By Beth D’Addono
There’s no shame in loving the water but not the beach. For the sun and sand-averse – and you know who you are – the idea of sizzling on a crowded lido, sticky with sand, is the antithesis of fun. That doesn’t mean immunity to the restorative balm of coastline views and lake vistas on the shore. Instead, drawn to the smell of salt air and water views stretching towards the horizon, this traveler just needs more. For small town charm, local eats and outdoor fun, consider these three coastal destinations that deliver gorgeous views and plenty to do as summer gives way to fall.
Mississippi’s Secret Coast
Beyond the sandy beaches that stretch along 62 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Sound, the dozen cities that make up Coastal Mississippi offer everything from small town charm to arts and culture and fine dining. Ocean Springs makes an artsy, funky home base for exploring the coast year round.
Ocean Springs is known for its lively art scene, with the Walter Anderson Museum of Art the gem on that crown. Anderson’s inspiration was always the natural world, most specifically the flora and fauna on Horn Island, where he spent many reclusive weeks alone chronicling what he saw. The murals he painted on the community center that makes up part of the museum are heart-stopping, renderings of the natural rhythms of the seasons, plants, flowers and animals — especially birds, of which the pelican was his favorite.
The brand-new Mississippi Aquarium breaks the typical aquarium mold. Love the indoor and outdoor feel of the place, which promises to be “the window to the waters of Mississippi, the Gulf Coast and beyond” with lots of emphasis on conservation and education. While most aquariums have a 180-degree tunnel on their ground levels, Mississippi Aquarium’s tunnel goes directly through the primary habitat, a 360-degree plexiglass walkway that allows you to literally walk on water — and see the marine life and the humans viewing it from above.
There’s plenty of great grub in and around Ocean Springs, a mix of casual spots like Government Street Grocery (get the burger) and chef-driven restaurants like Maison deLu, where chef Luann Ellis is creating pristine food with French accents and local ingredients, everything made in house. For fine dining, there are two James Beard award nominees along the coast. Chef Austin Sumrall’s stunning White Pillars in Ocean Springs, a large antebellum style mansion, creates a beautiful backdrop for his unfussy mix of Cajun, Creole and new Southern cuisine. Downtown on Washington Avenue, Vestige chef and owner Alex Perry presides over an intimate spot with a menu that combines contemporary American cuisine with Japanese influences — thanks to his wife Kumi Omori’s inspiration. Enjoy a farm and Gulf to table experience served as museum-quality composed plates — get the chef’s four course tasting menu, at $50 per person, an experience that would easily be twice the price in the big city.
The new Hotel Beatnik in Ocean Spring’s creative district is beyond cool. Four self-contained chalets deliver the perfect retreat, including private outdoor space, complete with an outside shower and screen porches rigged with hammocks and rocking chairs. The Danish modern meets mid-century meets Mother Nature vibe is reflected in details like a cypress wrapped wooden ceiling, Mexican tile, stone vessel sinks and floor to ceiling windows. Outside there’s a plunge pool and a fire pit, onsite laundry and lots to explore on foot —the beach and downtown are easy strolls
Door County, Wisconsin
A string of 10 sweet waterfront towns dot the picturesque peninsula that is Door County. Jutting into vast Lake Michigan, the destination, heralded as the Cape Cod of the Midwest, boasts 300 miles of beautiful shoreline and gobs to do besides lounge. The busy season here is late spring into fall, ideal times to slurp seafood from town to town, eat local cherries and visit the many galleries that give Door County its artsy panache.
Meandering along the two main roads that traverse the peninsula, routes 42 and 57, is so much darn fun. There’s all kinds of green space for walking and exploring, places like Newport State Park where 40 miles of walking and kayaking trails beckon, But it’s strolling the small towns, places like Ephraim, with its shops and galleries and a must stop at Wilson’s Ice Cream shop, experts at shakes and sundaes since 1906. Small town shopping abounds, but the real eye opener to the first time visitor is the many — more than 100 — art galleries and artist collectives dotting the peninsula. The Hardy Gallery situated on the shorelines of Eagle Harbor is celebrating 58 years of fostering local talent with an ongoing schedule of juried shows in its distinctive space, festooned with striking graffiti designs. What’s so nice about the art scene here is the chance to meet the artists like Chad Luberger at Plum Bottom Gallery, who might offer a throwing demonstration as he creates handcrafted stoneware. Edgewood Orchard galleries in Fish Creek is another place to get lost among the watercolors and oil, sculpted wood and finely drawn silver jewelry. For the truly inspired the Clearing Folk School has a 128-acre campus in the woods overlooking the Green Bay Shoreline. Here, you can clear your mind and take resident classes in everything from poetry to music, weaving and philosophy. Sounds like the perfect balm for these times.
Skip the fish boil experience that locals rave about- unless pyrotechnics and bland bony fish float your boat. Instead focus on the many chef-driven, farm, grove and lake to table eateries that dot the towns up and down the peninsula. Places like Fireside in Egg Harbor, where Louisiana-native chef/owner Blaker Schar creates a Southern meets Cajun menu offering jambalaya, local cherry-sauced barbecue ribs and lobster and andouille hush puppies. Macready Artisan Bread, also in Egg Harbor, is a must-munch, a family owned homespun spot with Dagwood sized sandwiches on house-made bread — try the cranberry chicken salad on multi grain. Pop into one of the many tasting rooms for local fruit wines and cider – Door Peninsula Winery and Door County Distillery are the largest, housed in the historic schoolhouse in Carlsville. Mike Brennenstuhl is the maker behind Door Artisan Cheese, creating all kinds of Wisconsin cheese, aged in onsite caves. Sample a cheese board at the adjacent Glacier Ledge restaurant which offers a global menu including the likes of grilled achiote shrimp, chicken shawarma with tzatziki and grilled pork chops with nduja.
Mom and pop motels and resorts pepper the coast — lovely that Door County hospitality has a decidedly independent streak. One of the longest-running family owned spots is Rowleys Bay Resort, a friendly, comfy place to roost that’s been sheltering guests since 1948. Innkeeper Jewel Ouradnik grew up here, her folks running the 70-room lodge as long as she can remember, with the lake literally her front yard view. Besides water sports like kayaking and fishing, there’s a zipline stretched from the silo of the property’s original barn and a walking trail out back. The resort’s breakfast spot, Grandma’s Swedish Bakery, is renowned for its fresh pastries and irresistible cinnamon buns the size of your head.
Weekapaug, Rhode Island
Home to Quonochontaug Pond, the largest of nine lagoons, or salt ponds, along the southern Rhode Island coast, this is a paradise where locals and visitors alike wade into the warm water to shellfish, on safari for clams, oysters or mussels buried in sand bars and tidal mud flats.
The Quonochontaug’s calm waters are ideal for just about everything, and you’ll have a great home base at Weekapaug Inn. Little ones swim and play in the warm tidal pools while the more adventurous pilot kayaks or stand up paddleboards along a shoreline alive with birds and marine life. Resident naturalist Mark Bullinger takes guests out for daily cruises on the electric-powered Quonnie Queen. A Boston Whaler is also available for anglers eager to snag a striper or flounder from the pond’s waters.
If you can tear yourself from the Adirondack chairs situated on the lawn facing the pond, grab a bike and head into the village of Watch Hill. The 12-mile round trip lands you in a picturesque shopping district, home to a lighthouse ocean views and the famous Watch Hill carousel. Window shop and people watch in town before cycling back to the inn. You might even see Taylor Swift strolling the main drag. The country star owns a house in Watch Hill and is often in town.
Definitely sign up for a walkabout with Bullinger, who leads guests along the private Weekapaug beach, a stunning expanse of white sand that delivers jaw-dropping views of Block Island. Bullinger, former executive director of the Rhode Island Salt Ponds Coalition, is at ease chatting about tidal exchanges, pointing out a diamondback Terrapin turtle sunning on a rock or giving a newbie tips on casting for fish. Although ideal for a romantic getaway, the Inn also caters to families and there are lots of games and activities for the kiddos at the pond, by the saltwater pool and in the main house.
Meals are included for guests staying at the inn, but even if you aren’t, reserve the chance to sample chef Scott Cummings’ pristine fare, from eggs Benedict in the morning to seafood centric dishes like New England style clam chowder, a hot lobster roll and a heavenly bowl of campanelli nerro, squid ink pasta swimming in a shellfish butter garlic sauce studded with baby shrimp, scallops, calamari and lobster. In town, have lunch at the Olympia Tea Room on Bay Street, a family owned restaurant with an award-winning wine list, craft cocktails and a menu of local seafood and Italian specialties.
The Weekapaug Inn is the only hotel set directly on one of the state’s gorgeous salt ponds. The Inn delivers a slice of Rhody life that goes beyond just beaches. The inn’s common spaces, decorated with an eye to understated New England elegance, invite conversation. Historic photos dot the walls, a lovely mural of local birds and wildlife adorn the stairwell and a flat screen TV is available for viewing. Rooms aren’t equipped with television, but just ask and it will be done.