View of a shopping and entertainment district in Boca Raton

Best East Coast beach towns to live in

Written by:
June 15, 2022
Wirestock Creators // Shutterstock

Best East Coast beach towns to live in

Whether you dream of waking up to the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean, listening to the waves lapping against the shore, or scrunching your toes in the sand during cocktail hour, setting up a permanent residence at the beach is a fantasy shared by many. There’s more to consider than mere real estate, though.

Stacker collected data from a June 2021 WalletHub study comparing U.S. beach towns across six primary categories: affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. When homing in on the best beach towns to call home, 191 cities were ranked across 62 key indicators of livability. All cities had to have at least one local beach listed on TripAdvisor.

Left off the list—Florida’s Gulf Coast beach towns, as the study’s focus was targeted on the East Coast. That didn’t hurt Florida’s ranking on the list. The Sunshine State came out on top with 16 of 25 towns listed. Ready to make the leap? Your next hometown might just be on the list.

Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden view in Merritt Island, Florida
1 / 25
NaughtyNut // Shutterstock

#25. Merritt Island, Florida

- National rank: #79
- Total score: 51.5
- Affordability rank: #2
- Weather rank: #55
- Safety rank: #121
- Economy rank: #40
- Education & health rank: #69
- Quality of life rank: #116

Beach lovers perk up when they learn of Merritt Island’s proximity to Canaveral National Seashore’s 24 miles of shoreline, the longest stretch of undeveloped beach on Florida’s east coast. It’s also home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. As for birdwatchers, Merritt Island National Refuge’s migratory bird population will call to them, not to mention nature aplenty via coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, and 15,000 species of flora and fauna.

Not truly an island, but rather a peninsula, Merritt Island is in Florida’s Brevard County. 

Main Street in Port Washington
2 / 25
LINYperson615 // Wikimedia Commons

#24. Port Washington, New York

- National rank: #77
- Total score: 51.7
- Affordability rank: #100
- Weather rank: #133
- Safety rank: #32
- Economy rank: #31
- Education & health rank: #22
- Quality of life rank: #99

Two words: lobster roll. If your mouth is watering, Port Washington might be for you. Indulge in some idyllic views at Manhasset Bay’s Butler’s Clam Shack.

Though it’s only 17 miles from New York City, Port Washington is a true beach escape. It’s even possible to time travel to the 20th century’s Gold Coast period via Sands Points Preserve. This 216-acre park is home to the former Guggenheim estate, as well as Sands Point Peninsula, which many know as the “East Egg” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

For those looking to catch the sunset, the options are endless. Navigate a boat right up to Lamotta’s Dockside Restaurant to order cocktails, dinner, and endless sea views.

Aerial view of atlantic shoreline at boynton beach
3 / 25
FloridaStock // Shutterstock

#23. Boynton Beach, Florida

- National rank: #76
- Total score: 51.7
- Affordability rank: #47
- Weather rank: #5
- Safety rank: #122
- Economy rank: #44
- Education & health rank: #84
- Quality of life rank: #71

The tropical city of Boynton Beach is the third-largest municipality in Palm Beach County. Its 12-acre long Oceanfront Park Beach is particularly dreamy. This white-sand beach holds extra special magic from March 1 through Oct. 31 during sea turtle nesting season.

Communing with the ocean via water activities—parasailing, fishing, scuba diving, jet-skiing—is what Boynton Beach is all about, especially at Boynton Harbor Marina. Drift diving is extremely popular with Boynton Beach’s high-profile artificial reefs that house spiny lobsters, whale lobsters, dolphins, and tropical fish. Thrillseekers looking for an on-land option should check out eco-adventures in the Everglades at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Aerial drone photo of Delray Beach Florida
4 / 25
Felix Mizioznikov // Shutterstock

#22. Delray Beach, Florida

- National rank: #75
- Total score: 51.8
- Affordability rank: #39
- Weather rank: #19
- Safety rank: #117
- Economy rank: #49
- Education & health rank: #101
- Quality of life rank: #54

A mix of resort beach and small-town vibes, Del Ray Beach is one of 39 communities that make up “The Palm Beaches” in Florida. There are numerous beaches for hanging out, among them Atlantic Dunes Park, where a wooden walkway/observation deck leads to the powder sand beach. Those looking for a bustling beach vibe should head to Sandbar, an oceanfront tiki bar where DJs spin and frosty cocktails abound.

Del Ray also has a reputation for being funky and fun, in part due to its vibrant art scene. Some events highlighting this aspect of the community are downtown’s self-guided Delray Beach Art Trail and the First Friday Art Walk.

View along the beach in Ormond Beach, Florida
5 / 25
stbar1964 // Shutterstock

#21. Ormond Beach, Florida

- National rank: #74
- Total score: 51.8
- Affordability rank: #44
- Weather rank: #17
- Safety rank: #129
- Economy rank: #24
- Education & health rank: #77
- Quality of life rank: #53

The words “elegant relaxation” come to mind when describing this resort beach town that’s bordered by both the Tomoka River and Atlantic Coast. This is most likely because billionaire John D. Rockefeller was one of Ormond Beach’s settlers. Shopping and ambiance combine along Ormond’s historic downtown district on Granada Boulevard. Inspiring art and lovely grounds can be found at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum & Gardens.

Ormond is close to several notable attractions. Those seeking sheer tranquility should head to Ponce Inlet Preserve with its endless boardwalk, traversing 41 acres between the Halifax River and the Atlantic Ocean (don’t miss the historic lighthouse). Thrillseekers can look no further than Daytona Beach, home to NASCAR’s Daytona International Speedway.

Aerial image of Coral Gables, FL
6 / 25
Felix Mizioznikov // Shutterstock

#20. Coral Gables, Florida

- National rank: #66
- Total score: 52.3
- Affordability rank: #42
- Weather rank: #15
- Safety rank: #139
- Economy rank: #58
- Education & health rank: #41
- Quality of life rank: #39

Coral Gables has an apt nickname: The City Beautiful. Sure, it’s close to Miami Beach, but Coral Gables has a completely different aura—it was designed to feel like the Mediterranean. This is where historic landmarks like the Biltmore Hotel and Venetian Pool recall the golden era of the 1920s.

It’s also home to the University of Miami. Parents looking to stay close to their college-aged kids might want to take notes. Those looking to move in should stroll along the Miracle Mile shopping district and visit the Fairchild Tropical Gardens to get a feel.

Middle Neck Road in Great Neck
7 / 25
D. Benjamin Miller // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Great Neck, New York

- National rank: #61
- Total score: 52.8
- Affordability rank: #132
- Weather rank: #136
- Safety rank: #60
- Economy rank: #38
- Education & health rank: #8
- Quality of life rank: #41

Much like Port Washington, New York, Great Neck is close to New York City, with Queens a scant 10 miles away. Nine villages make up the Great Neck Peninsula, which is surrounded by Little Neck Bay, Long Island Sound, and Manhasset Bay.

Want to capture some of the romance of F. Scott Fitzgerald? The author lived in King’s Point; the “West Egg” area in “The Great Gatsby.” Owning a home in this affluent neighborhood brings with it access to the 175-acre King’s Point Park and its 5 miles of hiking trails, along with cross-country skiing in the winter. Steppingstone Park is also open to residents, and its marina has a fishing/boat dock, sailing school, butterfly garden, and summer concert series.

Castillo de San Marcos in St Augustine, Florida
8 / 25
Barbara Smyers // Shutterstock

#18. St. Augustine, Florida

- National rank: #60
- Total score: 52.8
- Affordability rank: #86
- Weather rank: #35
- Safety rank: #125
- Economy rank: #109
- Education & health rank: #53
- Quality of life rank: #14

A true sense of history abounds here with St. Augustine, known as the “Nation’s Oldest City” due to its 1565 founding by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain. Visiting landmarks is a must when you’re in a city teeming with history. Check out the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a fortification erected between 1672 and 1695 by the Spanish to protect the Gulf Stream shipping route.

St. Augustine has 42 miles of golden sand coastline. Perhaps nothing is more romantic, though, than merely exploring St. Augustine’s brick-lined streets with their hidden courtyards, or embarking on a horse-drawn carriage ride.

South Portland, Maine with the Portland Breakwater Light at dawn
9 / 25
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#17. South Portland, Maine

- National rank: #57
- Total score: 53.2
- Affordability rank: #107
- Weather rank: #106
- Safety rank: #77
- Economy rank: #14
- Education & health rank: #51
- Quality of life rank: #62

Welcoming all to the rocky coastline of South Portland is the 26-foot-tall Portland Breakwater Light, more affectionately known as the Bug Light Park Lighthouse. The views are dazzling, especially during the annual kite festival. If gazing at the boats lazily drifting past captures your heart, a great way to decide on a nearby neighborhood as a potential home is by strolling the 3.5-mile historic Greenbelt, where Bug Light Park is located.

Don’t forget to take in the dazzling sights of the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse. This lighthouse, the only caisson-style light station in the U.S., has been holding sway over Portland Harbor and Casco Bay since 1897.

Urban hikers who love trekking beside the sea will also be drawn to the area’s ongoing efforts toward building the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway set to span from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida.

Aerial drone image of Key Biscayne, Florida
10 / 25
Felix Mizioznikov // Shutterstock

#16. Key Biscayne, Florida

- National rank: #56
- Total score: 53.3
- Affordability rank: #12
- Weather rank: #75
- Safety rank: #130
- Economy rank: #121
- Education & health rank: #11
- Quality of life rank: #61

Described as a tiny sliver of land, the subtropical Key Biscayne was once a coconut plantation. Today, it’s lush with beaches and nature preserves. The minute you arrive, it becomes apparent this community loves boating and water sports. They’re also keen on tennis, golf, and making the most of Key Biscayne’s natural surroundings.

Residents can connect with nature in Crandon Park. There are plenty of areas to explore, from a 2-mile stretch of beach to self-guided nature trails. Those who love lighthouses will delight in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, home to the 1825-built Cape Florida Lighthouse with its 109 spiral steps leading up to a wraparound balcony. If you need to cool off and unwind after a hike, take a dip in the over-a-mile-long swimming beach.

Mount Sinai Heritage Park
11 / 25
Iracaz // Wikimedia Commons

#15. Mount Sinai, New York

- National rank: #54
- Total score: 53.6
- Affordability rank: #34
- Weather rank: #128
- Safety rank: #54
- Economy rank: #105
- Education & health rank: #1
- Quality of life rank: #136

Located on New York’s Long Island Sound, Mt. Sinai has a 2-mile-long peninsula that’s home to Cedar Beach Main, Cedar Beach West, and Mount Sinai Harbor.

Run by the town of Brookhaven, this recreation area is connected by a marine sanctuary, nature preserve, boardwalk, and walking trails. Activities on tap include basketball, hiking, and boating. There’s clamming and fishing, too: Snapper, flounder, and so much more are all waiting to be hooked.

Aerial view of the Space Coast featuring downtown Cocoa Beach
12 / 25
Beachside Tribe // Shutterstock

#14. Cocoa Beach, Florida

- National rank: #49
- Total score: 53.9
- Affordability rank: #8
- Weather rank: #100
- Safety rank: #115
- Economy rank: #113
- Education & health rank: #28
- Quality of life rank: #31

If you’re looking to live near some great waves—with no rocks or reefs, just a shallow sandbar—Cocoa Beach is for you. An ideal spot to get a bird’s-eye view of surfing underway is the historic Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, which spans 800 feet above the Atlantic. Those who prefer working up a sweat can find plenty of beach volleyball courts, as well. Keep an eye out, too, for rocket launches. This is Florida’s Space Coast, with the Kennedy Space Center nearby.

History and shopping are combined in downtown Historic Cocoa Village, which was settled in the mid-1800s. Cocoa Village’s tree-lined streets meander past around 50 shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

Light bulbs on the beach pedestrian deck of Rye
13 / 25
Sorin Vidis // Shutterstock

#13. Rye, New York

- National rank: #46
- Total score: 54.6
- Affordability rank: #99
- Weather rank: #92
- Safety rank: #37
- Economy rank: #77
- Education & health rank: #1
- Quality of life rank: #117

Ferris wheel rides have been taking place at Rye, New York’s Playland since 1929. This boardwalk attraction is still going strong with its Dragon Coaster, Log Flume, and Go Karts. Don’t forget to check out Rye Golf Club’s 18-hole Devereux Emmet course, with its views of the Long Island Sound.

This seaside locale has everything a heart could desire, from its thriving Rye Arts Center to more than 2 miles of trails at the Rye Nature Center. Look for the white sands of Oakland Beach to unwind after an adventurous day.

Aerial view of Bathtub Reef Beach in Stuart
14 / 25
Noah Densmore // Shutterstock

#12. Stuart, Florida

- National rank: #45
- Total score: 54.7
- Affordability rank: #25
- Weather rank: #40
- Safety rank: #128
- Economy rank: #84
- Education & health rank: #117
- Quality of life rank: #13

Fishermen know that Stuart is the Sailfish Capital of the World, also known as the Treasure Coast. The area is nicknamed The Panama Canal of Florida due to its location on the Okeechobee Waterway, which extends to the Gulf of Mexico in Ft. Myers.

For those who sigh over small-town charm, Stuart’s historic and pedestrian-friendly downtown has excellent shopping options. Arrive Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to partake in local farmers’ fare at the Stuart Green Market. Keep walking down the boardwalk to the St. Lucie River to see dolphins playing in the surf and fishermen casting their reels.

Portland, Maine downtown skyline at dusk
15 / 25
Sean Pavone // Shutterstock

#11. Portland, Maine

- National rank: #41
- Total score: 55.6
- Affordability rank: #120
- Weather rank: #106
- Safety rank: #81
- Economy rank: #25
- Education & health rank: #76
- Quality of life rank: #17

Portland, Maine’s iconic rocky coastline and working waterfront make this city a must for those who enjoy walkable cities. Explore the vibrant waters of Casco Bay, with its sandy beaches and nature in full bloom, or discover the vibrant murals of the city’s art scene.

Check out favorite local spots like the nature preserve/forest Baxter Woods, the Calendar Islands, and Mt Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak. After working up an appetite from a day of exploration, there’s nothing better to cap off the day than eating some of the 40 million pounds of lobster that local fishermen bring to shore per year.

Parker Drawbridge over the Intracoastal Waterway, in North Palm Beach, Florida.
16 / 25
sailn1 // Wikimedia Commons

#10. North Palm Beach, Florida

- National rank: #33
- Total score: 56.6
- Affordability rank: #5
- Weather rank: #39
- Safety rank: #104
- Economy rank: #95
- Education & health rank: #4
- Quality of life rank: #115

North Palm Beach is home to John D. MacArthur Beach State Park. Located on a barrier island, the park has 1.6 miles of beach, perfect for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and snorkeling. Kayakers are encouraged to explore the park’s Munyon Island estuary. You’ll want to meet the park’s residents (i.e., the sea turtle population) during a guided walk, which is a seasonal activity. 

Aerial view of the North Carolina city of Wilmington
17 / 25
Real Window Creative // Shutterstock

#9. Wilmington, North Carolina

- National rank: #32
- Total score: 56.8
- Affordability rank: #102
- Weather rank: #46
- Safety rank: #69
- Economy rank: #91
- Education & health rank: #80
- Quality of life rank: #20

If Wilmington looks familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen it featured in hundreds of films (the “Scream” franchise, “Ironman 3,” “The Secret Life of Bees”) and television series (“Dawson’s Creek,” “One Tree Hill,” “Eastbound & Down.”) Not only does the Atlantic Ocean provide great settings, but so, too, does the Cape Fear River. Backdrops don’t get much dreamier than Wilmington’s downtown river district and riverwalk. Don’t forget its sweet beach communities, including Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach.

Wilmington is also home to the University of Wilmington, making it a standout from other beach towns. A nice perk for visitors and residents alike is the 15-mile Gary Cross Trail that runs through campus and makes for excellent cycling and walking (including the Heide-Trask Drawbridge). Also on campus is the 10-acre Bluethenthal Wildflower Preserve and the 174-acre Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve, a hardwood forest that’s part of North Carolina’s Birding Trail.

Holding vigil over Wilmington is one of its historic attractions: the Battleship North Carolina used in World War II.

Satellite Beach at sunrise
18 / 25
Jesse Kunerth // Shutterstock

#8. Satellite Beach, Florida

- National rank: #28
- Total score: 57.3
- Affordability rank: #1
- Weather rank: #59
- Safety rank: #102
- Economy rank: #118
- Education & health rank: #9
- Quality of life rank: #91

This small beach town is located on a barrier island close to Patrick Space Force Base and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Banana River, and Indian River. This cumulative 7.7 miles of shoreline lends itself to an active community.

A special neighborhood getaway is Samsons Island Nature Preserve. Accessible only by water (the city provides free transport on Sundays at 1 p.m.), this 52-mile park beckons for immersing in nature. While there, take in the surroundings by hiking, biking, fishing, or checking out the 30 different species of birds who make the island their home.

Buildings of Fernandina Beach in Amelia Island on a sunny day
19 / 25
GagliardiPhotography// Shutterstock

#7. Fernandina Beach, Florida

- National rank: #25
- Total score: 57.4
- Affordability rank: #37
- Weather rank: #43
- Safety rank: #63
- Economy rank: #56
- Education & health rank: #91
- Quality of life rank: #26

Amelia Island’s Fernandina Beach is a Victorian seaport village that has seen its share of pirates, bootleggers, shrimpers, and Gilded Age millionaires over the years.

First things first—walk along the Fernandina Beach Main Street District. This National Historic District has 50 blocks filled with eclectic shops, restaurants, history, and, yes, revelry. Case in point, the Artrageous Artwalk is held on the second Saturday of each month. This is an excellent time to get to know one’s neighbors—photographers, bakers, potters, welders, and perhaps a pirate or two.

Aerial photo Jacksonville Beach and Water Tower
20 / 25
Felix Mizioznikov // Shutterstock

#6. Jacksonville Beach, Florida

- National rank: #24
- Total score: 57.6
- Affordability rank: #13
- Weather rank: #48
- Safety rank: #124
- Economy rank: #2
- Education & health rank: #5
- Quality of life rank: #51

If you’re going to live in Jacksonville Beach, refer to it like a local: Jax Beach. A popular destination for cyclers, the 22 miles of white sand beach along Florida’s First Coast welcomes adventure. 

For those who have furry companions, there are four pet-friendly haunts to choose from: Neptune Beach, Mayport Naval Air Station, Atlantic Beach, and, of course, Jax Beach itself. Make friends with dolphins while surfing in Huguenot Park, Atlantic Beach, or Mayport Poles at Hanna Park.

Aerial view of Jupiter, FL
21 / 25
7effiC // Shutterstock

#5. Jupiter, Florida

- National rank: #22
- Total score: 58.0
- Affordability rank: #3
- Weather rank: #21
- Safety rank: #108
- Economy rank: #9
- Education & health rank: #43
- Quality of life rank: #63

If baseball season is the only season that matters to you, consider Jupiter, home of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals spring training camps.

There’s much more to see in Jupiter, though, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum located in Jupiter’s Loxahatchee River Historical Society. The Lighthouse Moonrise Tours are highly suggested. Some area beaches to make your favorites include Carlin Park, Ocean Cay Park, and Jupiter Beach Park. Head to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center to learn about local sea turtle hatchlings.

Atlantic Ocean Beach at Vero Beach, FL
22 / 25
Sergey and Marina Pyataev // Shutterstock

#4. Vero Beach, Florida

- National rank: #12
- Total score: 60.2
- Affordability rank: #49
- Weather rank: #34
- Safety rank: #68
- Economy rank: #76
- Education & health rank: #93
- Quality of life rank: #8

Some call Vero Beach the Hamptons of Florida. As upscale as it seems, there’s a prevailing sense of funkiness reminding you that beach life is all about being laidback. Putting one in just such a mood are Vero Beach’s Golden Sands Park, Wabasso Beach Park, Treasure Shores Beach Park, and so many more.

A different kind of ambiance comes with a visit to McKee Botanical Garden. Tropical hammocks and water lilies exude rest and relaxation. Magic also lives at the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. As the first National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S., this 5,400-acre island is lush with salt marsh and mangroves, habitats just right for the resident migratory white pelicans and nesting brown pelicans.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina ferris wheel and beach
23 / 25
Rob Hainer // Shutterstock

#3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- National rank: #11
- Total score: 60.6
- Affordability rank: #50
- Weather rank: #8
- Safety rank: #112
- Economy rank: #88
- Education & health rank: #58
- Quality of life rank: #4

There are two Myrtle Beaches on this list, starting with this one. Both are in South Carolina’s Horry County. Both co-exist along the 60-mile Grand Strand, a sandy stretch of East Coast beach heaven. And if you’re a golfer, both feature fairways you’ll want to take advantage of.

Broadway at the Beach is a must for visitors and residents alike. Shopping and restaurants abound, as does entertainment, with one of its four theaters devoted to Broadway shows.

Myrtle Beach also has two state parks. A standout for fishermen is Myrtle Beach State Park’s fishing pier. Horseback riding down the white sand beach is an excellent alternative to fishing. Huntington Beach State Park’s 2,500 acres on Murrell’s Inlet are ideal for birdwatchers as over 300 species of birds live there. The park’s freshwater lake may give a glimpse of local alligators.

An upscale neighborhood that’s captured the heart of many is Pawley’s Island. Spanish moss drips from the trees and creeks call for crabbing. New residents are encouraged to pick up a namesake Pawley’s Island hammock to hang in your new Myrtle Beach backyard.

Aerial view of Boca Raton, FL
24 / 25
FloridaStock // Shutterstock

#2. Boca Raton, Florida

- National rank: #8
- Total score: 62.1
- Affordability rank: #11
- Weather rank: #4
- Safety rank: #109
- Economy rank: #30
- Education & health rank: #18
- Quality of life rank: #21

Boca Raton, or Boca, as the locals call it, lifts spirits upon seeing the city’s pink-hued Mediterranean Revival architecture, compliments of 1920s architect Addison Mizner. Speaking of Mizner, Mizner Park Amphitheater keeps fans of live music enthralled with everything from tribute band concerts to UB40 on tour. While in the neighborhood, peruse the luxury shops of Mizner Park.

Another sort of open-air fun can be had at Florida Atlantic University Stadium. Soccer fans will applaud events featuring the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team and the NCAA Women’s Soccer College Cup. Those lured by the Atlantic Ocean should head to Red Reef Park for some snorkeling.

Cherry Grove Pier in North Myrtle Beach, with blue sky
25 / 25
PQK // Shutterstock

#1. North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

- National rank: #5
- Total score: 62.9
- Affordability rank: #20
- Weather rank: #9
- Safety rank: #92
- Economy rank: #7
- Education & health rank: #10
- Quality of life rank: #18

North Myrtle Beach is the birthplace of the Shag dance. Nine miles of the Grand Strand’s coastline are in North Myrtle Beach, and those beaches—Cherry Grove, Windy Hill, Ocean Drive, and Crescent Beach—epitomize East Coast beach living.

Golf is a major pastime in North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, with a multitude of courses that will test skill levels. Prefer other sports? North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex has a host of activities available: lacrosse, softball, soccer, pickleball, and even quidditch. Barefoot Landing, with its shopping, dining, live entertainment, and fireworks, will appeal to residents and visitors alike.

Kissing the North Carolina border is the quaint fishing village of Little River, the oldest community in the area. With fresh seafood hitting Little River’s docks daily, it’s no surprise folks flock there for the annual World Famous Blue Crab Festival and Little River ShrimpFest.15

Trending Now