Gone Coastal... my Top 10 Seaside Cities
Just add water. I was blessed to be raised just over an hour from the ocean - I'm actually even closer now, about 40 minutes from the chilly Atlantic on a good day. In researching this post, however, I realized that I've never seen a gigantic swath of the Atlantic coast between Delaware and South Florida. Never been to the Caribbean either. I'm quite confident that when I visit certain places that I'll have to update this list.
Believe it or not, this was not an easy list to compile: I've seen so many places of coastal beauty that it's difficult to choose only 10. These range from tiny towns to enormous cities, and everything in between. Without further adieu, my 10 favorite coastal cities/towns, with a few honorable mentions thrown in.
Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard (Sept. 2020)
Halifax, NS (June 2016)
West Palm/Palm Beach, FL (2005-07, 09, 11)
Ensenada, Mexico (Jan. 2008)
Valletta, Malta (June 2009)
10) Newport, Rhode Island (1993, 2013, 2018)
Ahh, Newport. There's a classic charisma in its very name, the knowing head bob New England folks will give you when you say you spent the weekend there. A stylish, understated downtown complemented by some of the most ostentatiously overstated "cottages" one will ever see.
If it was just about wealth and ornateness, the town wouldn't make my top 10. However, the glitz is tempered by a certain reserved saltiness that exists in many New England port cities. Spending time in a park or admiring historic architecture can be just as rewarding as perambulating the town's mansions. And for that, Newport squeaks into the top 10.
9) Stykkishólmur, Iceland (July 2022)
My favorite thing about this teensy West Icelandic burg is its "edge-of-the-world" vibe. While it's far from the northernmost point in Iceland, it's the farthest north this traveler has ever been, narrowly beating out Fairbanks, Alaska. Charming, unassuming buildings and a magnificent trail up a rock outcrop more than make up for its lack of stuff to do.
It strikes an incredible balance between authenticity and being almost embarrassingly photogenic. While I was here, I felt like an Arctic adventurer, even if it was just an elaborate daydream inspired by Stykkishólmur's clapboard construction and crisp northern air.
8) Santa Barbara, California (May 2014)
Santa Barbara is pretty darn close to heaven on earth. Why, then, does it land in 8th place?! Number one, I spent precious little time here during Alyse and my 5-year anniversary ramble up the Pacific Coast Highway. Number two, it must be noted that the 10 cities on this list could almost be ranked in any order - that's how little stands between them in terms of my admiration and respect for their charms.
Spanish architecture, lapping Pacific waves, palm trees, and a glorious mountain range behind it - the only thing I didn't like was the outrageous price tag that accompanies such attributes. If you want to live in paradise, it's gonna cost you.
7) Camden, Maine (June 2018)
Camden (not to be confused with the VERY different atmosphere of the one in 'Joisey) is one of those places that just makes you want to exhale and enjoy life's simple pleasures. A quaint, tidy downtown on a picturesque harbor, boats languidly afloat beyond. The best part of this town though, requires a climb up Mount Battie. The view from here is, without hyperbole, one of the most spectacular I've ever seen.
6) Seward, Alaska (Sept. 2021)
Seward is at once minuscule and mighty. It sits on one of the most handsome bays imaginable, backed by craggy protectors and placid, sun-stippled waters. Is the town somewhat touristy? Of course it is. However, it's not completely overrun like some towns I've visited.
There's a certain authentic Alaskan aura in the type of establishments that pepper downtown. A town that cares by encouraging murals and beautification efforts is one that will always get extra points in my book. A visit here is one not soon forgotten, rain or shine. There must be a reason so many eagles soar overhead.
5) Miami Beach, Florida (Feb. 2022)
Going about as far from Alaska as one can go in the US (geographically and culturally*), is sizzling, sultry Miami Beach. A polychromatic invasion of the senses, there is wow-inducing scenery in every which direction. Ocean Avenue stuns, exquisitely silky sand lapped by teal waves on one side, uber-cool Art Deco architecture on the other, and some astonishing people watching in the middle. Doing this all in February makes the experience all the more splendidly electric.
*I think Camden, NJ to Camden, ME may come close
4) San Diego, California (Jan. 2008, Feb. 2019)
San Diego, I tell people, is my happy place. I literally have its postcard on a bulletin board in my office cubicle, and gaze admiringly at it during nasty winter days. Not bad for a city - 8th largest in the union - with more people (~1.4 million) than New Hampshire. My first visit was nearly 15 years ago now, and I was blown away by the laid-back vibe, unexpected in cities of this size. The weather is to die for - basically the stuff of daydreams, 75 degrees and sunny, sometimes even in January.
Visiting again 11 years later, I had wondered if the first time had been a youthful mirage, and whether my starry-eyed perceptions would be blunted by the intervening years. Spoiler alert: they weren't. I fell in love all over again. How can one not? Lush, inviting Balboa Park, gentle sea breezes, a world-class zoo, distant snowcapped peaks, and nightly sunsets into the perfect Pacific.
Then there's La Jolla (la HOY-uh), a lavishly beauteous hamlet that's technically part of SD (I almost gave it its own entry were it not for this fact). Verdant Scripps Park, overlooking the vast Pacific, is a place for the mental bank when it's sleeting and snowing at home.
3) Lipari, Italy (June 2009)
Lipari (pronounced LEEP-a-ree, not luh-PAR-ee) is a place of such magnificent surroundings that it doesn't seem real. An island paradise, unheard of to most Americans, sitting pretty just north of eastern Sicily. It's overshadowed in my own mind by other iconic sites visited on our honeymoon, but let's give it the awe and admiration it's due.
Fresh blooms left and right, glorious weather, historical architecture - pretty much perfection. And the best part? It's just enough harder to get to as to keep crowds down. Now that's my kind of place...
2) Monterey, California (May 2014)
Monterey is my favorite American coastal town - at least so far. It's historical, laid-back, walkable, and oh-so-scenic. There's just something about the vegetation, the classy sidewalks, and the peaceful harbor that makes this a place I would consider living someday (if only I could afford it). That quintessential California feeling... groovy.
1) Positano, Italy (May 2009)
And my #1 favorite coastal community is... Positano, on the ethereal Amalfi Coast. Maybe because it was our first honeymoon stop in May 2009, but I was blown away from my first glimpse of this otherworldly place. Even its very name oozes panache. (I think it would lose something if it was called Pugglunk, don't you?)
Since I already described it in great detail in Postcards from the Amalfi Coast (1/31/21), I won't reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote from it:
Positano itself is as spectacular as the travel posters suggest, tourist throngs notwithstanding. Being here in late May rather than July or August allowed us to avoid the worst of it and still have a bit of elbow room. Dwellings of white, coral, and ochre scaled the hillsides, seemingly stacked atop one another as if cartoon characters jostling for the very best view.
The scenes before my eyes were impossible, right? Was I really here, part of this devastatingly magnificent setting? All the colors were exaggerated - outlandish brushstrokes of an eccentric watercolorist. Bougainvillea glowed magenta. Bursts of plump lemons gleamed in the afternoon sunlight.
Cliffside breezes infused the place with subtly floral scents, steeped with freshness and life; the glorious promise of new days ahead. Then there was the blue. Photos do no justice to the dazzling Mediterranean. It was just water, but somehow it was so much more. The only reaction possible was an incredulous, reverential silence.
I will end by saying visiting Positano - and the entire Amalfi Coast - was life-changing for me. It redefined vibrancy, beauty, and passion, three Italian attributes in great supply. It set the bar impossibly high, and no coastal community I've been to before or since has topped it. Is it even possible? I honestly don't know. I guess I'll keep traveling to find out.