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America's best beach bars: No shirt, no shoes, no problem

Image: Beach Tree Bar, Big Island, Hawaii
The Beach Tree Bar on the Big Island of Hawaii serves up sunset views along with its colorful cocktails and wide selection of wines. Don Riddle
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The sun twinkles on the turquoise water off palm-fringed Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, the air heady with the scent of coconut suntan lotion. “Aloha,” grins the waiter at Duke’s Barefoot Bar as he sets down a Tropical Itch, an icy mixture of vodka, rum and Curaçao with a foot-long bamboo back scratcher sticking out.

That scratcher is yours to keep, but the strongest itch you’ll feel is the desire to linger forever on the bar’s open-air patio above the white sand, listening to live music and watching coral and lavender hues streak the sky. Sure, it sounds clichéd, but 50 million people will be inspired to head to American beaches this summer.

The latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker reveals that 42 percent of all vacationers prefer to be near the water, and 29 percent of those are choosing their summer destination based on its proximity to the beach. And from the sand, it’s never far to a bar.

“The beach bar is a perfect summer respite,” says Jamie LaMarco, bartender at The Beachcomber, nestled in the dunes of Cape Cod, Mass., with a roofed deck open to the beach and a 45-foot bar. “You never have to change your clothes, and you don’t have to pack lunch or a cooler. It’s where you find lifeguards, surfers and beach bunnies of all shapes and sizes.”

You’ll also find something going on whatever the time of day. The Beachcomber packs in a crowd at lunchtime and is family-friendly until after sunset, around 9 p.m., when it morphs into a casual club with musicians playing anything from surf-rock to reggae to jazz.

Such an easygoing vibe is typical of dive bars, surfer shacks and even beach bars affiliated with exclusive luxury brands. Guests at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., for instance, trade business casual for swimsuits when hanging at the resort’s Sand Bar — no shirt, no shoes, no problem.

It’s your vacation, after all, and the point is to mellow out. So scratch your itch this summer at one of America’s best beach bars, serving up refreshing cocktails and handcrafted beers.

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