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Best East Coast beaches

Islamorada

Islamorada Photo Credit: Getty

Memorial Day has come and gone and beach season is now officially underway. The only question is ... which one? We asked Jaime Samuels, the publisher of Travelzoo's U.S. Top 20, to give us her picks for the top East Coast beaches. She delivered and then some. Here is the inside scoop on the best beaches - and best deals - of summer 2011.

Islamorada

Why

This quiet island in the Florida Keys is home to crystalline waters and lush lagoons. It's technically the continental U.S., but its soul is Caribbean.

The town

The nearest big town would be on Key West. Go in the late afternoon to avoid the day's high temps and enjoy a tour of Hemingway's house (hemingwayhome.com) followed by some daiquiri sundowners.

Eat

Pontunes (pontunes.com) in Key Largo offers a couple of options, from dinner cruises to a Saturday pig roast. Don't leave without sampling local favorites such as conch fritters, ceviche and the classic key lime pie.

Stay

In Florida, rates drop way down in the summer. The four-diamond Cheeca Lodge & Spa (cheeca.com), featuring 27 waterfront acres, has rooms for just $169 a night.

Martha's Vineyard

Why

The dune-filled beaches range from quiet coves to lively public areas, and it's a popular choice with the wealthy and powerful looking to get away from it all - including the Obamas, who vacationed there last summer.

The town

Filled with ice cream shops, antique stores and gingerbread houses, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are quintessential harbor towns.

Eat

The Beach Plum Restaurant (beachpluminn.com) overlooks the fishing village of Menemsha and serves up some of the best sunsets anywhere on the Vineyard. Elegantly prepared salmon, halibut and other seafood dishes make up the menu.

Stay

B&Bs are the name of the game. The harborfront Mansion House Inn (mvmansion house.com) represents the high end; the rooms have balconies with water views, fireplaces and flat-screen TV's. High-season rates start at $299 per night.

Myrtle Beach

Why

A long-established summer spot, this beach stretches nearly 17 miles. Summer starts early here and ends late, and there's plenty to keep you busy - bird watching, horseback riding, etc. - at Myrtle Beach State Park.

The town

With its mix of bikers, families and everything in between, the city's 60-mile stretch of busy coastline features South Carolina's largest shopping area, 100-plus golf courses, and a big-time fireworks display.

Eat

Skip the chain restaurants and head to the Duffy St. Seafood Shack (duffyst.com) in North Myrtle Beach for a lowcountry boil - a South Carolina classic that's a mix of shrimp, crab, clams, sausage and corn on the cob.

Stay

The oceanfront - and newly renovated - Surfside Beach Resort (surfsidebeachresort.com) features rooms starting at just $59 a night.

Tybee island

Why

Here you'll find sand and Southern charm. Known for a time as "Savannah's Beach," this little island is home to a 270-year-old lighthouse, dolphins and sea turtles.

The town

Savannah's just 18 miles away. That's close enough to cap a day at the beach with a walk around the city's tree-lined boulevards or a trolley tour of its old town.

Eat

The Crab Shack (thecrabshack.com) - Jimmy Buffett and a gator-filled lagoon might not be dining draws in NYC, but down on Tybee Island, things are a bit different!

Stay

Stay in Savannah: The historic district's Mansion on Forsyth Park (mansiononforsythpark.com) is $129 a night through August - half off its usual rate.

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