Beaufort, North Carolina
Beaufort loves its water: It is home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum, Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research lab. Stroll its tree-lined streets or enjoy fine dining with a view across Taylor’s Creek to Carrot Island, where you may see wild ponies on the beach. Explore Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks, kayak down Taylor’s Creek, and visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum.
“Don’t forget Portland!” admonished one of the many entries for this cool city by the sea. Another reminded us that “Portland, Maine, is a great boating location for boats of all sizes. With over 200 islands in Casco Bay, it’s a great place to boat whether you’re looking for a short day trip, or an overnight excursion.”
Key West, Florida
Creating a list of the 50 Best Yachting Towns without including Key West would be akin to Julia Child failing to include her beef bourguignon recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Our editor-at-large, Jay Coyle, on one of his many visits, wrote, “Its ‘Old Town’ is not a theme park-style model of the past; it is a living, breathing town — a refreshingly laid-back novelty in today’s busy world.” Then he completely went off the grid for three days. Ah, the allure of Key West. Fishing, sailing, people watching, great food — it’s the entire package.
Bocas Del Toro, Panama
A nature lover’s paradise and one of Panama’s most popular tourist spots, Bocas’ 5,000 residents are still way outnumbered by the surrounding wildlife. Enjoy the town’s laid-back vibe and easy access to the region’s nine major islands, 52 keys and roughly 200 tiny islands. There are two marinas for those who want to explore this archipelago’s treasures. And reader Dan Cranney reminded us that “this island archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama is one of the few hurricane-free places in the Caribbean.”
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
This Down East harbor town bills itself as “the boating center of New England” and is as pretty as a postcard — in fact, some swear it was the model for Cabot Cove, an utterly idyllic town (except for that absurdly high homicide rate!) that was the setting for the television who-done-it Murder, She Wrote. Head out on a Friendship sloop or a schooner, watch the lobster boat races, or visit nearby Monhegan Island. There are more than a half-dozen marinas within walking distance of Boothbay Harbor.
Cape May, New Jersey
Best known for its fantastic Victorian architecture, Cape May has more to offer than gingerbread trim and turrets. Located at the intersection of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Cape May has beautiful beaches, fantastic bird-watching and angling action for striped bass, black drum, sea bass, flounder, blues and tuna. Mark Allen also pointed out in his nomination that Cape May is “easily accessed from the Atlantic via the Cape May Inlet, or the Delaware Bay via the Cape May Canal, [and] Cape May’s man-made harbor (100 years old in 2011) offers an ideal stopover almost exactly halfway between Newport and Annapolis.”
It’s hard not to love Edgartown. The pretty streets were once home to whaling captains, and despite annual summer crowds, there’s an old-fashioned elegance to the place. As reader Brien O’Brien put it in his nomination, “Magnificent anchorages surrounded by brilliant God-made sandy beaches and man-made captains’ houses. In short, with the exception of Somes Sound [see Northeast and Southwest Harbor, Maine] and the Fox Island thoroughfare, Edgartown is the best sailing grounds (and town) on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Greenport, New York
Greenport is on Long Island’s north fork and, as such, in the shadow of its fancier Hampton neighbors on the south fork. But residents like it that way. A salty and unpretentious town, Greenport’s old whaling history accounts for its pretty architecture, but its vibrant fishing community keeps it real. In addition to the hugely popular dock-and-dine scene at Claudio’s Clam Bar, there are a couple of great small restaurants here, an antique carousel on the waterfront, an art deco movie theater, a seaport museum and plenty of marinas.
The only mariner who doesn’t have a soft spot for Mystic is the one who’s never been there. This old shipbuilding town in northeast Connecticut simply reeks of saltiness. As reader Bailey Pryor told us in his eloquent nominating letter, “There we were, minding our own business, when we suddenly noticed a 170-ton topsail schooner, under full sail, navigating up the Mystic River. No engine, no escort ship. Just 154 feet of glorious tall ship moving at 8 knots up a shallow, narrow, highly populated river.” But you don’t need to rely on serendipity for a “Mystic moment” — just visit the Mystic Seaport Museum, which is its institutional embodiment.