For those of us lucky to have a boat, there’s nothing quite like grabbing a good meal at a dock and dine. No matter what sort of shape your ship is in, these waterfront eateries welcome foodies by land and sea and offer the type of friendly and casual vibe that boaters hunger for.
The Cannery – Newport Beach, Calif.
Motoring around the Newport Harbor is one of the great joys of boating, as the eye can feast on pretty homes, playful wildlife (think barking seals) and an eclectic variety of power and sailing vessels. Try the historic Cannery Seafood in the Cannery Village on Balboa Peninsula. This award-winning restaurant has been a culinary standout for some time, but since the arrival of Chef Nicolas Weber in the summer of 2015, there’s even more buzz surrounding this harbor-side eatery. The menu emphasizes fresh, locally sourced seafood; regulars like the electric energy in the dining room. (949-566-0060, cannerynewport.com)
Where to Dock: There’s a 200-foot dock out front, but you have to reserve a slip well in advance. You can call ahead for dock space, but for the most part, it’s available on a first-come first-served basis.
Tides Tavern – Gig Harbor, Wash.
Here’s a great place for boaters in search of tavern-style comfort food and the opportunity to hang with the locals. Tides Tavern has been a mainstay in the Puget Sound region for years. It’s located on the shores of the downtown harbor and offers some of the best waterfront views in the region, from inside and the outdoor deck. The no-fuss atmosphere is a big draw, as is the friendly staff that can make any tourist feel at home. There’s lots of local seafood on the menu including baked halibut and clam chowder, but this is a great burger joint, too, especially when that burger is paired with one of the good artisanal beers. (253-858-3982, tidestavern.com)
Where to Dock: There’s a long face dock out front and diners are encouraged to tie up there, but the owners caution visitors to remember the tide levels. Note that rafting up is the policy here. The dockmaster will encourage you to put out your fenders and meet other boaters.
Alley Cat Oyster Bar – Cleveland, Ohio
This contemporary restaurant in the recently developed flats East Bank entertainment district couples a big space with industrial-chic décor that makes for an edgy vibe. Most appealing are the expansive views of the Cuyahoga River, which can be enjoyed from the open-air dining room that also overlooks the area’s new boardwalk. The cuisine is another big draw. For the most part, the menu is what you’d expect in a traditional shoreside restaurant, with mainstays like oysters, mussels, clams, lobster and fresh fish (think beer-battered catfish and perch sandwich) alongside chicken, steak, chowders, soups and salads. (216-574-9999, alleycatoysterbar.com)
Where to Dock: Dock-and-diners can tie up at the public dock that’s just out front of the restaurant, running along the East Bank. Space is available on a first-come basis. The staff says it’s not too difficult to get dockage on a Friday or Saturday night in season, but it can be tricky to get a table inside, so be sure to make a reservation.
LuLu’s – Gulf Shores, Ala.
It began as a small neighborhood restaurant with a small gift shop and a patch of sand for the kids to pull pails through. Twelve years later, Lulu’s has evolved into one of most popular waterfront dining spots in the Gulf Shores region. Located on the ICW, the staff serves as many as 4,000 people per day in high season, but the place is huge so there’s plenty of open-air seating. If there is a wait for a table, the crew can find ways to stay entertained: There’s a three-story rope climbing apparatus, volleyball nets, retail center, arcade and Fountain of Youth, where the little ones can cool off. The atmosphere is as casual as the menu that features burgers, salads, sandwiches and baskets of grilled, blackened or fried fish. (251-967-5858, lulubuffett.com)
Where to Dock: Lulu’s is located beside Homeport Marina, a full-service facility with electricity, restrooms, showers, laundry and fuel dock. There’s sufficient space for transients boats available along the concrete floating docks. To reserve a slip call 251-968-4528.
Nervous Nellie’s – Ft. Myers Beach, Fla.
Overlooking Matanzas Pass in the southwest corner of the state, Nervous Nellie’s also calls itself a “crazy waterfront eatery.” The vibe is both low-key casual and lots of fun. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll be glad to know service is prompt: Meals come quick so the little ones don’t have to wait too long for the gator bites, mahi mahi tacos and coconut shrimp. The menu also has fresh seafood, steaks, a selection of sandwiches and a lobster roll that’s stuffed with plenty of meat and minimal dressing. If you’re dining with friends, head upstairs to the second floor deck to Ugly’s Waterside Bar to hear live music. (239-463-8077, nervousnellies.net)
Where to Dock: The restaurant has its own slips, and a dock attendant should be standing by to help you tie up. Try to call in early to reserve a spot.
Peg Leg Pete’s – Pensacola Beach, Fla.
This very chill restaurant located on the east end of Pensacola Beach and overlooking Santa Rosa Sound is the type of place you can pull up to after a day out fishing and swimming. Just throw a T-shirt and shorts over your bathing suit and head to the dining room covered in kitschy but fun nautical décor. Think fish nets on the ceiling, pirate flags flying on deck and signs that read “Unruly Children Will be Cooked and Eaten.” Regulars come for the big portions and dishes like the Fresh Gulf Coast shrimp steamed in beer and Cajun spices. And yes, you peel your own. The place is jumping by 5:30 p.m., particularly on weekends, so plan for an early arrival to get a slip and a good table. For boaters traveling with kids, there’s a sand-covered playground on the lower level. (850-932-4139, peglegpetes.com)
Where to Dock: Lafitte Cove Marina is located directly behind the restaurant, and it has a couple of transient slips for restaurant patrons, plus overnight dockage if you decide to tie up and stay for a while. To reserve a slip, call the marina at 850-934-7112.
Kingfish Grill on the Water – St. Augustine, Fla
Located just two miles from historic St. Augustine is Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor, where visitors can find everything from boat rentals to fishing charters, a canvas shop and restaurants, including the Kingfish Grill. It offers up sweet views of the ICW and plenty of fresh fish, including sushi, which typically gets strong reviews from locals and tourists alike. The fare and venue are family-friendly, too, so bring the kids. Regulars say reserve a table early so you can enjoy the atmosphere in the best light of day and watch as the harbor fills with boats coming in to tie up for the evening. (904-824-2111, kingfishgrill.com)
Where to Dock: Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor (904-829-5676) is a completely protected marina that’s less than a mile from the St. Augustine Inlet and Atlantic Ocean. The marina can accommodate boats up to 125 feet. There’s gas and diesel on the docks, so fuel up before you take off.
Red’s Ice House – Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
If you’re cruising the bustling Charleston region and want to tuck away to a mellow place for good local seafood, turn the bow toward Mt. Pleasant and then make your way up historic Shem Creek to Red’s. What used to be an icehouse and packing shed for local shrimpers is now both a laidback and lively gathering place for local and transient boaters. The view of Shem Creek at sunset from the top deck is particularly spectacular when paired with a cold beer and backed up by the sounds of live music. Some reviewers say the bar is more of a draw than the food, although mainstays like crab and shrimp are typically good. (843-388-0003, redsicehouse.com)
Where to Dock: Red’s is a relatively big place and it gets crowded, so arrive early, as dockage is available on a first-come basis. There’s room at the restaurant’s dock for a half dozen boats.
Waterman’s Crab House & Dock Bar – Rock Hall, Md.
Food rarely tastes better than after a long day of boating, and one of the best places to satisfy a skipper’s
appetite is on the Chesapeake, at a place like Waterman’s. Located on Maryland’s upper Eastern Shore, this restaurant evolved from a local seafood market into an award-winning family restaurant specializing in Chesapeake steamed crabs as well as rockfish and oysters. The eatery gets a thumbs-up for the full-service menu available in high season that includes jumbo lump crab cakes. There’s a good beer selection and live music on the weekends during the summer season. (410-639-2261, watermanscrabhouse.com)
Where to Dock: Waterman’s has 30 slips that are complimentary while dining. Dockage is also available next door at Rock Hall Landing Marina (410-639-2224).
The Shrimp Box and Patio Bar – Point Pleasant, N.J.
For really fresh fish, dig into the catch of the day at this Jersey Shore favorite. Before the Shrimp Box opened about 75 years ago, this location was all commercial fishing dock. Today, the dock is also home to this casual eatery that lures devout followers who come for dishes that are sometimes prepared with fish that come off the boats pulling into the dock. Sure, there’s the somewhat intense smell of fish when you first tie up, but that’s part of the uber-salty atmosphere. Before dinner, enjoy a cocktail on the west-facing patio bar that overlooks the Manasquan River as it empties into the Atlantic. There’s a limited selection of food to choose from on the patio bar menu, but inside the dining room, the there’s a full menu. (732-899-1637, theshrimpbox.com)
Where to Dock: You can pull up alongside the restaurant and put out fenders at the docks that belong to The Shrimp Box. When it gets crowded, the staff will encourage you to raft up.
Boat House Restaurant – Tiverton, R.I.
Because it looks out over the Sakonnet River in a pretty New England port, the Boat House has been ranked by OpenTable as one of the top 100 restaurants with scenic views in the U.S. for four consecutive years. The menu at this casual-chic eatery features the freshest seafood and freshly farmed produced. The owners say the mission of this restaurant is to elevate the treasured seafood shack to a new level of innovation and excellence. Menu will typically feature New England classics with a twist, such as chowder made with Maine baby shrimp, chorizo and corn. The wine list is also quite good and service is always professional. (401-624-6300, boathousetiverton.com)
Where to Dock: The restaurant has one long floating dock that can accommodate three or four boats up to 30 feet. A dockhand might be available to grab your lines on a summer holiday weekend, but typically, boaters are on their own. Space is available on a first-come basis, and it fills up fast.
Baxter’s Boathouse – Hyannis, Mass.
Located in Hyannis Harbor since 1967, this is one of the oldest watering holes in the area and also one of the busiest. Yes, it’s filled with tourists, but locals adore the place too as it sits waterside and offers excellent views of the busy waterway plied by recreational vessels, charter fishing boats and commercial ferries headed out to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The atmosphere is laidback: Drinks are served in plastic cups on the open top deck (bring a jacket), and food is served on paper plates. Regulars say don’t leave without sampling the fried oysters, although the whole belly clams are supposed to be quite good, too. (508-775-4490, baxterscapecod.com)
Where to Dock: The restaurant has its own slips and can accommodate as many as 20 boats at a time. The dockmaster says they’ll make room for boats of almost any size. Hyannis Marina (508-790-4000) is another
option in town.