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Best beach towns to live in

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David Louis Econopouly // Shutterstock

Best beach towns to live in

Humans love water. If someone can simply see a “blue space” like an ocean, lake, or river—in real life or in a photograph—their stress levels go down. The cost of a waterfront home is about double what that same house would cost if it were inland, but people who live near the coasts are also generally happier and healthier than those who live away from water. So maybe spending extra money on rent is worth the view of the ocean that comes with it.

A home in Southern California’s Malibu or Manhattan Beach can cost more than $3 million, but not all beach property breaks the bank. Homeowners in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, can get a place by the coast for less than $250,000. Head to Jacksonville, North Carolina to snag a home that’s even cheaper.

Since living by the water is healthy, Stacker consulted data from WalletHub to find the best beach cities to live in. WalletHub compared 205 cities in six categories, including affordability, weather, safety, economy, education and health, and quality of life. The cities ranged in population from 10,000 to 150,000, but they had to have at least one local beach listed on TripAdvisor. The full methodology can be found here.

Out of the 161 beach towns compared, Stacker compiled a list of the top 50. Click through to find the best places to live among the sun and sand.

ALSO: States ranked from least to most woodsy

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John Wiley // Wikimedia Commons

#50. Goleta, CA

Total score: 53.41

Affordability rank: 86

Weather rank: 43

Safety rank: 47

Economy rank: 13

Education and health rank: 108

Quality of rank life: 91

This Southern California town borders the Pacific Ocean. Locals can visit the Coronado Butterfly Preserve or see a movie at the West Wind Drive-In. For those who prefer living on the beach but still like to travel, the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is in the close by. Goleta is also only 10 miles from Santa Barbara.

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National Parks Service

#49. Olympia, WA

Total score: 53.42

Affordability rank: 122

Weather rank: 11

Safety rank: 117

Economy rank: 82

Education and health rank: 28

Quality of rank life: 36

Olympia sits on the Puget Sound and is only an hour away from beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Residents have local coffee roasters in town and can get organic produce, desserts, or handmade goods at the the year-round Olympia Farmers Market. To stay active, they can paddleboard, kayak, or fish in the bay.

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Dannycush // Wikimedia Commons

#48. Stuart, FL

Total score: 53.61

Affordability rank: 54

Weather rank: 44

Safety rank: 100

Economy rank: 81

Education and health rank: 137

Quality of rank life: 26

Stuart is a beach town near the Atlantic Ocean on Florida’s east coast. Residents are close to Jensen Beach, Stuart Beach, and Bathtub Reef. Fishing enthusiasts refer to Stuart as the sailfish capital of the world.

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Evanthomas1 // Wikimedia Commons

#47. Manhattan Beach, CA

Total score: 53.62

Affordability rank: 131

Weather rank: 74

Safety rank: 34

Economy rank: 5

Education and health rank: 143

Quality of rank life: 54

With median household prices hovering at $2.5 million, it’s not cheap to live in this California coastal town. For those who can afford it, Manhattan Beach living provides quick access to the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and more than enough fine dining.

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Don Graham // Flickr

#46. Laguna Beach, CA

Total score: 53.75

Affordability rank: 155

Weather rank: 62

Safety rank: 86

Economy rank: 53

Education and health rank: 116

Quality of rank life: 19

It costs almost $2 million, on average, to purchase a home in Laguna Beach. Residents can take in the Pacific Ocean at Heisler Park, an oceanfront stretch with walking trails, gardens, and lawn bowling greens. Laguna living has plenty of other perks as well—to save some money, locals can peruse the free monthly art walk held the first Thursday of each month.

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Don Graham // Flickr

#45. Dana Point, CA

Total score: 53.81

Affordability rank: 119

Weather rank: 60

Safety rank: 38

Economy rank: 88

Education and health rank: 129

Quality of rank life: 37

Another California coastal town, Dana Point offers beach access to the Pacific Ocean at popular spots like Doheny State Beach or Salt Creek Beach. Residents who like golf can play 18 holes at the oceanfront Monarch Beach Golf Links, designed by golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr.

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Rusty Clark ~ 100K Photos // Flickr

#44. Satellite Beach, FL

Total score: 53.85

Affordability rank: 3

Weather rank: 72

Safety rank: 60

Economy rank: 98

Education and health rank: 67

Quality of rank life: 101

Satellite Beach is about an hour southeast of Orlando. Residents of this town on the Atlantic Ocean butt up against the Atlantic Ocean and only pay an average price around $332,000 for their homes, making this one of the more affordable beach towns.

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Bryanwake // Wikimedia Commons

#43. Palos Verdes Estates, CA

Total score: 53.88

Affordability rank: 13

Weather rank: 132

Safety rank: 19

Economy rank: 40

Education and health rank: 145

Quality of rank life: 50

The Pacific Ocean is just steps away from homes in Palos Verdes Estates, which cost an average of $2 million. The coastal town ranks in the top five for warmest water temps, making it a great place to get in the surf at spots like Bluff Cove. Residents can also play a round of golf at the Palos Verdes Golf Club.

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Paul Hamilton // Flickr

#42. Jacksonville Beach, FL

Total score: 53.96

Affordability rank: 26

Weather rank: 56

Safety rank: 96

Economy rank: 77

Education and health rank: 40

Quality of rank life: 46

Jacksonville Beach, a half hour from Jacksonville proper, is on Florida’s east coast along the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors and residents flock to the white sandy beaches, including Amelia Island State Park.

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Joe Mabel // Wikimedia Commons

#41. Edmonds, WA

Total score: 53.98

Affordability rank: 101

Weather rank: 16

Safety rank: 75

Economy rank: 16

Education and health rank: 29

Quality of rank life: 114

Edmonds residents have direct access to Puget Sound and are only a half hour drive to Seattle. Locals can whale watch, fish, or take advantage of hiking trails.

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Harold Litwiler // Flickr

#40. San Buenaventura (Ventura), CA

Total score: 53.98

Affordability rank: 59

Weather rank: 140

Safety rank: 22

Economy rank: 32

Education and health rank: 69

Quality of rank life: 42

There are five college campuses in or near San Buenaventura, commonly called Ventura. The beach town is also home to Surfer’s Point, a popular destination for those looking to ride the waves of the Pacific.

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Estrategy // Wikimedia Commons

#39. Hermosa Beach, CA

Total score: 54.04

Affordability rank: 108

Weather rank: 53

Safety rank: 18

Economy rank: 9

Education and health rank: 146

Quality of rank life: 39

Hermosa Beach is sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, making up California’s “South Bay.” The Hermosa Beach Pier is a popular spot to hit the beach and take in a view of the Pacific Ocean.

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Jelene Morris // Flickr

#38. North Myrtle Beach, SC

Total score: 54.12

Affordability rank: 25

Weather rank: 8

Safety rank: 140

Economy rank: 50

Education and health rank: 139

Quality of rank life: 17

Residents of North Myrtle Beach are close to the Atlantic Ocean and pay around $230,000 for their homes. They can fish or have dinner at the historic Cherry Grove Pier. If they want to get away from the ocean, McLean Park offers walking paths, playgrounds, and picnic areas.

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Craig Howell // Flickr

#37. Alameda, CA

Total score: 54.13

Affordability rank: 129

Weather rank: 89

Safety rank: 46

Economy rank: 11

Education and health rank: 60

Quality of rank life: 58

Alameda is an island city on the San Francisco Bay south of Oakland. Residents can take in some sun at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach—sometimes called Alameda Beach—or take a 20-minute ferry from the coastal town to San Francisco. They can also easily fly out of the Oakland International Airport, which is only about 16 minutes away.

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David Saddler // Flickr

#36. Ocean City, NJ

Total score: 54.15

Affordability rank: 134

Weather rank: 120

Safety rank: 33

Economy rank: 125

Education and health rank: 15

Quality of rank life: 29

Ocean City residents can head to Ocean City Beach to hop into the Atlantic Ocean. In 2018, Coastal Living ranked Ocean City—home of the annual Baby Parade—as the #1 for the happiest seaside town.

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Seano1 // Wikimedia Commons

#35. Monterey, CA

Total score: 54.5

Affordability rank: 124

Weather rank: 67

Safety rank: 93

Economy rank: 65

Education and health rank: 140

Quality of rank life: 11

Monterey residents can head to Monterey State Beach to lounge in the sand, fish, or swim in the Pacific Ocean. The beach town is also right off California’s scenic Highway 1.

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MARELBU // Wikimedia Commons

#34. Coronado, CA

Total score: 54.52

Affordability rank: 152

Weather rank: 88

Safety rank: 13

Economy rank: 6

Education and health rank: 70

Quality of rank life: 32

Coronado is a 32-mile island across the bridge from San Diego. It has a highly-rated public golf course, beautiful beaches , and a museum of history and art.

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bynyalcin // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Norwalk, CT

Total score: 54.52

Affordability rank: 72

Weather rank: 105

Safety rank: 30

Economy rank: 46

Education and health rank: 7

Quality of rank life: 117

Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the coastal town of Norwalk is seated in the southwest corner of Connecticut, about 1.5 hours north of New York City. Seafood lovers can check out the Norwalk Oyster Festival, which is in its 41st year.

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Don Ramey Logan // Wikimedia Commons

#32. Lake Forest, CA

Total score: 54.61

Affordability rank: 97

Weather rank: 32

Safety rank: 36

Economy rank: 45

Education and health rank: 126

Quality of rank life: 61

Lake Forest isn’t directly on the beach, but it’s only a 20-minute drive to the California Pacific Coast. Residents are also a short drive from Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and Limestone Canyon National Preserve.

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Destin Marketing // Wikimedia Commons

#31. Destin, FL

Total score: 54.66

Affordability rank: 5

Weather rank: 115

Safety rank: 110

Economy rank: 28

Education and health rank: 130

Quality of rank life: 23

This Gulf Coast town is right off Florida’s northern panhandle. Homes are modestly affordable, costing an average of $362,100. Residents can spend their days enjoying the city’s white sandy beaches or get into some fishing.

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JCHaywire // Flickr

#30. Shorewood, WI

Total score: 54.71

Affordability rank: 107

Weather rank: 93

Safety rank: 4

Economy rank: 145

Education and health rank: 18

Quality of rank life: 80

Shorewood is the only Midwestern town to make the list. This Milwaukee suburb has a relatively low cost of living and is adjacent to Lake Michigan. Residents can head to to Bradford Beach to enjoy the lake or hop on an Amtrak train in Milwaukee to get to Chicago in less than two hours.

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Ebyabe // Wikimedia Commons

#29. Fernandina Beach, FL

Total score: 54.75

Affordability rank: 135

Weather rank: 48

Safety rank: 17

Economy rank: 57

Education and health rank: 39

Quality of rank life: 51

This northeastern Florida town is on Amelia Island. It has 13 miles of beach, including Main Beach Park, and is home to the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival.


 

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Lauren Jorgensen // Wikimedia Commons

#28. Atlantic Beach, FL

Total score: 55.07

Affordability rank: 22

Weather rank: 21

Safety rank: 29

Economy rank: 112

Education and health rank: 44

Quality of rank life: 77

Another beach town in northeastern Florida, Atlantic Beach borders the Atlantic Ocean. A popular spot is Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, where residents and visitors can camp, swim, bike, or surf.

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massmatt // Flickr

#27. Swampscott, MA

Total score: 55.08

Affordability rank: 45

Weather rank: 134

Safety rank: 10

Economy rank: 51

Education and health rank: 10

Quality of rank life: 126

Swampscott experienced the fewest foreclosures of any town on the list, which isn’t surprising since it was ranked #4 for lowest housing cost. This Massachusetts town is on Nahant Bay, near the Lynn Shores and Nahant Beach Reservation. Boston is only 15 miles away.

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Dvortygirl // Wikimedia Commons

#26. Santa Cruz, CA

Total score: 55.13

Affordability rank: 158

Weather rank: 79

Safety rank: 112

Economy rank: 72

Education and health rank: 75

Quality of rank life: 6

Santa Cruz tied for the most coffee per capita and is home to the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company and Cat and Cloud. Residents can also head to local wineries after surfing on the Pacific Ocean at Steamer Lane or hiking in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

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MamaOT // Flickr

#25. Santa Barbara, CA

Total score: 55.62

Affordability rank: 156

Weather rank: 85

Safety rank: 73

Economy rank: 34

Education and health rank: 118

Quality of rank life: 8

Santa Barbara is on the Pacific coast north of Los Angeles, close to fellow coastal town Goleta. It’s a prime spot for wine lovers since it’s home to more than 200 wineries. Beach fans can lounge or get active at Arroyo Burro Beach and East Beach.

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Bert Kaufmann // Flickr

#24. Newport Beach, CA

Total score: 55.72

Affordability rank: 147

Weather rank: 68

Safety rank: 52

Economy rank: 39

Education and health rank: 115

Quality of rank life: 16

Newport Beach isn’t just a great beach town, some have ranked it the best place to live in the U.S. Though real estate isn’t cheap, Balboa Island is a great place for locals and tourists to visit. Kids and parents can enjoy the Balboa Fun Zone, where there’s no admission and customers pay as they play.

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Bill Abbott // Flickr

#23. San Mateo, CA

Total score: 55.73

Affordability rank: 57

Weather rank: 29

Safety rank: 44

Economy rank: 10

Education and health rank: 100

Quality of rank life: 60

Located in the San Francisco Bay Area—only 10 miles south of the San Francisco International Airport—San Mateo is close to the Pacific Ocean and the forests of San Pedro Valley Park. Residents can also pop into San Mateo Central Park to see the Japanese Tea Garden, which features a Koi Pond—under renovation until mid-November. In the winter, the park has an ice-skating rink.

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MARELBU // Wikimedia Commons

#22. Benicia, CA

Total score: 55.75

Affordability rank: 10

Weather rank: 7

Safety rank: 32

Economy rank: 30

Education and health rank: 74

Quality of rank life: 102

Benicia is about an hour northeast of San Francisco. It sits on the Carquinez Strait. Boaters and kayakers can enter through a public launch spot at the Alvarez West Ninth Street Park. For those who want to explore on foot, bikes, or skates, head to the Benicia State Recreation Area.

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Paul VanDerWerf // Flickr

#21. Brunswick, ME

Total score: 55.77

Affordability rank: 39

Weather rank: 95

Safety rank: 12

Economy rank: 17

Education and health rank: 9

Quality of rank life: 96

About 30 miles north of Portland, this Maine town sits on the Atlantic coast. There’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep residents active, but those with a boat can get in the water at the Mere Point Boat Launch to access Casco Bay and Main Island Trail.

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Don Graham // Flickr

#20. San Clemente, CA

Total score: 55.83

Affordability rank: 34

Weather rank: 58

Safety rank: 45

Economy rank: 21

Education and health rank: 124

Quality of rank life: 53

Located in between Los Angeles and San Diego, San Clemente is away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Residents can choose from two great beaches: San Clemente State Beach or San Onofre State Beach.

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catlin.wolfard // Wikimedia Commons

#19. Carlsbad, CA

Total score: 55.87

Affordability rank: 68

Weather rank: 84

Safety rank: 57

Economy rank: 4

Education and health rank: 80

Quality of rank life: 41

There’s plenty to do in Carlsbad, which is located on the Pacific coast in Southern California. Locals can get in the water at Terramar or Tamarack beaches, or get a pint at a local brewery. Residents can also check out the Carlsbad Village Faire, the largest one-day street fair in the country.

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Virginia State Parks // Wikimedia Commons

#18. Key Biscayne, FL

Total score: 55.9

Affordability rank: 70

Weather rank: 108

Safety rank: 8

Economy rank: 66

Education and health rank: 58

Quality of rank life: 43

Key Biscayne, an island off the coast of Miami, is a great place to explore the Atlantic Ocean. It has the third-warmest waters of all the ranked cities. It’s also home to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, where residents can view a lighthouse from 1825.

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Rockerchi379 // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Vero Beach, FL

Total score: 56.57

Affordability rank: 103

Weather rank: 35

Safety rank: 55

Economy rank: 118

Education and health rank: 34

Quality of rank life: 14

Located in the southeast corner of Florida, Vero Beach is a prime spot for those who like to golf. It’s close to the Grand Harbor Golf Course, Vero Beach Country Club, and Quail Valley River Club, just to name a few.

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mark sebastian // Flickr

#16. Sonoma, CA

Total score: 56.68

Affordability rank: 82

Weather rank: 9

Safety rank: 41

Economy rank: 54

Education and health rank: 42

Quality of rank life: 33

While residents in Sonoma are just a short drive to the San Pablo Bay or the Pacific Ocean, the Northern California town is most famous for its wine. Sonoma County has more than 425 wineries.

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Andy Montgomery // Flickr

#15. Venice, FL

Total score: 56.9

Affordability rank: 52

Weather rank: 10

Safety rank: 71

Economy rank: 38

Education and health rank: 23

Quality of rank life: 55

Representing Florida’s west coast, Venice—the “shark tooth capital of the world”—hugs the Gulf of Mexico. Residents have access to great beaches like Caspersen Beach. They can also take in some music: The Venice Symphony is in its 45th season.

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Mikefairbanks // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Encinitas, CA

Total score: 56.93

Affordability rank: 36

Weather rank: 83

Safety rank: 39

Economy rank: 7

Education and health rank: 85

Quality of rank life: 40

Encinitas is in Southern California on the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a well-known surf spot—complete with surfer crossing signs —that typically has much less of a crowd than San Diego, which is 25 miles south.

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Brian Stansberry // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Charleston, SC

Total score: 57.08

Affordability rank: 81

Weather rank: 82

Safety rank: 82

Economy rank: 14

Education and health rank: 110

Quality of rank life: 15

Charleston was founded by English settlers in 1670, making it one of the oldest towns on the list. It’s still home to the College of Charleston, founded in 1770, and The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, established in 1842. Residents can lounge by the Atlantic Ocean at Folly Beach. For those who enjoy community theater, take in a show from The Footlight Players, launched in 1931.

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Jeff Belback // Flickr

#12. Portland, ME

Total score: 57.19

Affordability rank: 85

Weather rank: 121

Safety rank: 70

Economy rank: 52

Education and health rank: 13

Quality of rank life: 22

Sometimes known as “The Other Portland,” this idyllic seaside town is seated on the south corner of Maine along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for its seafood scene, but it’s also a great place to find pretty much anything you want to eat, including handmade potato donuts.


 

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Bureau of Land Management // Flickr

#11. Jupiter, FL

Total score: 57.63

Affordability rank: 7

Weather rank: 28

Safety rank: 89

Economy rank: 3

Education and health rank: 51

Quality of rank life: 76

Jupiter is about a half-hour drive north of West Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast. The city has white sandy beaches like Dubois Park, and sites like the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse give it some historical charm.

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Ulla Moilanen // Flickr

#10. Key West, FL

Total score: 58.31

Affordability rank: 98

Weather rank: 154

Safety rank: 54

Economy rank: 19

Education and health rank: 47

Quality of rank life: 5

Key West, which sits in the Florida Keys in the Gulf of Mexico, tied for the top spot of the highest percentage of waterfront homes for sale. It’s only 90 miles from Cuba and is a great destination for scuba diving enthusiasts.

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WestportWiki // Wikimedia Commons

#9. Westport, CT

Total score: 58.99

Affordability rank: 1

Weather rank: 111

Safety rank: 24

Economy rank: 33

Education and health rank: 1

Quality of rank life: 120

The city of Westport ranked #5 for highest-median household income, which makes buying waterfront property overlooking the Horseneck Beach State Reservation a little easier.

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Navin75 // Flickr

#8. Kihei, HI

Total score: 59.02

Affordability rank: 9

Weather rank: 25

Safety rank: 26

Economy rank: 47

Education and health rank: 122

Quality of rank life: 12

Hawaii has the lowest property taxes in the country, so residents of Maui’s Kihei enjoy affordable living in a vacation destination where they pay less than the national average. The city is on Maui’s west coast—only 25 minutes from the Kahului Airport — near 6 miles of beaches. For one of the best surf spots on the island, check out Cove Park.

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Juliancolton // Wikimedia Commons

#7. Boca Raton, FL

Total score: 59.07

Affordability rank: 42

Weather rank: 13

Safety rank: 85

Economy rank: 44

Education and health rank: 49

Quality of rank life: 18

Boca Raton sits between West Palm Beach and Miami on Florida’s east coast. For a day away from the beach, residents can shop at Mizner Park or take in some culture at the Boca Raton Museum of Art.

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Beraldo Leal // Flickr

#6. Santa Monica, CA

Total score: 60.26

Affordability rank: 157

Weather rank: 38

Safety rank: 64

Economy rank: 20

Education and health rank: 149

Quality of rank life: 2

Santa Monica is a coastal city 16 miles west of Los Angeles. It ranks high in number of coffee shops. After residents get their morning cup, they can head to Santa Monica State Beach for swimming, surfing, or biking along the Marvin Braude Bike Trail.

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Christian Reimer // Flickr

#5. St. Augustine, FL

Total score: 60.66

Affordability rank: 90

Weather rank: 36

Safety rank: 103

Economy rank: 79

Education and health rank: 24

Quality of rank life: 3

St. Augustine sits on the Atlantic coast and ranks high in coffee shops, restaurants, and nightlife options. This northeast Florida city might be thriving with modern amenities, but it is the oldest city in America established by Europeans. Spanish settlers founded it in 1565.

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Frank Schulenburg // Wikimedia Commons

#4. Mill Valley, CA

Total score: 60.74

Affordability rank: 35

Weather rank: 49

Safety rank: 5

Economy rank: 2

Education and health rank: 41

Quality of rank life: 31

This California town is close to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Residents can also get their nature fix in the Muir Woods National Monument, but be sure to make a reservation before showing up. For a dog-friendly beaches or access to a 5-mile drive to the Golden Gate Bridge, head to the Marin Headlands. From there, it’s a 5-mile drive to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Ebyabe // Wikimedia Commons

#3. Sarasota, FL

Total score: 61.09

Affordability rank: 31

Weather rank: 30

Safety rank: 109

Economy rank: 85

Education and health rank: 27

Quality of rank life: 4

Don’t worry about finding caffeine or a place to eat in Sarasota. It takes a top spot for most coffee shops and comes in at #3 for most restaurants. Beach-goers can get some sun and sand at a variety of beach locations, including the popular Siesta Key.  

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Ebyabe // Wikimedia Commons

#2. Naples, FL

Total score: 63.61

Affordability rank: 71

Weather rank: 112

Safety rank: 28

Economy rank: 62

Education and health rank: 33

Quality of rank life: 1

This south Florida town sits on the Gulf Coast and ranks high in number of restaurants, coffee shops, and nightlife options. Residents and tourists can lounge on the white sand of Vanderbilt Beach Park or get in a round of golf at a course nearby.

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Ron Cogswell // Flickr

#1. Lahaina, HI

Total score: 64.9

Affordability rank: 4

Weather rank: 24

Safety rank: 1

Economy rank: 1

Education and health rank: 120

Quality of rank life: 10

Lahaina ranked #2 for lowest median property taxes, which makes living there a little more affordable. It’s located on the northwest corner of Maui, close to the West Maui Forest Reserve. It’s a popular tourist destination since it’s home to the Kaanapali and Kapalua beach resorts.


 

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