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12 Best U.S. Seaside Cities for a Summer Escape

Inspiration for your next "seascape."

Summer oftentimes means time spent out at the beach or out at sea, but these coastal cities offer visitors and locals alike the opportunity to enjoy some urban amenities, including the top-notch shopping and dining that a more “metropolitan” spot would offer. Here are 12 of the most vibrant seaside cities that host the best of both worlds for a summer escape, with a dynamic selection of shopping, dining, and outdoor exploration across both coasts of the U.S.

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Monterey

WHERE: California

Internationally renowned attractions like Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium put Monterey on the map for travelers worldwide—but this walkable Central Coast seaside city offers much more to explore. Visit Old Monterey, the historic neighborhood that now stands as the city’s thriving downtown. Many of this district’s old-school adobes host fabulous modern restaurants and bars. Explore on land, by bike—Monterey hosts dozens of miles of scenic bike trails. Or, explore by the sea—kayaks, boats, and paddle boards are perfect for an adventure through the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is a hub of marine life. Those who prefer to sit and sip a glass of local wine with a view can spend a night at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa. The guest room balconies offer a perfect perch for whale watching—or see spouts from the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling windowed on-site dining venue, Coastal Kitchen

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Cocoa Beach

WHERE: Florida

Cocoa Beach is a seaside city that’s renowned for its year-round warm weather and awesome surf opportunities. In fact, Florida’s Space Coast isn’t just known for science and the Kennedy Space Center—it’s actually considered the “surfing capital of the east coast.” Relax on the warm sands, go for a sunset stroll on the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier,and stop at Rikki Tiki Tavern at the end for a cocktail and an alligator burger (it tastes like chicken!). Enjoy the bustling downtown scene which hosts welcoming outdoor spaces including top-rated waterfront dining, shopping (this city is home to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop!), and live entertainment. Spend the night at Beachside Hotel & Suites, which feels like a trip back in time to the glorious and groovy sixties. This hotel gives off a laid-back, retro vibe that’s virtually synonymous with the relaxing atmosphere around Cocoa Beach.

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Laguna Beach

WHERE: California

This picturesque, artsy enclave on the southern coast of California has seemingly everything—there are beaches, coves, canyons, tide pools, and an upbeat downtown filled with art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants. Plus, the local free trolley system helps people get virtually anywhere in town, easily. Stop at Aliso Beach Park and gaze at the emerald green waves, or explore thousands of acres of protected wilderness, overflowing with scenic hiking and biking trails. Then, grab a brew at the Laguna Beach Beer Company, which pays homage to local artists by highlighting their art on the labels and craft tap handles. Those seeking an upscale night can head to The Ranch at Laguna Beach and dine around one of the cozy fire pits at The Porch, which serves unbeatable craft cocktails and freshly made food within the tranquil ambiance of the protected canyon, just across the street from Aliso Beach.

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Boston

WHERE: Massachusetts

Nothing quite compares to a summer trip to Boston. Whether shopping on the picturesque Newbury Street, learning about American history on The Freedom Trail, grabbing a bite to eat in the North End (Mike’s Pastry is a must), strolling through the Boston Public Garden, or soaking up the sun along the Boston Harbor (tea, anyone?) or enjoying the classic experience of catching a game at Fenway Park while devouring a “Fenway Frank,” it’s bound to be an unforgettable summer memory. Baseball fans can even book a special experience at Hotel Commonwealth which has “immersive Red Sox Experiences,” including the new “Family of Fans” offer. The hotel offers six Red Sox packages, where guests will receive tickets to a home game, guest accommodations, and some awesome game-day experiences. Plus, their Fenway Park Suite and Baseball Suite both boast prime views of Fenway and other one-of-a-kind collectibles (like authentic Fenway dirt!).

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Honolulu

WHERE: O‘ahu, Hawaii

Although O‘ahu is the third-largest of the Hawaiian Islands (after the Big Island and Maui) it’s actually home to about two-thirds of the population of the state. Its capital city of Honolulu seemingly offers beautiful coastlines with white sand beaches and unparalleled surfing opportunities—as well as a bustling cosmopolitan scene featuring international shopping, dining, and urban adventures. Visit Waikiki to explore some of the most famous sands in the world, or hike Leahi, also known as “Diamond Head,” which is an easy bus ride from Waikiki, to soak in panoramic views of Honolulu after a moderately challenging trail route toward the sky. Explore downtown Honolulu, which is home to some of Oahu’s most historic landmarks, and spend the night at Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani which offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, and an infinity pool, a sun deck outfitted with chic cabanas, and an upscale outdoor bar.

 

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West Palm Beach

WHERE: Florida

Perched on Florida’s Atlantic Ocean coast, the glamorous city of West Palm Beach offers seemingly endless opportunities for adventure. Explore a range of buzzing dining options, bustling shopping, and nightlife, and enjoy ample opportunities to soak up the local arts and culture. Stop into Restoration Hardware Rooftop Restaurant for a sky-high cocktail, or peruse the walkable Clematis Street for additional, impeccable bar and restaurant choices. There’s also Centennial Square and Fountain Park at the end of Clematis Street, which is a beautiful spot to stop and watch the fountain show. And don’t miss The Square, a dynamic, thoughtfully curated mix of more than 50 shops and restaurants with an interactive Water Pavilion and an array of engaging art installations. Spend the night across the street at Hilton West Palm Beach, which has an enormous pool with plenty of outdoor seating to lounge and soak up the Florida sunshine.  

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Galveston

WHERE: Texas

It feels like a Gulf Coast paradise in Galveston, Texas, with powder sand beaches, historic Southern charm, and a wide array of charming Victorian-era architecture. Spend a day playing in the sand and sun at Galveston Beach before washing off and enjoying one of the towering water slides at Schlitterbahn Waterpark. For an educational field trip day, follow along the Galveston Seawall downtown to read up on the history of this seaport island at the Strand Historic District and the 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA. Check out the coasters of the Historic Pleasure Pier, where thrill-seekers have the opportunity to experience a ride that’s perched over the water. Spend the night at Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center, which is usually known for its incredible holiday display—but is also home to attractions like the Aquarium Pyramid, the Rainforest Pyramid, and an array of other on-site attractions.

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Lincoln City

WHERE: Oregon

Lincoln City is less than two hours from Portland—but this scenic, seaside community is home to six historic districts and seven miles of pristine, walkable beaches along Oregon’s central coast—and feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Instead, visitors will encounter a laid-back Pacific Northwest beach town that boasts evergreen forests, fresh air, and a sizeable lake—along with city comforts like a variety of shopping, dining, and attractions. In late June, visitors can spy colorful sky sights filled with kites during The Summer Kite Festival, and ongoing treasure hunts like the ongoing glass floats give everyone the opportunity to find hidden, handmade treasure along the beach. Spend a low-key evening at Baywood Shores Bed and Breakfast, which is tucked onto the bank of the scenic Siletz Bay, offering sights of the sea and the local wildlife.

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San Juan Island

WHERE: Washington

The adventurous San Juan Island off the coast of Washington is accessible by ferry via the city of Anacortes. It’s a summer destination made for outdoor coastal exploration. Check out Friday Harbor—known as the gateway to the San Juan Islands—a charming and historic seaport featuring an abundance of all local friendly shops and dining options, whale watching and kayaking tour opportunities, and cultural stops like the San Juan Islands Museum of Art and the San Juan Historical Museum. Visit Brickworks Central Plaza, a community gathering spot which is where the San Juan Island Farmers’ Market takes place on Saturdays. Spend the night at Lakedale, a 10-minute drive from Friday Harbor, which boasts a selection of glamping retreat choices, including cozy, year-round yurts and canvas cottages—surrounded by the lush forest. Guests can participate in one of the many complimentary outdoor activities like stand-up paddleboarding, volleyball, bocce ball, and more.

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Kennebunkport

WHERE: Maine

Kennebunkport, Maine, feels like stepping into the ultimate Northeast dream vacation destination. It’s one of New England’s most beloved beach towns, overflowing with seaside charm and coastal character. Visitors can experience an abundance of water activities like kayaking, kite surfing, sailing, fishing, boating, check out Goose Rocks Beach, or traverse the winding bike paths and local trails. Hop on the open-air trolley, stop into the selection of local shops and galleries, or explore the local dining scene—which of course, includes an array of classic seafood shacks in addition to higher-end dining choices, with new restaurants seemingly constantly popping up throughout the summer season. Spend the night at the classically elegant Kennebunkport Inn, which is located in a fantastic spot right in the heart of downtown and serves as the most walkable home base to explore the most popular destinations in the city.

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Wilmington

WHERE: North Carolina

Wilmington is a mecca of outdoor entertainment—it’s home to a vibrant, scenic Riverwalk, colorful island beaches, and a scenic National Register Historic District that spans more than 230 blocks showcasing a variety of impressive architectural styles. Stop by the hip new dining outpost, Seabird, for a taste of the freshest oysters and shellfish caught by local, small-scale fishermen—and visit Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a trendy downtown bar serving a North Carolina-inspired cocktail dubbed “First In Flight.” This unique drink pays homage to the Wright Brothers, who first took flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., and is made using locally sourced and North Carolina-based brands. Then, visit Riverfront Park Amphitheater—the first ever coastal outdoor venue in the Carolinas, hosting well-known music artists like the Glass Animals, later in 2022. Finally, retire to the historic Graystone Inn, which has served as a city landmark for more than a hundred years.

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Gulf Shores

WHERE: Alabama

From one-of-a-kind seaside experiences like  Sand Castle University—where visitors and locals alike can learn the best techniques to build sandcastles in the sugar-white sand—to classic beach activities like parasailing, dolphin, and wildlife kayak tours, snorkeling, and more—Gulf Shores, Alabama is a southern fantasy getaway. A visit to Gulf State Park means the chance to take advantage of a free bike-share program and traverse 28 miles of trails, and there’s also the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo and the Jurassic Golf miniature golf course to check out. Experience the robust food scene, offering a plethora of options like  LuLu’s, which is known for its tasty burgers and seafood. This spot even boasts its own seasonal ropes courses and arcade. Spend the night at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, which is right on the emerald waters of the Gulf and is actually inside the park itself.

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