Best Beaches in New England
We’ve rounded up the ten best beaches in New England based on criteria like smoothest sand, warmest water, and best honky-tonk entertainment. Check out our picks, and then tell us yours.
Photo/Art by Deganta ChoudhuryWarmest Water
Silver Sands State Park,
To find warmth, head south to the shallow slopes of Long Island Sound. The beach at Silver Sands State Park is small compared with other Connecticut state parks, but it is delightfully more remote.
It’s also far more affordable than many of the private town beaches in this part of Connecticut. A long boardwalk leads from the parking lot across a marsh (good for bird-watching, but not great if you’re carrying food, sand toys, and Junior).
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
With its highest point being a mere 812 feet, Rhode Island is not a place most folks think of when they want to take a hike. Yet it does have some of the longest beach strolls in New England. Napatree Point juts out from the village of Watch Hill on a wild strip of coastline, offering views of Connecticut and Fishers Island, New York.
Take off your shoes and listen to the waves as you saunter along the water all the way to the point of this crescent-shaped beach. The spit of land curves back toward Rhode Island, similar to how Provincetown lies at the tip of Cape Cod. Sailboats cruise Block Island Sound; ospreys and their young fly above the shores. As you reach the point and the last square foot of terra firma, the wind begins to howl, the surf seems a bit more ominous, and the sand is replaced by large battered rocks. On the return trip, you’ll be treated to a view of the Victorian houses that cling to the bluffs of Watch Hill.
Narragansett Town Beach,
Narragansett, Rhode Island
When hurricane swells from the Caribbean sweep up the Atlantic seaboard in the summer months, most people on the East Coast batten down their hatches and hide indoors. Everybody, that is, except surfers on the Rhode Island coast. Narragansett Town Beach is quickly gaining acclaim as the place to be when tropical depressions make their move north from mid-July to mid-September. The crescent-shaped beach and shifting sandbars often produce waves in excess of 10 feet.
Even without inclement weather, the surf is reasonably good all year. In the winter, there are swells in the 3- to 4-foot range. In summer, when the water often resembles a duck pond, you need patience. The best time for the sport is in the early-morning hours before the winds pick up. If the waves aren’t working at Narragansett, try Second Beach (Sachuset) in Middletown. Gansett Juice (74 Narragansett Ave.; 401-789-7890; gansettjuice.com) rents boards for the town beach and gives lessons.
Best for Solitude
Block Island, Rhode Island
A patch of grass lines a redbrick lighthouse that has been keeping watch on the southeast corner of Block Island for more than a century and a quarter. Below, sea-gouged clay cliffs plummet some 200 feet to a white crescent beach that serves as a welcome mat for the Atlantic surf. The lap of waves is interrupted only by the call of a goldfinch making its way north. To stand on this wild stretch of coastline below Mohegan Bluffs is to truly feel inconsequential.
But privacy always comes with a price. In this case, it’s getting here. For the most scenic experience, take an hour-long ferry from Point Judith or New London, Connecticut, to Block Island, pick up a bike in Old Harbor, ride three miles south, and then walk down the wooden stairs to the beach. Here the surf is always strong, the sand dotted with driftwood and sea glass. For a great natural spa treatment, take a good hunk of clay from the cliffs and massage your body, then rinse off in the ocean.
Coast Guard Beach,
“Wishing to get a better view than I had yet had of the ocean … I made a visit to Cape Cod….” Thus began the account of Henry David Thoreau’s adventures in the book Cape Cod. Thoreau walked the coastline from Eastham to Provincetown three times in the mid-19th century, comparing his treks along the desolate seascape to “traveling a desert.” Naturalist Henry Beston followed Thoreau’s path to Eastham. In The Outermost House, Beston describes his experience of living for a year on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach between 1926 and 1927. The house no longer stands, but you can still get a feeling of the isolation these men felt amid the towering dunes.
Take a shuttle bus from the nearby Little Creek parking area, then walk down the steps to the pearly white sand. This is no flat beach, but one that slopes up to the dunes, sand piled high, soft and warm to the touch. Veer left and stroll past the sunbathers. You’ll soon have this slice of Cape Cod National Seashore to yourself.
Aquinnah Public Beach
(formerly Moshup Beach),
Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Far from the ferries that disembark in the busy summer retreats of Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, Aquinnah Public Beach is set in the wild southwestern corner of Martha’s Vineyard, tucked southeast of the Aquinnah Cliffs. Layers of clay form the cliffs, with varying degrees of vivid color depending on the sedimentary deposit. The result is a dramatic backdrop of reds, greens, yellows, and whites, which becomes even more striking at sunset. The day’s last rays create a spectacular light show across the cliffs.
A 10-minute walk from the parking lot at Aquinnah Lighthouse will bring you to the public portion of the beach. Turn right and you’ll notice that the rounded cliffs become more jagged as they get taller, and the colors grow more intense the closer you get. (Note: Climbing on the cliffs and removing clay are prohibited. Part of the beach beneath the cliffs is also off-limits to the public.)
Best Freshwater Beach
Few New England sights are as striking as your first glimpse of Lake Willoughby in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Drive north on Route 5A from West Burke and you will see the deep, dark glacial waters come into view, dwarfed by the majestic granite cliffs that stand almost directly across from each other — the faces of Mounts Hor and Pisgah. The precipitous rock plummets more than 1,000 feet below, creating, in essence, a landlocked fjord. The shallowest part of the lake is the northern shore, where a sandy public beach awaits. Save your biggest gasp for that first step in the frigid water, which even locals find a bit chilly. But, oh, that view.
Odiorne Point State Park,
Rye, New Hampshire
Sure, there’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, and Acadia National Park, where you can peer up and watch a bald eagle zip over the short summit of Acadia Mountain, but we chose Odiorne Point State Park because of its unique location. Smack-dab in the middle of all the hubbub of the New Hampshire and southern Maine coasts, Odiorne Point is the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the state. More than 300 acres of protected land make this a routine stop for migrating birds along the Atlantic Flyway. It’s a good place to find ring-billed and black-backed gulls feeding along the shores or watch double-crested cormorants on the rocks, drying their wings. A two-mile loop along the coast is a favorite of walkers, joggers, and bird-watchers. The trail takes you onto Pebble Beach before heading inland through marsh and low-lying shrubs.
Best Southern Maine Beach for Avoiding Crowds
Footbridge Beach, Ogunquit
“Beautiful place by the sea” or ogunquit is how the Algonquin Indians described this 3.5-mile stretch of flat sand along the southern Maine coast. Add the Marginal Way, a paved footpath that leads from Main Beach up the rugged shores to the picturesque fishing harbor and seafood restaurants of Oarweed and Perkins Coves, and you have one of the most popular summer destinations in New England.
Thankfully, there is one way to avoid the traffic jams near Main Beach and unfurl your towel on a slice of paradise. Take a trolley two miles north of town to Ocean Street, where you’ll find the entrance to Footbridge Beach. This section of Ogunquit’s shoreline is far less congested. It’s also a wonderful way to walk back to town along the shore.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Everyone’s a kid at Old Orchard Beach, a family favorite of New Englanders, generation after generation. Start with the small amusement parks like Palace Playland; then move on to the carousels, arcades, and miniature-golf courses; top it off with cotton candy, fried dough, and, of course, fudge and taffy. The South Beach Diet will never fare well in these parts. Immersed in the carnival-like atmosphere, you almost forget there’s a beach here. And it’s a doozy. The legendary seven-mile-long sandy beach is also 700 feet wide, so you’ll always find a spot, even on the hottest day. Old Orchard’s pier was originally built in 1898 to house a casino, restaurants, and even animals for a makeshift zoo. Not exactly the Maine coast Winslow Homer was painting at the same time just up the road in Prouts Neck.
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