The Best Places To Live on the Coast
Live your dream in these 20 towns from West Coast to East, Great Lakes to Gulf, with innovative design, community spirit, and jaw-dropping vistas.
This artful, Anglo Caribbean–style New Urbanist community on 425 lush acres on Florida’s Atlantic Coast in Vero Beach is getting closer to full build-out, so if pristine lawns and award-winning architecture under balmy skies are your aim, don’t delay. The newest section, the Windsor Park Residences, presides by the Indian River and protected wetlands with dreamy porches to soak in the view. Meanwhile, sea grapes, stately palms, and pretty oaks surround all sides of this low-key, refined-living village, with a post office, art gallery, village store café, amphitheater, and spare, elegant town hall/nondenominational chapel at the center where residents of the 292 seasonal households can gather. While stellar shopping and museum-hopping await just 25 minutes away in Vero Beach, it’s easy to be a good sport on Windsor’s grounds, which offer more than 10 miles of trails, a sparkling Beach Club and 25-meter pool, an equestrian center and polo field, a Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed golf course, and jasmine-scented tennis courts.
Median Home Price: $3,000,000
It’s a superb mash-up when sandy beaches, freshwater ponds, and enchanting woodlands coexist with superior shopping and classic New England architecture all in one little town—and on Cape Cod, no less. Set along the south shore of the Upper Cape and home to 14,154 people, Mashpee manages all of these riches with considerable charm, perhaps nowhere more so than its groundbreaking mixed-use development of Mashpee Commons. What began as a transformation of a 1960s suburban shopping strip into a compact New England town center, Mashpee Commons now has a mix of residential options along its sidewalk-lined streets and green spaces, and is home to a cinema, library, pharmacy, bowling alley, and new bandstand with free concerts and films. New Seabury adds a master-planned community into the town mix with luxe waterfront homes (plus two championship golf courses), and with thousands of acres in the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge, Mashpee is a newly rising New England classic.
Median Home Price: $418,750
Half Moon Bay, California
The sweeping shoreline and charming Main Street spirit here, 30 miles south of San Francisco, certainly caters to tourists (that ocean-view Ritz-Carlton!). But there’s also real community heart in this small town of 12,870, with particular vibrancy for both young and old. A stellar new library serves as the town’s epicenter, with 22,000 square feet where all ages feel at home, and a sleek, 18,000-square-foot gym and mixed-use facility recently opened for the Boys & Girls Club and local schools. Older adults thrive here, too: The innovative Half Moon Village, part of a Senior Campus downtown, recently won a Global Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute and offers affordable housing with amenities like ocean-view units, community gardens, and a bocce ball court. Inspired by the campus, a group of local seniors formed a group dubbed Village of the Coastside, which meets for pickle ball, happy hour, hikes, and lectures. Meanwhile, a renowned farmers’ market, fantastic cycling trails, and festivals all year seal the appeal of Half Moon Bay’s embrace of old-fashioned, multigenerational life.
Median Home Price: $1,247,000
Home prices and sales have been on the rise in this below-the-radar port city of 190,265 on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, but there’s still time (and opportunity) to drop anchor for 7 percent below the nation’s average cost of living—plus nab a stunning historic home for a steal relative to other coastal spots around the country. Greek Revival, Italianate, Spanish Colonial Revival, Tudor, Beaux Arts: take your pick. Locals enjoy legendary fishing and sailing on Mobile Bay, and culture here is on point with a professional ballet company, symphony orchestra, professional opera, and several art museums. In the Midtown Mobile historic district, Victory Teaching Farm, an urban education center focused on sustainable agriculture, nurtures and nourishes locals. Finally, this is a town that loves a party—with a vibrant mix of bars and live-music venues, Mobile is also the proud home of the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country.
Median Home Price: $118,000
Gig Harbor, Washington
Gig Harbor knows how to have fun. A nautical favorite less than an hour from Seattle, this town of 8,753 posts top national rankings for recreation and social life, and it’s no wonder: There are taverns where you can pull up your boat, Venice-style gondola tours, wine bars, craft breweries, cute shops, and celebrated restaurants you can walk to from the docks of its scenic harbor with a backdrop of Mt. Rainier. The waterfront neighborhood thrives as a live-work-play district with a still-active fishing industry, 10 parks along the shoreline, and turn-of-the-century historic homes. Year-over-year increases in home sales and sale prices, multiple golf courses, and annual film and maritime festivals point the compass to the Northwest for enjoying the good life—before everyone else figures it out.
Median Home Price: $486,900
You may have never heard of this tucked-away treasure on the shores of Lake Michigan, but that’s because you might not (yet) be a freshwater surfer. Thanks to its wind-whipped waves of four to eight feet, the genial little city of 49,203 is known as the “Malibu of the Midwest” and a mecca for year-round freshwater surfing. (Invest in a wet suit.) But Sheboygan offers much more than a Great Lakes swell: It’s taken high honors for livability qualities such as safety, affordable housing, and quality of life. Add a vibrant waterfront district, a historic and still active lighthouse, a busy 281-slip marina, nationally ranked golfing, and the oldest continually active symphony orchestra in the state of Wisconsin (since 1918), and you have a rich seaside lifestyle at an incredibly affordable price. Plus, no sharks.
Median Home Price: $133,900
Talk about a land of opportunity. In this year-round sunny city of 115,330 situated 35 miles north of San Diego, employment is on the rise, and innovation is a key driver: For every 1,000 workers, nearly 14 patents are produced (a higher rate than San Jose or San Francisco). And Carlsbad has work-life balance baked into its DNA: Awesome surfing and cycling trails complement a thriving hub of biomedical engineering, genetics R&D, and sports companies, among other specialties. (Several golf brands are headquartered here.) The median household income and Median Home Price are on the rise, but homes are typically less than those in towns to the south like Encinitas and Del Mar. And you can hop on the Coaster rail to commute car-free to San Diego (ocean views included). With low crime and top-notch schools, Carlsbad is a fit for families starting out, as well as parents emptying their nests. Legoland, flower fields, seven miles of beaches, a walkable downtown village, fantastic public art—Carlsbad has it all and just keeps getting better.
Median Home Price: $867,300
Let’s do the math: 30 miles of clean, white-sand beaches, more than 90 golf courses, and a year-round average temperature of 75 degrees. Factor in famously gorgeous sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico and you’re hitting the algebra of why this small city of 21,948 has the kind of star quality that’s landed it at the top of lifestyle and happiness rankings several years in a row. Leading on measures like residents’ physical health, financial security, and connection to community, Naples’s No. 1 mojo just keeps getting stronger, nabbing other honors such as best retirement city and cleanest air. Along with all those kudos come this pretty city’s essential delights: giant banyan trees; an iconic pier; shiny trolleys clanging past historic architecture, cool cafés, and plentiful museums; and nearby natural wonders like the 170-acre Naples Botanical Garden. Here on the Gulf, it all adds up.
Median Home Price: $324,700
Things are wild everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, and the natural gifts of this enclave along Oregon’s northern coast are stunning proof. Get a bird’s-eye view of the splendor from Neahkahnie Mountain’s headlands, which offer an outsize vista of land and sea, or stroll the wide, seven-mile beach below and gaze up at towering cliffs and out over foamy waves. And while this daily visual drama might be enough to spur relocation, it’s the locals who make Manzanita a dream town. Elk, bald eagles, seals, and tide pool dwellers are among your neighbors, along with humans (all 651 of them) of the laid-back, community-minded sort. From the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge to the popular Fourth of July downtown parade, people celebrate life creatively in this little village with boutique shops, coffeehouses, and a vibrant arts center that supports and encourages artistic, cultural, and educational activities. There’s a legend about buried Spanish treasure on Neahkahnie Mountain, but the real treasure is this unsung Oregon gem.
Median Home Price: $430,500
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
The deep pleasures of this idyllic waterfront town announce themselves before you even arrive. The cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge gracefully crosses the Cooper River to connect the vibrant hub of downtown Charleston to Mount Pleasant, hosting bikers, walkers, and runners along its 2 1/2-mile span. This lively, picturesque approach sets the tone right away for this community of 86,668, honored nationally for its civic innovation and engagement. Projects abound here, from the folksy (a Holiday Window Decorating Contest) to the forward-thinking (a recent infrastructure makeover increased storm water capacity, as well as adding bicycle and pedestrian lanes, wider sidewalks with activity zones, and a wayfinding system). There’s just so much to love in this haven of top-rated public schools, fantastic pier fishing, and free movies and music in the waterfront park. And then there are all the riches of Charleston—career, culture, and cuisine—just a hop back over that pretty, pretty bridge.
Median Home Price: $447,300
All-star American Beach Towns
Next, meet 10 towns that get the coastal magic mix just right, whether you’re visiting for a weekend or planning your next great chapter by the shore.
Delray Beach, Florida
With a buzzy downtown and two miles of white-sand beaches, this best-kept Atlantic coast secret is a South Florida dream.
This Upper Keys gem has a fantastic blend of Old Florida funkiness, spectacular fishing, and a true island feel.
Whidbey Island’s charming village has great outdoor pursuits like kayaking and hiking, plus a rare sunny climate.
Narragansett, Rhode Island
Victorian architecture, surf culture, and family-friendly beaches combine to make an idyllic New England shore town.
Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii
Sunny and rich with beaches, this South Shore star is also home to the Kukui‘ula community’s stunning residences and golf.
St. Michaels, Maryland
The Eastern Shore’s bayside gem pairs salty pleasures like local crab houses with shopping, museums, and recreation.
Santa Barbara, California
This Central Coast city with spectacular historic architecture is a rising food and wine mecca with a boho vibe.
Great Lakes life hums here with harborfront charms, tawny sands, a deep art scene, and even a hand-cranked Victorian ferry.
Southport, North Carolina
This tiny harbor town has a big heart, maritime culture in spades, and sweet shops, restaurants, and historic homes.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Savannah’s official beach town is a toes-in-the-sand escape, with seafood shacks, tiny cottages, and miles of wide Atlantic beaches.
To select Best Places to Live 2019, we consulted a number of reports, studies, and lists, including real estate data from ATTOM Data Solutions. Final selections were based on editorial consideration and geographic diversity.