The 11 coolest seaside towns for you next vacation

We all deserve a contemplative seaside pause, and if we had infinite time off, these 11 towns are where we’d head. May your thoughts drift off to where the sky meets the watery horizon.

1. Coronado, California

Coronado is a peninsula within spitting distance from downtown San Diego. It feels like vacay heaven — all beaches and quaint shops and pubs, with coasts on both sides for plenty of picturesque views. It’s become one of the most expensive places to live in the US, which makes it a wonderful place to visit short-term, especially if you book a stay in the historic Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888 all out of wood.

2. Laguna Beach, California

In addition to being “the real Orange County”, as seen on TV, Laguna Beach is a seaside town that amps up its natural beachy blonde beauty with a thriving cultural scene. From the Laguna Art Museum and The Laguna Playhouse to celebrations like the Festival of Arts and Sawdust Art Festival, this town packed with drool-worthy shops and restaurants (try the shrimp taquitos at Carmelitas on the waterfront) will keep you well entertained.

3. Portland, Maine

Second-hand décor lovers will be in heaven in Portland, where shops like Hello Sunshine and Red Fox Vintage will ensure your return luggage will be much heavier. The real draw of the picturesque New England town is the food, however. From the extraordinary littleneck clam congee at Vietnamese noodle joint Cong Tu Bot to the hot buttered lobster croissant at Twelve, right on the boardwalk, this is seaside dining for discerning tastes. For a real treat, go for the clam bake at Eventide Oyster Co.

4. Gloucester, Massachusetts

Speaking of oysters, this small fishing town in Massachusetts is where oyster connoisseur and award-winning shucker Daniel Notkin likes to vacation, partly because he has industry friends like the famous Chopper from Wellfleet oyster farm who live nearby, partly because it’s simply a wonderful, humble seaside town dotted with lobster shops, fishing huts and quiet beaches with shorebirds overhead and the sound of tugboats in the distance.

5. Charleston, South Carolina

From the sway of marsh grass on a rising tide to the salty meringue carried ashore by crashing surf, Charleston is a city as rife with romance as it is packed with history. Life on the barrier islands is breezy and laid-back — and mere minutes away from historic downtown Charleston, where you can gaze at handsome Southern dwellings decorated with ornate ironwork. It’s a picturesque and exquisitely preserved cobblestone city packed with excellent boutiques.

6. Cape May, New Jersey

Arrive in Cape May and your jaw will drop at the late-Victorian clapboard architecture and the wide, butter-yellow beaches. This is not the Jersey shore we all know — there’s a canal that makes Cape May an island with its own small-town America flavour, with nearly no chain stores and tree-canopied streets that are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Get a real feel for the place by staying in one of the impeccably maintained Victorian guesthouses, like Stockton Manor, right on the waterfront.

7. Montauk, New York

You might not think of it as a mecca for sports, but the big, sandy Ditch Plains Beach on the Montauk Peninsula is just perfect for avid surfers and swimmers, and Montauk has some great hiking trails too. Right by the Montauk Point Lighthouse you’ll find the entrance to the Camp Hero State Park, where you can see the bluffs in all their beauty; or hike Shadmoor State Park, whose trails snake along the edge of the hoodoos along the Atlantic Ocean.

8. Halifax, Nova Scotia

With one of the highest numbers of bars per capita in Canada, a brewery hop in Halifax is pretty much mandatory. Try local success stories like Propeller, Garrison, Good Robot and Nine Locks. And when hunger strikes, you’re in the right place: grab your newfound friends (Halifax is that kind of town) and hunt down some seafood. From classic lobster dinners to lobster rolls or clam po’boys to-go, the world is your oyster (or clam or crab).

9. Trinity and Port Rexton, Newfoundland

History is woven into every aspect of this quiet and friendly area, rife with beautifully restored fishing rooms, saltbox houses and old-fashioned calligraphy street signage. Watch a blacksmith at work, learn about barrel making, and stop into the English Harbour Arts Centre: it offers arts and crafts workshops for all ages, creative retreats for professional artists, and cultural events like musical performances.

10. Baie Saint-Paul, Quebec

It may not be the sea, but the St. Lawrence River still has a mighty fine shoreline, and Baie Saint-Paul is a great place to enjoy it — especially if you stay at the picturesque Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix, a luxurious modernist property that put the city on the tourism map. In addition to being on a bay, Baie Saint-Paul is surrounded by mountains, making it a natural enclave full of creative fervour. Visit its multitude of art galleries and its lively cultural scene.

11. Tofino, British-Columbia

Hot springs, abundant wildlife and all-season hiking trails — have we said enough? This beautiful Vancouver Island surf town captures some of the best features of the Canadian landscape, from year-round swells to the stunning Pacific Rim National Park. If you want to put the aaaah in spa, make the secluded and picturesque Hot Springs Cove your destination. Between soaks in the rocky hot tubs, enjoy the boardwalks and hiking trails.