Capitola Wharf and beach
Thomas J. Story

5 small towns where the coastline takes center stage

Sunset

Capitola, CA

The tiki gods smile on the capital of perfect surf

Population: 9,521 

What a house costs: $643,150

The vibe: Capitola-by-the-Sea started in the 1860s as a resort town, a place for people from "over the hill" in San Jose to escape the heat. In the 1920s, it took on a Mediterranean feel, sprouting bungalows and stucco shacks reminiscent of those found in Italian fishing villages. But the Mediterranean doesn't have surf like Capitola's. That’s why world-renowned surfboard and wetsuit manufacturer O'Neill is headquartered here, and why marine environmental causes are big. And why even residents like Stephen Hanecak, chef at the Paradise Beach Grille, learn to balance their time between hard work and play. "Four or five days a week," he says, "I’m out there first thing with my surfboard, trying to start my day by catching some waves." –Matt Villano

Meet your neighbors over: Apple-carrot muffins and cappuccinos at Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria, a happening breakfast nook. A stroll along the Esplanade’s "tile wall," composed of hundreds of ceramic tiles painted by residents. A Zin at Cava Wine Bar.

On Saturday: Take a plunge (surfboard optional) into the water at Capitola City Beach. Then explore Capitola's cottage-lined back streets, maybe stopping at the historical museum. Dinner: Shadowbrook Restaurant, with a stellar wine list and its own funicular railroad.

Inside scoop: "Everything about our life here revolves around the beach." –Stephen Hanecak, surfer and chef at Paradise Beach Grille

Yellow-slickered fishermen mix with just a sprinkling of iPad-toting tourists in this small riverfront town with San Francisco–steep streets. Particularly fine stretches of sand with towering dunes and uninterrupted ocean views make Astoria a dreamy spot...and then there's the nostalgia. The young and hip love Astoria because it embraces the old and hip. Cozy up to the bar at Astoria Brewing Company’s sister taproom-cafe (wetdogcafe.com), or ride to dinner from the Cannery Pier Hotel (from $189; cannerypierhotel.com) in a chauffeured Packard. That’s right, it’s The Great Gatsby on the Columbia.

 

More: Hang out in Astoria, Oregon

Photo by Jake Stangel; written by Jennifer Margulis

Astoria, OR

Population: 9,879

What a house costs: $258,961

An innovator in community planning, it’s a phenomenally scenic, historic fishing town where the Columbia River meets the Pacific.

INFO  oldoregon.com

Two Del Martians experience paradise, Southern California–style: a sunny morning stroll on a blufftop overlooking the Pacific.
David Zaitz

Del Mar, CA

Population: 4,426

What a house costs: $1,104,388

It’s where the turf meets the surf ― a SoCal coastal town that’s maintained a distinct identity despite growth all around it.

INFO  delmarchamber.org

Of all the beautiful beaches on Kauai--and there are many--Hanalei Bay, near the North Shore's Hanalei Town, may be the most captivating. Framed by green mountains and lined by ironwood trees, and punctuated by an Instagram-ready pier, the 2-mile-long crescent of soft, inviting sand hosts three beach parks (two with lifeguards); in winter, surf breaks are for experts, while summer brings placid waters that turn the bay into a big pool.

Photo courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Tor Johnson

Hanalei, Kauai, HI

Population: 478

What a house costs: $945,000

Once you’re off the tourist track, it’s all about scenery, surfing, and multicultural cuisine: teriyaki, taco trucks, and chef Jim Moffat’s tuna carpaccio at Bar Acuda.

INFO  kauaichamber.org

Homer, AK

Population: 5,691

What a house costs: $244,902

A completely charming small town on the Kenai Peninsula that’s the artistic and literary epicenter of Alaska.

INFO  homeralaska.org