America's Favorite Summer Towns

Atlantic City
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Summer tourism provides a needed boost for many American cities. For some regions, the influx of visitors and people with summer homes is absolutely vital to the local economy.

In over 25 of the nation’s metropolitan areas, more than a fifth of homes and rental properties are vacant for at least a part of the year. In many cases, this is caused by hard times and weak demand. In some, however, it is because the regional economy is seasonal, and needs to accommodate potentially millions of visitors over the course of a few months. Using U.S. Census Bureau vacancy data, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed metropolitan areas that serve as popular summer destinations, where more than half of property vacancy is due to seasonal use. These are America’s favorite summer towns.

Click here to see where Americans like to go for the summer

Most of the destinations with high seasonal vacancy are located in the northern part of the country. This is likely because unlike many southern vacation destinations, some of these areas — which include Cape Cod, Mass. and Portland, Maine — largely close down for the winter.

An influx of people during the summer months comes from two sources. The first is tourism. All of the cities on this list have lots of attractions, restaurants, museums, and amusement parks to accommodate short-term visitors. The majority of summer destinations are on the ocean, and all feature some major body of water. Naturally, these places are usually hospitality-based economies. Nationally, 9.4% of the working population is employed in the accommodation or entertainment industry, but in seven of these 10 summer destinations, it is more than 11.5%. In Ocean City, more than 30% of jobs are in these categories.

In addition to tourism, many of these destinations are popular locations for second homes. Places like Ocean City, N.J., Cape Cod, Mass., and Wenatchee, Wash. all have a significant number of summer residents, often primarily people from nearby metropolitan areas. Possibly as a result, the median home price in many of these places tends to be higher than the nation as a whole. The median home price in Cape Cod is more than double the national median.

In some of these communities, seasonal visitors vastly outnumber the year-round population. This means that employment tends to skyrocket in the summer months. In Ocean City, for example, employment jumps from less than 35,000 people in January to more than 50,000 each summer.

In order to identify America’s summer destinations, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the metropolitan statistical areas with at least 20% of homes and rental properties vacant at some point during the year according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of these, we identified metro areas where over half this vacancy was the result of seasonal, recreational, or occasional use. In addition, we spoke to local chambers of commerce to identify seasonal destinations where the majority of occasionally-used properties were not intended for the summer months. We also considered home values and the percentage of residents employed in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services, all from the Census Bureau for 2011. We additionally reviewed monthly changes in nonfarm employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are America’s favorite summer towns.

10. Atlantic City-Hammonton, N.J.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 50.7%
> Vacancy rate: 21.3% (24th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 31.1% (the highest)

More than half of all vacant homes in the Atlantic City area are used for seasonal, recreational, or just occasional purposes. This is due in part to the inflow of tourists and vacationers — over 30 million each year, according to New Jersey’s official tourism website. Atlantic City is especially well known for its famed boardwalk, its beaches, and, perhaps most of all, for its casinos. Among the major casinos in Atlantic City are Caesars, Harrah’s and the Trump Taj Mahal. However, casinos in Atlantic City have continuously lost money in recent years, and two years ago the state took over the tourism district in order to help the gaming industry survive.

Also Read: The Worst States to Be Unemployed

9. Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 50.8%
> Vacancy rate: 26.2% (12th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 9.4% (158th highest)

The Niles-Benton Harbor area, which consists entirely of Berrien County, is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. The lakeside destination is a popular location for summer homes, including for families from the Chicago area, which is less than a two-hour drive away. As of 2011, over 10,000 homes in Berrien County were used either seasonally or only occasionally. Many homes in the area, especially in Saint Joseph, can often exceed $1 million. Among the area’s draws are its beaches and the Krasl Art Center.

8. Wenatchee-East Wenatchee, Wash.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 51.9%
> Vacancy rate: 20.6% (26th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 12.1% (45th highest)

The Wenatchee area is popular with Seattle residents looking for second homes. Numerous upscale properties surround Wenatchee. Homes in the area tend to be fairly expensive, with a median value of more than $234,000 as of 2011, well above the U.S. median of $173,600, and prices can reach well into the millions. One of the primary attractions for tourists is the Wenatchee River, which flows into the Columbia River — splitting Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. While these second homes are used in the winter, they are especially popular in the summer months. Visitors to the area enjoy hiking along the Apple Trail and visiting Lake Wenatchee State Park.

7. Wilmington, N.C. 
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 55.4%
> Vacancy rate: 26.6% (11th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 11.5% (54th highest)

More than one quarter of Wilmington area homes were vacant in 2011, of which 55% were used largely for seasonal purposes. Among the tourist destinations in the area are multiple beaches and popular destinations, including Figure Eight Island and Bald Head Island. As tourists arrive each summer, leisure and hospitality employment jumps, last year adding over 5,000 jobs between the start of the year and the end of the summer. This year, leisure and hospitality employment reached a record high, with over 25,000 workers in the sector.

6. Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C. 
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 59.6%
> Vacancy rate: 42.1% (2nd highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 19.9% (4th highest)

Vast beaches, numerous golf courses and affordable prices drive tourists to Myrtle Beach each year. During the summer, employment in the Myrtle Beach area swells as tourists arrive. In 2012, employment jumped from 103,000 at the start of the year to over 125,000 in the summer. As of 2011, nearly 20% of area workers were employed in entertainment, accommodation, or food services jobs, the fourth highest percentage in the nation. That same year, over 42% of Myrtle Beach homes were vacant, the second highest percentage in the nation. Nearly 60% of these homes were vacant due to seasonal or only occasional use, close to double the national percentage.
5. Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 70.3%
> Vacancy rate: 20.0% (29th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 8.7% (150th lowest)

With a diverse arts and entertainment scene, and among the most per-capita restaurants in the country, the city of Portland, Maine, gets more than 4 million visitors each year. Most of these visitors come during the summer months. Each summer, the Portland metro area adds between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs. Located on the southern coast of Maine, the region is a popular destination for tourists and people with summer homes alike. According to the Portland Chamber of Commerce, Peaks Island, a popular destination for tourists, has a year-round population of 1,000, which roughly triples during the summer months.

Also Read: Seven Cities at Risk of Rising Seas

4. Flagstaff, Ariz.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use:
> Vacancy rate: 30.0% (7th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 20.1% (3rd highest)

Flagstaff is a popular summer destination for residents of Phoenix, which is roughly two hours away by car. Approximately 18% of the region’s homes are second homes and, according to the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce, most of these are for summer use. Because of its high elevation — roughly 7,000 feet above sea level — the area is much cooler than the rest of Arizona, making it popular among visitors and state residents alike. According to the Chamber of Commerce, the average temperature in Flagstaff is approximately 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix. As of 2011, more than 20% of the working population was employed in arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services — the third-highest percentage in the country.

3. Glens Falls, N.Y.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 78.0%
> Vacancy rate: 23.2% (20th highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 9.6% (144th highest)

The Glens Falls area had over 15,000 vacant properties at some point in 2011, of which 78% are seasonal. The area is home to Lake George, a popular travel and summer home destination. Property in the Glens Falls area is not as expensive as many other summer destinations. The median home value in 2011 was just $162,500, lower than the national median home value of $173,600. The Glens Falls area also serves as a gateway to the Adirondacks National Park, a very popular summer destination for people in the northeast.

2. Barnstable Town, Mass.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 89.4%
> Vacancy rate: 41.3% (3rd highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 11.9% (48th highest)

In Barnstable County, otherwise known as Cape Cod, 41.3% of homes and rental properties were vacant at some point in 2011, and nearly 90% of those were empty due to seasonal or recreational use. The Cape Cod National Seashore, the first designated National Seashore in the country, has 115 public beaches and gets well over four million visitors each year. In comparison, the Cape has roughly 215,000 permanent residents. In the summer months, the area adds tens of thousands of jobs. According to Michele Pecoraro, vice president of operations at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, the majority of visitors come from the greater Massachusetts area, and many Boston residents have second homes there.

Also Read: Ten States Where Manufacturing Matters

1. Ocean City, N.J.
> Pct. vacancy for seasonal use: 92.3%
> Vacancy rate: 58.1% (the highest)
> Entertainment & accommodation employment: 18.6% (5th highest)

More than 58% of all homes in Ocean City were listed as vacant by the U.S. Census Bureau, by far the highest percentage in the nation. But Ocean City is hardly a ghost town: more than 92% of these homes are used for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use. As the summer rolls around, people flock to their homes in the area, which are among the most expensive in the nation, with a median value, as of 2011, of $323,100. That year, 6.8% of homes in the area were worth over $1 million, one of the highest percentages in the nation. Much of the area’s economy revolves around accommodating and entertaining tourists and vacationers. Job in in these functions accounted for over 18% of all employment in 2011.

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