The South’s Best Beach Towns 2019
Close your eyes and picture your ideal beach town. What do you see? We’re guessing gorgeous waves washing pristine sands (the color of which—sugar white, gold, cinnamon, etc.—depends on where in the South you grew up). You probably envision cozy cottages with porches and swings and hammocks. There’s a cluster of fat tire bikes propped against the steps. Or maybe you’re imagining the kind of resort that can make you forget you ever had a job. There are seafood shacks and romantic restaurants on the water; places to sip a tropical drink and watch the sun go down. You can stand up and paddle yourself across the water or charter a boat and strike out for the deep blue sea to see what you can catch. Locals are friendly. And pet friendly. There’s at least one killer ice cream parlor, a favorite burger joint, and all kinds of hangouts with names like Cap’n Bob’s, Salty’s, or Sharkey’s. Live music comes with a watery view. Most of all, there’s blissful relaxation because the best beach towns in the South never met a to-do list they couldn’t wash away.
1. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
One might argue that it’s the beach that makes a place the best beach town, but Hilton Head Island proves something even more true: It’s the richness of the town that wins the day, and in this case, the hearts of its 40,000 locals. Read more.
2. Destin, Florida
Once a sleepy little burg known only to fishermen, Destin remains “the luckiest fishing village.” But its reputation has spread far beyond the docks. Between the brilliant, sparkling Gulf waters—which are a singular shade of emerald-blue here—and miles of white sand, it’s no wonder the popularity of this Panhandle town has exploded. Read more.
3. Panama City Beach, Florida
“PCB” came through Hurricane Michael relatively unscathed, although its sister city across the bay is working toward recovery. If you grew up vacationing here with your parents but haven’t been in a while, you’ll be surprised by all the changes and upgrades—from Pier Park’s shopping, dining, and entertainment to new resorts and attractions. Read more.
4. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
An island town about 6 miles from Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach has access to the Atlantic Ocean, Intracoastal Waterway, and Banks Channel. So if you surf, paddle, fish, boat, or float, you’ll like it here. Two fishing piers—Crystal and Johnnie Mercer's—are prime spots for casting a line or just chatting up the locals. Read more.
5. Orange Beach, Alabama
Orange Beach is Alabama’s family-friendly rental-property beach—the kind of place where you stock the condo, slather the kids with sunscreen, and forget all about your schedule (at least until suppertime, at which point you really do need to beat that crowd). BTW, what did we ever do without the Foley Beach Express? Read more.
6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Know how to shag dance? If not, this is the place to learn. Myrtle Beach is a lighthearted coastal town with great food, the iconic SkyWheel, a carefree attitude, and plenty of beach music so you can work on that triple step. Read more.
These Southern Beaches are Something Special
7. Gulf Shores, Alabama
A stone’s throw from Orange Beach, Gulf Shores shares its neighbor’s family-friendly vibe but also appeals to a young crowd, drawn to The Wharf entertainment complex, beachside spots like The Hangout—and yes, the Pink Pony Pub is alive and kickin’. The state park and lodge here just got a major reno. Read more.
8. St. Simons Island, Georgia
Part of Georgia’s Golden Isles, St. Simons was immortalized by novelist Eugenia Price, who first vacationed at the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort, then rented a cottage here, then pulled up stakes in Chicago and moved South for good. One look at this moss-draped, tranquil island with its beautiful Christ Church, Frederica, and you might do the same. Read more.
9. Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Atlantic-facing Pawley’s Island isn’t far from such popular Grand Strand destinations as Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet, but it’s a quieter getaway, known for cypress cottages and those famous hammocks. There’s no shortage of good food and drink, not to mention water recreation of every description. Beautiful Brookgreen Gardens is just a 10-minute drive away. Read more.
10. Isle of Palms, South Carolina
Check into a hotel or beachfront rental property, or make Wild Dunes Resort your vacation hub. Play two Tom Fazio golf courses on an island wrapped in water, with the Atlantic on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other—all just a short hop from Charleston. Read more.