15 Waterfront Towns You Absolutely Must Visit

As seen on CarRentals.com by Chris Killen:

Vacations are about letting go, about relaxing, and about forgetting the stress of the office or school. They’re also about experiencing places with stunning scenery—such as unforgettable towns along the shoreline.

With the summer season around the corner and temperatures rising, what better place to spend a vacation than along a waterfront? We chose oceanfront beach towns because of their “endless summer vibes.” We chose towns on the shorelines of mountain lakes because you can hike and swim in the same hour. And we chose towns on the banks of rivers because your everyday worries will drift away with the current.

Start the car and get going already! Here are the top waterfront towns in the country.

CAPITOLA, CALIFORNIA

Nestled on the Northern California coast just south of the hip town of Santa Cruz is Capitola. The relaxing atmosphere of Capitola Beach and village make this cute coastal town a must-visit for anyone who takes a road trip up California State Route 1.

  • Capitola’s Charm: Spending a night or two at the famous seaside resort of Capitol Venetian Hotel is mandatory. Well, not mandatory, but highly recommended.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Take a surf lesson in the gentle waves off Capitola City Beach.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Order an appetizer of delicious abalone followed by a nice entrée of Pacific rim salmon at Shadowbrook Restaurant.
  • When to Go: Make plans to visit during the second weekend of September and check out the Capitola Art & Wine Festival.

HOOD RIVER, OREGON

Whether you’re a foodie, wine lover, outdoor enthusiast, or adrenaline junkie, the riverfront town of Hood River, Oregon, will charm you like an old crush. Don’t believe us? Check out what to do below:

  • Hood River’s Charm: Because it’s a picturesque town on the shore of the Columbia River with more than a few fun outdoor things to do.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Spend the day hiking through the Columbia River Gorge.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Take a seat at the local Full Sail Brewery Co. and order up a bowl of beer cheese soup. And of course, a cascade pilsner to wash it down with.
  • When to Go: Make your way to this wonderful valley during mid-October and pay a visit to the Hood River Valley Harvest Festival.

LAKE HAVASU CITY, ARIZONA

You’ve probably seen spring break infomercials for this sparkling desert city on the banks of the Colorado River, but you don’t need to be a college-aged coed to enjoy your time here.

  • Lake Havasu City’s Charm: The contrasting landscapes of the barren desert and sparkling lake waters provide the perfect backdrop for your vacation.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Pay a visit to the Lake Havasu Museum of History and get educated about the area.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Order as many tapas plates as you want at Cha-Bones.
  • When to Go: If you want to take part in all the fun lake activities, plan your visit for Labor Day weekend. Who knows? You might make one of those infomercials.

BIGFORK, MONTANA

If you’re looking for the quintessential mountain town on the shores of one of the state’s most beautiful lakes, Bigfork, Montana, is the place for you. World-class art galleries, tasty foodie joints, insanely fun outdoor activities, and much more await for your arrival. What more could you ask for?

  • Bigfork’s Charm: The serene atmosphere of the great outdoors combined with the friendly locals makes for a perfect getaway destination.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: See how many rainbow trout you can snag when you take a fishing trip with A Able Fishing Charters.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Pair a Centennial IPA with a giant pretzel at Flathead Lake Brewing Co.
  • When to Go: Make your way to the shores of Flathead Lake over the Fourth of July and take part in the town’s awesome parade.

HERMANN, MISSOURI

The Missouri River Valley is home to a treasure trove of small towns and Hermann is one of those towns. From going for walks through downtown and taking drives along the river’s edge to sampling the local wine, Hermann is perfect for you.

  • Hermann’s Charm: Because it’s a small town with friendly locals that treat you like family and it’s also described as the “Sausage Capital of Missouri.”
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Take a tour of Hermann Farm.
  • You Have to Eat Here: The Vintage Restaurant at Stone Hill Winery pairs amazing food with refreshing wine creating a memorable dining experience for you and yours.
  • When to Go: Head to town during the fourth weekend of March and you’ll be treated to Wurstfest.

CHARLEVOIX, MICHIGAN

Flanked by Round Lake on one side and the mighty Lake Michigan the other, Charlevoix, Michigan, is a waterfront paradise. Take your car for a drive around Little Traverse Bay and then sprawl out in the sand at Michigan Beach Park.

  • Charlevoix’s Charm: This was one of the Midwest’s first and finest resort towns at the turn of the 20th century and its original charm has remained.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Pretend to know what you’re talking about at the Bier Art Gallery.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Sample homemade maple syrups at the Harwood Gold Café. The maple siracha is ridiculously good.
  • When to Go: Anytime during the autumn season is a great time to go because of the Fall Color Tours you can take.

GRAND MARAIS, MINNESOTA

The heart and soul of Cook County, Minnesota, is Grand Marais and it happens to sit on the shoreline of America’s biggest lake. Grand Marais will dazzle you with its natural beauty and hometown vibes.

  • Grand Marais’s Charm: With the giant lake and dense forests, this town is an outdoor enthusiast’s idea of Shangri-La.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Go for an unforgettable drive along the Gunflint Trail. Keep your eyes peeled for gigantic moose that frequent the area.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Begin the day with a hearty breakfast at the Angry Trout Café.
  • When to Go: Plan your trip for the first week of July because that’s when the Dragon Boat Festival begins. It’s a series of boat races in watercrafts based on ancient Chinese designs.

SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA

Even though it’s located just off the coast, Sullivan’s Island will make you feel like you’re thousands of miles from home. Relax on one of the many picture-perfect beaches, tour the ancient Fort Moultrie, and dine on fantastic seafood.

  • Sullivan’s Island’s Charm: In one day, you can take tours of two forts that date back to two of America’s most important wars.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Snap as many selfies as it takes to get the perfect angle under the Charleston Light, while the waters of the Atlantic Ocean sparkle behind you.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Order yourself a giant plate of BBQ ribs at Home Team BBQ and treat yourself to a side of macaroni and cheese.
  • When to Go: If you want to be amazed by the largest oyster festival in the country, go during the final weekend of January and make the quick 2.5-mile drive to Mount Pleasant. What’s there? The Lowcountry Oyster Festival.

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FLORIDA

The unstoppable energy of Miami is easy to be drawn to, but the small beach towns to the north are just as magnetic. Specifically, New Smyrna Beach. With its charming downtown district, miles upon miles of beautiful stretches of sand, and plenty of other attractive things to do make this town a must-visit.

  • New Smyrna Beach’s Charm: Driving the stretch of road that makes up the Canaveral National Seashore is by itself worth the trip.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Learn how to hang ten with surf lessons through Surfin’ NSB.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Get yourself a giant basket of peel and eat shrimp from Chases on the Beach.
  • When to Go: Fancy yourself a music lover? Check out New Smyrna during the end of June and enjoy the New Smyrna Beach Reggae & Island Music Festival.

SOLOMONS ISLAND, MARYLAND

Poking out into the mouth of the Patuxent River near the Chesapeake Bay is the small waterfront town of Solomons Island, Maryland. The low population means distractions from relaxing will be at a minimum, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.

  • Solomons Island’s Charm: Because it’s one of the most tranquil vacation destinations on the Eastern seaboard.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Check out the awesome exhibits at the Calvert Marine Museum.
  • You Have to Eat Here: The Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar serves some of the best crab cakes in the area.
  • When to Go: Solomons Island is known to put on one of the best 4th of July Fireworks displays in Maryland so go and celebrate America’s birthday properly.

MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT

If you’re a Julia Roberts fan, you’ve no doubt heard of this town. But whether you’ve heard of this town or not is irrelevant because you need to go. The downtown waterfront district is filled with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. And all of this below:

  • Mystic’s Charm: Yes, a cult-classic movie was based here, but it’s also the home of the whaleship Charles W. Morgan and the famous Mystic Pizza Parlor.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Explore the undersea world at the Mystic Aquarium.
  • You Have to Eat Here: See how many oysters you can shuck and suck at the S&P Oyster Co.
  • When to Go: Drive into town during the second weekend of April and swashbuckle with marauders at Mystics Pirate Days.

REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

Do you want to sit in a beach chair with a cold beverage in your hand while you stare at dolphins leaping from the Atlantic Ocean? Well, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is such a place. You’ll think the term R&R was invented because of this place.

  • Rehoboth Beach’s Charm: The surf, the sand, the sun, and the fun. And, of course, the amazing golf courses in the area and great boardwalk.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Rent a motor boat from Indian River Marina and go for a self-guided cruise through the Delaware Seashore State Park.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Without question, don’t miss the oysters at Henlopen City Oyster House.
  • When to Go: Plan your trip during the middle of June and dance your heart out at Firefly Music Festival.

MARBLEHEAD, MASSACHUSETTS

Situated on the North Shore of Massachusetts is a rocky peninsula that juts out into Massachusetts Bay. And on that peninsula is the town of Marblehead, a place that is a throwback to colonial times.

  • Marblehead’s Charm: Because the Marblehead Lighthouse offers a perfect place to take a million selfies.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Check out the incredible historical collections at the Marblehead Museum.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Go nuts at the raw bar at Turtle Cove Bar & Grille.
  • When to Go: The first four days of July are great for anybody who loves America. You have the Fourth of July and the Marblehead Festival of Arts.

BAR HARBOR, MAINE

Mount Desert Island is the largest island off the coast of Maine and home to the beautiful town of Bar Harbor. Once a summer colony for the most rich and affluent people of New England, today the town is a tourist destination for just about everybody. Go whale watching on the ocean and hiking in the forest.

  • Bar Harbor’s Charm: It might be in rural Maine, but this place packs a punch when it comes to activities. Enjoy hiking in Acadia National Park, fishing in Mt. Desert Narrows, and kayaking in Cromwell Cove.
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: Take a drive through the stunning pine forests of Acadia National Park.
  • You Have to Eat Here: Maine is known for its lobster, so take a seat at Stewman’s Lobster Pound and get to cracking.
  • When to Go: Visit anytime during the summer months and go on a mid-blowing whale watching excursion with Bar Harbor Whale Watching tours.

BEAUFORT, NORTH CAROLINA

Coastal North Carolina is dotted with all sorts of small islands, islets, outer banks, and inner banks. And those Inner Banks is where the lovely town of Beaufort is located. Friendly locals, land and water activities, and so much more makes this place epic.

  • Beaufort’s Charm: It was named “America’s Coolest Small Town” by “Budget Travel Magazine.”
  • Can’t Miss Thing to Do: The North Carolina Maritime Museum is a must-do for any visitor to Beaufort.
  • You Have to Eat Here: No trip to this coastal Carolina town is complete without a meal at Aqua.
  • When to Go: Groove with the locals at the Beaufort Music Festival during the end of May.

We could go on forever about the above-mentioned towns, but then you wouldn’t have time to check them out for yourself. Go now and please, send us postcards, will you?