Blame it on the intoxicating salt air. Or the way the light bounces as the sun sets. Or the pure pleasure of digging into a shore dinner of fresh lobster and buttery sweet corn while gazing out on white-capped waves. No matter the reason, one thing is for sure: waterside dining is one of summer’s greatest pastimes. Come July and August, it often doesn’t matter where you are, as long as there’s an ocean, lake, or river nearby.
Countless restaurateurs have leaned on Mother Nature to ensure success, enticing diners with a winsome combination of appetite-spurring menus and heartbreakingly scenic locations on the water’s edge. Some places—like the 30-year-old Beachcomber on a dune-filled stretch of Cape Cod and the only restaurant inside a designated National Heritage Beach—are emblazoned in our minds, and stomachs. Summer just isn’t complete without a visit.
“They have a great beer selection, incredible raw bar, and the steamers and lobsters are a must. As a kid (when I wasn’t leapfrogging down the sand dunes), I always ordered the fried clam bellies and summer corn on the cob,” says Corey Kane, 36, who lives on Boston’s South Shore and makes a pilgrimage to the Beachcomber every year. “I’m planning to go this weekend. It’s still the highlight of my summer.”
According to a U.S. government statistic, there are some 60,000 bodies of water in the New York–New Jersey–Pennsylvania region alone, which is proof that waterside dining opportunities around the country are potentially endless. So Travelandleisure.com assembled a list of some of the greats—restaurants that celebrate a sense of place, perfectly set on oceans, lakes, and rivers. And the food isn’t bad either.
The unfussy French restaurant Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, might as well be on the ocean; it overlooks the sapphire waters of massive Lake Michigan and enjoys an amazing location inside Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Lake Park; its executive chef, Adam Siegel, just won the prestigious 2008 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Midwest. And on New York City’s East River, the ultraclassic River Café—housed on an elegantly retrofitted barge—is moored just feet from one of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s Waterfalls—the city’s new, and much publicized, public art installation.
This summer at the restaurant at Andre Balazs’s sceney Sunset Beach hotel on Long Island’s Shelter Island, diners can sample the star hotelier’s brand-new private label wine, an ultrasummery blend called—what else—Sunset Beach. And at Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis, locals are happy to share their tried-and-true techniques for eating the area’s Chesapeake blue crabs. Expect great Tex-Mex and margaritas at The Oasis in Austin, but be prepared to jockey for space on one of the beloved restaurant’s 40 tiered decks for a clear view of the fiery sunset over serpentine Lake Travis.
Maybe it’s because human beings are made of 65 percent water that we feel a natural affinity for H2O? In the end, perhaps we should blame biology for one simple truth: everything tastes better with a water view