This country's rich seafaring history provides a compelling backdrop for a visit to a port city. Here are five coastal communities worth exploring.

1. DULUTH, MINNESOTA Located on Lake Superior, Duluth is the farthest-inland freshwater seaport in the United States. Learn about the region's shipping history at Canal Park as you dine and watch giant lake carriers pass under Aerial Lift Bridge. Take a harbor cruise, go fishing, sailing, kayaking, shopping or visit a lighthouse.

INFO visitduluth.com

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2. BALTIMORE Visit Fort McHenry, which is operated by the National Park Service and has served as the guardian of Baltimore's harbor since the late 1700s. It was the valiant defense of the star-shaped fort that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." Take the kids to Baltimore Aquarium, tour the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, cruise the harbor and enjoy a crab feast.

INFO baltimore.org

3 CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY This charming National Historic Landmark city was settled by whalers and fishermen in colonial times. The area, which stretches 20 miles into the sea, has long had a Navy presence in an effort to protect American coastal shipping. Today, visitors enjoy tree-canopied streets, Victorian architecture, boutique shopping and a day at the beach.

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INFO capemaychamber.com

4 PORT TOWNSEND, WASHINGTON This city on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula is one of three National Victorian Seaports (along with Cape May and Galveston, Texas). The whole family will enjoy the urban-chic vibe while visiting galleries and shops. Just miles from Olympic National Park, the electricity of a once-bustling seaport lingers in the salt air. Ask about the annual wooden boat festival.

INFO enjoypt.com, woodenboat.org

5 KEY WEST, FLORIDA This colorful, palm-lined community is closer to Cuba than Miami and blends its seafaring history with unique geographic, cultural and literary influences. Kids won't soon forget watching the Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Dock along with fellow tourists and a colorful band of jugglers, mimes and musicians. Steep yourselves in the island's subtropical beauty, stroll past mansions, take the conch train or swim with stingrays.

INFO 305-293-8309, fla-keys.com/keywest