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8 Quaint U.S. Sea Villages That Will Make You Want to Retire

Wild ponies, wind-swept beaches, and fresh seafood await you at these charming oceanside escapes.

Nothing says summer like a visit to a quaint seaside village, where you can enjoy sweeping dunes, rippling blue waters, and bobbing sailboats. Digging into fresh seafood at a dockside restaurant might have you dreaming about settling down into a simpler life. 

There's even some science behind why we find oceanside escapes so calming. One 10-year study published in Nature found that living near blue water lowered risks for mental health disorders. Another study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that natural sounds lower stress and that, among them, "water sounds had the largest mean effect size for health and positive affect outcomes." In other words, the reason you feel so relaxed by the sea isn't just because you took a vacation from work.

If you're seeking out a coastal town where time seems to slow down, there are plenty of options. From Alaskan fishing communities to charming beach towns in New England, these eight sea villages are worth adding to your bucket list.

8. Chincoteague Island, Virginia

A group of wild ponies, horses, of Assateague Island on the beach in Maryland, USA. These animals are also known as Assateague Horse or Chincoteague Ponies. They are a breed of feral ponies that live in the wild on an island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. It is unknown how the animals originally populated the island, although there are a few legends.

Located along Virginia's Eastern Shore, Chincoteague Island is where travelers go for the state's northernmost seaside charm—with a side of ponies. Visitors can explore beaches or encounter native wildlife at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The island is famous for its annual wild pony swim, which features a charity auction to help benefit the safety and care of wild ponies in the area. It's also a fabulous choice for indulging in fresh seafood like local clams, oysters, and crab. 

7. Mendocino, California

Mendocino, California beach town sea village

"Mendocino is truly a paradise for both nature enthusiasts and artists," says Laura Lynch, the owner of Go Travel California. "Picture stunning cliffs by the coastline, a sea breeze carrying the fresh tang of salt, a charming historic downtown, and an art scene that rivals big cities. There are a myriad of local galleries that are as diverse as they are numerous. It's an artist's sanctuary, a place that satisfies the senses, relaxes the soul, and stimulates the mind."

The Mendocino Headlands State Park is also home to trails with panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean, while the town's streets are lined with charming Victorian architecture, art galleries, and unique boutiques. Cap off your beach town day with a glass of wine from nearby Theopolis Vineyards or catch the sunset from Big River Beach. 

READ THIS NEXT: The Best Beaches That Are Also U.S. National Parks

6. Homer, Alaska

Community of Halibut Cove across Kachemak Bay from Homer, Alaska

"When most people think of seaside villages in the U.S., Alaska usually doesn't jump to the top of their minds," says Ryan Wilson, creator of The Camper Advisor. "But Alaska has many quaint seaside communities that offer stunning scenery not seen anywhere else in the country!" His favorite is Homer, where he says multiple campgrounds are located "right on some of the state's most picturesque beaches… great for beachcombing and exploring."

Fishing enthusiasts can also catch fresh Alaskan salmon and halibut, with snow-capped mountains and sprawling glaciers in the background. A ferry takes visitors across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park for hiking, sea kayaking, or visiting the smaller seaside community of Seldovia.  

5. Tybee Island, Georgia

Tybee Island Lighthouse on the Atlantic Ocean in Georgia at sunset - horizontal

Just off the coast of Savannah, Tybee Island is where beach lovers come to relax amidst its laid-back atmosphere and sandy shores. The barrier island is the perfect place to kayak through marshes, observe native wildlife, or take a guided dolphin tour. 

Jon Stephens, director of operations for Snowshoe Vacation Rentals, says Tybee is "an excellent place for history buffs," home to several 18th and 19th-century sites. He recommends the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum which features "a rebuilt lighthouse and exhibits highlighting local history." 

4. St. Augustine, Florida

The Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida was built in 1695.

America's oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine will make you feel like you've stepped back in time with the beach town's cobblestone streets and charming architecture. Visitors can explore the historic Castillo de San Marcos fort, walk along St. Augustine Beach, or try their luck at everlasting life with a sip from the Fountain of Youth.

"The beaches here are pretty amazing, but what surprises me is the Old World Atmosphere," says Will Hatton, CEO and founder of Broke Backpacker. "The hand-in-hand walk of the coastal lines and culture bends a little towards Spanish-based historic sites, as well. Also, if you're fond of exploring species, this place holds a special for the alligators, which is yet another attraction."

3. Rockport, Massachusetts

Just over an hour from Boston, Rockport impresses visitors with its classic New England charm and coastal scenery. This seaside village is renowned for its iconic Motif No. 1, a red fishing shack that has become a symbol of the town. Located on the Cape Ann peninsula, travelers are treated to the village's vibrant art scene and Halibut Point State Park, with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

"This cute little coastal town is artsy yet down to earth, with boutique shops and art galleries, and some of the freshest, yummiest seafood in the U.S.," says Amy Hartle, owner and editor of New England With Love. "I recommend Roy Moore Lobster Co, a definite must-visit in Rockport!"

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2. Amagansett, New York

Montauk Point Lighthouse and beach from the cliffs of Camp Hero. Long Island, New York

Skip the Hamptons and visit this charming beach town located on Long Island's South Fork. With beautiful sandy beaches, trendy boutiques, and farm-to-table dining, Amagansett is a great escape from the busy streets of Manhattan.

The town features Indian Wells Beach, the historic Amagansett Windmill, and hikes through the Hither Hills State Park. Road trippers can't miss the famous "LUNCH" sign atop The Lobster Roll restaurant, serving up its namesake in the summer sun. 

1. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

homes in carmel by the sea
David A Litman / Shutterstock

Carmel-by-the-Sea's storybook landscape has held the heart of artists and writers for decades. This enchanting sea village is home to cute cottages, secret courtyards, and hidden pathways worthy of exploring. Travelers can stroll through the art galleries and boutique shops on Ocean Avenue or visit the historic Carmel Mission, which was built in 1797. Its European-inspired architecture makes Carmel-by-the-Sea a truly romantic retreat for anyone seeking more than a relaxing beach vacation.

"Visit the breathtaking shoreline of Carmel-by-the-Sea to fully appreciate the town's natural splendor," says Olly Gaspar, owner and editor-in-chief of We Seek Travel. "Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, Carmel River State Beach, and Garrapata State Park all have wind-carved cliffs, gorgeous white-sand bays, and spectacular panoramas that are well worth exploring."

Katka Lapelosova
Kat is a born and raised New Yorker exploring the world as she writes, eats, and everything in between. Read more
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