Can’t Get to the Beach? These Summer Reads Will Take You There

From lighthearted rom-coms to edge-of-your-seat spy thrillers, there’s nothing quite like a summer beach read to transport you to a different time or place. There isn’t a single standard for what constitutes these beloved books, and they can technically span just about every genre imaginable. But summer reads do all have a few things in common. For one thing, they’re generally set during the sweltering summer months. Many take place in idyllic coastal destinations. And here’s the real secret: the perfect summer read is purely captivating at its core—a genuine page-turner that you simply can’t put down. 

Diving into a solid summer read is like taking a vacation within your vacation, with immersive stories and characters capable of carrying you away to far-flung destinations—even if you never leave your local beach or back porch. And in fact, that’s the real magic in it. As much as we’d love to spend every last minute soaking up the summer sun at our favorite coastal destinations, most of us need to come inside once in a while. But the right books can take us there any day, any time. So wherever you may choose to kick up your feet in these remaining weeks of summer, here are 7 of our favorite reads that can bring the beach, lake, or shoreline right to you.

Beach Read

Author: Emily Henry

Pages: 361

Perfect For: Fans of quick-read romances who enjoy a little friendly competition along the way.

Our Take: Any list of must-read summer books would be incomplete without this eponymous title. After all, this literal “Beach Read” really does have it all: there’s rivalry, redemption, romance, and a backdrop of beautiful beach houses. What’s not to like? 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They're polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block. Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel … Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really. 

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Author: William Finnegan

Pages: 447

Perfect For: Fans of surf culture, and lovers of adventure travel in need of their next escape.

Our Take: Whether you’re nostalgic for island vacations past, or you’re simply dreaming of your next remote getaway, this memoir is packed to the gills with exotic coastal destinations. From Maui to Fiji, Indonesia to Africa, the world’s marine playgrounds spring to life in the stories behind one man’s quest to chase the next big wave.

Publisher’s Synopsis: “Barbarian Days” is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely: a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime, a way of life. Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia, Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. “Barbarian Days” takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses—off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves … an old-school adventure story, an intellectual autobiography, a social history, a literary road movie, and an extraordinary exploration of the gradual mastering of an exacting, little understood art. 

Beautiful Ruins

Author: Jess Walter

Pages: 337

Perfect For: Fans of epic tales and slow-burn romance who have a true wanderlust at heart.

Our Take: Over the years since its 2012 release, this #1 New York Times Bestseller has been called “the best novel of the year” (Maureen Corrigan of NPR’s Fresh Air) and an “absolute masterpiece” (American novelist Richard Russo). And with its evocative settings that bring the Italian Riviera to life in vivid detail (among other dazzling locations), it’s easy to see why. Crack this one open and see why it’s such an enduring favorite beach read today.

Publisher’s Synopsis: The story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962 and resurfaces fifty years later in Hollywood. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, this is a dazzling, yet deeply human roller coaster of a novel … Hailed by critics and loved by readers of literary and historical fiction, “Beautiful Ruins” is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising—a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

The Shell Collector

Author: Nancy Naigle

Pages: 352

Perfect For: Fans of heartwarming stories that put friendship, family and healing at the core. 

Our Take: In a sea of rom-com heavy beach reads this summer, “The Shell Collector” stands out thanks to its central themes of love, loss, and community. For anyone looking for a more spiritual story set amid a tranquil seascape, this page-turner by USA Today bestselling author Nancy Naigle has heart. And it may be just the right pick for you. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Two years after her husband's death, Amanda Whittier has two children to raise alone, an abandoned dream of starting a business, and a fixer-upper cottage by the sea. She has no room in her life for anything else and little interest in moving on after losing the man she loved. Paul Grant is a relative newcomer to the area, and his work with former military dogs needing rehabilitation has been good for the town. Though he loved once before, he's convinced he's not suited for romance and is determined to find meaning—alone—through his work and role in the community. Widowed Maeve Lindsay was born and raised on Whelk's Island. Spirited, kind, and a little mischievous, she pours her life into the town. But she carries a secret that shapes her every move. Together, these three souls find encouragement in the most mysterious places and discover a love that's bigger than their pain, healing their wounded hearts in ways none of them could have hoped for or expected.

The Layover

Author: Lacie Waldon

Pages: 320

Perfect For: Fans of classic summer rom-coms—with a traveling twist. 

Our Take: This debut novel packs sun, fun and summer romance into a seriously short 320 pages. It’s a quick beach read that takes readers 30,000 feet in the air, then back down to earth where the story unfolds among the sparkling seas and sandy shores of tropical Belize. Let’s be honest: this is the kind of unexpected layover we could all get behind. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: After 10 years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene is poised to hang up her wings and finally put down roots. She's got one trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. But then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone—the absurdly gorgeous, ridiculously cocky man she's held a secret grudge against for years—is on her flight … But when their plane encounters mechanical problems, what should have been a quick stop at the Belize airport suddenly becomes a weekend layover. Getting stuck on a three-hour flight with her nemesis was bad enough. Being stranded with him at a luxury resort in paradise? Even with the sultry breeze and white sand to distract her, it will take all the rum punch in the country to drown out his larger-than-life presence.

Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea

Author: Jaimal Yogis

Pages: 256

Perfect For: Young adults (and the young at heart) who crave adventure, travel and spirituality in one.

Our Take: First published in 2009, “Saltwater Buddha” is an enduring favorite beach read today. And it’s no wonder, since its wandering protagonist takes readers on a colorful journey around the world in just a short 256 pages. While surfing is at its heart, the book truly shines when pondering the more spiritual sides of the deep and fathomless oceans we all love. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Fed up with teenage life in the suburbs, Jaimal Yogis ran off to Hawaii with little more than a copy of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha and enough cash for a surfboard. His journey is a coming-of-age saga that takes him from communes to monasteries, from the warm Pacific to the icy New York shore. Equal parts spiritual memoir and surfer's tale, this is a chronicle of finding meditative focus in the barrel of a wave and eternal truth in the great salty blue.

The Perfect Couple

Author: Elin Hilderbrand

Pages: 480

Perfect For: Those who like their summer reads served with a hearty side of suspense. 

Our Take: If you’ve never experienced summer in dreamy Cape Cod or its glitzy surrounding islands, this popular book will transport you there in an instant. But amid the vivid island scenery that springs to life on each page, keep your eyes peeled for clues: this is one “whodunnit” that should keep you guessing till the end. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: It's Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer—and the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom's wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate. But it's going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom's famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield—and no couple is perfect … The Perfect Couple proves once again that Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of the summer beach read.