Yachting editors and readers have chosen the 50 best towns for boating in America—and now it's up to you to crown the best of the best. Check out the the 50 finalists for our 2013 Best Towns contest.
August 5, 2013
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Amelia Island, FL
The natural beauty of Amelia Island, a barrier island off the coast of Northeast Florida, has been coveted real estate since the French landed on this former Native American territory in 1562. Throughout the 400-plus years that followed, the flags of eight different nations have flown above it. Spend a half-day learning more about the town’s lore at the Amelia Island Museum of History. To fully embrace this region’s yesteryear, be sure to explore the historic district, a 50-block area that boasts classic homes and quaint inns. If time spent relaxing is calling your name, the 13 miles of clean and quiet beaches, a surplus of spas and the 117 world-class golf holes with ocean views should do the trick. The self-proclaimed birthplace of the modern shrimping industry, Amelia Island boasts waterfront restaurants that benefit from a fleet of modern shrimping boats. Click here to see a video of what else Amelia Island has to offer.
Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island about halfway between Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, Canada. It serves as a homeport for boaters wanting to explore the greater San Juan Islands — but also offers plenty to do in Anacortes proper. More than 60 miles of trails are available for hiking, with scenery including freshwater lakes, old-growth forests and the occasional bald eagle. A farmer’s market is open Saturdays from May through October, and the Old Town has lots of shops, boutiques, antique book stores, art galleries and coffee houses where you can people-watch for hours. Marine Supply & Hardware is worth a look even if you don’t need any tools or parts, simply because it’s the oldest continuously operated hardware store west of the Mississippi River. It’s right across the street from Dakota Creek Industries, which has built everything from crab boats to tug boats over the years. While you’re in the area, we recommend visiting Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.Steve Berentson
If you think of Walt Disney World and strip malls when you think of Florida, then you need to get yourself an Apalachicola fix. Old Florida lives on in this authentically quaint fishing town that sits where the Apalachicola River runs into the Gulf of Mexico. Charming bungalows and grand Victorians look onto streets lined by moss-draped live oaks. A single blinking streetlight nods to modernity. At heart, this is still a hard-working fishing town. A fleet of shrimpers calls this port home, and 90 percent of Florida’s oysters come from Apalachicola Bay. Of course, a town this good couldn’t go undiscovered, but most of the people who are drawn to Apalachicola wouldn’t change a thing about it. Neither would we. Click here to see more photos of Apalachicola.
To read more about cruising in Apalachicola, click here.
You have to love a town that offers such paradoxical experiences: Astoria is the base for the fierce nautical cowboys of the famed Columbia River Bar Pilots, and it hosts an annual Goonies day to commemorate the making of the 1985 film. (Really.) Astoria is perched on a hill at the mouth of the Columbia River and still has an unpretentious, frontier vibe. Founded by John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company in 1811, the town attracted waves of Scandinavian and Chinese immigrants during the 19th century to work in the fishing and cannery industries. In addition to being a shrine for fans of The Goonies, Astoria hosts the annual Fisher Poets Gathering, which draws artistic folks from the fishing industry who entertain with stories and poems about the fishing lifestyle. A variety of historical exhibits await visitors to Astoria: The Captain George Flavel House, the Heritage Museum and the Uppertown Firefighters Museum are all maintained by the Clatsop County Historical Society and welcome visitors. To read about the boatbuilders of the Pacific Northwest, click here.Astoria Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce
Bayfield, Wisconsin, is on Lake Superior’s southwest coastline, just beyond the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore — a group of 21 islands packed with historic lighthouses, old-growth forests, and hiking and camping sites. They’re an outstanding place to explore by day before you cruise into Bayfield and tie up at Pike’s Bay Marina (more than 200 slips and side-ties for boats up to 90 feet LOA), Apostle Islands Marina (more than 100 slips and side-ties for boats up to 60 feet LOA) or Bayfield City Dock (30 slips and side ties for boats 25 feet LOA and longer). There’s plenty to do on shore in Bayfield, including tours of the Bayfield Maritime Museum, which is right on the waterfront. The annual Apple Festival is held the first weekend in October and draws about 40,000 visitors tasting everything from apple pies to tarts to ciders to caramel dips. If you visit during the summer, local farms let you pick your own cherries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, juneberries and blackberries. To read about chartering in the Great Lakes, click here.
Block Island, RI
More than a dozen miles south of Rhode Island and east of Long Island’s tip, Block Island has managed to retain an old-fashioned feeling that visitors treasure. The Nature Conservancy has Block Island on its list of “Last Great Places,” and the best thing to do here is relax. Of course, there are shops and restaurants to entertain on rainy days, but bike riding, sailing, fishing, hiking — any pastime that involves appreciating the great outdoors — are all ideal on Block Island, where 40 percent of the island has been set aside in a conservation trust. A word of warning to mariners, though: Block Island’s marinas swell to bursting on summer weekends, so book early and be prepared to raft up. Click here to read more about cruising in Block Island.
To watch an exclusive Yachting video on Block Island, click here.
To view a photo gallery of Block Island, click here.Daniel Harding, Jr.
Blue Hill, ME
Blue Hill, Maine, is a picturesque town perched above Blue Hill Bay, with a view to Acadia National Park. It’s the closest “big” town to a handful of wonderful spots farther down the peninsula, like Brooklin — home to the WoodenBoat School. Once a shipbuilding and lobstering town, Blue Hill has long attracted artists and craftsmen with its natural beauty and slower pace. Of course these things draw tourists as well, and the artists and craftsmen find outlets in the local galleries. Blue Hill is home to Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival, which has a full schedule of public performances over the summer. And each Labor Day weekend, the annual Blue Hill Fair attracts 40,000 visitors from all over the state with its agricultural exhibits, sheepdog trials, midway games and, of course, fair foods. To read marine electronics that are helpful while cruising Maine, click here.
To read more about Maine, try Christopher White’s article Where to Stay: Maine Marinas and Resorts
or Mary South’s article Cruising Mid-Coast Maine.
Is it possible for a town to be too pretty? Camden certainly pushes pulchritude to its outer limits. Main Street is a stroller’s dream with brick and clapboard cafes, shops, chowder houses, bookstores and galleries. Several restaurants have back decks that overlook the town docks and Camden harbor. Famous for its fleet of working historic schooners for those who want to explore midcoast Maine from the water, the town is also situated at the foot of the Camden Hills, which provide great hiking opportunities. If you tire of the crowds in summer, never fear — nearby Rockland has ferry service to Criehaven, Matinicus, Vinalhaven and North Haven islands, and Lincolnville’s ferry will take you to Isleboro. The islands are wonderful, but Camden’s fine dining at night (try Francine Bistro!) and nautical attractions by day are liable to help you cope with the beauty overload. For some other great marinas in mid-coast Maine, click here.
To read about apps and other electronics to improve your cruising experience, click here.
Cape May, NJ
This spot is a South Jersey treasure for those who are drawn to the sea. The white-sand beaches here stretch to infinity, and for visiting boaters, the inlet is wide and forgiving. Anglers will like being here, as the inshore fishing is just minutes from the town’s marinas that dot the protected waters. Bluewater anglers will appreciate the relatively short run to the offshore canyons for marlin, tuna, dolphin and wahoo. It’s a Mid-Atlantic angler’s paradise, really, but Cape May also offers some serious sightseeing. The city has about 600 preserved Victorian buildings, dozens of which are set up as B&Bs. (Just in case you tire of sleeping aboard.) A day on the sand may also have you finding come “Cape May diamonds” (a.k.a. polished quartz). Like lighthouses? Cape May has one to visit. It was built in 1859 and still operates as an aid to navigation. When it comes to dining, you can’t stop into Cape May without a visit to the casually cool Lobster House on Fisherman’s Wharf. This spot is also walking distance from nearby South Jersey Marina and the Canyon Club Marina, which are just two of several full-service facilities with slips for transients. The only bad thing about Cape May is having to leave it. For more photos of Cape May, click here.Courtesy Capemay.com
** Catalina, CA**
Twenty-two miles southwest of Los Angeles, nestled amongst California’s Southern Channel Islands, is Catalina, sometimes referred to as Catalina Island. This mountainous, 76-square-mile island has many different accommodations for boaters despite a rural landscape. Two Harbor Village, on the west end of the island’s isthmus, has 249 moorings. Should those moorings fill up, there are 100 nearby anchorages that provide protected water. Just outside these anchorages is the home of countless marine species, allowing for great scuba diving and snorkeling. Fishing for sea bass, yellow tail and halibut is also popular here. Hike the many trails that range from short, easy loops to challenging, full-day adventures (free hiking permits are required for some advanced trails). If you’re lucky, you may come across rare animals like the Catalina fox, quail, buffalo and bald eagles. Plant life here is also just as rare, making you feel like you’re in an exotic destination without leaving the shadow of a major city. To read more about cruising in Catalina, click here.
To view photos of Catalina, click here.
Early colonists first came upon the harbor here in 1670. These settlers knew a good thing when they saw it and never looked back. Within 70 years of its founding, Charleston (then called Charles Town) was considered a vital commercial seaport. Today, this area attracts large numbers of boaters and offers an effective balance of modern and historic features. Looking to travel back in time? Take the family to Middleton Place to see blacksmithing, candle dipping and open-fire cooking demonstrations. You can also stop by the National Historic Trust site and tour an 18th-century mansion. Of course, boaters will want to see the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. And there are miles of beaches to explore, fishing from Folly’s Pier and the South Carolina Aquarium to keep you busy too. A few of the several marinas to consider for your stay include Charleston City Marina, The Bristol Marina and The Harborage at Ashley Marina. To read about George Sass, Sr.’s trip through Charleston, click here.
To read about more Low Country destinations, click here.
For information on where to stay and what to see in Charleston, click here.Courtesy Explorecharleston.com
When San Diegans want to play in the Southern California sunshine, they cruise across San Diego Bay to Coronado, an upscale resort area with beaches, golf, spas, art galleries and more. Crown Isle Marina at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort is the place to book a slip if you want to enjoy resort amenities along with your dockage fees; it has about a dozen transient spots open for boats up to 100 feet LOA, and you’ll have access to an on-site spa, tennis, golf, a kids’ camp and several restaurants ranging from fine dining to grab-and-go. You’ll also find quite a few top-notch dining options in Coronado’s downtown district, where you can enjoy dinner and a show at either the Lamb’s Players Theatre or the Coronado Playhouse. The latter is a cabaret-style theater that offers catered dinners during opening-night performances. For more about wine country, click here.Brett Shoaf
Cumberland Island, GA
No shops, no restaurants, no roads, no nothing — except pristine marshes and hiking trails, feral horses, hogs and armadillos, and some of the East Coast’s most beautiful undeveloped beaches. Cumberland Island National Seashore, at 17 miles long, is Georgia’s largest barrier island and is still very much as nature created it. The only ways to get here are by ferry or private boat, which makes it all the more special as a day-trip destination. The dock at Cumberland Island is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Boats 35 feet LOA or longer are encouraged to anchor out and bring the tender ashore. No matter what size boat you take to the dock, you’ll be asked to deposit a $4 usage fee in a box, on the honor system. Overnight stays are forbidden, even on the hook; if you want to stick around and explore for more than a few hours, then get a slip at Lang’s Marina in nearby St. Mary’s, where you’ll find all kinds of services, restaurants and museums as well as a twice-daily ferry over to Cumberland Island. Click here to read more about Cumberland Island.Courtesy National Park Service
Destin is part of the Sunshine State’s Emerald Coast, which boasts 24 miles of white-sand beaches as well as teal-tone waters that can melt the knots out of your shoulders by just looking at the sea. Anglers will really take to this spot, as it offers inshore quarry such as tarpon, cobia and mackerel, to name a few. Bluewater fishermen can head into the Gulf of Mexico to chase sailfish, marlin and wahoo, and several tournaments and fishing derbies are held throughout the year. After a day on the water, learn more about this area with a visit to the Destin History and Fishing Museum. If just eating fish is more your thing, the Destin Seafood Festival is held in early October and attracts about 60,000 visitors. Like many seaside destinations, Destin also offers opportunities to go parasailing, take a banana boat ride, go on a dolphin cruise, take a glass-bottom boat ride, play 18 holes before you go to dinner or just unwind at the dock with a cocktail. A quick Google search will give you several marina options.Courtesy Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.
The Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay is a place of retreat for residents of nearby Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, offering some of Alabama’s best boating, golfing and fishing all year round. Seven communities comprise The Eastern Shore proper, and Fairhope is one that boaters won’t want to miss. Eastern Shore Marine is your gateway to Fairhope, with transient slips for boats up to 90 feet LOA that put you within minutes of shops, grocery stores and restaurants. The annual Arts and Crafts Festival (61 years now and counting) is held each March, attracting artists from across the nation along with some 300,000 visitors. And even if you can’t get to Fairhope in March, you can still enjoy the exhibitions at the Eastern Shore Art Center, which hosts a free art walk the first Friday of every month along with occasional outdoor shows and special events.
Fernandina Beach, FL
5. Fernandina Beach, FL
The discovery — 400 years ago — of an abundance of free-swimming crustaceans helped put this town on our list. Fernandina Beach celebrates its delicious raison d’être every year in May with the Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. If you’d like to drop in for the shrimp, or to enjoy Amelia Island’s miles of Appalachian quartz beaches, some fishing or a carriage ride downtown, you can keep your yacht at Fernandina Harbor Marina. This facility is on the Intracoastal Waterway at mile 716 and offers 1,000 feet of linear dock space, 30- and 50-amp shore power, Wi-Fi, satellite TV and more. The best part? You are just walking distance to shops, eateries and attractions. And if you forget the cocktail sauce, we’re pretty sure you can find a spare bottle here. Click here to read about George Sass, Sr.’s trip through Fernandina Beach.Courtesy Diane Rice
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Search the Web for a marina in Fort Lauderdale and your Google map will appear to have caught the chicken pox, what with so many red dots lining the 23 miles of Atlantic waterfront that is dwarfed by the thousands of miles of inshore waterways here. Commonly referred to as the Venice of America for its intricate canal system, this yachting hotbed can see as many as 10 million visitors per year, and for good reason. There’s a lot to do here, especially from October 31 to November 4, when the city hosts the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Attracting hundreds of thousands of people to an expo that spans more than 3 million square feet, FLIBS is the world’s largest boat show. And at the end of a day on the docks, there are hundreds of dining options from five-star steakhouses to beachside-burger joints to satisfy your every craving. For those looking to shop, Las Olas Boulevard is the place to stop. A surplus of independently owned boutiques and clothing stores has earned Las Olas the nickname “The Style Mile.” If you need a break from the bustling city life, head northeast out the inlet; you’re only 76 miles from island time on Grand Bahama Island. For more photos of Fort Lauderdale, click here.
Famous for its monument Man at the Wheel, which depicts an oilskin-draped fisherman at the helm and bears the inscription THEY THAT GO DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS, 1623-1923, Gloucester is America’s oldest fishing town and still second in annual catch only to New Bedford. Close to Georges Bank and the rich fisheries of the Gulf of Maine, Gloucester has easy access to the cod, halibut and flounder that have provided a way of life for almost 400 years. But there’s more to Gloucester than fish: beautiful beaches, the Rocky Neck Art Colony, Eastern Point Lighthouse, the Cape Ann Museum and downtown’s shopping and dining provide plenty of reasons for tourists and weekenders to love this town. Click here to read about the nearbly Piscataqua River.Kindra Clineff/MOTT
Greenport appeals with an unvarnished kind of charm. Not yet gussied up to resemble a caricature of itself, this town on Long Island’s North Fork has an authentically salty vibe that dates to its time as a whaling port. It provides a pleasing antidote to the uber-fancy Hamptons on the South Fork with a mix of Victorian charm and down-to-earth rusticity that appeals to locals and weekenders from Manhattan. Sure, there are cute shops and fine dining, but you’ll also find popular institutions like Claudio’s, a large seafood restaurant that overlooks the busy waterfront, favored by the dock-and-dine crowd. Stroll Main Street’s shops and restaurants, check out the vintage carousel on the waterfront, tour the local vineyards and visit the East End Seaport Museum across from the Shelter Island Ferry dock. Greenport still feels like a real escape. To read more about Greenport, click here.
For information on where to stay in Greenport, click here.Mary South
Harbor Springs, MI
What’s not to love about a city that hosts a Waterfront Wine Festival each June? Harbor Springs is on the north shore of Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, where exclusive resorts mix with beautiful beaches and everything from that wine fest to weekly street-music performances. This is a family-friendly place with mini-golf, face painting, horseback rides and waterfront parks where the kiddies can have just as much fun off the boat as the grown-ups. If you want to take a taxi to the north end of the city, there’s a petting zoo at Pond Hill Farm that offers hayrides. Or stay downtown and check out the art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. The municipal marina has 46 transient slips with a harbormaster on duty from May 1 through mid-October. You can also try Walstrom Marine, which has a limited number of slips up to 70 feet LOA. To learn more about cruising in Lake Michigan, click here.
We know this one isn’t the easiest port to get to, but it’s still a spectacular place. Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, which measures about 597 square miles, and is known as the “birthplace and home of big wave surfing.” So you have to try getting on a board at least once when you’re here. You can also try stand-up paddleboarding, bike riding, sports fishing or even a shark dive (not for the faint of heart). Honolulu is also home to Pearl Harbor and the famed USS Arizona Memorial. If shopping is your thing, after you tie up your lines try the 170-square-foot Aloha Tower Marketplace, which features a seemingly endless stream of shops and restaurants as well as live music nightly. Another cool thing to see is the Aloha Festival in September. It’s a 61-years-and-going-strong party that celebrates Hawaiian history, music and dance. Foodies will want to try the regional cuisine, including locally raised cattle, homegrown fruits and vegetables, and native fish. To read more about what to do in Hawaii, click here.Courtesy Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Chuck Painter
2. Jamestown, RI
The small island community of Jamestown, Rhode Island, is just a few minutes across the bay (or over the bridge) from its flashier and more famous Newport neighbor. Despite the proximity, these two destinations run at totally different decibels. With 5,400 permanent residents, Jamestown is a bit slower and a whole lot quieter, which is how the locals like it. It’s the type of town where everyone still gets morning coffee from a quaint bakery instead of a drive-through window and picks up supplies for a weekend project from the local hardware store. There are no supercenters. Dining options are limited to a half-dozen restaurants on Narragansett Avenue, but there’s enough variety to last all summer. Transient slip space can be scarce in the high season, so plan ahead. If you want your mooring with a serene view and launch service and near one of the world’s best lobster rolls, we recommend Dutch Harbor Boat Yard on the island’s west side. Protected moorings at Clark Boat Yard or Jamestown Boat Yard (on the east side) are also excellent options. With a location that is close to destinations like Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Cuttyhunk and Nantucket, this is a smart jumping-off point — assuming you ever decide to leave. To read about a refit done at the Jamestown Boatyard, click here.Jessie Dutra
Not everything is bigger in Texas. The tiny town of Kemah measures only 1.8 square miles and has a population just north of 3,000. Don’t judge this town by its size, though, because there is a lot to see and do here. In fact, there is an entire section of town known as the entertainment district that was built in the late ’90s to bolster tourism. It worked. Thousands of people flock here just for all the savory and Southern dining opportunities. Enjoy a Texas-size porterhouse at T-Bone Tom’s Steakhouse or a traditional crawfish boil at Crazy Alan’s Swamp Shack and you’ll have tasted two of the most popular options. The Kemah Boardwalk is a major attraction boasting the only amusement park in the Kemah-Houston area. With modern roller coasters, an old-fashioned Ferris wheel, carnival-style games and snack stands, it has everything your kids or inner child will love. The nearby Kemah Boardwalk Marina offers close proximity to this fun, with 424 slips and plenty of deep-water berths.
4. Mackinac Island, MI
Over the centuries, this Midwest island with unusually high bluffs has been a fur-trading hub, a fishing industry hotbed, a strategic military position for both British and American troops, and a summer home for the rich and famous. Today, there are about 500 permanent residents and many more seasonal ones. No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, but you can travel by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. If that isn’t enough H.G. Wells-type time travel for you, cruise here during the summer to take in an 1860s-style baseball game. Two supersize sailboat races take place each July: the Chicago to Mackinac Race, and the Bayview Yacht Club’s Port Huron to Mackinac Race. For more on Mackinac, click here.
To learn more about cruising in Lake Michigan, click here.Courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism
When ducking into Mobile Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, cruisers may notice frequent container ship traffic from Mobile. The place has been a major commercial port for hundreds of years, and the city recently invested $300 million to expand its container processing facilities. As intimidating as this may sound, don’t let those cargo and Carnival Cruise ships bully you out of a first-class cruising destination whose unofficial nickname is “secretly awesome.” The third-largest city in the state, Mobile is a diverse place that traces its routes to French, Spanish, British and African descendants. This eclectic heritage directly influenced the wide range of architecture here. The biggest attractions aren’t just big; they’re huge. At 680 feet long with a 108-foot beam, the USS Alabama served in both Europe and the Pacific islands during Word War II before retiring here to Mobile. In addition to taking a popular daytime tour, guests can spend the night aboard this former warship.Courtesy Schooner Joshua
8. Montauk, NY
It could be argued that this is the original “quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem.” Montauk, which is on the tip of Long Island, has long been known as a boater’s and angler’s oasis. Visiting fishermen will want to check out the local waters, which teem with striped bass, fluke, blackfish, cod and porgies at varying times of year. And how could you not want to visit a place with a bar called Liars’ Saloon? (You know the best stories will be found here.) The first thing you’ll notice on your approach from the sea is Montauk Point Lighthouse. This National Historic Landmark was commissioned by George Washington during the Second Congress in 1792 and is the fourth-oldest lighthouse in the United States. It’s worth a cab or bike ride from one of the many nearby marinas for a tour. One of our favorite marinas here is Star Island Yacht Club, which provides transient dockage for yachts up to 125 feet, provisioning, a charter-boat fleet and a full-service repair department. Montauk Marine Basin has been a full-service marina since 1955 and also offers both seasonal and transient slips. Don’t forget to visit Gosman’s Dock for fresh local catch and that must-have T-shirt that carries Montauk’s famous nickname: “The End.” For more on this fisherman’s paradise, click here.George Sass, Sr.
Mystic is a sweet village on the Mystic River between Groton and Stonington in eastern Connecticut. A bascule bridge opens hourly for passing boats, and docks line the riverfront. There is enough good shopping and fine dining to make Mystic worth a stop in its own right, be its primary claim to fame is as home to the Mystic Seaport Museum, one of our nation’s great cultural treasures. Mystic Seaport Museum has a recreated 19th-century village and more than 20 historic vessels to tour — including the last surviving whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan, which has just undergone a massive restoration. There are also art and educational exhibits, classes, a fleet of small craft to try out — even dock space for visitors who come by boat. Mystic Seaport Museum has so much to offer the salty that you could visit every day for the rest of your life and never fail to learn something new — which is why we go to Mystic every chance we get. For information on where to tie up in Mystic, click here.Michael Melford, Courtesy of Mystic County, Connecticut
Nantucket is a town where history lives on. Once the whaling capitol of America, this boomerang-shaped island 29 miles south of Cape Cod has carefully protected its cobblestone streets, clapboard captains’ houses, cranberry bogs and beaches. It’s pristine. In the summer, its charming downtown is packed with day trippers at the shops and restaurants. Residents (summer and year-round) know better than to venture into town in season unless absolutely necessary, and with so many gorgeous beaches, there’s really no need. There’s also plenty to see at the Oldest House, the Nantucket Whaling Museum and the Maria Mitchell Observatory and Aquarium. A longstanding community of artists feeds the local gallery scene, especially in the downtown wharf area. Dock space can be hard to come by, but Nantucket Moorings can be reached on Channel 68 and provides a great location within walking distance of downtown’s vibrancy or within dinghy distance to more tranquil pursuits. To see photos of classic yachts sailing at the island’s annual Nantucket Race Week, click here.William DeSousa-Mauk
10. New Orleans, LA
Located at the base of the Mississippi River, New Orleans has been a major port for distributing Midwest goods to the rest of the world since the French founded it in 1718. Don’t let New Orleans’ modern reputation for wild Mardi Gras nights keep you away — participating is optional (and might be more fun than you think). From historic -steam-powered, paddle-board riverboats to tours of mansions, plantations and nearby Civil War battlefields, there is plenty to see in this city. A great way to get a taste of New Orleans is by biting into freshly caught speckled trout, redfish, flounder or famous shrimp and oysters. Be warned, though: New Orleanians like to add some serious spice to their native dishes. Music in this region also benefits from a bit of a kick. Considered by many to be the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans boasts more than 30 official halls and watering holes that feature live jazz performances on a daily basis. If history or architecture pique your interest, the historic French- and Spanish-influenced mansions and plantations that line St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter are places you won’t want to miss. The commercial traffic on the mighty Mississippi is entertaining, but travel north of the city to Lake Pontchartrain for marinas and some wide-open water. To read more about New Orleans, click here.
For photos of New Orleans, click here.Courtesy Zach Stovall
We may be biased, but Newport never fails to make our favorites list — for so many reasons. Visit the magnificent summer “cottages” along Bellevue Avenue, many of which are open to the public thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport County. Tennis fans will not want to miss the Tennis Hall of Fame. Of course, there are beautiful beaches. And did you know that the largest collection of Colonial houses in America is found in Newport? (Over 200 of them!) But it’s as the epicenter of yachting in the United States that the town really scores. Newport is home to the International Yacht Restoration School, the Museum of Yachting, the summer home of the New York Yacht Club and the Naval War College. Sail Newport provides public access to the town’s favorite sport with a fleet of brand new J/22s, classes and regattas. Sail to Prevail, the National Disabled Sailing Program, is based here and gets those with physical challenges involved in sailing. A trip to Newport isn’t complete without drinks at the famed Candy Store (downstairs at the Clarke Cooke House and overlooking the harbor), where Dennis Conner and Ted Turner used to hang out back when the America’s Cup was raced in monohulls. Clam chowder from the Black Pearl is another Newport tradition not to be missed. To watch a video about everything Newport has to offer, click here.Daniel Harding, Jr.
You can sleep soundly in Norfolk knowing that the world’s largest navy base is in town. Spanning four miles of waterfront real estate, it is the homeport of more than 75 ships and 134 aircraft. An active base, it launches approximately 100,000 flight operations each year, equating to one every six minutes. A 45-minute guided tour of this must-see-military facility will take you past an array of ships that have protected our country over the last century. (Don’t forget your photo ID to gain entrance.) More than 8 million cubic yards of earth was dredged off Norfolk to accommodate our nation’s warships, meaning there is more than enough deep water for your boat. No matter what time of year you visit Norfolk, odds are you’ll be there to enjoy one of the more than 100 annual, and mostly free, festivals this destination offers. Take a break from the tours and community events and sample some local spirits at Mermaid Winery, the state’s first urban winery, or stop in at the popular O’Connor Brewing Company or Smartmouth Brewing Company. To read more about Norfolk, click here.
For information on marinas in the area, click here.
To see photos of Norfolk, click here.
7. Ocracoke, NC
Ocracoke Island was a favorite stop for the infamous pirate Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) until the British caught up with him here in 1718 and ended his plundering ways. From the shores of this idyllic Outer Banks beach community you can see Teach’s Hole, which is where the pirate’s final battle took place. Another historic spot along Ocracoke’s 16 miles of untouched beach is Ocracoke Light, which has been in operation since 1823. Ocracoke also offers abundant fishing options both shore-based and from your boat, as well as surfing, kiteboarding, kayaking and parasailing. Music lovers may want to stop by in early June for the three-day Ocrafolk Festival. The town is also famous for its Fourth of July celebration. Seafood is an easy go-to meal here, since local fishermen provide nearby eateries with daily fresh catch. And because the area is filled with fig trees (who knew?), the local delicacy is fig cake. Visiting boaters can arrange for a slip at the Anchorage Marina or Community Store Docks. Several Ocracoke village motels also provide transient slips, as does the National Historic Parks service on a first-come, first-served basis. So if fishing, crabbing, sailing or hunting the ghosts of pirates past floats your boat, you’ll find Ocracoke is deeply nautical. If you find yourself on the ICW instead of off the Outer Banks, check out Elizabeth City.Carol Pohl
Oyster Bay, NY
Settled in 1672, the hamlet of Oyster Bay sits only 25 miles east of Manhattan but feels a world away from the big city. Quiet and calm, this waterfront town has crammed a lot of history into its 1.6-square-mile frame. It was here in 1872 that the country’s first amateur sailing regatta was held. Locals still enjoy the friendly spirit of competition by attending weekend sailing and rowing regattas. Arguably this town’s proudest claim to fame is the nearby estate built by President Theodore Roosevelt. He lived for nearly 24 years at Sagamore Hill, which boasts 23 rooms and 155 acres of land. Restored to its former glory, the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site stands as a tribute to Roosevelt and is frequented by swarms of schoolchildren and history buffs from across the country. Get another taste of Oyster Bay’s history by digging into some famous Oysters from the Bay at Canterbury Ales Oyster Bar & Grill, which pairs the area’s famous mollusks with live music during the summer. Read more about the home port of Billy Joel, click here.Courtesy Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
1. Petersburg, AK
Native fishermen first visited the area of Petersburg about 2,000 years ago. In the late 1800s, explorers from Norway reached the area’s clear-ice glaciers, abundant fish stocks and wildlife. By 1910, this Inside Passage spot on the northern tip of Mitkof Island had become the fishing-industry hub of Petersburg. Today, this hamlet has about 3,100 year-round residents who still turn to the sea for their livings, plus around 50,000 annual tourists. Some come for the fishing, which includes targeting giant halibut and tasty salmon, while others commune with nature. There are about 240 species of birds here, including countless bald eagles. Cruise out to see the 500 humpback whales that make Petersburg their summer home, or go bear watching, hiking or berry picking. In May, there is the weeklong Little Norway Festival — including, of course, the requisite herring toss. Other reasons to visit include everything from a chili cook-off to a salmon derby and even a go-cart race. Visiting boaters can choose among three protected harbors (south, middle, north), all of which are within walking distance of downtown Petersburg’s shops, bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. Call ahead for a berth. To read more about exploring Petersburg, click here.
Hey, if it was good enough for the Pilgrims, who are we to not stop by and check out the salty scene at this historic spot? You can start by hailing the Plymouth Yacht Club on VHF channel 9 and arrange to pick up a mooring. Brewer Marina is another option. Once you’ve taken the dinghy ashore, you should start with checking out Plymouth Rock. Almost a million visitors a year take a gander at the famous stone. For some more living history, visit Plimouth Plantation and see what life was like before modern conveniences. Take some time out to visit area cranberry farms and an array of wineries. You can even take a wine cruise, if you feel like leaving the driving to someone else. While picking up some lobsters or chowder is almost required, the menu here varies widely, and you can find other gastronomic delights such as a late-night pizza and tasty Mexican eats. Some other fun activities include touring the town by trolley and taking an evening ghost tour. You’ll definitely run out of days before you run out of things to do. To read more about Plymouth, click here.
To see photos of Plymouth, click here.Courtesy Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Port Jefferson, NY
Boy, is this the year to visit Port Jefferson on the North Shore of New York’s Long Island! April 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the village’s incorporation, and the celebration is expected to last all year long. History talks, parades, fireworks, picnics, family days and more are on the calendar, especially from May through September, which is the prime vacation time here. Everyday things to do include a stroll through the farmer’s market, sunset movies on the harbor, live music at Harborfront Park, a look at the rotating exhibits at Port Jefferson Gallery and summer children’s shows near Village Hall. The Maritime Explorium, a children’s museum, is on the first floor of the Chandlery Building — one of the last two 1800s structures still standing. If you’re visiting Port Jefferson during September, you can see the Village Cup Regatta. In late November and early December, the village transforms itself for an annual festival honoring Charles Dickens. To read more about Port Jefferson and cruising Long Island, click here.Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce
6. Portland, ME
The official town motto, “Authentic by Nature,” perfectly summarizes the pristine peninsula of Portland, Maine. Settled in 1632 by the English, this town is proud of its history. Forts Preble, Scammell and Gorges at one time or another protected the greater Portland area; now the town is returning the favor by maintaining these sites and keeping them open for visitors. The Maine Irish Heritage Center houses Maine’s Irish genealogical center and chronicles the story of the important role the Irish played in pioneering Maine. Portland is justly famous for its good eats. Named the Foodiest Small Town in America in 2009 by Bon Appétit magazine, Portland and its environs have more than 200 dining options — and naturally, they do some incredible things with lobster. A dozen microbreweries provide local flavor to wash down your buttery lobster bisque. When you can eat and drink no more, we recommend a long stroll (especially if you’re there for a First Friday Art Walk) to take in the city’s many charming shops and active art scene. There are almost two dozen art galleries here as well as the world-renowned Portland Museum of Art. For information on marine electronics helpful for cruising the Maine coast, click here.George Sass, Sr.
Portsmouth doesn’t have endless streams of coastline like some other wet towns, but it does the most possible with what’s available. This New England hamlet was established in 1623 and claims to be the country’s third-oldest city. It’s even the site of America’s first naval shipyard, which adds to its nautical cool factor. Visitors can choose from about a half-dozen area marinas that offer a variety of services and transient or seasonal dockage. Once here, you can go whale watching, deep-sea fishing, sailing on a gundalow reproduction sailboat or visit the USS Albacore Museum to learn about submarines. Would you like to commune with nature? Try a day at the Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. There are numerous downtown shops, and for the sailor in your life, try Tugboat Alley, a nautical-themed gift store. If you want more on-the-water adventure, go kayaking or scuba diving. We also suggest a visit to one of the four area breweries, including the Smuttynose Brewing Company. With a name like that, it has to be good. To read more about Portsmouth, click here.
To view a photo gallery, click here.
To read about navigating the Piscataqua River, click here.Courtesy Portsmouthnh.com
Roche Harbor, WA
There’s no need to be alarmed if you hear cannon fire at Roche Harbor; that’s just the resort’s marina retiring the flags of Roche Harbor, Washington state, Great Britain, Canada and the United States every night during the boating season, from mid-May through late September. The ceremony is both unique and special, providing a true maritime backdrop to an evening of waterfront dining at one of two restaurants on site. (If you dock overnight, visit the Lime Kiln in the morning for fresh-made doughnuts.) Roche Harbor is a port of entry with a Customs dock, and it’s a gateway to the broader San Juan Islands, which offer endless options for fishing, cruising, hiking and relaxing with beautiful views of snow-capped Mount Baker. Resident pods of Orca whales play in these waters during spring, summer and fall, looking to feed on whatever salmon doesn’t end up on your boat’s grill. For more information on Roche Harbor, click here.
Rock Hall, MD
A quintessential Maryland town with Chesapeake charm to spare, Rock Hall is a destination in demand, boasting no fewer than 14 marinas that are filled nearly year-round. The protected water here makes this a popular port for spending the night on a mooring or on the hook. Be careful straying too far from the channel around Rock Hall; there is a lot of shallow water. Should you ignore this warning and get too adventurous, the soft bottom will likely cause more damage to your ego than your vessel. Take the harbor launch or dinghy into town and rent a bicycle from the Rock Hall Landing Marina or Swan Haven Boat Rentals and traverse the flat terrain and lightly traveled roads to explore the clean coastal streets and neighboring farmlands. As with any destination in the Chesapeake, in Rock Hall you’re never far from fresh seafood and blue claw crabs by the bucketful. A consistent winner of the annual “Best of the Bay” award by Chesapeake Magazine, the Waterman’s Crab House is one of the most popular spots in town. Live music, a view of the sun setting over the Bay and getting to use a hammer during dinner is a recipe for a good time. To read about George Sass, Sr.’s adventures in the Chesapeake, click here.
9. San Francisco, CA
Despite its notoriety for strong winds, currents and frequent fog, San Francisco is the setting for the 34th America’s Cup. Sailing at speeds in excess of 40 knots, Cup contenders will only have their challenges amplified by the tough conditions. Speaking of tough, try exploring Alcatraz Island (aka “The Rock”). It’s the site of California’s first lighthouse and the first U.S. government-built West Coast fort. If you are seeking something more serene, hop a ride on the historic cable cars and enjoy some of the many dining and cultural venues. And keep your camera handy while touring this city to capture images of the handsome Victorian homes, known as the Painted Ladies, and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. To read more about San Francisco Bay, click here.
To read about day trips around California, click here.Courtesy San Francisco Travel
Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz is at once historic and hip, traditional and trendsetting — and home to some of the best surfing and water sports on the planet. It is a California college town on the edge of Monterey Bay, which is world-renowned for its marine life including whales, dolphins and seals. The locals love to fish from the pier, ride skateboards and bicycles, or simply meander along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, which is the state’s oldest amusement park. Museums, restaurants, art festivals, a local symphony, a summer Shakespeare festival and a year-round farmer’s market will give you so many options for entertainment that you might just have to tie up for a couple of weeks. Dockage at Santa Cruz Harbor is first-come, first-served, but you can call for a slip on Channels 9 or 16 immediately after you enter the harbor. To read about day trips around California, click here.
Check out this yacht from Santa Cruz yachts: the Coastal Flyer 39.Courtesy Santa Cruz County CVC/Paul Schraub
3. Seattle, WA
Natural beauty and year-round boating: If those were the only two things Seattle had going for it, they would be reason enough to visit. The temperate coastal climate of this isthmus between Puget Sound and Lake Washington is appealing to all types of boaters. Sailors benefit from strong winter winds, cruising couples find pleasure in exploring Seattle’s quiet waterways and hidden harbors, and everyone can appreciate the views of snow-capped Mount Baker, Mount Rainer, the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades. The nearby San Juan Islands are an alluring bonus, but if you run out of nautical steam sometime during the 365-day boating season, there is also a thriving music and art scene on land. Click here to read about a delivery from Canada to Seattle.Tim Thompson
Conveniently located where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay, Solomons offers an abundance of deep water and a charming town that make it a smart destination for anyone cruising this part of Maryland. This salty community has a proud boat-building history that dates back to the 19th century, when local shipyards sprung up to support the growing fishing fleet. The Bugeye, a predecessor to the skipjack, was designed and built here for oyster dredging. Solomons would land on the Navy’s radar during World War II, when it served as a training site for 60,000 troops preparing for the invasion of Normandy. If either of those things pique your interest, the Calvert Marine Museum is a great place to learn more. Those interested in the arts will find a lot to admire in Solomons too. The Annmarie Garden is a 30-acre public sculpture park where visitors can walk or ride bikes while enjoying numerous collections of sculptures. Create art of your own in one of the many classes that accommodate all ages and abilities.
St. Augustine, FL
St. Augustine is considered to be the United States’ oldest city because ships from Spain arrived here more than 40 years before the famed Jamestown settlement in Virginia. Could this also mean that St. Augustine is the country’s oldest boating town? Why not? While we can only imagine what it was like for those original sailors, you can get a taste of St. Augustine’s nautical past with a visit to the Pirate and Treasure Museum. More modern-day area museums include Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Once your history itch is scratched, try fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, walking along 43 miles of beaches or doing some diving. Boaters may want to tie up at the St. Augustine Municipal Marina, which is located in the middle of the city and offers slips for vessels up to 180 feet LOA. The marina is also walking distance to shops, restaurants and art galleries — all this in a charming town with an Old World, historic Spanish-vibe that keeps visitors returning, year-after-year. Click here to read more about St. Augustine.
St. Croix, VI
Leave your passport at home and forget about the hassle of going through Customs that is standard with most destinations in the Caribbean Sea. St. Croix has been American-owned since 1916. This destination is the best of both worlds, with American amenities and conveniences (careful, they drive on the left side of the road) plus an international heritage that comes from once being owned by France and the Danish West Indies Company. Check out the world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, then pry yourself from the turquoise waters for a guided ATV tour through mountainous trails, ancient ruins and a sub-tropical rainforest. Cap off your adventure-filled day at one of St. Croix’s gourmet waterfront restaurants that don’t require a gourmet dress code. After-hours entertainment can be found in Christiansted and Frederiksted, where reggae and jazz bands keep the crowd on its feet. A night dive during the turtle-hatching season also provides a memorable end to your day. To read about chartering in the Spanish Virgin Islands, click here.
Sturgeon Bay, WI
Music fans will want to cruise into Sturgeon Bay starting in June, when the Harmony by the Bay music series starts. Running until late August, this weekly show offers everything from symphony music to blues tunes. Cruising families may want to take in the Jefferson Street Festival, which includes clowns, bounce houses, face painting, games and, of course, lots of food. Fill up on too much dinner? Try a walking tour of the town’s historic highlights. For some fun with your adult friends, go for a tour of one (or more) of the area’s wineries. Leave your boat in her slip one night and take a water tour or a sunset cocktail cruise on one of the area’s for-hire craft such as the Chicago Fireboat or Harbor Lady. Fishermen can head out to target largemouth and smallmouth bass, musky and northern pike. A Midwest waterfront hub, Sturgeon Bay offers several marinas including Sturgeon Bay Marine Center, which can accommodate yachts up to 100 feet, and Centre Point, which can handle vessels up to 200 feet. To read about the 44 Sojourn built by nearby Carver Yachts, click here.Courtesy Sturgeon Bay Visitors Center
Traverse City, MI
It’s all about the cherries. This waterfront town on Lake Michigan is known for its last-week-of June, week-long cherry festival. If you like this tasty treat, you may want to plan your voyage here for early summer. Earlier in June are the Wine and Art Festival and the GQ and Brew Festival. (It can’t all be about healthy fruit.) Are you in the mood for some culture? Then take in the Traverse Symphony Orchestra. Traverse City is also home to Tall Ships and some striking lighthouses. Once your culture quota is filled, head out for some family fun with mini-golf, a climb up the Sleeping Bear dunes or bowling. There is also fishing, diving, personal watercraft rentals and more. Traverse City is also home to the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. Some of the many marina options here include the Duncan L. Clinch Marina and Elmwood Township Marina, both of which offer transient docking. To read Kim Kavin’s account of chartering in the great lakes and stopping over in Traverse City, click here.Courtesy Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Located 10 miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland, this small island may not be the most convenient cruising destination, but it’s worth the trip. Thanks to a deal made with the U.S. Navy back in 1941, much of the island’s beauty remains unspoiled today. It was then that the government purchased two-thirds of the 52-square-mile island for use as a safe haven for the British fleet should the motherland have fallen to Nazi Germany in World War II. Thankfully never needed for that purpose, a small portion of the island was used instead for weapons testing until 2003, when the land was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge System. This transfer of ownership of undeveloped land (the former weapons testing facility is off-limits) is one of the major attractions today. There are so many different beaches here you’ll find that many are deserted, offering you a rare quiet and relaxing experience that will only be interrupted by an occasional wild horse. To read about a charter in the Spanish Virgin Islands, click here.