Top 10 Places to Buy a Summer Beach House (2023 Study)

By Kristina Zagame

Jun 05, 2023
Secluded beach house on the shore in Martha's Vineyard in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

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For many Americans, there are few things better than a beach vacation. If you believe this to be true, then you may have considered purchasing a summer beach house of your own.

“You can’t put a price on the sense of tranquility and stress relief that comes from waking up to the sound of waves crashing onto the shore,” says Eric Bramlett, realtor and owner of Bramlett Residential in Austin. “All things considered, buying a beach house can be a great investment, both financially and for your mental and physical well-being.”

But where is the best place to make that investment? To help you find the best summer beach home, we’ve rated the top 74 beach towns in the United States based on home values, weather data, dining, entertainment, and air pollution.

 


 

Our Findings

Map showing readers where the best summer beach towns are in the United States.

 


 

Top 10 Places to Buy a Summer Beach House

We determined the best places to buy a summer beach house based on seven ranking factors, including home values, weather data, dining, entertainment, and air pollution. 

1. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Located in North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks, the town of Kitty Hawk attracts visitors looking for a relaxing beach stay. The area offers many public beach accesses with ample parking and parks, trails, and bike paths for those looking for more outdoor activities.

Kitty Hawk’s natural beauty, historic charm, and bustling restaurants have certainly caught the attention of more Americans in recent years, with the median home value increasing more than 5% from April 2022 to April 2023. It earned the top spot on our list for ranking high in the number of dining and entertainment offerings per 10,000 people and additionally ranks well for its low air pollution. 

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach has been a long-standing tourist destination, with landmark piers, hotels, and golf courses attracting visitors as early as the 1920s. Now in 2023, Myrtle Beach is still a top attraction—and the second-best place to buy a summer beach home, according to our data.

Of the top 10, Myrtle Beach is the most affordable place to purchase a home, which helped it land in the No. 2 spot. However, these low prices may not be around for long—the town has seen a 7.2% increase in home value over the last year. Myrtle Beach also earned a high rank for its large number of restaurants and low number of extreme temperature days. 

3. Wilmington, North Carolina

Although voted America’s Best Riverfront, Wilmington, North Carolina, is one of the best places to buy oceanfront property. In Wilmington, you have three island beaches to choose from: Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, or Wrightsville Beach.

Wilmington is an up-and-coming area, seeing an 8.6% increase in home value in the last year (the second-highest increase of our top 10 list). This factor, along with ranking high for restaurants and entertainment offerings, earned Wilmington the No. 3 spot on our list and the second seat for best North Carolina beach towns to own a home.

4. Long Beach, California

Long Beach, California, is the only West Coast city to make the cut for our top 10. This thriving SoCal town is bustling with activities such as shopping, golfing, and whale watching, as well as its best-known tourist attraction: The Queen Mary ship.

Not surprisingly, Long Beach ranked high in our study for its entertainment establishments and desert climate. The beach town sees the least number of rainy days per year out of any other town we analyzed. Long Beach also ranked well for having low levels of air pollution. While homes in Long Beach are above the national average, it was the only town in our top 10 to see a depreciation in home value in the last year (-2.4%).

5. Key West, Florida

The fifth-best summer beach town is Florida’s most famous island city, Key West. The palm-lined streets were once home to celebrities including Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and Jimmy Buffett. On top of its beauty, Key West is deep-rooted in history, unique architecture, and cultural diversity, having influences from the Bahamas and Cuba.

For our study, the popular tourist destination ranked high for its variety of entertainment establishments and restaurants. However, it also earned a top spot for a beach home investment due to its strong increase in median home value over the past year (7.5%).

6. Ocracoke, North Carolina

The third North Carolina spot to make the list is Ocracoke, coming in at No. 6. This island town is full of uncrowded beaches that haven’t been developed for tourists, making it a great beach house destination for those looking for a more relaxing, nature-filled place to spend their summers.

That said, there are no oceanfront properties on Ocracoke Island. The beach is only a few miles from the quaint village, and many visitors appreciate the beach’s untouched aesthetic. The village features plenty of restaurants and entertainment establishments (roughly 38 and 11 per 10,000 people, respectively), which helped Ocracoke land a spot in the top 10.

7. Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Sandwiched between Ocracoke and Wilmington is Emerald Isle—the fourth North Carolina town to make the list. This is a great beach town for families who relish outdoor activities, with boat and kayak launches, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and more located at its beaches.

For our study, Emerald Isle earned most of its points for its low amount of extreme weather days, limited air pollution, and numerous restaurants and entertainment establishments. Despite its proximity, property values in Emerald Isle are considerably higher than in Wilmington and Ocracoke. The median home value in Emerald Isle stands around $663,200.

8. Chincoteague, Virginia

You won’t find high rises, boardwalks, or congested traffic on Chincoteague Island. Instead, this beach town on Virginia’s northeastern shore features a national wildlife rescue and is famous for its wild ponies—and an annual Pony Swim that draws in tourists from around the world.

It wasn’t the Chincoteague ponies that landed it a spot on our top 10 list for beach homes, though. Chincoteague has seen the greatest home value increase of the 74 beach towns considered in this survey, with home prices rising a whopping 17.1% from April 2022 to April 2023. Despite the increase, home prices are still lower than average, making it an affordable place to live and a potentially wise financial investment.

9. Camden, Maine (Tie)

Camden, Maine, is the first New England town to appear on the list. The town is on Penobscot Bay, famous for features such as the High Street Historic District, the restored Camden Opera House, and the 1830s lighthouse. It’s also a great town for outdoorsy folk, with plenty of trails and slopes at Camden Hills State Park.

Camden’s various activities earned it a top spot on our list, along with its low air pollution. Home buyers seem increasingly interested in Camden, with home values increasing by more than 7% in the last year.

9. Edgartown, Massachusetts (Tie)

Located on the famous Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown rounds out our top 10 best places to buy a beach home, tying with Camden, Maine. The tourist destination attracts visitors from all over the world due to its beauty, historic homes, fine dining, and yachting events.

Edgartown ranked high in our analysis for restaurants and entertainment offerings as well as low air pollution. Of our top 10, Edgartown had the highest median home value (nearly $1.7 million), 4.3% higher than it was a year previously.

 


 

The 50 Best Summer Beach Towns, Ranked

We examined 74 of the most popular beach destinations in the U.S. and compared them based on home value, dining and entertainment, climate and air quality, and more. Check out the table below if you’re curious to see where other beach towns ranked.

Table describing the top 50 summer beach towns in 2023

 


 

Factors That Make a Top Beach Town

The best summer beach towns were determined based on seven key factors, all of which contribute to whether the town is an ideal location for a summer home. To better understand how towns performed across specific factors, we have highlighted three metrics below.

Chart describing which cities have the most and the fewest sunny days per year

Perhaps the most important question for someone purchasing a beach house is this: How many beach days are there per year? Though the West Coast falls behind in the overall rankings, all five spots with the most sunny days per year on average are in California. 

Breathing in the ocean air is perhaps one of the best parts of going to the beach and poor air quality can significantly affect one’s enjoyment. Northeastern beach towns rank well on air quality while two California beaches rank in the bottom five on this factor.

chart describing the best and worst home value appreciation over the past 12 months

Buying a beach home is an investment and with that, we accounted for the one-year change in median home values as a ranking factor. Chincoteague, Virginia, (our No. 8 summer beach town overall) saw more than a 17% rise in its median home value from April 2022 to April 2023.

 


 

Other Considerations When Buying a Beach House

You’ll want to consider many things when buying a beach house, and those considerations vary depending on if you’re moving to a beach town as a primary residence, looking for a seasonal escape, or treating it as an investment property. As Bramlett says, “There’s more to buying a beach house than just the beach.”

“Financial planning and potential natural disasters, for instance, are critical considerations,” says Bramlett. “As dreamy as owning a beach house sounds, the real work begins after the purchase. From maintenance costs to property taxes and insurance, you have to make sure you have all your bases covered.”

Below are some of the considerations, outside our analysis, mentioned by Bramlett and other industry experts we spoke with. 

Proximity

There’s a reason people say, “location, location, location.” We’ve listed the 10 best places to buy a beach home by analyzing data for seven attractive features, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, would be the best place for you to buy a beach home.

“Evaluate the location’s proximity to the beach, accessibility, and overall appeal of the area. Consider the nearby amenities, natural attractions, and lifestyle opportunities the location offers,” says Boyd Rudy, associate broker at Michigan Relocation Team.

If this is a secondary residence, you’ll want to consider ease of travel. After all, there’s no sense in having a beach home if it’s too much of a hassle to get to it.

When You Will Use It

Although Florida is known for its beautiful beaches, most seasonal visitors steer clear of the peninsula in the summer because it gets too hot. Laura Lynch, travel expert and owner of the travel website Go Travel California, advises you to choose your beach home location based on when you plan to visit and what the weather and scene will look like during that time.

“Don’t rush into buying your dream beach home. Give it a whirl in different seasons if possible. A place that feels like paradise in the summer might not feel the same when winter rolls around, and vice versa,” Lynch says. “Also, keep in mind that the lively tourist spots might not be what you’re after for a quiet beach home.”

How You Will Use It

A beach home can be a wonderful escape or a big financial boost. “The question ‘what is it for’ is really important to answer because property and revenue tax implications are different for commercial and residential purposes of second homes,” says Theresa Raymond, a real estate professional and broker at TN Smoky Mtn Realty. “It’s better to consult a tax professional beforehand to ensure what kind of expense you have to bear in the future.”

If you are investing in a beach home for rental opportunities, Rudy suggests assessing rental market demand in the area, local regulations, and potential rental income.

“Vacation destinations with a strong tourism industry may offer lucrative rental opportunities,” Rudy says.

Climate Change

Most beach towns aren’t going to land a spot as one of the most climate resilient cities, mainly due to the risk of coastal flooding. But there are still some areas more susceptible to extreme weather events. That’s why we considered the number of extreme weather days when choosing the best summer beach destinations.

“It’s worth checking out the predicted sea level rise and how it could affect your chosen spot. And while you’re at it, look into how the community is gearing up for these changes,” says Lynch. “You want to make sure your beach house is a solid investment for the future.”

 


 

Our Recommendation

Whether your summer beach home is for your enjoyment or a financial investment, location matters. Think of what matters most to you—best year-round weather, entertainment options, home, or rental value—and let those desires guide your decision for where to buy a beach home. Lynch also advises “making friends” with local real estate professionals in your desired town.

“They can offer insights into things like property taxes, potential rental income, and insurance costs. Not only that, but they’ll also have the inside scoop on the local community and lifestyle,” Lynch says.

 


 

Methodology

To determine best places to buy a summer beach house, our research team analyzed beach towns across the U.S. For each waterfront county, we looked at the largest town by population and complete data available. This left us with 74 beach towns that we compared across seven metrics: 

We calculated an average ranking using the seven metrics above and weighting them all equally. The best summer beach town scored 100, and the worst received a zero.

Questions about our study? Please contact the Reviews’ Public Relations manager at meg_ballard@condenast.com.

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