House.
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.”
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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.
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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.”