Indisputable fact: Food is just better next to a body of water. Think about it — even the crummiest tourist trap crabcake tastes pretty great with a salty breeze blowing through your hair and ocean waves droning in the background.
American food is often thought of as a patchwork of regional specialties, and some of the best this country has to offer is defined by its proximity to water, from the Viet-Cajun shrimp boils of the Texas Gulf to the fried smelts of Lake Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula to the surfer burritos of Malibu — and everywhere (beachside) in between. On one end, the best of traditional coastal cuisine, like lobster rolls, fish tacos, and oysters on the half shell, represent a sort of locavorism before it was cool — food from the water, eaten near the water. On the other, beach foods — the corn dogs, frozen custard, and crinkle-cut pier fries we crave with a towel rolled under our arm and sand between our toes — share the decadent, pleasure-seeking spirit of classic fairground snacks.
This summer, Eater is hitting the beach to celebrate all of it. Whether your ultimate beach day involves strutting the Atlantic City boardwalk, tubing on Lake Mead, or launching a kayak from the San Juan Islands, Eater has compiled maps to some of the finest eats near 34 of the country’s favorite beach destinations and beyond. (Also: Like, what’s a “ripper,” and why are barbecued oysters actually fried? Our primer to the country’s varied and vital regional beach foods explains it all.) From a day in the life of a Baja seafood shack to the fascinating history behind drinks in coconuts, Eater’s first-ever beach food guide has you covered like SPF 70.
Editors: Lesley Suter, Erin DeJesus | Illustrator: Kim Sielbeck | Copy Editor: Emma Alpern | Fact Checking by: Dawn Mobley, Pearly Huang | Contributors: Jen Stevenson, Kelsey Lawrence, Kristin Díaz de Sandi, Antonio Díaz de Sandi, Karen Watterson, Korsha Wilson, Kevin Pang, Osayi Endolyn, Mai Pham, Carolyn Alburger, Matthew Lombardi, Martha Cheng, and Eater city editors | Thank you: Sonia Chopra, Matt Buchanan, Milly McGuinness, Adam Moussa, Esra Erol, Carolyn Alburger, Missy Frederick, Patty Diez, Maureen Giannone Fitzgerald, Stephen Pelletteri, Clifford Endo, Ellie Krupnick, Amanda Kludt