There’s something about a houseboat that makes us feel inspired. Maybe it’s the idea of watching the pinks and purples at sunset, falling asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat in the waves, the dreaminess of a bohemian life, or perhaps just the rising costs of real estate. Whatever the reasons are, many are turning to alternative living arrangements like houseboats, tiny houses, and van life. In many ways, the best place to live aboard a boat is somewhere that doesn’t experience particularly cold winters. However, you can live on a houseboat during the winter months, as long as you and your boat are prepared for it. You can read more about how to winter over in a houseboat here.
With houseboat “neighborhoods” popping up on lakes, rivers, and bays all over the world, it might just be time to forgo conventional houses and opt for a new way of life. If you’re considering making a change to become a liveaboard (what people who live on boats are called) or are just looking for a little inspiration, we’ve put together a guide to the best places to live on a houseboat.
The Great Lakes, Michigan
Follow the snowbirds to the States to Lake Huron and the Great Lakes of Michigan where lucky vacationers spend their summers in floating homes along the rugged coast of the Georgian Bay. In this remote and serene area of the Great Lakes, the style of floating houses varies, but all share the same vision of practicality. Mos Architects kept this in mind when designing a modern style float house that rests on steel platoons, allowing for the home to adapt to the constantly changing water levels. Simple wooden paneling and a rectangular structure also helps it blend in with the natural landscape, another cornerstone of contemporary design.
Scarborough Bluffs – Ontario, Canada
With its tranquility and natural beauty, the floating neighborhoods of the Scarborough Bluffs is a houseboating here offers a stunning view of Bluffer’s Park in the Marina, which consists of clay and sand cliffs that tower over the Eastern waterfront. In this water utopia, it is easy to leave the rat race of the city behind and wake up to beautiful balcony views of the sunrise and sounds of seagulls in the morning. With AC, electricity, heat, and Wi-Fi, floating home residents enjoy all the conveniences of modern living in the anything but conventional world of water-filled bliss.
Union Lake – Seattle, Washington
Also in America are the floating home communities of Union Lake, which might look familiar since it was the home of the Tom Hanks character in the classic rom com Sleepless in Seattle. Although no new homes can be moored at Union Lake due to a 1990 city ordinance, many float homes on the perimeter of Union Lake are as rentals, in addition to occasionally going up for sale. In fact, there are several realtors that specialize in premier real estate of the floating variety like Seattle Afloat. Situated between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, the neighborhood puts you right outside downtown Seattle. Rowing is also popular and you might catch the University of Washington team training for the Olympics on any given day. Just like in the movies, the sense of adventure and romance is contagious with the constant influx of seaplanes, wildlife, and beautiful natural wonders. So go ahead, book a float house on your next trip and be the star of your own romantic comedy.
Tagg’s Island – London, United Kingdom
A century ago, Tagg’s Island on the Thames River near Hampton Court was a playground for aristocrats and artists. In the heart of London, the island became a popular hippie hangout in the 1960s, a time when the floating house lifestyle started catching on among the more free-spirited, adventurous types. Today, it has evolved into rows of impressive, modernist float homes that even have gardens and vehicle access. The spacious and luxurious homes frequently grace the pages of top design magazines and are the envy of architecture aficionados. Up close, the neighborhood is a striking sight and might make you rethink ordinary living spaces, especially with one of the best views of the Thames River. The floating mansions are also a favorite among celebrities like Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who owns an Edwardian style float mansion moored at the perimeter. For the other residents at Taggs Island, it’s an oasis in the center of the bustling metropolis of London.
Stony Lake – Ontario, Canada
Two hours from Toronto in Peterborough County is Stony Lake, which consists of three interconnected lakes – Clear Lake to the southwest, Stony Lake in the center, and Upper Stony Lake to the northeast. For nature lovers looking to get away from urban centers, this sparsely populated area is the perfect refuge. The rocky banks present design challenges for floating houses, but GH3, a Toronto-based architecture firm, used these obstacles to their advantage. The boathouse, which has been featured in several design magazines and blogs, is used as a photography studio. An altered version of the contemporary glass house, the structure gets constant natural diffused light. It also was built on a granite foundation in order to use its thermal mass to heat the space naturally, keeping it warm during the winter months. Plus, the sliding glass windows allow for ventilation through the façade, sending in gentle breezes off the lake.
Fraser River – Ladner, British Columbia
Tucked away in the historic town of Ladner in British Columbia is the Fraser River and a serene floating neighborhood surrounded by bird sanctuaries, small farms, and wildlife parks. After exploring the water on kayaks and catching glimpses of waterfowl and rare nesting birds like the bald eagle, you can enjoy all the modern conveniences of a conventional home in this unique heritage community that makes up one of the suburbs of Vancouver. Originally a fishing village, Ladner is a water wonderland with marinas, dykes, canals, and rivers. A popular hangout for local residents is Speeds, a floating restaurant that encourages paddling as the main form of transportation. With the US border only 30 minutes away by car, it’s easy to catch a BC ferry to explore the many islands in the area. Its scenic, rustic beauty also makes it a favorite filming location.
Just outside San Francisco is the famous houseboat neighborhood that Otis Redding stayed at during his 1967 US tour and inspired the hit, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”. Many followed his advice and left their homes in Georgia – or some other sad, landlocked place – and settled into life on the bay. The floating homes in the historic city of Sausalito range from a cottage made out of an old tugboat to the spectacular Taj Mahal, a miniature version of the iconic palace in India. Although the former Bed and Breakfast is now a private home, it might be worth paddling by on a kayak for an up close look at the extraordinary floating palace. There are also more modern style homes with energy efficient technology like solar panels and hydraulic in-floor heating. So, head to the ‘Frisco Bay and get ready to sit in the morning sun while you sip for coffee.
Tomahawk Island – Portland, Oregon
Another popular floating neighborhood is situated near Tomahawk Island in Portland where there are rows of float homes along the banks of the Columbia River in North Portland Harbor. With grocery stores, restaurants and boutiques only a paddle ride away, the area is considered an urban paradise right on the water. Portland is also regarded by many as one of the top 10 most desirable cities in which to live, and it’s no wonder with the Pacific Coast just a short car ride away. Another plus is the fact that there is no sales tax, thanks to Portland voters rejecting sales tax proposals year after year. Also, floating home residents are not required to pay property taxes, so hooray for the double tax freebies. Get ready for the future in a floating village with amenities only a kayak ride away.
The Ijburg District – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
With their constant flooding and impressive system of dykes and canals, the Dutch are considered the masters of floating house technology. After all, they have been doing it for hundreds of years. Near the Maas River dyke, the river is known for its seasonal flooding, but that didn’t stop 37 float homes from popping up near the river’s edge. Other homes are amphibious, meaning that they rest on land, but are protected from rising waters. In this neighborhood, many homes sit on concrete foundations attached to iron piers with wide posts to keep the structure in place. The Ijburg district of Amsterdam also stands out with its rows of bright colored floating neighborhoods that dot the perimeter of IJ Lake. Some are cozy cottages while others are 3-story float mansions with all the modern conveniences of conventional land bound homes.
Lake Austin – Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas might be known for its university and thriving music scene, but it also is home to Lake Austin, a hidden water haven popular among boaters, kayakers, and nature enthusiasts. As part of the reservoir on the Colorado River, the lake is also used for flood control and electrical power generation. With views of forest-covered hills in the distance and the tranquil lake at your fingertips, Austin’s only floating community is full of all types of buoyant structures from modern, two story mansions to quaint tugboat-inspired cottages and cabins. Some are built onto docks while others are moored in the lake. Surrounded by water, this floating neighborhood is an oasis for a variety of waterfowl and birds that have made a home among the kayakers and houseboats. As far as water civilizations go, Lake Austin has it all.