If the invention of sweet tea and mint juleps are any indication, southerners know how to do summer. Here are five small, waterfront towns calling you to fly south for the season.
Beaufort, South Carolina
South Carolina’s second-oldest city is set on a coastal isle surrounded by a backdrop of marshes, old rice plantations, and moss-draped live oak trees. Sporty types can rent a kayak and explore a dolphin-filled maze of tidal creeks; other activities include shopping along Bay Street and gawking at the antebellum manses in the Old Point neighborhood. For dinner, go for fresh, locally caught fish (and grilled pork belly) at Breakwater Restaurant & Bar, and stay the night at Anchorage 1770, a gracious, pet-friendly inn with an upper-level porch offering gorgeous water views.
St. Michael’s, Maryland
The Chesapeake Bay’s bounty — blue crabs, oysters, and rockfish — is well known; its history, such as the fact that abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born nearby, not as much. In St. Michael’s, a 17th-century trading post turned shipbuilding and fishing center, tours delve into the town’s history aboard a vintage skipjack; and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is filled with hands-on activities like crabbing from a vintage shanty. Set on the banks of the Miles River, the elegant Inn at Perry Cabin offers water activities that range from kayaking and fishing to sailing classes and even shipbuilding.
Cyclists flock to Virginia’s Northern Neck, and it’s easy to see why. Well-marked bike trails on wide roadways lead to coastal Colonial villages like Kilmarnock and White Stone, as well as to historic sites, such as the birthplaces of George Washington, James Monroe, and Robert E Lee; centuries-old churches; and beaches hemmed by striking cliffs. There are also wildlife preserves, vineyards, and museums. The region’s network of welcoming, family-run inns make multi-day trips easy; finish your stay with massages, crab cakes, and a round of golf at the Tide’s Inn.
Edisto Beach, South Carolina
Located halfway between Kiawah Island outside Charleston and Hilton Head, Edisto Island has just one thing in common with its more populated neighbors: a gorgeous beach. Most visitors can rent beach houses or stay in the well-appointed white clapboard cabins within Edisto Beach State Park; purists can camp within the secluded park. Ribboned with creeks, the island is alive with sea turtles, alligators, and other wildlife. There are also galleries, shops, and The Old Post Office restaurant, where chef Cherry Smalls tops her shrimp and grits with creamy mousseline sauce and serves biscuit-topped cobbler hot from the oven.
Grayton Beach, Florida
Marked by cypress beach cottages, shaggy dunes covered in blue lupine, and funky hand-painted signs directing the way to the artist colonies that have flourished here for decades, Grayton Beach is a slice of old Florida set along Scenic Highway 30A, a narrow roadway that runs along the Gulf. Once you arrive, you won’t need a car; a bike path that tracks the road makes it easy to stroll to dinner and explore the small villages along the way. The most stylish stay is the centrally located Watercolor Inn, which was designed by David Rockwell.