ICESat satellite laser altimetry provides an unprecedented set of global elevation measurements of the Earth, yielding great detail over ice, land and ocean surfaces. Coastal regions in particular, including seamless land-water transitions, benefit from the small footprint (50 to 90 m), high resolution (40 Hz, ~170 m along-track), and high precision (2 to 3 cm) of ICESat. We discuss the performance and character of ICESat data in three example coastal scenarios: continental coast (Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast, USA, including Lake Pontchartrain), open ocean island (Funafuti, Tuvalu), and an inland river (confluence of Tapajos and Amazon rivers, Brazil). Water elevations are compared to tide gauge heights and to TOPEX and Jason-1 radar altimetry. In demonstrating the utilization of ICESat, we also present examples of: laser waveform shapes over a variety of surface types (water, land, and vegetation); vegetation canopy heights (detecting large-scale destruction from Hurricane Katrina comparing data before and after); sub-canopy surface water; measurements of waves; and examination of along-stream river slope and comparisons of river stage to hydrologically-driven GRACE geoid change.