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The coast has always been a recreational environment, although until the mid-nineteenth century, such recreation was a luxury only for the wealthy. Even in Roman times, the town of Baiae, by the Tyrrhenian Sea in Italy, was a resort for those who were sufficiently prosperous. During the early nineteenth century, the Prince Regent popularized Brighton, on the south coast of England, as a fashionable alternative to the wealthy spa towns such as Cheltenham. Later, Queen Victoria's long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Ramsgate in Kent ensured the seaside residence was a highly fashionable possession for those wealthy enough to afford more than one home. Nowadays, many beach resorts are available as far afield as Goa in India. It was in the mid-nineteenth century that it became popular for people from less privileged classes to take holidays at seaside resorts. Improvements in transport brought about by the industrial revolution enabled people to take vacations away from home, and led to the growth of coastal towns as seaside resorts.
Recreational fishing and leisure boat pursuits can be big business these days, and traditional fishing villages are often well positioned to take advantage of this. For example, Destin on the coast of Florida, has evolved from an artisanal fishing village into a seaside resort dedicated to tourism with a large fishing fleet of recreational charter boats. The tourist appeal of fishing villages has become so big that the Korean government is purpose-building 48 fishing villages for their tourist drawing power.
Seaside resorts around the world
There are many seaside resorts on the jagged coastline of Croatia, including several on its islands, which have been popular for many years. Examples include:
With three long coastlines, France has many seaside resorts on its various coasts; for specific towns in each region, see the following articles:
- Côte Bleue on the Mediterranean Sea
- Côte d'Argent on the Bay of Biscay
- Côte de Lumière on the Bay of Biscay
- Côte des Landes, a section of the Côte d'Argent
- Côte d'Opale on the English Channel
- Côte Fleurie on the English Channel
- French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) on the Mediterranean
Germany is famous for its traditional seaside resorts, mainly established in the 19th century. Many of them can be found along the coasts of the Baltic Sea, including the islands of Rügen and Usedom. They often feature a unique architectural style called Resort architecture. The coast of Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania alone has an overall length of 2000 km.
Most important coastal areas with seaside resorts in Germany:
- Baltic Sea: islands of Fehmarn, Hiddensee, Rügen, Usedom; Rostock, peninsula of Fischland, Darss and Zingst
- North Sea: East Frisian Islands and North Frisian Islands
- Ahlbeck (Usedom)
- Göhren, Rügen
- Timmendorfer Strand
- Wyk auf Föhr
The 'Irish Riviera' on the South Coast of Ireland features the seaside resorts of Youghal, Ardmore, Dungarvan, Cóbh and Ballycotton, all set close to the south coast of Ireland. Youghal has been a favoured holiday destination for over 100 years, situated on the banks of the River Blackwater as it reaches the sea. Youghal is well known for its beaches, having been, until 2008, the only town in the Republic of Ireland with two beaches awarded E.U. Blue Flag status. Dungarvan is a seaside market town beneath the mountains in the centre of the Irish south coast. Kinsale is often described as a food lover's and yachting town, with a diverse range of restaurants, as well as a large and active creative community with numerous art galleries and record and book shops.
Seaside resorts in the East of Ireland developed after the introduction of Rail travel. The Dublin and Kingstown Railway introduced Day-trippers from Dublin to Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in South Dublin and the coastal town became Ireland's First seaside resort. Other South Dublin towns and villages such as Sandycove, Dalkey and Killiney grew as Seaside Resorts when the rail network was expanded. since the opening of Bray Daly Station in 1852 the County Wicklow coastal town of Bray has become the largest Seaside Resort on the East Coast of Ireland. The town of Greystones, 5 miles south of Bray also grew as a seaside resort when the railway line was extended in 1855. Other Seaside Resorts include Courtown and Rosslare Strand in County Wexford.
Ulster has a number of seaside resorts, such as Portrush, situated on the north coast, with its two beaches and a world-famous golf course, Royal Portrush Golf Club. Other Ulster seaside resorts are Newcastle, located on the east coast at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, Ballycastle, Portstewart, Rathmullan, Bundoran and Bangor. Bangor Marina is one of the largest in Ireland and the marina has on occasion been awarded the "Blue Flag" for attention to environmental issues.
Italy is known for its seaside resorts, visited both by Italian and North European tourists. Many of these resorts have an history of tourism which dates back to 19th century. A selection of Italian seaside resorts includes:
- Lignano Sabbiadoro
- Santa Maria di Leuca
- San Vito Lo Capo
Mexican resorts are popular with many North American residents, with Mexico being the second most visited country in the Americas. Notable resorts on the mainland and Baja Gold Coast and Peninsula include:
- Baja Mar
- Cabo San Lucas
- Playa del Carmen
- Puerto Peñasco
- Puerto Vallarta
- Rosarito Beach
- Tijuana (Playas de Tijuana)
A selection includes:
Poland's coast on the Baltic Sea includes many traditional seaside resorts, most of which were German until 1945, including Gdynia, Sopot, Łeba, Świnoujście, Władysławowo, Ustka and Kołobrzeg. The resorts have become more popular since the 1990s, following the return of democracy to Poland.
Many European and world tourists visit Portuguese resorts, particularly those on the Algarve. Notable resorts include:
Notable seaside resorts in South America include Buzios, Camboriú, Florianópolis, Recife and Salvador de Bahia in Brazil, Mar del Plata in Argentina, Punta del Este in Uruguay, Viña del Mar in Chile, Cartagena in Colombia, and Salinas in Ecuador.
Spanish resorts are popular with many European and world residents. Notable resorts on the mainland and islands include:
- Barcelona area, with the best urban beaches in the world and Costa Brava on north of the city
- Benidorm and other towns on the Costa Blanca
- Las Palmas area and other towns in the Canary Islands
- Palma, Majorca area and Ibiza and other towns in the Balearic Islands
- Malaga area and other suburbs on the Costa del Sol
- San Sebastián
- Algeciras area
- Costa de la Luz
- Costa Tropical
- and tens other
Some examples of Ukrainian seaside resort towns are:
- Crimea: Alushta, Eupatoria, Feodosiya, Gurzuf, Yalta
- Kherson Oblast: Skadovsk
- Mykolaiv Oblast: Ochakov
- Odessa Oblast: Odessa
The United Kingdom saw the popularisation of seaside resorts, and nowhere was more seen than in Blackpool. Blackpool catered for workers from across industrial Northern England, who packed its beaches and promenade. Other northern towns (for example Bridlington, Cleethorpes, Morecambe, Scarborough, Skegness, and Southport) shared in the success of this new concept, especially from trade during Wakes weeks. The concept spread rapidly to other British coastal towns including several on the coast of North Wales and notably Rhyl, and Llandudno, the largest resort in Wales and known as "The Queen of the Welsh Resorts", a title first implied as early as 1864. As the nineteenth century progressed, British working class day-trippers travelled on organized trips such as railway excursions, or by steamer, for which long piers were erected so that the ships bringing the trade could berth.
Another area notable for its seaside resorts was (and is) the Firth of Clyde, outside Glasgow. Glaswegians would take a ferry "Doon the Watter" from the city, down the River Clyde to the islands and peninsulas of the Firth of Clyde, such as Cowal, Bute, Arran, and Kintyre. Resorts include Rothesay, Lamlash, Whiting Bay, Dunoon, Tighnabruaich, Carrick Castle, Helensburgh, Largs, Millport and Campbeltown. In contrast to the fates of many resorts,many from the Firth of Clyde have continued to enjoy prosperity thanks to their becoming middle-class commuter towns.
Some resorts, especially those more southerly such as Bournemouth and Brighton, were built as new towns or extended by local landowners to appeal to wealthier holidaymakers. The south coast has many seaside towns, the most being in Sussex.
From the last quarter of the twentieth century, the popularity of the British seaside resort has declined for the same reason that it first flourished: advancements in transport. The greater accessibility of foreign holiday destinations, through package holidays and, more recently, European low-cost airlines, affords people the freedom to holiday abroad. Despite the loyalty of returning holidaymakers, resorts such as Blackpool have struggled to compete against the favorable weather of Southern European alternatives. Now, many symbols of the traditional British resort (holiday camps, end-of-the-pier shows and saucy postcards) are regarded by some as drab and outdated; the skies are imagined to be overcast (although British summers from the late 1980s onwards have often been warmer and sunnier than at any other time in living memory) and the beach windswept. This is not always true; for example Broadstairs in Kent has retained much of its old world charm with Punch and Judy and donkey rides and still remains popular being only one hour from the M25.
Many seaside towns have turned to other entertainment industries, and some of them have a good deal of nightlife. The cinemas and theatres often remain to become host to a number of pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Most of their entertainment facilities cater to local people and the beaches still remain popular during the summer months. Although international tourism turned people away from British seaside towns, it also brought in foreign travel and as a result, many seaside towns offer foreign language schools, the students of which often return to vacation and sometimes to settle.
A lot of people can also afford more time off and 'second holidays' and short breaks which still attract a lot of people to British seaside towns and a lot of young people and students are able to take short holidays and to discover the town's nightlife. A lot of seaside towns boast large shopping centres which also attract people from a wide area and a lot of day trippers still come to the coastal towns but on a more local scale than during the 19th century.
A lot of coastal towns are also popular retirement hotspots and many older people take short breaks in the autumn months.
In contrast, the fortunes of Brighton, which has neither holiday camps nor end-of-the-pier shows, have grown considerably, and, because of this, the resort is repeatedly held up as the model of a modern resort. However, unlike the Golden Miles of other British resorts, the sea is not Brighton's primary attraction: rather it is a backdrop against which is set an attitude of broad-minded cosmopolitan hedonism. The resulting sense of uniqueness has, coupled with the city's proximity to London, led to Brighton's restoration as a fashionable resort and the dwelling-place of the affluent.
Other English coastal towns have successfully sought to project a sense of their unique character. In particular, Southwold on the Suffolk coast is an active yet peaceful retirement haven with an emphasis on calmness, quiet countryside and jazz. Weymouth, Dorset offers itself as 'the gateway to the Jurassic Coast', Britain's only natural World Heritage Site. Newquay in Cornwall offers itself as the 'surfing capital of Britain', hosting international surfing events on its shores.
Torbay in South Devon is known is also known as the English Riviera. Consisting of the towns of Torquay, Paignton with its pier and Brixham, the bay has 20 beaches and coves along its 22-mile (35 km) coastline, ranging from small secluded coves to the larger promenade style seafronts of Torquay's Torre Abbey Sands and Paignton Sands.
However, British seaside resorts have faced increasingly stiff competition from traditionally sunnier resorts overseas since the 1970s. In 1975, some 9,000 British families holidayed abroad, but by the mid 1980s that figure had risen to some 20,000 and a decade after that the figure was around 30,000. This was largely due to the falling price of air travel which the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher (elected in 1979) had allowed.
American seaside resorts developed along the New England coast in the late 19th century with the Mid-Atlantic region developing slightly later. Southern seaside resorts did not develop until the 1890s. In Miami, Florida, the community of Cocoanut (now Coconut) Grove began development as a resort town in the 1880s with the building of the Bayview House (aka Peacock Inn) which closed in 1902. Visitors to the greater Miami area then flocked to Camp Biscayne (in Coconut Grove), the Royal Palm Hotel in Downtown Miami, and other resort hotels in Miami, as well as in smaller numbers to the Florida Keys, particularly to Long Key where the Long Key Fishing Camp was particularly active in the 1910s.
Some examples of well-known and sought-after American coastal resort towns are:
- Carlsbad, California
- Corona Del Mar, California
- Coronado, California
- Dana Point, California
- Laguna Beach, California
- Los Angeles, California (Venice district)
- Montecito, California
- Newport Beach, California
- Pebble Beach, California
- San Diego, California (La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach neighborhoods)
- Santa Monica, California
- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
- Clearwater, Florida
- Daytona Beach, Florida
- Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Key West, Florida
- Marco Island, Florida
- Miami Beach, Florida
- Palm Beach, Florida
- Panama City, Florida
- Pensacola Beach, Florida
- St. Augustine, Florida
- Saint Petersburg, Florida
- Siesta Key, Florida
- Tampa, Florida
- Martha's Vineyard
- Nantucket, Massachusetts
- Provincetown, Massachusetts
- Ocean City, Maryland
- Atlantic City, New Jersey
- Cape May, New Jersey
- Seaside Heights, New Jersey
- Wildwood, New Jersey
- Fire Island, New York
- The Hamptons, New York
- Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- Galveston, Texas
- South Padre Island, Texas
- Virginia Beach, Virginia
- History of the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village The Destin Area Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
- Henderson J C (2002) "Tourism and Politics in the Korean Peninsula" The Journal of Tourism Studies, 13 (2).
- Ranked as the third best course outside the United States by Golf Digest in 2007 
- "Seaside Resorts, Regions in Poland". excitingpoland.com. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- "Top 10 Beach Cities". Retrieved 30 July 2010.
- Movie "Worlds Best Beaches", Discovery Channel 2005
- Ivor Wynne Jones. Llandudno Queen of Welsh Resorts (chapter 3 page 19) referring to the Liverpool Mercury
- "Thatcher years in graphics". BBC News. 18 November 2005.
- Tom Geoghegan (21 August 2006). "Wish you were (back) here?". BBC News. — Geoghegan looks at the economy of British seaside resorts and considers a possible resurgence in their popularity.
- Professor John Walton (1 March 2001). "The Victorian Seaside". British History. BBC. — Walton looks at the Victorian traditions that underpin British seaside holidays.
- Blue Skies Project — mostly in PDF format. Research and conclusions of North Somerset District council, involving the identity crisis and re-branding of Weston-super-Mare. Indicative of the need for English resorts to adapt.
- International Association of Seaside Resorts, http://welcome.top-seaside-resorts-worldwide.com