When someone says “go to your happy place,” we’d bet that 90 percent of people picture a beach. Warm sand between your toes, the soothing sound of the ocean waves crashing, some Bob Marley on a stereo and a cold beverage sweating in your hand? It’s a pretty tough scenario to top. With summer finally upon us, it’s time to salute those businesses that make it a point to provide you with your ultimate happy place.
America’s best beach bars come in all shapes and sizes, suiting all types of travelers. On the East Coast, there’s the lowbrow Flora-Bama, which only recently garnered a roof. The classy Beachcomber has been serving fresh New England lobster for decades, and the country’s western shores are not to be outdone. In Alaska, you are ensured your own deck chair and views of Bald Eagles and whales. Yes, whales.
The Flora-Bama Lounge & Package – Perdido Key, Fla.
The Flora-Bama Lounge actually straddles the state line between Florida and Alabama. When it was originally built, tarps were used as roofing, sand constituted what you might call a floor and bras were the main decoration on the ceiling – which was, again, a tarp. With one half facing the beach and the other facing the highway, serving up cold beer in plastic cups, oysters by the dozen and also offering a package store adjacent, the Flora-Bama became famous for being happily rough and tumble.
Sadly, Hurricane Ivan did so much damage, they were forced to get a proper roof in the remodel. But the bras scattered by the winds were recollected and rehung and all is still right with the world along the border of these two Southern states.
Highlight: You can also book a para-sailing trip from the Flora-Bama Watersports; $70 per person.
Sharky’s – Venice Beach, Fla.
Named for the fact that professional shark fishermen regularly pull giant hammerheads and bull sharks off the pier in front of the building, Sharky’s opened in 1987 and has been family owned ever since. Originally, it sat 72. Once they finish their current expansion – which will add a slightly more polished dining concept – they will seat 550. “It’s an incredible view of the sunset off Florida’s west coast overlooking the Gulf,” says co-owner Justin Pachota. Eat the grouper wrap - fried crackermeal grouper, Thousand Island dressing, lettuce, tomato and cheese on a sundried tomato tortilla.
Highlight: Thursday nights the chef does a New England-styled lobster boil on the deck with fresh Maine lobsters flown in that day.
The Beach Bar - St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Possibly the best place in the world to catch an impromptu show from a nationally recognized musician, the bar here is toes-in-the-sand, but a massive stage and a stock of instruments and amplifiers means it’s also a serious concert venue.
The Beach Bar is a big draw for visiting musicians who feel the urge to plug in and play. “Kenny Chesney has a house here,” says co-owner Joe Cirigliano, who took over the 13-year operation this past March. “We’ve had Kid Rock and John Mayer show up to play. All sorts.”
Highlight: The competitions here are more about fun than real sport. There’s the Minimal Regatta, where competitors are given some plywood and nails and forced to build the boats.
The Beachcomber – Wellfleet, Mass.
There once were nine life-saving stations situated on the coast, but when the canal was carved in the 1920s off Cape Cod, they were shuttered. One among them became a small resort. The structure was actually built in 1897, and it became The Beachcomber in 1953. Todd LeBart has owned the bar/restaurant since 1978 and from its perch on the 80-foot sand dune, you get stunning views of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. You also get incredible seafood, from littleneck clams to fresh-harvested mussels.
Highlight: Their Goombay Smash is a must-drink. It’s amber rum, coconut rum, apricot brandy, orange and pineapple juice.
Seacrets – Ocean City, Md.
Every year, trucks of palm trees are carted in to create a Jamaican-themed paradise on the coast of Maryland. A strange-but-wonderful outpost, Seacrets is like stumbling on a bar wholesaler. They have 18 bars in the complex, including rafts and floating tables rocking on the water’s surface. Waitresses wade out to you with trays of concoctions, like their Pain in De Ass – a mixture of a Pina Colada and a Rum Runner. Add in national concert acts, killer jerk chicken specials and the ability to moor your boat and get a lift ashore from the bar’s water taxis – and this place is one of a-kind.
Highlight: Four times per year, you can catch epic firework shows. They shoot them off Memorial Day, the bar’s anniversary on June 29, July 4 and Labor Day.
Talon Lodge - Sitka, Alaska
The only downside to drinking on the beach at Talon Lodge is that you have to be a guest of the resort. However, your benefits of booking here are pretty massive. The lodge offers Alaska’s only open-air beach bar, with a pool table, fire pits, specialty cocktails, free wine tastings and a view of bald eagles gliding over the whales that occasionally break the surface of the water off the deck. Five-night packages range from $3,400 to $4000, all-in, and it’s a quick two-hour flight from Seattle with a free transfer to the private, eight-acre Apple Island.
Highlights: You mean besides watching whales and eagles while drinking an Alaskan craft brew?! The bar also features a show kitchen, where the chefs prepare the food in front of the guests.
Merriman’s Kapalua - Maui, Hawaii
Even if you aren’t staying at the stunning Kapalua Resort, you can still experience its best feature: Merriman’s. Some of the world’s best beach bars will give you a great cocktail. Others offer a killer view of sunset. At Merriman’s you get both, and some serious haute cuisine. Situated on a rocky outcrop surrounded by ocean water, this restaurant and bar is run by chef/owner Peter Merriman, who sources 90 percent of his menu from local, sustainable purveyors. The from-scratch approach extends to the bar, where you will find premium, small-batch spirits married with fresh juices and herbs to create inventive cocktails.
Highlight: You can enjoy what is one of the best vantage points on the island at sunset from their indoor, covered bar. However, lounging with their Bourbon & Hibiscus cocktail by the outdoor fire pit as the ocean laps quietly just feet away is an unforgettable experience.
Surf Lodge – Montauk, N.Y.
You know you have something special when every spring, the best bartenders from Manhattan and Brooklyn start daydreaming about landing a gig there for summer. Situated on Fort Pond, The Surf Lodge has been around since the 60s, but it was re-imagined and reinvented six years ago. Regardless, each season is about trying to top the last in terms of fun. There are crazy all-night parties, of course, but there are also the refined touches that keep this place current decade after decade. The Bloody Mary cocktails are batched fresh for brunches, and carefully designed outdoor seating includes picnic table set-ups on the deck and large lounge chairs on the sand.
Highlight:Owner Jayma Cardodo uses the sprawling deck space for more than just all-night ragers. In the mornings, you can find workout classes ranging from yoga to more cardio-packed options.
The Beach Hut – Galveston, Texas
New to the beach bar lineup – at only 2 years old – The Beach Hut in Galveston, Texas, offers more than just frozen cocktails and views of the massive stretch of sand down to the Gulf of Mexico. Built as a giant palapa, it’s the only bar on the beach in Galveston. “We have a bowling lane underneath the palapa made from plywood and a sand volleyball court out front,” explains owner Lee Hunter, who runs the joint with his wife, Angela.
Highlight: They feature live music four nights per week, with an emphasis on supporting local musicians, and there’s never a cover.