best beach bars
Courtesy of Kane JW Marriott
Lava Lava Beach Club

Lava Lava Beach Club

Waikoloa, Hawaii

Downing big, beautiful drinks is definitely a large part of the Hawaiian vacation experience. But so is lounging in the sand. And snorkeling. And sea turtles. And the one place where you can experience it all within a few hundred feet is this bar on serene Anaeho’omalu Bay on the Big Island. If enjoying the sun from your table in the sand gets a little slow, you can stroll straight down to the beach and into some of the best snorkeling in the islands. Once you’re done with fish, take in the Pacific sunset then walk a short way from the bar to see sea turtles pulling up on the beach. Though it’s not what we’d describe as a “locals bar,” it is the odd resort bar where locals go. And on the Big Island it’s your best bet for having drinks on the water. -- Matt Meltzer, freelance writer

Ballard's

Ballard's

Block Island, Rhode Island

One of America's premier party islands, Block Island puts forth a welcome lack of pretension relative to certain other New England destinations (stares daggers at Martha's Vineyard). Don't get us wrong, you're still definitely paying a premium when you hit Ballard's, the island's premier option for beachside imbibing, but once you wrap your hands around a Rum Runner-filled pineapple and survey the sea of umbrellas while pondering whether or not to go full Maverick out on the volleyball courts, you won't be worried about such trivialities as money. You might even fork over a few extra over to the band in exchange for a little Kenny Loggins. -- Matt Lynch, Deputy Features Editor

Courtesy of Duke's

Duke’s

Honolulu, Hawaii

Admittedly, if you stroll up to the bar at the most famous drinkery in Honolulu, you might find yourself next to a sunburned tourist or five. But those folks are all there for a reason: This bar is exactly where you picture yourself when you use the phrase “having a drink on the sand at Waikiki.” Set in the back of the Outrigger Waikiki Resort, this landmark bar sits smack in the center of the bay, with spectacular views of Diamond Head to the left, the Pacific to the center, and sunsets to the right. But the bar is much more than just a bar. It also serves as the jumping-off point for the annual Duke’s OceanFest, an August celebration with surfing competitions for people and dogs, a canoe regatta, paddleboard races, and beach volleyball. And if your idea of people watching involves more than watching them sit on the sand, OceanFest is the weekend to go. -- MM

Courtesy of Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar

Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar

Carolina Beach, North Carolina

Normally, stilts and alcohol don’t mix particularly well. But at this Carolina Beach destination, they go together like rum and Coke, which you should definitely drink (or Mai Tais, obviously). This slender joint’s posted at the end of a boardwalk far above the sandy beach, with a deck jutting out into the ocean where you can sip to your heart’s content while taking in live surf rock as the Atlantic breeze washes over you. Just don’t get any bright ideas about stilts... the bar’s sturdy enough to have survived a few hurricanes. We’re guessing after a few delicious hurricanes from the bar, your own sturdiness will be in question, as will your insistence on belting out an unasked-for rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” -- Andy Kryza, Senior Editor

Pirates Cove

Elberta, Alabama

“Those bushwhackers there, they’ll put a hurtin’ on ya,” a salty Gulf Shores local told me when I was considering a trip out to this little beach shack on Perdido Bay. “But they’re not too thick, so you won’t bust a blood vessel trying to drink ‘em like at Flora-Bama.” While the frozen, coconut-chocolate drinkable heaven that is a bushwhacker is the main draw here, even those who don’t want to drink their week’s worth of calories should make a trip. Driving to Pirates Cove isn’t advisable, both because of the aforementioned hurtin’ the drinks put on you, and because getting here by water is half the fun. Those without boats can rent a pontoon at Tacky Jacks, then commence with a big, floating party complete with waterslides for the trip there and back. Add in an off-leash dog area and a menu with one of the best burgers in the state, and you’ve got a must-hit if you’re ever on the Alabama coast. -- MM

Courtesy of Kane JW Marriott

Kane

Marco Island, Florida

For rum connoisseurs, there is simply no better beach bar in America than this spot behind the JW Marriott in Marco Island. Though at first it looks like another luxury hotel attempt at a tiki bar, it’s actually home to one of the best collections of rum in Florida. And certainly the best collection that comes with a front row seat to a Gulf of Mexico sunset. A rum flight here is like traveling the world via fermented sugar cane, boasting rums from 13 countries including hard-to-find Haitian and Venezuelan varieties. If you’re not into sipping the straight stuff, the menu of rum cocktails extends far beyond daiquiris and mai tais. And the food -- inspired by Asian street specialties -- are the best beach bar eats you’ll find in Florida. -- MM

The Blue Lounge at Moonshadows

Malibu, California

Beach bars aren’t always flip-flop-featuring, cold-beer-and-cornhole shacks. Sometimes they’re swanky, rose-sipping, see-and-be-seen kinda places. The undisputed king of that second category is this Malibu hideaway, where what they lack in accessibility they make up for in glamour. The lounge addition to the legendary Moonshadows is the best place to go if you really want to feel Malibu, where you’ll see the Pacific crashing into the cliffs while you sip on a drink that costs more than a steak at Applebee’s. The ocean breeze cools you from the blazing afternoon sun, and the place is filled with the kind of tanned, beautiful people you picture every time that Miley Cyrus song comes on. And though a bargain it is not, it is as close to living like Hollywood royalty as you’ll get at a beach bar in the United States. -- MM

Courtesy of The Coast Guard House

The Coast Guard House

Narragansett, Rhode Island

The history at the Coast Guard House goes back so far it actually predates the organization for which it's named (the structure was built in the late 19th century when it still had the catchy moniker "United States Life Saving Service"). The building took a turn towards the hospitality industry during the '40s, and today the granite outpost's roof deck doubles as one of the most sought-after seats during a Rhode Island summer. The views of Narragansett Bay pair ideally with a platter of oysters and littlenecks and an ice-cold can of a beer whose name you can probably guess if you think really hard. -- ML

Tom's Burned Down Cafe

La Pointe, Wisconsin

It's not just a clever name. There really is a Tom, and Tom managed to create one of America’s singular beach-bar experiences out of the ashes of a previously standing bar after it burned to the ground. All it took was a trailer, a whole lot of beer, and a seemingly endless collection of sardonic signage and other oddities that would rightfully intimidate any late-’90s TGI Friday’s. -- ML

Nikki Beach Club

Miami Beach, Florida

The worldwide chain of posh beachside clubs started with this location on the southern tip of Miami Beach. The former Penrod’s is that rarest of things in Miami -- a long-standing club that’s seen the neighborhood around it go from crack houses to luxury high-rises since it opened in the late '90s. Now it’s a weekend tradition where tourists and locals lounge under the South Beach sun on white daybeds and in private teepee cabanas, sipping pitcher after pitcher of freshly made mojitos. The main event here is the Sunday brunch, which for years was the only decent one in the Beach, but is still the standout among the best brunches in Miami. The massive spread stretches from the restaurant out onto the patio; even if you're not there to eat, the scene here on a weekend day is like a South Beach club in open air, with the occasional gaggle of kids running around. -- MM

Courtesy of Pelican Brewing

Pelican Brewing

Pacific City, Oregon

Overlooking the stunning, rocky Pacific shores of Cape Kiwanda, you’d be hard-pressed to find a seat in the enormous Pelican Brewpub, the patrons of which come close to doubling the population of Pacific City itself while dining on fresh-from-the-water fish & chips. But that doesn’t matter, because the prime real estate is in the back, where the sandy beaches butt up to an enormous sand dune that looks more and more tempting to tackle after a few pints of the joint’s award-winning beers, among them the legendary Kiwanda Cream Ale and the classic seasonal Bad Santa. Grab a growler and explore the beach, or just plop down on a chair right outside the pub at one of the Pacific Northwest’s most picturesque breweries. -- AK

The Deck

Muskegon, Michigan

For a state blessed with an abundance of gorgeous shoreline, actual beach bars are in relatively short supply in Michigan, with marina-set drinkers and dockside boozing far outnumbering places where you can just kind of amble over to the sand (or, if you’re in the Upper Peninsula, the rocky shores of Lake Superior). Muskegon’s The Deck, though, sits right on the the beautiful Pere Marquette Park beach, where the smoke that instills its house-made BBQ with flavor wafts over to the waters of Lake Michigan, beer is paired with live music, and the sunsets serve as their own show. Also, there’s a landlocked pontoon. This is a lower-Michigan beach bar, after all, and a rare one at that. Just be sure to wait 30 minutes to swim after your meat and three. -- AK

Courtesy of Flora-Bama

Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar

Perdido Key, Florida/Orange Beach, Alabama

The best place in America to drink in two states at once straddles the Florida/Alabama line on the Gulf of Mexico. This iconic roadhouse on the sand looks like the result of M.C. Escher's Redneck Period, with staircases, hallways, bars, and music stages all arranged with no apparent order, but still in perfect harmony. It’s one of America’s great unrefined treasures, while bikers, sailors, and snowbirds drink bushwhackers side-by-side with nary a mention of any of their differences. Its annual highlight is the mullet toss, a competition to see who can throw a fish furthest across the state line that has spun off an entire weekend celebration complete with a triathlon. But like any self-respecting Southerner, though it spends the week sinning, Flora-Bama still reserves Sundays for church, when it plays host to the weekly Worship on the Water services. -- MM

Donovan's Reef

Sea Bright, New Jersey

Far removed from the traditional grease and grime trappings of your standard "Shore Bar" (but not far enough away that it ceases to be fun, of course), Donovan's Reef is a sprawling mecca of summer bliss, conveniently located in the heart of one of the best small towns in America. Featuring seven individual bars -- including multiple tiki outposts on its beachfront area -- a constant array of live cover bands, and enough fried food fare to ruin any beach bod, Donovan's is the rare vacation town bar beloved by locals and tourists alike. After their original, legendary spot was completely leveled during 2013's Hurricane Sandy, Donovan's took almost four years to make their triumphant return. And return they did -- bigger, and better than ever. Simply put: There's no better place to sip an Orange Crush on the Jersey Shore than Donovan's Reef. If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the Boss, working on his tan. -- Wil Fulton, senior staff writer

Franky & Louie's

Sunrise Beach, Missouri

Anyone surprised to find an entry on this list situated in the middle of Missouri clearly knows nothing of the charms of the Lake of the Ozarks, a serpentine man-made wonder that's home to one of America's greatest redneck parties and also Franky & Louie's, which can hold its own against any oceanfront watering hole. Between the 100-some tons of white sand (and palm trees!) they hauled in, the boats fueling up right there on the dock, and the WaveRunners available for rental, you could be forgiven for thinking a bit of the Florida Gulf Coast might've crept north. Instead it's just proof you can create a fantastic beach bar anywhere as long as you have a whole bunch of sand and a massive Depression-era public works project at your disposal. -- ML

Courtesy of Wonderland Ocean Pub

Wonderland Ocean Pub

San Diego, California

It's been a few years since Wonderland opened up, rocking a name that pays homage to a bygone Ocean Beach amusement park and a mission to provide San Diegans (Diegons?) with much... amusement. In that short time it's emerged as an essential bastion of ocean-adjacent imbibing thanks to fried lobster tacos, countdowns to sunset during happy hour that include a gratis shot, and brunches backed by chilaquiles with house-made chips and $10 bottles of Champagne. So yeah, it's possible your body will no longer be reminiscent of a certain John Mayer song after you get hooked on this place. -- ML

Undertow Beach Bar

St. Pete Beach, Florida

If Florida Man had a regular watering hole, it would be the Undertow. It might be the best bar to simultaneously experience three things Florida is most known for: sunny weather, perfect beaches, and, um, interesting people. It’s not that the crowd at the Undertow is at all off-putting, it’s just that if you’re looking for a calming beach experience, this ain’t it. It feels more like locals spring break than it is a serene place to watch the sunset. The folks are the sort of tanned, tattooed, and uninhibited types you’d expect when visiting the Sunshine State. And conversations about swamp buggies are as common as conversations about sunscreen. Add in a smattering of tourists and snowbirds and Undertow could make a case that it’s the most “Florida” bar in the state. -- MM

Talon Lodge and Spa

Talon Beach Bar

Sitka, Alaska

Think your speakeasies are hard to get to? Try taking a boat 15-minutes (or a seaplane, if you’re feeling frisky) just to get a drink. No, for real. Do that. Because while Alaska doesn’t muster visions of idyllic beach bars, Sitka’s Talon is here to completely set you straight: It’s located on a private island that includes one of the limited natural sand beaches in the entire region, where you can sip cocktails made with herbs and fruits fresh from the place’s garden. Oh, and while it might be lacking in bikini-clad partiers screaming LMFAO lyrics incessantly, it does include gorgeous views and the potential to see whales and bald eagles doing their thing. Spend a late afternoon here and every sunset you see afterward will be a dud in your mind. -- AK

Clayton’s Beach Bar

South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre is one of the nation’s biggest party islands, and Clayton’s is most likely the biggest beach bar there. By biggest, we mean that the place has a maximum capacity of 5,000 people, and often sits at capacity, with bikini- and board shorts-clad revelers doing Turbo Piña Coladas and frozen Blow Pops in the sun. Oh, and you’re likely to spot somebody famous, considering this is also a venue that has hosted folks like Lil Wayne and Nelly. Still doubting the Southern hospitality (sorry, we had to)? Every Friday and Saturday the place blasts off its own fireworks display. It’s the 4th of July every weekend, and the fireworks are just the beginning of the blissful chaos that is Clayton’s. -- AK

Courtesy of The Beachcomber

The Beachcomber

Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Sometime called "The Comah" by people who are either from Massachusetts or are badly channeling Good Will Hunting and should immediately stop, The Beachcomber is going on more than a half century as the Cape's premier beachfront bar (literally, the parking lot consists of the patch of sand between the bar and the rest of the beach). The raw bar is legendary. The rum-forward Goombay Smashes are notoriously strong. The web cam with a live look at the beach is... operational! You may have been born as The Calhoun Hollow Lifesaving Station in 1897, but your destiny was to become the Beachcomber. -- ML

Tybee Time

Tybee Island, Georgia

Some beach bars are known as sun-soaked hotspots full of firm, tanned physiques and buckets of beer. Tybee Time... ain’t exactly that. It’s a dark, divey little oceanfront hole-in-the-wall on the Savannah-adjacent island where sports and karaoke reign supreme. More importantly, it’s a place where 10 continually operating Slurpee machines churn out a rotating selection of frozen daiquiris, meaning you can get a respite from the sun in a dive bar while still smelling the ocean or, even better, you get ‘em in a styrofoam cup to enjoy the beach with a little extra dirtbag cred in hand. This is a compliment. When you’re living on Tybee Time, there’s no judgement. -- AK