Beaches. Ocean. Causeways. Piers. Harbors. Marshes. Marinas. Islands. Dunes. Lighthouses.
The very vernacular that surrounds the Southern coastal lifestyle brings to mind leisurely vacations — days spent on the breezy beach or evenings spent dining on succulent (and truly fresh) seafood.
One U.S. Census survey reports that more than half the country’s residents live in coastal counties, making the coastal population larger than the entire American population in 1950. Indeed, the coastal climate can be ideal, with the ocean providing cool breezes in the summer and snow-free months in the winter.

What should Cincinnatians consider when shopping for a Southern coastal cottage?

“You may need to consider proximity to your primary residence,” suggests Linda Frank, a lifelong Cincinnatian who has spent the past 10 years working in real estate at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island. “Do you want to be able to drive easily in one day, or fly?

“Consider the amenities of the area and how you would like to spend your time. Do you want a beach? Are you a golfer? Do you enjoy tennis? Perhaps boating is your passion. Do you want leisure trails and bike paths?”

While there is no single architectural style that defines a coastal cottage, popular options include anything from Mediterranean-style villas to Floridian brick-and-tile homes, from boathouse bungalows to modern condominiums.

If you’re purchasing a coastal cottage as a second home or as a rental investment, you’ll definitely want to consider such issues as hiring a maintenance contractor for regular upkeep in your absence, as well as a security system. Also, real estate agents say installing impact-resistant glass is a good idea because wind-borne debris can hit the beachfront side of the home fairly regularly.

Some experts suggest avoiding wood-frame houses because of the high humidity and heat that almost every Southern community endures annually. (Wood is more likely to warp than fiberglass or vinyl.)

Whether you are buying or renting your vacation cottage, here are four coastal locations that are reasonably popular with traveling Cincinnatians:

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C.

Holden Beach is actually an island that is connected to the mainland by a single causeway. To the west is the Shallotte River, to the north is the Intracoastal Waterway, to the east is Lockwood Folly Inlet and to the south, the Atlantic.

Eleven miles of shoreline means lots of places to meander on a beach or catch a wave. Views are aplenty: Watch the shrimp boats head home with their fresh harvest, served in local restaurants, or simply sit on the sand to enjoy a breath-taking sunrise and sunset.

Holden boasts an unspoiled charm because of zoning rules that don’t allow any building to be more than 35 feet in height — in other words, no high-rises. The community is famed for the North Carolina Oyster Festival as well as for its sandy stretches (named ninth best out of all American beaches by National Geographic Traveler magazine).

OUTER BANKS, N.C.

The Outer Banks is a chain of islands stretching more than 100 miles along eastern North Carolina, all dotted with quaint fishing villages as well as tourist destinations.

The Beach Cottage Row Historic District in Nags Head features some of the oldest homes in the Outer Banks, while the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla is one of the few historic lighthouses that welcome visitors to climb its steps. Nature lovers will appreciate the Pea National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island, or the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, a major marine attraction for families of all ages.

Aviation fans, of course, won’t want to miss a visit to Kitty Hawk (locals will point out that technically, the first flight took place a few miles down the road, at Kill Devil Hills).

FRIPP ISLAND, S.C.

Cincinnatians flock to Fripp Island, located a few miles east of Beaufort, S.C. The 3,000-acre island has a full-time population of only hundreds, but that number can swell to 3,000 during the busy season.

Because of its historical reputation as a pirates’ hideaway in the 17th and 18th centuries, rumors fly that buried treasure is still hidden away across the island. The place, in fact, is named after Capt. Johannes Fripp, one of the early privateers of that time.

Development of Fripp Island as a private residential community began in the early 1960s after construction of a half-mile access bridge. Today, there are about 1,500 homes, villas and cottages on the island, along with resorts.

COLONIAL COAST, GA.

The “Colonial Coast” is shorthand for a bank of barrier islands off of southern Georgia, including St. Catherine’s Island, Sea Island, St. Simon’s Island, Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island.

While the interior of some of these islands, such as St. Catherine’s, are closed to the public for ecological reasons, the state mandates that beaches remain open to the public.

The famed Cloister at Sea Island is ranked as one of the world’s “Top 50 Spas” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine, while Cumberland Island — a pristine wildlife preserve managed by the National Park Service and accessible only by ferry — makes for a great camping trip.
One vacation home option to consider is Yellow Bluff Coastal Cottages & Marina, a gated community on the coastline near the marshes of St. Catherine’s Sound.

 “Coastal Georgia living is perfect for a permanent residence or for a second home because you have an ideal year-round climate, natural coastal beauty, year-round recreational opportunities, and the welcoming hospitality and warmth of residents.,” observes marketing manager Debbie Brown, who adds that Yellow Bluff offers such amenities as full-service marina, boat storage, a clubhouse and pool, fitness center, plus such activities as fishing, crabbing, birding and kayaking.

The Southern coastal lifestyle, continues Brown, “is a feast for the senses: Centuries-old live oaks draped with Spanish moss, gentle seabreezes, stunning marsh views, the distinctive smell of the salt marsh, winding rivers that even Blackbeard traveled, dolphins doing a slow roll as you watch mesmerized,  (and) interesting barrier islands with histories of their own.”

And, of course, sun and surf.