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Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Five of the best cities to eat by boat.

Updated:

May 1, 2017
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Our ancestors gravitated to water for meals and a view. Boaters today have their pick of waterfront dining options from gourmet to casual. But where are the best spots to dock and dine?

After extensive gastronomic research, Boating ferreted out five top destinations to visit if you love dining by boat. We selected each because they offer a wide variety of exciting attractions in addition to culinary delights. And each locale presents an opportunity to hone a different set of docking skills. Join us on this journey, discover new cruising grounds, and learn new docking wisdom that you can file away for when it’s needed.

Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida Tim Barker

24°23’20″N 81°46’57″W
Key West, Florida

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The Conch Republic draws boaters ranging from sailing bums to day-trippers, yet one thread binds them all; each seafaring visitor wants a taste of Key West’s Caribbean-inspired cuisine.

1. Hyatt Resort’s SHOR Seafood Grill stands above the rest in Key West Bight, the epicenter of transient boating. This elegant restaurant is also ideal for taking in Key West’s famous sunset on its plantation-style outdoor porch. Got to Try: After eating the chilled seafood tower and the chef’s specially prepared Florida lobster, our palates begged for more.

2. Schooner Wharf is ever-funky and billed as “a last little piece of old Key West.” It lives up to this adage by offering a laid-back open-air atmosphere chock full of entertainment — including watching the locals — while providing classic Key West dishes. Got to Try: The conch chowder or its ever-popular fresh mahimahi tacos are meals you will not forget.

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Key West, Florida

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Key West, Florida draws boaters ranging from sailing bums to day-trippers. Dale Sanders
Key West, Florida

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Schooner Wharf is ever-funky and billed as “a last little piece of old Key West.” Dale Sanders
Key West, Florida

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

The Key West Shipwreck Museum provides 400 years worth of shipwreck salvage history. Dale Sanders

Things To Do
Within walking distance of Key West Bight are dozens of attractions. Mel Fisher’s Maritime Museum is a fun bet. The museum features many of the artifacts found by this iconic treasure hunter, from Spanish Armada wrecks like the Atocha and Santa Margarita. A great way to see the entire town would be to hop on the Conch Train. Finally, a trip to Key West would not be complete without doing the “Duval Crawl” and stopping in at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a known haunt of Ernest Hemingway.

Key West, Florida
Key West, Florida Tim Barker

Dock It
Docking is complicated here, but totally doable. If you are a transient boater, your best bet is to tie up at the Key West City Marina, which is just a short walk to either restaurant. This friendly dock and dine marina offers hourly or daily dockage at its fixed docks. Be sure to run four lines to the dock and pilings along with a spring line. Schooner Wharf also offers daily rates and can be contacted via its website.

For more in-depth looks at other boat-friendly communities across the country be sure to check out our guides to the 10 Best Places to Live and Boat:

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10 Best Places to Live & Boat: Looking for a new boating home? Our list of 10 best places can help you find one!

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri Tim Barker

38°08’16″N 92°48’27″W
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

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Along the shoreline are dozens of eateries, each offering unique venues. In summer, the lake is a hotbed of activity, and the best of these watering holes and restaurants are frequented by watercraft ranging from pontoon boats to motoryachts.

1. The Duck is a hillside, upscale restaurant known for its fine cuisine and extensive wine list. Its multislip, protected floating docks provide easy access to this exclusive restaurant. Got to Try: Start with the smoked trout, and then follow with the Dijon-coated rack of lamb, a delicious combination.

THE DUCK HAS CLOSED SINCE WE PUBLISHED THIS ARTICLE

2. H. Toad’s Bar & Grill offers a casual and fun atmosphere, all with a spectacular view of the lake’s famous sunsets. The classic American-bistro-style menu includes some great house specialties. Got to Try: The crab- and shrimp-stuffed chicken with beurre blanc sauce is a must-try.

3. Shorty Pants Lounge makes it obvious that it appreciates its dock and dine patrons. The restaurant’s indoor and outdoor dining venues make it a popular comfort-food-style restaurant for boaters. Got to Try: It’s all about bodacious burgers and po’ boys, so loosen your belt and enjoy.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Along the shoreline of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri are dozens of eateries, each offering unique venues. Dale Sanders
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Shorty Pants Lounge (Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri) makes it obvious that it appreciates its dock and dine patrons. Dale Sanders
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri’s The Duck is a hillside, upscale restaurant known for its fine cuisine. THE DUCK HAS CLOSED SINCE THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED Dale Sanders

Things To Do
Lake of the Ozarks offers activities and attractions for all ages. Whether you are interested in exploring underground caverns at Bridal Cave or tasting some great local wines at Seven Springs Winery, it’s all here. Other points of interest include the Willmore Lodge, a historic log structure built during the construction of Bagnell Dam back in the 1930s. Besides the great fishing available on the lake, Bennett Spring, a popular destination for trout fishermen, is located less than an hour south by road.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri Tim Barker

Dock It
Docking at all of the restaurants at right will be on floating docks designated for dining patrons. Due to the high boating traffic and resulting wakes, it would be wise to use multiple fenders when securing your boat. If a stiff wind is blowing, you can use it to further protect against waves and wakes in scenarios like this. Find a spot on the downwind side of the dock and hang your fender, but tie your dock lines slack. This way, the wind keeps the boat a few feet off the dock. Other boaters might snicker, but you’re the one likely to come away with unmarred gelcoat.

Newport Beach, California
Newport Beach, California Tim Barker

33°37’08″N 117°55’44″W
Newport Beach, California

With more than 10,000 boats registered to the residents along its bay and interconnecting canal community, it is easy to see why dining by boat is popular in Newport Beach.

1. Balboa Bay Club & Resort’s First Cabin Restaurant prepares stunning meals. The hotel offers a potential respite for those traveling boaters seeking an overnight stay at this AAA four-diamond resort. John Wayne was known to visit the resort’s bar, which is now named Duke’s Place in his honor. Got to Try: The Dover sole melts in your mouth.

2. Gondola Adventures offers romantic dining. Enjoy a lavish meal prepared by the Chart House as an authentic gondolier sculls you away along the bay’s scenic canals. Legend has it that gondoliers are chosen as much for their ability to scull as for their being hard of hearing, so whisper sweet nothings without fear. Got to Try: The seared sea bass is heavenly.

3. Villa Nova, established in 1933, is a classic Italian eatery. The restaurant provides a large floating dock for arriving boaters, and local mariners call this place one of their favorites. The meals are as fit for a king as they are fit for a captain. If it’s your birthday or anniversary, dinner is on the house. Got to Try: The abalone sautéed in lemon butter sauce tastes out of this world.

SADLY, WE LEARNED THAT VILLA NOVA CLOSED IN 2014

Newport Beach, California

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

It’s easy to see why dining by boat is popular in Newport Beach, California. Dale Sanders
Newport Beach, California

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Balboa Bay Club & Resort’s First Cabin Restaurant (Newport Beach, California) prepares stunning meals. Dale Sanders
Newport Beach, California

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Villa Nova (Newport Beach, California), established in 1933, is a classic Italian eatery. SADLY, THIS RESTAURANT HAS SINCE CLOSED Dale Sanders
Newport Beach, California

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Gondola Adventures in Newport Beach, California offers romantic dining. Dale Sanders

4. Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina, located in Newport Bay’s backwaters, is a high-end RV resort where boaters can either launch their boat or arrive at the floating dock for a meal at the Back Bay Bistro. Got to Try: Sunday’s champagne brunch is extremely popular with locals and not to be missed.

5. The Dock offers an alfresco dining experience featuring a Mediterranean-infused cuisine. Looking kitschy-chic from the water with its buzzing neon “open” sign on the docks, this eatery boasts a fresh decor, and even fresher food, once inside. Got to Try: Grilled hearts of romaine and the crab cakes are two of the standouts at this airy waterside eatery.

6. Sol Cocina is an easy-access dining option for boaters. It features a unique Baja-Mexican menu, with foods prepared in an open kitchen. It’s located in Balboa Marina, so your boat can get serviced while you dine. The creative interpretation of cuisine is evident across the menu. Got to Try: The grilled sweet corn and the wood-grilled Kobe skirt steak are simply outstanding.

7. The Cannery ranks as the most historical dock and dine restaurant in Newport Beach. This converted fish cannery harkens back to the heyday of California’s commercial fishing with a nostalgic yet eclectic atmosphere and features several succulent offerings. Got to Try: The blackened ahi sandwich sets a gourmet standard for fish on a bun.

Newport Beach, California

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina’s Back Bay Bistro features a popular Sunday champagne brunch. Dale Sanders

Things To Do
A visit to Newport Beach by boat would not be complete without touring this harbor to view the homes of celebrities. Dozens of notable stars have lived here, including John Wayne, Jay Leno, Kobe Bryant, Nicolas Cage, Buddy Ebsen and Roy Disney. John Wayne’s former home is situated on Duke’s Point, and his 136-foot motoryacht Wild Goose lies docked nearby. Other activities include whale watching with Davey’s Locker, a visit to Crystal Cove where the movie Beaches with Bette Midler was filmed, a trip to Newport Harbor’s Nautical Museum, or a golf outing to top-rated Pelican Hill.

Newport Beach, California
Newport Beach, California Tim Barker

Dock It
Docking at any of the Newport Beach restaurants at left is easy via their floating docks. Even though the entire inner bay is a no-wake zone, it wouldn’t hurt to put out a fender or two. The only hazards to be aware of while navigating the harbor would be the profusion of mooring buoys and their attendant pennant lines. Following extensive dredging during the summer of 2011, the entire inner bay offers an unobstructed waterway for smaller craft, making it one of southern California’s most popular boating havens. The tide ranges between five and six feet, and additional free docking is available at more than 10 public docks around the bay.

Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island Tim Barker

41°49’20″N 71°31’37″W
Newport, Rhode Island

Steeped in yachting history, the harbor in Newport comes alive with an abundance of boaters each summer. Here are just a few of the dockable restaurants worth sampling.

1. Forty 1° North Grill, located in the center of Newport’s seafront historic district, offers a menu focused on locally sourced dishes. All locally caught fish are microchip-tagged to show the place and time of their harvest, thus guaranteeing maximum freshness. Got to Try: The braised sea scallops are the chef’s specialty.

2. Pier 49 Seafood Restaurant, located in the Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina, offers classic New England seafood. This erstwhile Navy pier now attracts boaters to its dock for bistro-style plates and chowders. Got to Try: The Pier 49 calamari is a distinctive and delectable seafood treat.

Newport, Rhode Island

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Steeped in yachting history, the harbor in Newport, Rhode Island comes alive with an abundance of boaters each summer. Dale Sanders
Newport, Rhode Island

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Forty 1° North Grill is just one of the many dockable restaurants in Newport, Rhode Island. Dale Sanders
Newport, Rhode Island

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Forty 1° North Grill, located in the center of Newport’s seafront historic district, offers a menu focused on locally sourced dishes. Dale Sanders

3. The Hyatt Regency Newport offers a “classic New England clam bake and lobster reveal” from time to time, so check ahead and enjoy. Got to Try: The Aquidneck clam chowder (part of the clam bake) is a favorite dish.

4. Newport Shipyard Belle’s Cafe is in a nautical setting with a historic lightship moored beside it. Boaters can pull up under a series of large umbrellas, with a view of the bay. The selection of gourmet sandwiches makes the cafe a fabulous choice for lunchtime dockers. Got to Try: The slammin’ shipyard breakfast sandwich is a delicious way to start your day.

Things To Do
Newport is jam-packed with interesting things to do. One is the Viking trolley tour of Newport’s historic mansions; a 10-mile tour takes you along these waterfront estates, one of which was owned by William Vanderbilt and used in the filming of The Great Gatsby. On a walking tour of the waterfront district, visit the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS). Here, visitors can view a variety of wooden boats being built and restored by students. Be sure to visit its library to view some outstanding ship models and maritime artifacts. Just up the street from IYRS you will find Thames Street Glass. Visitors can watch skilled glass blowers shape molten glass into all kinds of objects. Or, for a small fee, you can attempt to blow your own creation.

Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island Tim Barker

Dock It
All of the transient docks used for arriving diners are of the floating kind. So, you know the drill: Put those fenders out. Leaving a crowded float can be almost as thrilling as approaching, especially here in Newport where the sea breeze is fresh. Remember that boats steer from the stern, so cutting the wheel away from the float and using reverse to get clear is often a better option than leaving the dock in forward gear if the wind is pinning you against it. The harbor is a maze of mooring buoys, so it’s best to be alert for lines in the water. As in most places, close attention to channel markers is imperative here. Also, watch out for the seabird detractors at the Forty 1° North Grill when docking.

Kirkland (Seattle), Washington
Kirkland (Seattle), Washington Tim Barker

47°40’53″N 122°12’31″W
Kirkland (Seattle), Washington

Lake Washington, on the outskirts of Seattle, has gained notoriety for some of its better-known shoreside residents, such as Bill Gates. But tucked away in the upper reaches of this pristine lake is a restaurant and hotel well worth transiting the canal and lock system to reach.

1. Bin on the Lake Restaurant is the big story here. This stylish waterside restaurant prides itself on offering fresh farm-to-table fare. Plates are artistically prepared to stimulate the senses. If you plan to visit, call ahead and ask about one of its famous wine-pairing dinners. Both indoor and outdoor seating offer lovely views of this picturesque lake. Got to Try: The blue prawns and Quinault king salmon are outstanding.

Kirkland (Seattle), Washington

Five Great Cities to Dock and Dine

Tucked away in the upper reaches of Kirkland (Seattle), Washington is a restaurant and hotel well worth visiting. Dale Sanders

Things To Do
Classic-boat lovers may wish to secure a private tour around Lake Washington aboard the hotel’s 1956 Chris-Craft. Whether you go by your own craft or this classic motoryacht, be sure to check out all the amazing homes here. Other points of interest near here include Pike Place Market and the impressive Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.

Kirkland (Seattle), Washington
Kirkland (Seattle), Washington Tim Barker

Dock It
Boaters in the Seattle area can reach this amazing restaurant by transiting the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks from Puget Sound to the 20-foot-higher Lake Washington. Have a 100-foot hank of line cleated off amidships as you enter the lock. Once alongside, loop the line around a cleat on the lock, and then lead it aft to a stern cleat on the boat and hold the tail end in your hand and keep tension on the line. As the water level falls or rises, simply let in or take up on the line to keep you in place at all times. Upon arrival at the Woodmark Hotel, you will find abundant docking available on long floating docks, which offer an easy and safe tie-up.

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