But there’s something undeniably special about small beach towns—those places where friendly tree-lined streets dead end into familiar postcard vistas; where one main street houses both the best (and maybe the only) ice cream shop and fish taco joint in town; and where you’ll likely find yourself returning to year after year while dreamily shopping for real estate.
We all have our own personal Mayberry. But which waterfront charmers are the very best, according to most? For their annual Readers’ Choice Awards, USA Today put that question to a panel of travel and lifestyle experts, then asked Americans to crown a top 10 from a roster of 20 finalists.
As it turns out, of all the small towns from Florida to Hawaii—defined as having a population of 25,000 or less—the best place to live the ultimate laid-back beach lifestyle is in the Midwest. (Yes, you read that right.)
According to voters, Sandusky, Ohio—perched on the banks of Lake Erie—is the most charming of the charming coastal small towns in America. Located between Cleveland and Toledo, Sandusky was lauded by USA Today for its revitalized downtown, lakeside activities, wine tasting, and world-class coastal amusement park, Cedar Point.
Across the country from Sandusky, Rockport, Texas claimed the runner-up title and bragging rights as the best small town on the Gulf. A haven for artists and fishermen, tiny Rockport boasts protected wetlands and a close proximity to Corpus Christi, should city life ever beckon.
For lovers of wildlife—and the ocean—the quiet town of Chincoteague on Virginia’s Eastern Shore rounded out the top three. A stone’s throw from the famous Assateague wild ponies, Chincoteague is beloved by Eastern Shore devotees for its walkable downtown and laid-back waterside bars.
Do you agree with your fellow Americans? See the full list of USA Today’s reader-voted top 10 coastal small towns below, and for more small-town inspo, browse all of our past Happiest Seaside Towns.
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