image: Sunset over Cape Cod Bay, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Sunset over Cape Cod Bay, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Photograph © CORBIS

Best Beaches
By William G. Scheller

To find good sand and avoid bad crowds, go where locals go.

The Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock with no bumper stickers proclaiming "Life's a Beach." Nowadays, though, New Englanders revel in the surf and sand. In fact, some of Yankeedom's best recreational turf is its picturesque beaches—great sweeping strands of dune and sea, coves ribbed in Maine granite, and even the placid littoral of Vermont's Lake Champlain. Following are our best beach picks in each of the region's six states.


Cape Cod's Town Beaches Visitors to Cape Cod usually head for the National Seashore's ocean beaches, facing the Atlantic. But these beaches are often crowded and have ferocious surf. Locals, especially those with kids, favor town-run beaches on the Cape's bay side. Free from big waves and numbing temperatures, tots happily corral hermit crabs in calm tidal pools, and flotation fans can take to their rafts without worrying about winding up in Portugal. Getting There Skaket Beach: Namskaket Rd., off Rte. 6A, Orleans; +1 508 240 3700. Corn Hill Beach: Corn Hill Rd., off Rte. 6, Truro; +1 508 349 3635.

Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Treasured by birders and beach lovers alike, the refuge occupies most of nine-mile-long Plum Island, a sliver of barrier dunes off the mouth of the Merrimack River. Get there before the small parking lots fill and enjoy broad swaths of sand and great views. Follow pathways through the back dunes, birding life list in hand. Getting There Plum Island Turnpike via Water St., Newburyport; +1 978 465 5753.


Misquamicut State Beach, Westerly. Mile for mile, tiny Rhode Island has as fine a string of public beaches as any New England state. This one is its biggest and best-seven miles of white sand, served by bathhouses, concessions, and lifeguards, with special areas for board and bodysurfing. Nearby Atlantic Avenue offers water slides and miniature golf for the kids. Getting There Winnapaug Road off Route 1A, Westerly; +1 800 732 7636.

Napatree Point, Watch Hill. Watch Hill is a vest-pocket Victorian resort whose best loved attraction is an old merry-go-round. Back of the carousel is the seaside path along Napatree Point, with more than a mile of lapping waves and nesting terns. Near the end, the dunes conceal a ruined fort where anxious eyes once scanned the sea for U-Boats. Getting There Watch Hill Rd. off Route 1A, Watch Hill; Westerly Chamber of Commerce; +1 800 732 7636.


Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison. Second only to Cape Cod Bay, Long Island Sound offers the gentlest surf and mildest water temperatures in New England. Hammonasset is Connecticut's largest park with Sound frontage, with a whole peninsula to itself and plenty of room for swimming, surf casting, hiking, and camping. This is a great off-season beach, where you can walk for mile after autumn mile without being pummeled by the Nor'east winds of the open ocean. Getting There Route 1, Exit 62 off I-95; +1 203 245 2785.

Ocean Beach Park, New London. The Mystic Aquarium and Seaport are the big draws around here. But on vacation you can only learn so much before you need a day at the beach. After dutifully learning about whaling, sailing, and how Dr. Ballard found the Titanic, take the kids to Ocean Beach Park, where Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic. It has a saltwater beach as well as a freshwater pool, along with all the amenities. Getting There Ocean Ave., exit 75N or 83S off I-95; +1 800 510 7263.


Ogunquit A sandy, three-mile beach (rare in Maine) just outside the postcard village of Ogunquit forms a barrier between the ocean and the mouth of the Ogunquit River. Swim here-but save the walking for Marginal Way, a spectacular three-quarter-mile loop off Shore Road just south of town. The path follows a tortuous route along granite headlands. It's no surprise that Winslow Homer lived and painted just up the coast. Getting There Beach Street (Ogunquit Beach) or Shore Road (Marginal Way) off Route 1A at Ogunquit; +1 207 646 2939.

Reid State Park, Georgetown. More than a score of peninsulas meander southward from the central Maine coast. ("If you followed the shoreline exactly," one local says, "you'd take a year to get from Bar Harbor to Portland.") Head down the peninsula at Reid State Park. It ends in a stretch of sand comprising three separate beaches with distinct characters ranging from chilling ocean surf to limpid, protected backwaters ideal for kids. Getting There Route 127, south from Route 1 at Bath; +1 207 371 2303.


Odiorne Point State Park, Rye. New Hampshire has only 16 miles of coastline, and this 300-acre park makes the best of it. Located on the site of the colony's original 1623 settlement, Odiorne Point still has the character of a windswept outpost, a sense heightened by the remains of WW II gun emplacements that protected Portsmouth Harbor. Don't miss the Seacoast Science Center. Getting There Route 1A south of Portsmouth; +1 603 436 7406.

Hampton Beach, Hampton. Sand and surf are all very well, but some beaches draw their distinction from fried-dough stands, arcades, and karaoke bars. Hampton Beach, best approached by convertible on a hot July night, has all that plus fireworks, concerts at the Casino Ballroom, and even a beauty pageant. "It's the next best thing to New Jersey," says a local matron who grew up in the Garden State. Getting There Route 1A (I-95 Hampton Exit); Hampton Beach Chamber of Commerce; +1 603 926 8717.


Sand Bar State Park, Milton. Tucked along-side the vast northern lobe of Lake Champlain, called the Inland Sea, Sand Bar is a Sunday afternoon sort of place, with barbecue grills, an ice-cream stand, canoe and paddleboat rentals, and the gentlest drop-off this side of a backyard wading pool. The farms and orchards of the Champlain Islands lie two miles across the water, and it almost seems possible to wade right over. Getting There Route 2 off I-89; +1 800 252 2363

Button Bay State Park, Ferrisburgh.Button Bay isn't Lake Champlain's best bathing beach—mussel shells are murder on bare feet. Instead, don sturdy shoes and stroll out to rocky Button Point, which juts into Lake Champlain only to reemerge as a spare little island. The rugged shore, barren island, and brisk whitecaps are a Zen watercolor come to life, with the lofty Adirondacks for a backdrop. Getting There Button Bay Road via Basin Harbor Road from Route 22A, Vergennes; +1 800 658 1622.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published, but we suggest you confirm all details before making travel plans.



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