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The Best Beach Towns

The girls in Barcelona.

Trips to the beach are some of my favorite summer memories. The hours of undefined relaxation, sunsets over the water, and a cool ocean breeze stand out when I think of my visits to the shore. Our family trips to the beach defined summer. But the time spent seaside with my friends was the best.

I grew up attending a YMCA day camp in Flushing, a city in the borough of Queens, New York. Every Wednesday for six weeks in the summer, we would travel less than an hour away to the beach. Our camp beach days would rotate between Jones Beach and Sunken Meadow on Long Island or Rye Beach in Westchester, NY. On the way there, we would all sing funny camp songs in unison. The bus would pull into the parking lot and we piled out, our drawstring camp bags filled with a towel, suntan lotion, a deck of cards, lunch bag, and maybe a change of clothes. My friends and I would put our towels together, creating one huge blanketed hang out area. Our own little sand island.

On those Wednesdays with my best friends, because when you are this age everyone is your best friend, the beach was more fun because we were together. We would spend the day playing cards, jumping the enormous waves as they came crashing to the shore, swapping snacks from our lunches and lathering up with tanning oil. It was the best times of my summer.

A walk on the beach in North Berwick. Photo by Gina Duncan

Favorite Beach Towns

Our team of writers have fond memories of time spent vacationing at the seaside. From southern U.S. shores to Scottish coasts, here are our favorite beach towns. Read on. We hope you enjoy it and maybe get inspired to make your own beach memories.

Pawleys Island, South Carolina

You know those places that will stay in your heart forever? The ones that may not be the most Instagrammable or the home of Food-Network-worthy restaurants, but are at the top of your vacation list whenever you need a getaway? Pawleys Island, South Carolina, will always be that place for me. Pawleys Island is a quaint, quiet beach town with beautiful views, lovely homes, and the perfect amount of nostalgic boutiques and diners combined with fun new spots to make memories with friends or family.

Pawleys is a blend of marsh and beach, allowing the avid beach-goers to stake out on the sand by the ocean while the adventure seekers can take to the marsh for catching fresh blue crab, kayaking, or fishing off the docks. The beaches themselves are beautiful, its scenic waterscapes are rarely interrupted with casual visitors or spring-breakers. The vibe of Pawleys is that of relaxation and letting yourself return to who you are in the quiet moments, rather than who we are during a busy “life happens” season. If you visit, make sure to stop by the Hammock Shops. You can lounge on one of the famous Pawleys Island Hammocks (one of which has a permanent home on my back deck), grab a sweet treat from the candy shops, see some beautiful art galleries, and even check out some kitschy beach boutiques (because who doesn’t want a chandelier made of seashells?!). Pawleys has been a place I’ve spent with family and friends on many occasions, and each time I come home, I feel more like myself than ever before. It may not be a huge spot on the map, but Pawleys Island will always hold a big place in my heart.

~Chelsea Craig

St. Augustine, Florida

As long as I am near sand and the ocean, I am happy, but especially at St. Augustine, a city our family has vacationed since before I was born. It holds a special place in my heart. We have found all the best places to go. I usually rent a bike from a surf shop for the week. The family all love Mango Mangos for dinner, and we must always have a family putt-putt tournament during the week. What’s so great about the beach where we stay is that it does not get crowded, and we will happily spend as much time as is possible out on the beach, playing bocce ball, building sand castles, and swimming in the ocean.

~Stokes O'Shields

Sunset at Seaside on 30A in Florida

30A Beaches, Florida

Moving to a city where the closest beach is over two hours away, you can feel landlocked. Several years ago, we jumped at an offer to vacation on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Thus, began our love for the charming, beautifully landscaped beach towns of 30A.

Sixteen seaside towns on 26-miles of white sand beach along the Emerald Coast make it hard to choose a favorite. They each have focal points of interest and a unique architectural feel. I am partial to them all, but the ones we spend the most time in are Gulf Place, Seaside, Santa Rosa Beach, Rosemary Beach, and WaterColor.

Since our first visit, we have been back many times, including a pre-Christmas vacation, when the towns were decked out in holiday cheer. One of my favorite trips to 30A was renting a tiny house in Seaside for the 4th of July. Watching fireworks explode against the backdrop of the Gulf of Mexico, while sitting on the beach, made that trip my best 4th of July to date.

A trip to 30A must always include a visit to the Artist’s at Gulfplace, a colorful outdoor market filled with the art of local artists. You can find hand crafted jewelry, pottery, tie-dyed clothes, furniture and more. The market also offers craft classes for all ages.

After a day in the sun, our family loves to grab a pie at Pizza By the Sea, which now has three locations on 30A. We also love having a broad option of dining choices and enjoying the nightly entertainment at The Hub in Watersound Beach.

~Gina Duncan

Panama City Beach, Florida

My favorite beach town would have to be Panama City Beach (PCB) in Florida. When I’m there, I like to nap on the beach, visit cute coffee shops, and attend church on Sundays. My favorite place to eat in PCB is Uncle Ernie’s.

~Abbi Stickels

Ocean City, Maryland 

Growing up, my family and I took trips to Ocean City, Maryland for its iconic boardwalk, fun in the sun, and the food! We would order crab, turkey legs, and funnel cake. The foodie in me always loved getting boardwalk fries. Ocean City is the go to spring break beach town for many students in the surroundings state's schools. I never got to do it, but if I were to do spring break at the beach in high school again, Ocean City would definitely be at the top of my list!

~Elon Graves

North Berwick, Scotland

On my last visit to the UK, I discovered one of Scotland's gems, the coastal East Lothian Town of North Berwick. Just 30 minutes by train from Edinburgh's Waverley Station. North Berwick is home to premiere golf courses, the Scottish SeaBird Centre, eclectic shops and tearooms. But its biggest attraction is Bass Rock and the world's largest gannet colony.

It is also home to my favorite cafe in the UK, Steampunk Coffee Roasters. Steampunk Coffee is a small independent roaster inside an old renovated warehouse in the heart of town. They specialize in sourcing single origin coffees that they roast on site. Steampunk also offers delicious homemade baked goods and vegan sausage rolls.

Connect with them on Instagram for beautiful local photos, info about their coffee, classes, and podcast.

My next trip to Scotland will definitely include a return to North Berwick.

~Gina Duncan

We are always looking to add to our list of favorites and create new beach memories. Take a moment to share your favorite beach town with us in the comments below.

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