Head for the Water
Motivated by a desire to ditch their rent or mortgage payment, reduce their carbon footprint, or simply enjoy killer views and fresh air, some homeowners choose to swap their landlocked lodgings for houseboats. When they do, they flock to certain towns that, by virtue of their marinas, amenities, and attractions, are ideally situated for a floating existence. Whether you plan to live on your houseboat seasonally or become a year-round liveaboard, these towns offer everything you need to live your best life on the water.
Otis Redding famously sang of “sittin’ on the dock of the bay” in this Northern California town where more than 400 houseboats line numerous marinas and harbors. Sausalito sits on Richardson Bay, which has sheltered houseboats for more than a century, although the eye-popping pink, blue, and red counterculture icons the town is known for date to the postwar era. Today, houseboat communities like Galilee Harbor continue to attract an eclectic mix of residents. If you’re curious but not ready to commit to life on water, check out the Sausalito Floating Homes tour, held every September.
Fort Washington, Maryland
Not surprisingly, this town overlooking the Potomac River, the fourth-largest river on the Atlantic coast, draws fans of the floating life who want to moor a mere half hour from the U.S. capital. The Fort Washington Marina is one of the most popular houseboat communities in the area. Sharp-eyed cinephiles might recognize it as the filming location for the 1950s Sophia Loren-Cary Grant flick "Houseboat." Although the marina is open only from May through October, it offers houseboat owners more than 200 boat slips and new concrete docks for vessels up to 60 feet.
Portland contains the largest houseboat community in the country, with some 1,400 floating homes in the area. Moorages run up and down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, just a short drive to North Portland’s speakeasies and food carts. As a bonus, Oregon imposes no sales tax, so you'll save a bit when you buy a houseboat.
Piermont, New York
With skyrocketing real estate prices in the Big Apple, some residents have headed 30 miles upriver to this village on the western edge of the Hudson. It's become a hub for houseboat dwellers thanks to its proximity to bohemian lounges, art galleries, and restaurants, and its extensive pier overlooking Tallman Mountain. Some marinas, including Tappan Zee Marina, rent slips by the day, season, or all year.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Although this southern resort town is best known for its natural geothermal springs, it’s also a hot spot for houseboat enthusiasts. Lake Ouachita, the largest in Arkansas, attracts vacationers who just want a floating hotel for a weekend as well as liveaboards who long for year-round views of the Ouachita Mountains and Ouachita National Forest. Brady Mountain Resort & Marina offers 650 boat slips, some of which accommodate boats up to 100 feet long.
Shasta Lake, California
Waterfalls, well-maintained trails, and a Mediterranean climate make the eponymous man-made lake in this Northern California haunt an ideal spot to stow a houseboat. At 4.6 million acre-feet, Shasta Lake is the largest reservoir in the state. As you'd expect, it offers a wealth of mooring points, but Bridge Bay Marina is noteworthy for its central location, easy access from the interstate, and slip rentals for transient as well as long-term visitors.
A portal to Glen Canyon National Park, the town of Page sees 3 million visitors each year, but it's home to only 7,200 residents, among them a thriving community of houseboat dwellers on the 24.3-million acre-foot Lake Powell. The lake is lined with marinas, including Antelope Point, a Navajo-nation owned and operated marina rife with amenities.
The country shows that line West 76 Country Boulevard transformed Branson into a top destination for music lovers. But it’s the 3.5-million-acre-foot Table Rock Lake that makes the mountain town in the Ozarks a hit with houseboat owners. The fishing- and paddleboard-friendly reservoir that hugs Table Rock State Park is home to a number of marinas, including the park’s own, which leases both transient and year-round slips to houseboat owners and offers amenities like a dockside restaurant and a store with boating essentials.
The Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers played an important role in the history of Demopolis. The area was initially settled by French expatriates who later moved up the the Warrior River. Americans purchased the land they left behind and over time transformed it into a major river port and lumber town. Today, an impressive collection of houseboats moor at the juncture of these two rivers. The Demopolis Yacht Basin and other marinas welcome both seasonal houseboat dwellers and liveaboards, and offer easy access to nearby campgrounds, restaurants, and the town's Greek-Revival-style house museums.
Fort Myers, Florida
The 156-mile Okeechobee Waterway, which extends from Fort Myers on Florida’s east coast to Stuart on its west, has long been a magnet for maritime enthusiasts. But while some are content to sit by the water watching the barges and private vessels bob along the cool currents, others prefer to be part of the action. For those who long to be on the water, the municipal marina, Fort Myers Yacht Basin, borders the downtown district and offers rental slips and docks for transients and liveaboards alike along with an on-site ship store and restaurants.
The mainland port city of Brunswick, which is considered part of the Golden Isles of Georgia, was a booming shipbuilding center during World War II, producing 99 ships—primarily cargo ships—for the war effort. Today, the seaside town lures boating enthusiasts with three bordering rivers and an inland waterway. On the East River, marinas entice liveaboards with rare amenities like a dog park, yoga classes, and parties for every major national holiday.
America’s sailing capital is an alluring anchorage for houseboat owners. Its attractions include the U.S. Naval Academy and the quaint row houses of Historic Annapolis as well the country’s largest estuary, Chesapeake Bay, and its famous lighthouses, maritime museums, and dock bars. If you need a place to berth your boat, Eastport Yacht Center and other full-service marinas located just off the bay rent out monthly and annual slips to transients and liveaboards.
Friday Harbor, Washington
Drop anchor in the waters off this seaside town, the commercial hub of the San Juan Islands, and you'll be able to wake up to the sight of majestic whales and orcas as well as enchanting old-growth trees. Year-round, you can park floating pads up to 80 feet long at the Port of Friday Harbor, in close proximity to area galleries, ship stores, and theaters.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
In this resort town and barrier island off South Carolina’s coast, houseboat enthusiasts can hop off their vessels to explore diverse ecosystems ranging from beaches to salt marshes, inhabited by white-tailed deer, the occasional alligator, and birds like the great blue heron. While you’re getting the lay of the land, moor your houseboat at area facilities like the Palmetto Bay Marina, the town's oldest, which offers both transient and long-term slips.
Corpus Christi, Texas
This seaside community overlooking the Gulf Coast not only boasts sandy beaches and endangered species like the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, but also has the only major downtown marina on the state’s coast. The marina is just a skip away from area restaurants, museums, and nightlife, and it offers 560 slips, open to both transients and liveaboards.
Although home buyers targeting Huddleston can choose from quaint cottages and vacation retreats overlooking Smith Mountain Lake, the best views of the 1.1-million-acre-foot reservoir dubbed the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains” may be from the lake itself. Such prime water views can be yours if you dock a houseboat at one of the lake's many marinas, including Mitchell’s Point Marina & RV Park, which offers year-round docking leases. If you're struck by a sudden longing for land, just head to the north shore of Smith Mountain Lake for a picnic or hike along miles of trails.
Virginia State Parks via Flickr.com
Get the help you need for the home you want—sign up for the Bob Vila newslettertoday!