Virtuoso Traveler 2018 August 5 of America’s Best Seaside Towns

5 of America’s Best Seaside Towns

One of our favorite places in the sun: Key West, Florida.
One of our favorite places in the sun: Key West, Florida.
We didn’t set out from Miami to shock. The first time I took my son, then age 10, to the Florida Keys, I did my best to model good-parenting beach practices in the way of sunscreen, buddy-swimming, and sun hats. I also packed to uphold decorum with stylish cover-ups and our best resort wear. But my dress standards quickly lapsed to swimsuits alone when the string of beaches that edge the Keys beckoned us repeatedly to park our rental car and jump in. By the time we reached Key West two days later, via the 113-mile coastal Overseas Highway, we were wearing damp, sandy towels as sarongs and, embodied in the widest grins of our trip, the evident satisfaction of not caring one bit about appearances.

Combining the thrill of lands’ end and the wonder of the limitless beyond, coastal getaways have a way of delivering serenity stat. “Seaside towns are places to forget worries, relax, literally dig your feet in the sand, get grounded, and reset,” says Amber Bogard, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in Miami. “Studies show that being around water and nature is cathartic and nurturing,” and such benefits, she adds, can be had whether you’re at a historic New England village or a tropical Hawaiian surf break.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration puts the official tally for the U.S. shoreline at just over 95,000 miles, including Hawaii and Alaska. Covering a fraction of them, the following five sea stars span the coastal range of appeal from natural to cultural, laid-back to lively.
Key West, Florida 
The U.S. held its breath when Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida last fall, but fortunately, Key West, a onetime pirate lair 90 miles north of Cuba, bounced back in the same defiant spirit that once drove its campaign to secede from the country as the Conch Republic in the early 1980s.

“The Keys rebounded in a way that demonstrates the region’s sense of community and pride,” says Bogard. “Key West is a fun, high-energy tropical island that offers a piece of the Caribbean in the U.S. with a quirky, small-town vibe.”

New attractions on the island include the fall opening of Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges Nature Center on nearby Big Pine Key, home to elfin Key deer. New butterfly and “perfume” gardens, the latter devoted to fragrant flowers, recently opened at the Key West Garden Club at West Martello Tower, a National Historic site. The 28-acre Truman Waterfront Park, adjacent to one of Key West’s best beaches, has added bike lanes, a children’s splash park, and a 500-seat amphitheater.

Cheer Key West’s resilience on the new Cocktail Crawl walking tour, fueled by signature local drinks such as the Hemingway daiquiri, or take a mojito-making class at the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery.

Be There: On a satellite isle a seven-minute ferry ride from Key West, Sunset Key Cottages models escapism with new beach yoga sessions, sunset supper picnics, and ice cream delivery to its 40 cottages via a classic conch cruiser bike.
The ice-cream man cometh at Sunset Key Cottages.
The ice-cream man cometh at Sunset Key Cottages.
Photo by Andrew Hetherington/Redux
Newport, Rhode Island
When Gilded Age magnates sought a summer escape, the Vanderbilts, Astors, and their cohorts chose Newport, a craggy spot with fresh breezes, a safe harbor, and dramatic views at the base of Aquidneck Island, building grand mansions that attest to the lavish tastes of the time.

“Early nineteenth-century Americans didn’t have a style of their own, so they looked to Europe to emulate their grand houses,” says Fran Kramer, a Rochester, New York-based Virtuoso advisor and antiques collector who frequently shops in Newport. She recommends strolling the Cliff Walk, which divides the Atlantic from the town’s titanic homes in a time-erasing three-mile route. “Newport is like the Hamptons of Rhode Island,” Kramer adds, “except that it’s very accessible; you can walk to everything and get close to its homes.”

This summer, the grandest of Newport’s grand mansions, The Breakers has opened a new welcome center with a sunlit café where guests can relax after estate tours, including one that explores the house’s below-stairs workings via an underground tunnel. A new pass to Doris Duke’s home, Rough Point, offers entree to the house, grounds, and special exhibitions, which include the bespoke jewelry produced for the tobacco heiress. “Seafood is, in itself, worth the trip to Rhode Island – think New England lobster, stuffed quahogs [clams], and creamy ‘chowda,’ ” says Kramer. Order fresh-from-the-boat dishes at the new Stoneacre Brasserie, then toast the former “rum capital of the world” on the new Newport Cocktail Tour.

Be There: Housed in a nineteenth-century “summer cottage” on Newport’s Cliff Walk, The Chanler at Cliff Walk channels global destinations in 20 themed rooms ranging from Morocco to Martha’s Vineyard.
Narragansett Bay’s Castle Hill Lighthouse.
Narragansett Bay’s Castle Hill Lighthouse.
Photo by Steve Dunwell/Age Fotostock
Santa Barbara, California 
You don’t have to squint to see sunny Spain in Santa Barbara. The city’s terra-cotta roof tiles and whitewashed colonial architecture speak to its past, first as an eighteenth-century military outpost and mission, and later as a climate-blessed stage for silent American films.

“Santa Barbara is known as the ‘American Riviera,’ but it offers more than Europe’s,” says Limor Decter, a New York City-based Virtuoso advisor. “It has a great Spanish and Mediterranean feel, but also the spacious grandeur of California, with the Pacific on one side and the Santa Ynez Mountains on the other.”

A gateway to the wine district of the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara has developed a strong reputation for food and wine, bolstered by the recent opening of Smithy Kitchen + Bar from chef Lauren Herman, who touts locally grown, raised, and caught ingredients. Chef Jessi Singh’s Indian food at the new Bibi Ji comes paired with regional vintages selected by James Beard-awarded sommelier Rajat Parr. Bluewater Grill serves the area’s famous sea urchins, as well as oysters and locally caught fish.

Santa Barbara wouldn’t be the American Riviera without swimming, sunning, and surfing on East or Butterfly beaches. Its old-world traditions include Sunday matches at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, May through October, to stomp the divots between chuckers.

Be There: Venturing round-trip from L.A., Princess Cruises’ four-day West Coast sailing calls on Santa Barbara en route to Ensenada, Mexico. Shore excursions from the 3,080-passenger Emerald Princess explore the Old Mission Santa Barbara, café-and boutique-lined State Street, and Santa Ynez Valley wineries.
Sunset on the palm-fringed Cabrillo Boulevard Promenade.
Sunset on the palm-fringed Cabrillo Boulevard Promenade.
Photo by Blaine Harrington/Age Fotostock
Astoria, Oregon
From Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805-06, to restored canneries and fur-trade wharfs, Astoria tells the story of westward expansion against a powerful backdrop where the Columbia River joins the Pacific.

“Astoria is where history meets nature,” says Cate Caruso, a Virtuoso advisor located near Portland, Oregon. “And it started with a purpose: Fur traders loaded and unloaded their cargo here. It was also the first settlement
on the Pacific Coast and had the first U.S. post office west of the Rockies.”
For travelers looking for a culturally authentic destination, she adds, “This town had a reason for being rather than becoming a beach destination simply because it’s pretty.”

Today, galleries, shops, and small-batch breweries have revived Astoria’s historic waterfront. Learn how pilots navigate massive freighters over the Columbia River bar at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Then visit the Museum of Whimsy, in a former 1924 bank now filled with vintage costumes and antique furniture.

Among the dozen-plus breweries in the area, slug a pint of 3-Way IPA at Fort George Brewery + Public House or be sure to nab a spot on the riverfront deck at the Astoria Brewing Company and watch the freighters pass by.

Be There: UnCruise Adventures’ eight-day culinary-themed voyage aboard the 86-passenger Legacy spends a day in Astoria before heading up the Columbia River. Astoria excursions visit boutique seafood companies and craft breweries with calorie-burning options to stroll the Astoria Riverwalk and climb the 164-step Astoria Column for ocean and river panoramas.
Dawn delight: The Columbia River rolls on beneath the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Dawn delight: The Columbia River rolls on beneath the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Photo by Dan Mihai/Getty Images
Hanalei (Kauai), Hawaii 
If you’re looking for old Hawaii – the laid-back, underdeveloped, lush beach idyll where slack-key guitar hangs in the air and surfers tell time by the tides – look to Kauai, the oldest and northernmost island in the chain. And, more specifically, Hanalei, reached via a one-lane bridge on the North Shore.

“Visiting Hanalei is like taking a walk back in time,” says Randy King, a Virtuoso advisor based in Honolulu. “Hanalei, which means ‘lei-making’ in English, has kept its small-town feeling with that intimate charm that’s slowly disappearing on other Hawaiian islands.”

King’s perfect day starts with a run on one of the town’s long white-sand beaches, then continues with shopping in boutiques such as Havaiki for island-made wood carvings, followed by a fortifying plate lunch – like an island version of the Southern meat-and-three – from one of the food trucks that pull up shoreside to feed the surfers.

Add to that a tour of the Limahuli Garden & Preserve, one of five National Tropical Botanical Gardens in the U.S.; a class at Hanalei Surf School; and a tour of the pristine Na Pali Coast by helicopter or catamaran.

Be There: Just ten minutes down the road from Hanalei, the 251-room St. Regis Princeville is “a slice of luxury in paradise,” says King. New on property: daily morning paddles in a traditional outrigger canoe.
True north shore: A traditional outrigger canoe on Hanalei Bay.
True north shore: A traditional outrigger canoe on Hanalei Bay.
Photo by Michael Sweet/Getty Images

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