Dark and divey bars have their place and time, but come summer, you want some sunshine and fresh air—and, hopefully, some gorgeous scenery. If you’re lucky enough to live near the water (whether it’s a river, lake, or a full-blown ocean), vow to take advantage of the season and grab your next cocktail at a waterfront spot where you can chase your drink with a drop-dead view. Here are eight waterfront bars around the country worth a stop.
1. House Without a Key, Honolulu, HI
It doesn’t get any more Hawaiian than this. The sprawling patio that’s part of the luxe Halekulani Hotel is equally famous for its 130-year-old Kiawe tree, killer mai tais, and traditional hula dancers (often former Miss Hawaiis!) who perform the classic dance nightly. Of course, there’s also the ridiculously gorgeous location on Waikiki Beach with views of both the Pacific Ocean and the iconic Diamond Head crater nearby. If you can’t make it to Oahu, you can make the mai tai at home, but chances are your living room doesn’t have quite the same ambiance.
2. Acme Feed & Seed, Nashville
Along the banks of the Cumberland River, this giant space has packed every floor with something different—nightly live music, casual fare, and a few dozen beers on tap on the ground level; a cocktail lounge and sushi bar on the second floor; a private event space on the third; and an open-air rooftop bar above it all. The place takes full advantage of being in the middle of Music City with live bands nightly and late-night DJs on the weekends. And since you may have heard that Nashville is the place to be during the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21, you can splurge on its $200-a-ticket rooftop party that day to ensure prime viewing. Hey, it only happens once every 99 years…
3. West Shore Cafe, Homewood, CA
The dock dotted with umbrella-covered tables at this upscale rustic lodge surrounded by towering pines has the perfect perch on the Western edge of crystal blue Lake Tahoe. The place emphasizes local beers and the cocktail list here is a fun one, with concoctions like the Mezcal-and-prickly-pear-infused Smokey and the Bandit and the rum-based Crawdaddy Crush. The fare is focused on sustainable and seasonal ingredients sourced from farms within 100 miles, such as the beer-brined chicken, lamb banh mi, and the ever-changing Tahoe salad.
4. Legal Harborside, Boston
This three-story 20,000-square-foot space is a combination of multiple restaurants and bars (all part of the Legal Seafood conglomerate), but the third level roof deck is a summer hot spot for after-work drinks during Boston’s fleeting warm-weather months. The roof and glass walls retract, leaving an open-air spot complete with harbor and city views. There’s an extensive wine list, craft cocktails, and pitchers of specialty sangrias, including a raspberry version that gets a boozy boost from gin and two types of rum. For those who need to balance the alcohol with some food, there's a sushi menu and a smattering of raw bar options, because hey, we're in New England.
5. High Rooftop Lounge, Venice, CA
Believe it or not, there aren’t as many great outdoor beach bars in Los Angeles as you’d think, but this loungey rooftop hangout at the top of the funky Hotel Erwin in the heart of Venice Beach gets the job done. It’s pretty perfect at sunset, with the sun going down over the Pacific, but hanging out after dark isn’t bad either with moonlit views of the beach and the Technicolor lights of the Santa Monica Pier. In addition to cocktails, wine, and beer, you can order up beachy bites like mahi mahi tacos and chips and guac, too.
6. Boat Basin Cafe, New York City
Plenty of new waterfront bars have been popping up in all of NYC’s boroughs in recent years, but this one—within the historic 79th Street Boat Basin on the Upper West Side—is a stalwart (albeit a stalwart that recently underwent a facelift) that still attracts Manhattanites from the first glimpse of warm weather in the spring until the sweaters come out in October. The views of the adjacent marina, Hudson River, and New Jersey skyline make for a linger-worthy backdrop and the stone castle-like structure has a way different feel than your average watering hole.
7. Firehouse American Eatery + Lounge, San Diego
There’s no shortage of sea breezes at this sleek restaurant and bar in San Diego’s always-bustling Pacific Beach that’s just a few steps from the sand. There’s open-air seating on the downstairs patio flanked by a stone fireplace, while the upstairs roof deck boasts a glass-walled fire pit, retractable awning, and cabanas. There’s a solid mix of signature cocktails (try the icy Firehouse Frosé) and the eatery is a popular brunch spot for locals who down Bloody Marys with inventive dishes like churro French toast and a Croque Madame laced with roasted strawberry compote and tomato confit.
8. The Beach Cafe at Morada Bay, Islamorada, FL
You can plop down in a colorful Adirondack chair, stick your feet in the sand, and sip a tropical cocktail like a rum-drenched Painkiller or mango mojito at this bayfront bar surrounded by palm trees and tiki torches in the Florida Keys. Though any day is a good day for drinks on the beach (or so we hear), the best time to stop in is during the monthly Full Moon Party, when the place throws a big beachside bash complete with live bands, Brazilian dancers, fire blowers, acrobats, and bonfires.
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