Image: Clearwater Beach pier at sunset
Richard Cummins  /  CORBIS
Clearwater Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is a laid-back and beautiful barrier island. Visitors can dine on the local seafood, charter a fishing boat or take a pleasure cruise — and the beaches are considered some of the most beautiful in all of the Sunshine State.
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updated 6/28/2009 11:02:04 AM ET 2009-06-28T15:02:04

It’s a ritual that families all across America partake in every summer—loading up the car, hitting the highway and heading to the beach. Rafts and coolers get pulled out of garages, Frisbees and games like Boggle that may not have been used all year are all of a sudden travel essentials. And once you arrive at your chosen beach town, check into your hotel, motel or rented beach house, it’s all about leaving the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind—for a few blissful days anyway.

“There’s just something about the beach town that is so classically American,” says Michele Pecoraro, vice president of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

“Many families spend part of their vacation at the seashore, often going to the same town year after year and when those kids grow up they bring their children and continue the tradition.” And indeed, many generations of New Englanders return to the Cape and its charming towns like Wellfleet, with its colonial clapboard houses.

“The bulk of our visitors are from Boston and other parts of Massachusetts and we also have a large population from New York and the tri-state area,” says Pecoraro. “But it’s not limited to the East Coast—we get a lot of people from California as well as foreign markets like Canada and the UK.”

And while the nautical offerings of Wellfleet and other beach towns—everything from whale watching to sunset cruises and bird-watching—are expected, there are other aspects that make each spot unique. “We do have the natural beauty and the protected beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore,” says Pecoraro. “But we also have a thriving visual and performing arts scene with galleries, museums and professional companies like the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.” Other beach resorts offer classic summertime pleasures like boardwalks with arcade games (skee ball, anyone?) and amusement park rides.

Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach is another spot with plenty of activities in addition to fabulous beaches. “We have great dining opportunities,” says Carol Everhart, president and CEO of the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce. “In just a quarter-mile radius we have over 100 restaurants—serving everything from local seafood to ethnic cuisines like Thai, Mexican and Japanese. Other draws are the individually-owned boutiques and galleries, all of which are tax-free.” And, of course, Rehoboth Beach is famous for its mile-long boardwalk.

Another summer getaway with a popular boardwalk is Long Beach on a scenic peninsula in Washington State. “People do love the boardwalk,” says Una Boyle, Executive Director of the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau. “It was designed to meander above the sand dunes, providing terrific ocean views. On the peninsula, it’s all about unobstructed nature—at Cape Disappointment State Park you can stand on a high cliff and see the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing below you.”

Image: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Jeff Greenberg  /  Alamy
Rehoboth Beach, in southern Delaware is within a two-hour drive from Philly, Baltimore and D.C., so it’s one of the more popular East Coast resorts. Its mile-long boardwalk is always a hub of activity with concession stands, seafood eateries and a fun ‘50s-style arcade.

Certainly, we’d be remiss to write about beach towns without mentioning California, and specifically, Orange County (more commonly called the OC), located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

One of this sun-kissed county’s most famous strands is Huntington Beach, a.ka. Surf City. “We personify the California beach town,” says Donna Mulgrew, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau.

“We are just 35 miles south of LAX but we have eight miles of beaches—the West Coast’s largest stretch of uninterrupted coastline. There’s surfing, volleyball, bonfires at night. It’s an authentic beach community.”

The number of beach towns in America is uncountable, but we’ve chosen ten beauties that are among the most popular of their kind—and representative of their part of the country. So get those flip-flops out…

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