By Nikkitha Bakshani
Beach towns are hard not to love, whether they are fun-filled and crowded or peaceful and romantic. They almost always have excellent seafood, but some beach towns have food and dining scenes that are truly exceptional, bursting with a wide variety of cuisines and fine-dining establishments. Here are the nine best beach towns in the world for food.
To determine the world’s best beach towns, we examined our own archives of stories related to beach foods and beach towns, such as The World’s Most Delicious Beach Foods and America’s Best Boardwalks for Food. We also scoured coverage of beach towns in various regional magazines in America and abroad. Based on that coverage, we selected beach towns noted for high concentrations of food establishments that have received critical praise along with positive reviews on websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor.
The overseas destinations on this list, such as those in Australia, Brazil, and India, are ones you should plan for in advance, as summer is their high season (but remember that summer runs from roughly January to March in the Southern Hemisphere). However, most of the places we note are in the United States, because those beach towns are most accessible to the majority of our readers. We made it a point to make our list as geographically diverse as possible.
So take a look at some of the best food in the world’s most beloved seaside destinations:
9. Byron Bay, Australia
(Photo: Flickr/Geneva Vanderzeil, A Pair and A Spare)
Not only is Byron Bay one of Australia’s best surf spots, its streets are dotted with tiny burrito bars, Thai food shacks, and takeaway kiosks for those who want to eat on the beach, as well as dine-in restaurants and cafés. For healthy fare (think mushroom toast, coconut and quinoa porridge with poached pear, and rainbow chard salad) and artisanal cold brew coffee, head to Bayleaf Café, and for beautifully plated food and stunning views of the beach, visit Byron Beach Café. Fresh food and friendly vibes are the rule in this Australian getaway.
8. Friday Harbor, Washington (San Juan Islands)
(Photo: Flickr/Rush Hartnup)
The San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington boast cool, temperate weather even during the highest points of summer, which makes the experience of dining there a pure delight, especially for those who find the relentless crowds of more typical beach towns overwhelming. Order a craqueline aux chocolate (pastry filled with chocolate and candied orange) at Café Demeter, or visit the San Juan Islands farmers market on a Saturday and take some food to the area’s most popular beaches: South Beach, Fourth of July Beach, and Jackson’s Beach. Alternatively, head to Lime Kiln Point State Park to eat while you watch for whales. For delicious lavender-flavored snacks, check out the highly Instagram-able Pelindaba Lavender Farm.
7. Cape May, New Jersey
(Photo: Flickr/Mid Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities)
This beach town has the reputation of being a bit statelier than other beach towns in the Jersey shore, so you can expect some top-notch fine dining. The Zagat-rated Washington Inn serves items like fennel pollen-dusted local scallops and espresso-rubbed duck breast in their converted plantation, while the equally upscale Ebbitt Room’s take on surf and turf is called “steak and cake” — petite filet mignon and lump crab cake with potato pavé, asparagus, and romesco sauce. Eat fresh seafood in a schooner at the Lobster House, and for homier fare, head to the boardwalk (which they call the promenade) for crowd-pleasing fudge and taffy. The dog-friendly patio at Zoe’s Beachfront Eatery is also worth a visit.
6. Salvador de Bahia, Brazil
Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, is home to Porto da Barra Beach, which The Guardian named one of the best beaches in the world. Why? For one, it is one of the few beaches on the entire coast of Brazil that faces west, so you can see the sun set over the water. Salvador is home to one of the most unique culinary cultures in the world: seafood-heavy fare with strong African and Portuguese influences. The city’s most iconic food is acarajé (deep-fried black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with shrimp), which we selected as one of the World’s Most Delicious Beach Foods. Another regional dish you must taste is moqueca baiana, a casserole of fish, peppers, tomatoes, coriander, and coconut milk. Street food is best, but notable restaurants include Caranguejo de Sergipe, which serves fresh seafood platters and passion fruit caipirinhas, and Bar Zulu.
5. Kennebunkport, Maine
Kennebunkport is known for being the location of the Bush family summer home, as well as for its stellar lobster rolls, which you can try at Alisson’s Restaurant or the Clam Shack, one of America’s most loved seafood shacks. Dine under a cluster of hanging lights in a farm cottage-restaurant called Earth at Hidden Pond, where you’ll find dishes like foie gras with rhubarb and kaffir lime and chilled oysters with blood orange shrubs. Help locals catch some fresh seafood on a lobster tour — you might even see a whale. For a true taste of America, eat at a general store like H. B. Provisions, which advertises a special hot meal for every day of the week, lobster kitsch, and Maine-roasted coffee.
4. Bardez, Goa, India
The state of Goa has some of the best Indian food, most notably pork vindaloo and Goan fish curry. While Bardez is a region rather than a town, it contains a few downs within driving distance from one another that have some of the best food in the state. Britto’s on Baga Beach is where all the tourists go, but many locals can attest to the fact that they serve the best xacuti curries — another Goanese specialty, which has complex spices that include white poppy seeds, coconut, and large dried red chiles and is best eaten as a chicken or lamb dish. Beaches in Goanese towns have no shortage of hawkers; as long as the food is served hot, you are safe eating some of the delicious street food they have to offer. If you’re a little sick of spicy food, which is likely to happen in India, eat fresh seafood at a Greek restaurant called Thalassa, which sits on a cliff overlooking Ozran Beach.
3. Gulf Shores, Alabama
(Photo: Flickr/Pat David)
While the beach towns in the Carolinas get a lot of the attention when it comes to Southern beachside dining, Gulf Shores wins the seafood category for being alongside Mobile Bay, one of the rare bodies of water in the entire world that experiences “jubilees” — a natural phenomenon in which large quantities of crab and shrimp, as well as flounder, eels, and other demersal (bottom-feeding) fish, leave deeper waters and wash up on the shore. Essentially, it is fresh seafood that literally comes to you. The Bobby Flay-endorsed King Neptune’s is where to get distinctly Alabamian “royal red” deep-water shrimp, and the Original Oyster House is one of America’s 40 best seafood shacks.
2. Huntington Beach, California
(Photo: Flickr/Michael Saechang
Huntington Beach is America’s best food city for your wallet; on average, a meal costs around $10 per person, and a moderately priced meal for two will only run you about $26. For the best poke outside Hawaii, head to North Shore Poke Company, and for casual beachside seafood, visit Fish Camp, where the “wild” options vastly outnumber the “farm-raised.” For a dish called “chowder fries,” which — you guessed it — consists of bacon-sprinkled clam chowder-topped fries, head to Slapfish, which grew out of a food truck. For finer dining, The Black Trumpet excels at bouillabaisse with Israeli couscous, sumac-crusted salmon, and pizza topped with figs, feta, and balsamic reduction.
1. San Sebastián, Spain
Considered by many to be the food capital of Spain, this celebrated coastal town in Spain’s Basque Country is home to some of the world’s best, most innovative restaurants, among them Arzak, Akelare, Martín Berasategui, and Mugaritz, as well as plenty of more casual places that serve classic Basque cuisine, most notably pintxos, which are Basque tapas. Eat your fill at Gandarias or Bar Txepetxa. Creativity is encouraged in Basque cooking, but make sure to try the classic pinxto called the Gilda, composed of anchovies, pickled guindilla peppers, and green olives. (Also note that this gastronomic hotbed is, for some reason, the source of some of the worst photos taken at acclaimed restaurants).
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