50 best beach towns to live in

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March 24, 2021
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50 best beach towns to live in

People innately love being near the water. Just the act of looking at a body of water—in real life or in a photograph—measurably lowers stress levels. Sure, the average cost of a waterfront home in the U.S. is about double that of a similar house located inland, but you get what you pay for: People who live near rivers, lakes, and oceans are also happier and healthier than those who live away from water. When you think of it that way, maybe that waterfront view is worth spending extra money on rent.

The median sale price of a home in Malibu, California, as of February 2021 was more than $4 million, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean all beach property breaks the bank. Coastal properties in Mississippi, Texas, and Florida are among the most affordable homes near the water anywhere in the country.

Every beach town has its share of pluses and minuses, which got us thinking about what makes a beach town the best one to live in. To find out, Stacker consulted data from WalletHub, released June 17, 2020, that compares U.S. beach towns. Ratings are based on six categories: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. The cities ranged in population from 10,000 to 150,000, but they had to have at least one local beach listed on TripAdvisor. Read the full methodology here. From those rankings, we selected the top 50. Readers who live in California and Florida will be unsurprised to learn that many of towns featured here are in one of those two states.

Keep reading to see if your favorite beach town made the cut.

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#50. Pensacola, Florida

- Total score: 51.6
- Affordability rank: #45
- Weather rank: #72
- Safety rank: #103
- Economy rank: #115
- Education & health rank: #129
- Quality of life rank: #18

Pensacola offers residents great proximity to some world-renowned beaches, historic sites, and nightlife. The area, founded in 1559, stands as on of the first European settlement in the New World. Downtown Pensacola features block after block lined with shops, eateries, and pubs.

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#49. Pacifica, California

- Total score: 51.6
- Affordability rank: #72
- Weather rank: #17
- Safety rank: #59
- Economy rank: #27
- Education & health rank: #24
- Quality of life rank: #112

Pacifica is home to a robust surf scene, six miles of beaches and coves, and a charming small-town vibe. The picturesque coastal town is situated between the Coast Range and Pacific Ocean and is less than 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco.

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#48. Clearwater, Florida

- Total score: 51.7
- Affordability rank: #59
- Weather rank: #38
- Safety rank: #98
- Economy rank: #81
- Education & health rank: #111
- Quality of life rank: #30

The Gulf Coast city of Clearwater features miles of white sand beaches that have ranked among the best beaches in the U.S. and world. The area has amenities like a robust public transit system, two conveniently located major airports, a bustling downtown and active nightlife, and the renowned Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which offers rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine animals.

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#47. Ocean City, New Jersey

- Total score: 52.2
- Affordability rank: #113
- Weather rank: #112
- Safety rank: #20
- Economy rank: #71
- Education & health rank: #106
- Quality of life rank: #24

Ocean City offers its residents many opportunities to stay entertained, active, and involved in the community. The town boasts myriad local organizations from an arts center to sailing group, miles of bike paths, a bustling board walk, and year-round calendar of events.

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#46. Edmonds, Washington

- Total score: 52.4
- Affordability rank: #52
- Weather rank: #13
- Safety rank: #57
- Economy rank: #45
- Education & health rank: #41
- Quality of life rank: #83

Edmonds residents have direct access to Puget Sound and are only a 30-minute drive to Seattle. Locals can whale watch, fish, or take advantage of hiking trails.

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#45. Monterey, California

- Total score: 52.6
- Affordability rank: #137
- Weather rank: #58
- Safety rank: #90
- Economy rank: #51
- Education & health rank: #69
- Quality of life rank: #19

Monterey residents can head to Monterey State Beach to lounge in the sand, fish, or swim in the Pacific Ocean. The beach town is also right off California’s scenic Highway 1.

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#44. Coral Gables, Florida

- Total score: 52.9
- Affordability rank: #38
- Weather rank: #14
- Safety rank: #52
- Economy rank: #91
- Education & health rank: #89
- Quality of life rank: #43

Coral Gables is rich with culture and offers a public art program and cultural grants to the local community. The close-knit community offers dozens of amenities to its residents, including a youth center that provides members with year-round access to its theater, basketball courts, roller hockey rink, camps, and more for families, children, and adult use.

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#43. North Palm Beach, Florida

- Total score: 53.1
- Affordability rank: #4
- Weather rank: #42
- Safety rank: #33
- Economy rank: #17
- Education & health rank: #121
- Quality of life rank: #105

The Fort Lauderdale suburb North Palm Beach has good schools, higher-than-average home prices, a busy calendar of year-round community events, and functions as a veritable paradise for boaters. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, situated along a scenic coastline, provides North Palm Beach residents with year-round access to pristine, protected land uninterrupted by development.

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#42. Anacortes, Washington

- Total score: 53.2
- Affordability rank: #36
- Weather rank: #71
- Safety rank: #30
- Economy rank: #76
- Education & health rank: #53
- Quality of life rank: #60

Besides being home to the Washington State Ferry terminal connecting folks to Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, and Shaw islands, the town of Anacortes itself is a wonderful place to live. Outdoor enthusiasts will find no shortage of trails, parks, or water activities, while others love the robust art galleries, history, and walkable downtown.

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#41. Portland, Maine

- Total score: 53.5
- Affordability rank: #129
- Weather rank: #109
- Safety rank: #79
- Economy rank: #31
- Education & health rank: #36
- Quality of life rank: #23

Portland’s central heartbeat is in Old Port, the city’s robust downtown, with maintained old building facades, cobblestone streets, and numerous breweries, restaurants, and shops. Art enthusiasts can enjoy annual memberships to the Portland Museum of Art and residents enjoy unrivaled access to numerous nearby beaches.

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#40. San Buenaventura (Ventura), California

- Total score: 53.5
- Affordability rank: #62
- Weather rank: #126
- Safety rank: #26
- Economy rank: #47
- Education & health rank: #39
- Quality of life rank: #32

There are five college campuses in or near San Buenaventura, commonly called Ventura. The beach town is also home to Surfer’s Point, a popular destination for those looking to ride the waves of the Pacific.

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#39. Manhattan Beach, California

- Total score: 53.6
- Affordability rank: #86
- Weather rank: #60
- Safety rank: #24
- Economy rank: #20
- Education & health rank: #65
- Quality of life rank: #64

It’s not cheap to live in this California coastal town. For those who can afford it, Manhattan Beach living provides quick access to the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and more than enough fine dining.

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#38. Jacksonville Beach, Florida

- Total score: 53.7
- Affordability rank: #12
- Weather rank: #51
- Safety rank: #96
- Economy rank: #37
- Education & health rank: #70
- Quality of life rank: #40

Jacksonville Beach is on Florida’s east coast along the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors and residents flock to the white sandy beaches, including Amelia Island State Park.

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#37. Goleta, California

- Total score: 53.7
- Affordability rank: #111
- Weather rank: #46
- Safety rank: #15
- Economy rank: #22
- Education & health rank: #32
- Quality of life rank: #66

Locals in this Southern California beach town can visit the Coronado Butterfly Preserve or see a movie at the West Wind Drive-In. For those who prefer living on the beach but still like to travel, or for those welcoming frequent houseguests, the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is close by. Goleta is also only 10 miles from Santa Barbara.

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#36. Key West, Florida

- Total score: 53.9
- Affordability rank: #92
- Weather rank: #138
- Safety rank: #38
- Economy rank: #59
- Education & health rank: #114
- Quality of life rank: #7

Key West is just 90 miles from Cuba and is a great destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. The city itself is crawling with tourists year-round, and for good reason: Key West’s climate, history, architecture, food, and nightlife are hard to duplicate. Luckily for local residents, the city has so much going on it’s not tough to find quieter places to hang out and a rich local culture just off the main drag.

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#35. Morro Bay, California

- Total score: 54.1
- Affordability rank: #117
- Weather rank: #55
- Safety rank: #3
- Economy rank: #26
- Education & health rank: #34
- Quality of life rank: #58

Besides its gorgeous waterfront views, hiking trails, and parks, Morro Bay in 2020 got another perk for its full-time residents: clean power. Community choice energy, although still powered through PG&E infrastructure, provides energy at more affordable rates from sources that reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

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#34. St. Augustine, Florida

- Total score: 54.1
- Affordability rank: #73
- Weather rank: #37
- Safety rank: #78
- Economy rank: #85
- Education & health rank: #79
- Quality of life rank: #15

St. Augustine sits on the Atlantic coast and ranks high in coffee shops, restaurants, arts, music, and nightlife. This northeast Florida city might be thriving with modern amenities, but it is the oldest city in America established by Europeans. Spanish settlers founded it in 1565.

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#33. Redondo Beach, California

- Total score: 54.4
- Affordability rank: #101
- Weather rank: #61
- Safety rank: #27
- Economy rank: #40
- Education & health rank: #59
- Quality of life rank: #36

The famous Redondo Beach offers a blend of suburban and urban living with busy shopping centers, many restaurants to choose from, and an active nightlife. The city is composed of South and North Redondo Beach, each of which features sand beaches perfect for swimming, surfing, and boating.

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#32. Kihei, Hawaii

- Total score: 54.4
- Affordability rank: #80
- Weather rank: #31
- Safety rank: #42
- Economy rank: #101
- Education & health rank: #21
- Quality of life rank: #26

Residents of Maui’s Kihei enjoy affordable living in a vacation destination where they pay less than the national average. The city is on Maui’s west coast—only 25 minutes from the Kahului Airport—near 6 miles of beaches. For one of the best surf spots on the island, check out Cove Park.

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#31. Stuart, Florida

- Total score: 54.5
- Affordability rank: #18
- Weather rank: #43
- Safety rank: #81
- Economy rank: #73
- Education & health rank: #141
- Quality of life rank: #17

Stuart is a beach town near the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast. Residents are close to Jensen and Stuart beaches as well as Bathtub Reef. Fishing enthusiasts refer to Stuart as the sailfish capital of the world.

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#30. Key Biscayne, Florida

- Total score: 54.5
- Affordability rank: #26
- Weather rank: #64
- Safety rank: #7
- Economy rank: #111
- Education & health rank: #64
- Quality of life rank: #76

Key Biscayne, an island off the coast of Miami, is a great place to explore the Atlantic Ocean. The city is home to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, where residents can view a lighthouse built in 1825.

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#29. Atlantic Beach, Florida

- Total score: 54.6
- Affordability rank: #11
- Weather rank: #15
- Safety rank: #43
- Economy rank: #86
- Education & health rank: #51
- Quality of life rank: #67

Florida’s Atlantic Beach borders the Atlantic Ocean. A popular spot is Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, where residents and visitors can camp, swim, bike, or surf.

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#28. Dana Point, California

- Total score: 54.6
- Affordability rank: #51
- Weather rank: #50
- Safety rank: #34
- Economy rank: #52
- Education & health rank: #66
- Quality of life rank: #45

California’s coastal town of Dana Point offers beach access to the Pacific Ocean at popular spots like Doheny State Beach or Salt Creek Beach. Residents who like golf can play 18 holes at the oceanfront Monarch Beach Golf Links, designed by golf architect Robert Trent Jones Jr.

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#27. Alameda, California

- Total score: 54.9
- Affordability rank: #81
- Weather rank: #81
- Safety rank: #58
- Economy rank: #6
- Education & health rank: #37
- Quality of life rank: #42

Alameda is an island city on the San Francisco Bay south of Oakland. Residents can take in some sun at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach—sometimes called Alameda Beach—or take a 20-minute ferry from the coastal town to San Francisco. They can also easily fly out of (or welcome visitors in from) the Oakland International Airport, which is only about 16 minutes away.

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#26. Coronado, California

- Total score: 55.0
- Affordability rank: #43
- Weather rank: #74
- Safety rank: #16
- Economy rank: #62
- Education & health rank: #22
- Quality of life rank: #48

Coronado is a 32-mile island across the bridge from San Diego. It has a highly rated public golf course, beautiful beaches, and a museum of history and art.

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#25. San Mateo, California

- Total score: 55.1
- Affordability rank: #130
- Weather rank: #18
- Safety rank: #47
- Economy rank: #3
- Education & health rank: #55
- Quality of life rank: #37

In the San Francisco Bay Area—only 10 miles south of the San Francisco International Airport—San Mateo is close to the Pacific Ocean and the forests of San Pedro Valley Park. Residents can also pop into San Mateo Central Park to see the Japanese Tea Garden, which features a Koi Pond. In the winter, the park has an ice-skating rink.

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#24. Satellite Beach, Florida

- Total score: 55.1
- Affordability rank: #2
- Weather rank: #65
- Safety rank: #31
- Economy rank: #50
- Education & health rank: #31
- Quality of life rank: #99

Satellite Beach is about an hour southeast of Orlando. The coastal town features pristine beaches alongside bright blue water and affordable home prices.

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#23. Westport, Connecticut

- Total score: 55.1
- Affordability rank: #9
- Weather rank: #93
- Safety rank: #23
- Economy rank: #25
- Education & health rank: #11
- Quality of life rank: #114

The town of Westport was incorporated in 1835 and grew as a busy Connecticut shipping center. The 1900s brought with it an arts scene that brought musicians, writers (including F. Scott Fitzgerald), and visual artists to the area. Today, the highly suburban town has easy access to New York City by public transit and beautiful beaches right in Westport and nearby.

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#22. Santa Cruz, California

- Total score: 55.3
- Affordability rank: #132
- Weather rank: #70
- Safety rank: #92
- Economy rank: #78
- Education & health rank: #49
- Quality of life rank: #5

Santa Cruz, famous for its numerous coffee shops, is home to the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company and Cat and Cloud. Residents can also head to local wineries after surfing on the Pacific Ocean at Steamer Lane or hiking in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

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#21. Jupiter, Florida

- Total score: 55.7
- Affordability rank: #6
- Weather rank: #21
- Safety rank: #83
- Economy rank: #10
- Education & health rank: #80
- Quality of life rank: #63

Jupiter is about a 30-minute drive north of West Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast. The city has white sandy beaches like Dubois Park, and sites like the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse that give the city some historical charm.

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#20. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- Total score: 56.1
- Affordability rank: #47
- Weather rank: #7
- Safety rank: #141
- Economy rank: #68
- Education & health rank: #90
- Quality of life rank: #4

Myrtle Beach may be a popular vacation spot for beach bums and golfers, but it also makes for a great place to live. Low income taxes and incentives for small businesses make it an ideal destination for young families and entrepreneurs starting out.

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#19. Seal Beach, California

- Total score: 56.2
- Affordability rank: #93
- Weather rank: #52
- Safety rank: #65
- Economy rank: #7
- Education & health rank: #4
- Quality of life rank: #59

Orange County’s Seal Beach is a Los Angeles suburb has top-notch schools, and a comparatively affordable housing market. Retirees and young families alike flock to the beach town, which has maintained an old-fashioned, small-town vibe (particularly in the Old Town neighborhood) with plenty of independent shops and early-20th-century architecture.

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#18. Hermosa Beach, California

- Total score: 56.2
- Affordability rank: #64
- Weather rank: #30
- Safety rank: #11
- Economy rank: #18
- Education & health rank: #47
- Quality of life rank: #39

Hermosa Beach is sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, making up California’s “South Bay.” The Hermosa Beach Pier is a popular spot to hit the beach and take in a view of the Pacific Ocean.

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#17. Venice, Florida

- Total score: 56.4
- Affordability rank: #39
- Weather rank: #8
- Safety rank: #87
- Economy rank: #33
- Education & health rank: #13
- Quality of life rank: #44

Venice—the “shark tooth capital of the world”—hugs the Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s western coast. Residents have access to great beaches like Caspersen Beach. They can also take in some music: The Venice Symphony offers year-round concerts, events, and education.

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#16. San Clemente, California

- Total score: 56.4
- Affordability rank: #42
- Weather rank: #48
- Safety rank: #46
- Economy rank: #23
- Education & health rank: #15
- Quality of life rank: #52

Located in between Los Angeles and San Diego, San Clemente is away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Residents can choose from two great beaches: San Clemente State Beach or San Onofre State Beach.

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#15. Fernandina Beach, Florida

- Total score: 56.6
- Affordability rank: #54
- Weather rank: #40
- Safety rank: #25
- Economy rank: #66
- Education & health rank: #76
- Quality of life rank: #25

This northeastern Florida town is on Amelia Island. It has 13 miles of beach, including Main Beach Park, and is home to the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.

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#14. Laguna Beach, California

- Total score: 57.1
- Affordability rank: #83
- Weather rank: #53
- Safety rank: #75
- Economy rank: #29
- Education & health rank: #42
- Quality of life rank: #22

It costs more than $2 million, on average, to purchase a home in Laguna Beach. Residents can take in the Pacific Ocean at Heisler Park, an oceanfront stretch with walking trails, gardens, and lawn bowling greens. Laguna living has plenty of other perks as well—to save some money, locals can peruse the free monthly art walk held the first Thursday of each month.

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#13. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- Total score: 57.6
- Affordability rank: #23
- Weather rank: #10
- Safety rank: #129
- Economy rank: #5
- Education & health rank: #26
- Quality of life rank: #10

Residents of North Myrtle Beach are close to the Atlantic Ocean and can fish or have dinner at the historic Cherry Grove Pier. McLean Park offers walking paths, playgrounds, and picnic areas.

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#12. Destin, Florida

- Total score: 58.0
- Affordability rank: #5
- Weather rank: #111
- Safety rank: #101
- Economy rank: #56
- Education & health rank: #46
- Quality of life rank: #14

This Gulf Coast town is right off Florida’s northern panhandle and features reasonably priced homes for beach living. Residents can spend their days enjoying the city’s white sandy beaches, play several rounds of golf, or get into some fishing on their own or with a charter service, of which there are plenty.

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#11. Santa Barbara, California

- Total score: 58.0
- Affordability rank: #114
- Weather rank: #82
- Safety rank: #39
- Economy rank: #38
- Education & health rank: #74
- Quality of life rank: #6

Santa Barbara is on the Pacific coast north of Los Angeles, close to fellow coastal town Goleta. It’s a prime spot for wine lovers since it’s home to more than 200 wineries. Beach fans can lounge or get active at Arroyo Burro Beach and East Beach.

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#10. Vero Beach, Florida

- Total score: 58.2
- Affordability rank: #55
- Weather rank: #33
- Safety rank: #19
- Economy rank: #49
- Education & health rank: #102
- Quality of life rank: #12

In the southeast corner of Florida, Vero Beach is a prime spot for those who like to golf. It’s close to the Grand Harbor Golf Course, Vero Beach Country Club, and Quail Valley River Club, just to name a few.

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#9. Encinitas, California

- Total score: 58.2
- Affordability rank: #24
- Weather rank: #66
- Safety rank: #36
- Economy rank: #21
- Education & health rank: #14
- Quality of life rank: #33

Encinitas is a Southern California town along the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a well-known surf spot—complete with surfer crossing signs—that typically has much less of a crowd than San Diego, which is 25 miles south.

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#8. Carlsbad, California

- Total score: 58.9
- Affordability rank: #22
- Weather rank: #69
- Safety rank: #66
- Economy rank: #8
- Education & health rank: #19
- Quality of life rank: #27

There’s plenty to do in Carlsbad, which is located on the Pacific coast in Southern California. Locals can get in the water at Terramar or Tamarack beaches, or get a pint at a local brewery. Residents can also check out the Carlsbad Village Faire, the largest one-day street fair in the country.

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#7. Kailua, Hawaii

- Total score: 59.6
- Affordability rank: #28
- Weather rank: #103
- Safety rank: #53
- Economy rank: #1
- Education & health rank: #40
- Quality of life rank: #20

Kailua residents get to enjoy the world-renowned Kailua and Lanikai beaches, and enjoy delicious food from roadside stands, food trucks, weekly farmers markets, and local restaurants and bars. The town is mostly covered in tropical rainforest and is home to the Waimea Canyon and the Nounou Trails—both popular hiking spots.

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#6. Sarasota, Florida

- Total score: 59.7
- Affordability rank: #46
- Weather rank: #24
- Safety rank: #116
- Economy rank: #58
- Education & health rank: #71
- Quality of life rank: #2

Don’t worry about finding caffeine or a place to eat in Sarasota. Beach-goers can get some sun and sand at a variety of beach locations, including the popular Siesta Key.

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#5. Santa Monica, California

- Total score: 59.9
- Affordability rank: #122
- Weather rank: #26
- Safety rank: #108
- Economy rank: #15
- Education & health rank: #29
- Quality of life rank: #3

Santa Monica is a coastal city 16 miles west of Los Angeles. Santa Monica State Beach is a favorite local hangout perfect for swimming, surfing, or biking along the stunning Marvin Braude Bike Trail.

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#4. Newport Beach, California

- Total score: 60.0
- Affordability rank: #69
- Weather rank: #56
- Safety rank: #44
- Economy rank: #44
- Education & health rank: #12
- Quality of life rank: #13

Newport Beach is more than a great beach town; it also shows up on lists of the best places to live in the U.S. Though real estate isn’t cheap, Balboa Island is a great place for locals and tourists to visit. Kids and parents can enjoy the Balboa Fun Zone.

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#3. Boca Raton, Florida

- Total score: 61.0
- Affordability rank: #17
- Weather rank: #5
- Safety rank: #85
- Economy rank: #13
- Education & health rank: #57
- Quality of life rank: #16

Boca Raton sits between West Palm Beach and Miami on Florida’s east coast. For a day away from the beach, residents can shop at Mizner Park or take in some culture at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

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#2. Lahaina, Hawaii

- Total score: 61.3
- Affordability rank: #68
- Weather rank: #31
- Safety rank: #2
- Economy rank: #34
- Education & health rank: #45
- Quality of life rank: #8

Lahaina is located on the northwest corner of Maui, close to the West Maui Forest Reserve. The historic town serves a popular tourist destination since it’s home to the Kaanapali and Kapalua beach resorts.

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#1. Naples, Florida

- Total score: 62.5
- Affordability rank: #30
- Weather rank: #100
- Safety rank: #69
- Economy rank: #43
- Education & health rank: #84
- Quality of life rank: #1

This south Florida town sits on the Gulf Coast and features a myriad of coffee shops and nightlife options. Residents and tourists can lounge on the white sand of Vanderbilt Beach Park or get in a round of golf at a course nearby.

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