Looking for more than just a pretty beach? Go to town. These 10 charming island villages pack more punch than your typical beach-resort destination. They're bursting with history, culture, and local flavor—not to mention beautiful sands and swaying palms. For a less-traveled summer vacation, skip the cookie-cutter resorts and set sail for one of the following vibrant island towns.
Edisto Island, S.C.
An American beach town free from commercialism and crowds, Edisto Beach is the prime place to unwind. There are more churches than there are restaurants and gift shops combined. Instead of big-box stores and fast-food joints, Edisto Beach teems with old oaks draped in Spanish moss, independently owned restaurants, unique galleries and boutiques, and historical plantation estates.
What to do: Locally sourced seafood is the star at most of the town's restaurants. Munch on homemade crab cakes while dining al fresco at The SeaCow Eatery or sip low-country she-crab soup at Grovers Bar and Grill.
Known as the Nature Island, Dominica is a paradise for outdoorsy travelers. But if you peer beyond the island nation's beaches and lush rainforests, you'll find a wealth of culture in Roseau, Dominica's capital. The town features an interesting blend of Creole and Caribbean architecture, as well as several old plantations. Keep an eye out for handmade huts, called 'Ti Kaz, that were built by the island's indigenous people. (Dominica is the only island in the Caribbean where pre-Columbian Carib Indians still reside.)
What to do: Head to the Old Market, where travelers can pick up handmade crafts, fresh fruit, and other locally sourced goods. The place offers some heavy history as well: It was once the site for slave auctions.
Amelia Island, Fla.
This charming town on Amelia Island has a 50-block historical district—known as Old Town—that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Stately Victorian buildings, palm-lined streets, and colorful Southern houses with wraparound porches proliferate. Fernandina Beach is a cultural hot spot set in a prime beach destination. When you're not sunbathing on Amelia Island's white-sand shores, you can soak up some knowledge in town at the Fernandina Beach Maritime Museum or the Amelia Island Museum of History.
What to do: Grab your camera and take a walking tour. It won't be difficult to spot the town's many architecturally significant buildings; download a self-guided tour map from the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council website.
Located about an hour's drive from St. John's, this peaceful seaside community is the quintessential Canadian coastal town. The views alone are worth a trip: The town's rugged coastline is dotted with churches, gardens, and charming English-style cottages. Arrive in August to catch the popular local Blueberry Festival, which draws more than 12,000 visitors annually.
What to do: Stop by the Hawthorne Cottage National Historic Site. This cottage-orne-style house was once the home of famous explorer Captain Bob Bartlett, who led more than 20 expeditions to the Arctic.