10 Secret Seaside Escapes
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With their simple pleasures, sleepy oceanside towns capture the no-frills essence of a classic beach vacation. What they lack in stoplights or strip malls they more than make up for in quiet kayaking channels and shores of ankle-deep shells. At these 10 lesser-known seaside escapes throughout the U.S. and Canada, you'll see heaps of harbor seals, breathe in the aroma of a lavender farm, and taste famous fried clams between jaunts to the beach. When you're here, it feels like summer really could last forever.
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Pacific City, Oregon
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Oregon-coast visitors flock to Cannon Beach to photograph the famed Haystack Rock at sunset. But if you want a shot without the crowds, head an hour and a half south to another towering sea stack in Pacific City. Since this sleepy fishing village, with its unspoiled beaches, is four miles off coastal Highway 101, fewer road trippers have discovered it. There aren't any stoplights, strip malls, or chain restaurants here. Stay at the oceanfront Inn at Cape Kiwanda and you can walk to the Pelican, an award-winning brewery that serves meals right on the beach. Galleries and coffee shops are within walking distance of The Craftsman B&B, a restored 1921 home.
If You Go: Rent a surfboard at Cape Kiwanda or go deep-sea fishing on a chartered dory boat. Pacific City is home to the West Coast's last operating dory fleet, 100 flat-bottom fishing boats that haul in crab, rockfish, salmon, halibut, and tuna.
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
It was a sleep-weary riverboat captain who helped put this low-country island on the map in the late 1800s when he invented the Pawleys Island Rope Hammock, which long ago became the template for the classic American hammock style. Needless to say, relaxation is priority number one on Pawleys Island, 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach's nonstop buzz. Hammocks are slung generously between quaint shops and restaurants on the barrier island, which is less than four miles long and roughly one "house" wide. Pawleys is an island of simple pleasures without pretense. Evenings are often spent dining out, strolling the beach, or engaging in long conversations on screened porches.
If You Go: Rock in a chair on the porch while watching the waves roll in at the Sea View Inn. Explore the salt marsh at high tide in a rented kayak. Shelling and biking are other favorite pastimes here.
Ingonish, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
(Photo: Getty Images/Barrett & MacKay)
In this Canadian coastal town, swimmers can dip into either the ocean or a freshwater lake with only a thin natural barrier of smooth rocks between. The sandy Ingonish Beach is washed away by tides each winter but always returns in time for summer. Magnificent scenery surrounds Ingonish, from the sparkling sea teaming with lobster and crab to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, with its lofty overlooks and steep canyons. Getting here might take longer than it should, because every turn on the renowned Cabot Trail road that rings the northern tip of the island is picturesque and lures you to stop for a photo.
If You Go: Take a whale-watching tour. Save time to hike to the tip of the peninsula; it's a two-hour round-trip trek from Keltic Lodge Resort and Spa, whose rooms look out high above the ocean. Nearby Highland Links is one of the country's top golf courses.
Tucked along a seaside bay with a beautiful barrier island just offshore, Rockport is a terrific escape into nature. The small town, a 35-minute drive north of Corpus Christi, is one of North America's top birding destinations. Each year, millions of birds on the Central Flyway migration route stop here to rest and feed. Take a kayak tour or a sunset cruise through the bays around Rockport to observe protected nesting areas. In the fall, an enormous flock of whooping cranes fills the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Fishing is the other big draw to this Texas coastline, where you can cast a line or set out a crab trap from one of several fishing piers. Local restaurants will cook your catch for you.
If You Go: Find antiques as well as nautical-themed art and home decor in downtown shops. See a 1,000-year-old oak tree at Goose Island State Park.
For clam lovers, few seaside escapes compare to the little town of Ipswich, 30 miles north of Boston. A just-right mix of sand and mud in the surrounding estuaries and bays produces the big, juicy Ipswich clams for which the town is known. In summer, hungry beachgoers trail a line out the door of the Clam Box, a local fried-clam landmark. They've been coming to the Clam Box in their sand-coated flip-flops from the coastal dunes of Crane Beach for more than 60 years. On overcast days, explore this New England city's history. Ipswich is one of the best-preserved Puritan towns in America, and 58 homes built prior to 1725 are still standing today.
If You Go: Pick whatever fruit is in season at the family-owned, 120-acre Russell Orchards Farm Store and Winery. The tasting room pours samples of dry cider, cherry wine, and other varieties. If you're here in October, don't miss the annual Ipswich Chowder Fest.
Don Pedro Island, Florida
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This barrier island, on the Gulf Coast between Sarasota and Ft. Myers, is a throwback to what old-school Florida beach towns used to be: not much more than the beach and the homes for rent. There are no high-rise resorts, beach bars, traffic, and crowds here. In spite of seeing decades of vacationers, Don Pedro Island has managed to maintain its noncommercial feel. It's accessible only by ferry, and there are hardly any cars on the island. Locals and visitors get around on golf carts. They brag about the stillness, the quiet, and the sea-breeze-in-the-trees sound that most of us don't realize we're missing elsewhere.
If You Go: Spend a day beachcombing. In some areas, the shells are nearly ankle-deep. Watch for dolphins and manatees, or rent a boat and fish for grouper, redfish, and tarpon. In summer, loggerhead sea turtles nest at the foot of the sand dunes. Vacation-home rentals are affordable and can put you right on the water with a private dock.
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
A Pacific Northwest hub for outdoor adventure, the walkable town of Friday Harbor is stunning in summer. Catch a ferry or floatplane from Seattle and you'll land in a quaint town colored with umbrellas over bistro tables and kiosks of all kinds, where you can book kayaking or whale-watching tours and sunset cruises. Peruse galleries and cute shops, or see a summer blockbuster in a historical theater that plays first-run movies. The farmers' market fills the center of town every Saturday throughout summer. You can rent a bike or moped to explore the countryside, a pastoral landscape of farms that gives way to towering Douglas fir forests and long stretches of beach.
If You Go: Hear the lovely hum of bees floating among endless rows of lavender at Pelindaba Lavender, one of the largest lavender farms in the country. Endearing alpacas roam pastures nearby at Krystal Acres. After a swim at South Beach or Jackson Beach, head to Lime Kiln Point State Park to spot three local orca pods that swim offshore in summer.
New Castle, New Hampshire
(Photo: Wentworth by the Sea)
Composed entirely of islands linked by bridges, New Castle is a hidden gem of coves, salt marshes, and wildlife. There is a sandy beach at Great Island Common, but much of the coastline is rocky, dotted with lighthouses and marinas mooring expensive yachts. You can stroll the 17th-century town, where classic white steeples adorn green and red brick buildings—quintessential New England at this coastal midpoint between Boston and Portland, Maine. The city's iconic landmark is the grand and historic Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa. Splurge on a stay, or go for the jazz-and-champagne Sunday brunch.
If You Go: Drive Route 1B along the coast to see spectacular ocean views, America's oldest navy yard (Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, built in 1800), and the Portsmouth skyline. Paddle a kayak on the back channels of Witch Cove and Sagamore Creek.
(Photo: Timber Cove Inn)
Pair your seaside escape with the reds and whites of northern California's wine country in Jenner. This small coastal city in Sonoma County sits near the mouth of the Russian River, where, all summer long, harbor seals and barking California sea lions heave themselves onto the sand spit, sunning themselves for hours. You can swim and hike at Fort Ross State Historic Park and learn about early Russian hunters who were drawn to the area's herds of seal for their fur pelts. The fort's vineyard, with vines dating back to 1817, was one of the first places in northern California where grapes were planted.
If You Go: After a day touring wineries, relax on the beach and watch the sunset as you get cozy around the outdoor fire pit at Timber Cove Inn. Stretching along the Sonoma coast, Salt Point State Park has horseback-riding trails and an underwater reserve for divers.
Tofino, British Columbia
On the isolated west coast of Vancouver Island, this bohemian town is Canada's surf capital. Twenty-one miles of surfable beach break and major competitions bring longboarders to Tofino. Watch them ride at Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay, and Long Beach, or take a lesson with one of several local surf schools before warming up around a beach fire. The wind coming off the Pacific Ocean, ideal for flying kites, has shaped the shoreline's trees, which look as if a hair dryer never stops blowing their branches inland. Although there are great coffee shops and galleries here, visitors are naturally drawn to the water: Discover tide pools, go inlet kayaking, or watch for humpback or grey whales in open-air inflatable Zodiacs.
If You Go: For lunch, eat fish tacos from the Tacofino food truck. For dinner, try local flavors at SoBo restaurant, which captures the rustic elegance of Tofino. Book a suite with a hot tub at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, or stay at the more affordable Jamie's Rainforest Inn.
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