you and me could have a beach romance
March 20, 2015 8:56 AM   Subscribe

I am in search of beach towns where your lodging is walking distance from the beach, shops, restaurants, etc. Any climate/geography is OK. Any large body of water is OK but ocean/beach preferred.

Mrs. Molerats and I have family in New Smyrna Beach, FL and it has a very specific romance to it - not too big and crowded with tourists, but enough shops and restaurants within walking distance to the beach and your hotel. I love the feeling of being able to walk from your hotel to dinner and a beach stroll and to have a drink if you feel like it without having to drive.

My mental vision of this perfect "vacation zone" is walking down a cozy street where people are eating outside, and there are twinkly lights, and the beach is right down the street...

I want to know about other small, romantic beach towns like this.

- I love Charleston SC and St Augustine, but they doesn't really fit here because you can't walk from most of the town things to the beach.

- Larger cities are OK as long as they have a specific strip with that small, romantic feel by the beach.

- right now I'd prefer more options within the US

- something on a lake or pretty riverfront would be OK too

- it has to be safe to stroll around at night since that's a key part of the "vision"

Help me find my Beachy Romance!
posted by nakedmolerats to Travel & Transportation (48 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Kiawah Island was this sort of place. It's golf-y but you can ignore the golf parts and just go condo to beach pretty easily and leisurely ride bikes around to the rest of the places.

Burlington Vermont has a great set of shops and restaurants that are just a few blocks (though uphill) from the lakefront area which has a great place to go walking alongside it. There is a street that is all blocked off where people eat outside when the weather is nice.

A lot of people like this about Martha's Vineyard (again when the weather is nice) It's a schlep to get there but once you're there you can bike around, don't need a car and everyone's into the same scene you are. Touristy in the summer, more reasonable the rest of the year.

Seriously far away but Mackinac Island in upstate MI is like this. Island community with a lot of lovely places to walk and eat and poke around in. No cars allowed on the island! I'm sure there are a ton of Great Lakes type places but that was the one I specifically enjoyed recently.
posted by jessamyn at 9:08 AM on March 20, 2015

Ogunquit ME, as long as you avoid the really busy times (around July 4, early August) -- it's still a small town, but it can get crowded.
posted by jeather at 9:08 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hilton Head, SC, is not too far from Charleston and is like this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:09 AM on March 20, 2015

If you're open to a very small town, Stinson Beach, CA is a nice choice. Very safe. Walk easily from the organic cafe to the beach to your little vacation rental.

Santa Cruz, CA is sort of like this but there's a chunk of the beach that is taken up with the Boardwalk and a lot of the cafes or whatnot RIGHT across from the beach are kind of expensive/touristy. Still, it's a small town and you can easily walk from the mellow, chill cafe/shop zone to the beach zone.
posted by latkes at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2015

Provincetown, MA. Like Martha's Vineyard, crowded in summer, but easier to get to. You'll definitely see art galleries and shops and people eating outside, including a lot of men holding hands.
posted by Melismata at 9:13 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hollywood Beach, FL. I lived there for several years and while I hated Florida, I loved this little beach community. Great restaurants along the Broadwalk (not Boardwalk) and fun concerts at the band shell. Beautiful beach.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2015

Coronado Island, CA sounds like what you're looking for - very walkable, plenty of little restaurants/shops, and a great beach. I went in late August/early September, and it wasn't too crowded; it would probably be worse in the middle of summer.
posted by LNM at 9:15 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Santa Barbara might be too big for you, but last time I was there I stayed on W. Cabrillo Blvd which is right on the beach and walking distance to Stearns Wharf in one direction and great dining and shopping just up from the beach aways. I had a rental car but I barely used it - just to go to the zoo IIRC.
posted by muddgirl at 9:20 AM on March 20, 2015

Capitola, CA--santa cruz's cuter neighbor, Laguna Beach, CA, Cambria, CA
posted by th3ph17 at 9:26 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

York Beach, Maine might suit your purposes.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:30 AM on March 20, 2015

Block Island fits the bill, so long as you avoid the collegiate "Woooo!!!" crowd (pretty easy to do; just avoid Ballard's Inn and their private beach, especially on summer weekends).

I haven't been since I worked there several years back, but I recall the Blue Dory Inn being really nice (and right on the beach), and the Spring House being a nice location (slightly off the main street, but only about a ten minute walk into town... Even if you don't stay there, their veranda is a great place to have a cocktail and enjoy the sunset, and they have a massive lawn that's well suited for croquette).
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:39 AM on March 20, 2015

Monterey, CA. One of the most gorgeous places in the country, if not the world, and fits your criteria perfectly.
posted by Tamanna at 9:47 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

You didn't specify warm. Seward, Alaska has this. Very beautiful and walkable with shops and restaurants—and even a big-ass mountain trail that starts right in town. You can also access the harbor, where you can hop on a boat for salmon or halibut fishing, or glacier tours. Big cruise ships stop there, too, and link to the train to Anchorage. All that said, in the heart of summer the tourist draw is IMPRESSIVE.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 9:51 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ocean Grove, NJ! (Summer only.)

That entire stretch of Jersey Shore fits yr specifications, but the beach seems particularly close and accessible to Main Street in Ocean Grove.
posted by artemisia at 9:52 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is so great!!! Keep em coming!!

And yes, all climates acceptable! I'm not seeing Pacific Northwest so far, but anything there is great too!
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:56 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Folly Island, SC is off Charleston but it's its own thing. Hotels are right on the beach (don't even have to cross a street); strip of bars and restaurants and surf shops and tacky souvenir shops and ice cream, all walkable. Outdoor eating and drinking areas with music. Palm trees. Deserted piers to walk after dark.

The romance of it is only present off-season, IMO. Springtime (BUT NOT SPRING BREAK GOOD GOD NO), especially during the week when it is not crowded, is warm enough to brave the water, and is romantic. It's more of a "scrubby surf town" romance than an elegant oceanside retreat, but I find it charming.
posted by kapers at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2015

Cape May, NJ.
posted by katie at 10:05 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the US side of the PNW, you're going to want to look into the San Juan Islands.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:10 AM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

In Thailand and Cambodia you can stay at beach cottages/huts which are on the beach itself. The areas are sufficiently touristed that they're pretty safe, although people will likely try to sell you tuk-tuk or boat rides back to your hotel if you go for a walk anywhere.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:15 AM on March 20, 2015

Frankfort, MI fits all your criteria.
posted by The Toad at 10:15 AM on March 20, 2015

You can find this in several of the smaller cities in San Diego County, California. Downtown San Diego does not have a beach, but Encinitas, Carlsbad, Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Oceanside all have places you can rent within walking distance of the beach and shops/eateries. There may be cities south of downtown that also offer this, but I am less familiar with that part of the county.

Port Aransas, Texas is another spot to look. It can be crowded on weekends, especially in the summer, and it is apparently crazy during the week of spring break. But it is fairly temperate year-round. I was there in November one year and again in January-February another year. It's very windy but not particularly cold in winter. I was in shorts and skirts most of the time. It has about 3000-4000 permanent residents, plus "snowbirds" (part-time residents who live there for the winter, and tourist activity that it supports a lively local economy, more than is typical for a town with so few permanent residents.

Most of the restaurants are seafood restaurants. For me, that's a problem. It might not be for you.
posted by Michele in California at 10:26 AM on March 20, 2015

For me, that's hard to answer in specific, because SO MANY of the towns/communities along the Oregon coast would probably qualify. I don't know the Washington coast as well, but my guess is that it may be similar.

The real secret that locals know, though, is the best beaches AREN'T the ones that fit exactly into your description... those are only the good ones. The fantastic ones are a little bit more out of the way then that. So no matter where you go along the Oregon coast, pick a town/beach where you can do that strolling you desire, but make sure to give yourself some time to go visit one of those, too.
posted by stormyteal at 10:28 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Carmel, CA.
posted by JenMarie at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Delaware coastline has a number of beach towns worth looking into.

My wife and I visit Bethany Beach, DE several times a year and it fits all your criteria. Mother-in-law has a condo a short walk to the beach, boardwalk, and local seafood places. Travel 15 minutes up the road to Rehoboth, DE for the active nightlife and an even bigger boardwalk. Both places are mega safe. There's also Dewey Beach, DE that is nestled between Bethany and Rehoboth but that's more of a college / spring break vibe.
posted by Diskeater at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sarasota, FL. Specifically the St Armands Circle. (Sorry, I'm on my phone)
posted by ezust at 10:36 AM on March 20, 2015

Old Orchard Beach, Maine. You can even take the train there if you'd like a little more romance.
posted by JanetLand at 10:38 AM on March 20, 2015

Santa Monica, CA has the beach and nice restaurants within walking distance of hotels, but it's part of LA County and not exactly romantic.
posted by brujita at 10:49 AM on March 20, 2015

Another lakeside suggestion: New Buffalo, MI is very cozy and has lots of walkable cute stuff.
posted by torridly at 10:59 AM on March 20, 2015

Galveston, Tx is not bad, but the best beaches there require cars, I believe (per a few year old knowledge) Port A, like Michele in C mentioned, is probably better. Corpus Christi and South Padre Islands are also some options.

Amelia Island, Florida. Probably most of the East coast of Florida, down to the keys

Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica is a incredible tropical paradise and I had a utterly fantastic vacation there- but might be a little hilly for utterly casual walking. But man, that view!
posted by Jacen at 11:02 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Avila Beach, CA, just a few minutes outside of San Luis Obispo in central California. A classic, sleepy California beach town, with a few nice beaches, a small strip of beach-facing businesses and restaurants, and several hotels and resorts within walking distance. A little off the beaten path but hardly remote.
posted by mosk at 11:04 AM on March 20, 2015

Seconding the Oregon coast - specifically Cannon Beach, Oregon.

The main street, with most of the shops and restaurants, is within walking distance from many hotels. A lot of the hotels are a couple blocks from the beach and main street is also within walking distance of the beach.

It can, however, get a little crowded on weekends.
posted by Robocat at 11:05 AM on March 20, 2015

A couple of them have already been mentioned, but the west side of Michigan's lower peninsula basically has a string of such towns every 20-40 miles up the coast -- Grand Haven, Saugatuck, Ludington, Petoskey, Charlevoix are all excellent examples but basically the variety is such that you can pick a combination of size and beach proximity that suits you.

I know you specified that ocean beaches were preferred but if you haven't been to any of the Great Lakes beach communities you might actually be surprised by the beautiful clean beaches and clear water you'll find there.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:26 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jersey Shore! I'm partial to the Cape May, Wildwoods, Stone Harbor, Spring Lake, Belmar, and Asbury Park.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:40 AM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Vineyard. It is a magical place.
posted by vrakatar at 11:48 AM on March 20, 2015

"Within the US" including territories? Don't miss Rincón in western Puerto Rico, a little town with a friendly surf culture and some great beachfront hotels. You can fly direct to nearby Aguadilla. The hotels are south of town on Rt 115, the surf spots are north of town off Rt. 413.
posted by nicwolff at 11:55 AM on March 20, 2015

Ocean City, NJ too.
posted by Miko at 12:03 PM on March 20, 2015

Southport, NC has a very quaint little area right where Rt. 211 turns in town - lots of little shops and restaurants, only a block away from the beach. Don't know about any hotels nearby (never stayed there, always just passed through), but I'm sure there are some B&B's or something. Also not sure how great the beach itself is, if you wanted to go into the water; however a short ferry ride will take you to Bald Head Island, (where my family goes) or about 3 miles away is Oak Island.
posted by GuppieXX at 12:14 PM on March 20, 2015

Fire Island, Suffolk County, NY. A skinny, fragile barrier island (most sections prohibit cars; ferries available early morning-late night to and from various Suffolk County mainland South Shore towns), with houses available for full summer rental or weekend shared rental. Most sections have several restaurants/bars. All houses are a short walk to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. The other side faces Great South Bay, which is beautiful for strolling/sitting/cocktails, but not for beaching.
posted by RRgal at 12:16 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ocean City, NJ too.

Was just coming here to say Ocean Grove NJ. I had a magical beach walky time with my guy there one weekend before high season started.
posted by jessamyn at 12:19 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

My parents have a place in Delray Beach, FL and this seems to have what you're looking for, though I think it does get fairly packed with tourists in the winter. But it's got tons of patio restaurants/bars and interesting shops within easy walking distance of a perfect beach. Everything's a bit on the upscale side - YMMV on whether that's a plus or a minus.

It seems like there are a lot of little communities along the coast in South Florida that basically have the same set-up. Two others I visited were Hollywood, which has a cute downtown and a tacky boardwalk, and Lake Worth, which has a bit more of a funky vibe.
posted by lunasol at 12:36 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Passagrille Beach, Fl - just south of St. Pete Beach. It's got very few resaturants, but all of the housing is within 2 minutes walk of the beach. It's so quiet and beautiful.
posted by heathrowga at 1:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

To me the ultimate version of this is to just go to Catalina, off the coast of LA. It's a two-hour ferry, and then you are in Avalon, which is all like this: no cars, except those grandfathered in. Or if you want more rustic you can head out to Two Harbors.
posted by dame at 2:17 PM on March 20, 2015

I recently spent a weekend in Long Beach, WA, which was lovely. The town itself might be a little smaller than you're looking for, but there's a lot of lodging basically right on the beach, and there are cute shops and restaurants.

Plus, Jake the Alligator Man!
posted by darchildre at 2:59 PM on March 20, 2015

I am going to second Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, for some very specific reasons:
- It looks like a fantasy novel (seriously, go look at some photos)
- There are at least 12 wine tasting rooms in the bucolic downtown area
- You are allowed to take bottles of wine to the beach and sip while you watch the sun set.

Seriously one of the most romantic places on earth. Oh, and did I mention there is a service there that will build you a romantic sunset beach bonfire, with rose petals strewn on the beach, S'mores and more? 'Cause there is.
posted by rednikki at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2015

Wrightsville Beach, right next to Wilmington, NC is pretty much exactly what you specified.
posted by wcfields at 5:34 PM on March 20, 2015

How about La Jolla, CA?
posted by TheClonusHorror at 7:01 PM on March 20, 2015

In Mexico, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta.
posted by Wet Spot at 7:12 PM on March 22, 2015

Sitges (near Barcelona) is the ridiculously lovely Spanish version of this.
posted by psoas at 3:13 PM on March 23, 2015

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