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While you may not envision New England as the ideal destination for a beach holiday, the reality is, you’ll find numerous spots for an incredible vacation at the beach. From Cape Cod to the iconic Martha’s Vineyard and scenic destinations in Rhode Island, this region of the United States is brimming with coastal charm. You’re spoiled for choice with scenic getaways at these top beach destinations in New England.
Provincetown, a popular destination in Cape Cod, is famous for its scenic surroundings that include vast sand dunes and more than 30 miles of beaches. It’s long been an art colony – in 1914, artists and business people formed the Provincetown Art Association and Museum to show and collect work by local figures, and it’s also a place where people can go to let loose and be themselves without fear of judgment, which is why you’ll find characters from all walks of life here. Explore the colorful downtown area, which hosts everything from grand mansions and fine eateries to fabulous seafood shacks, fudge shops, art galleries and bookstores, and enjoy plenty of interesting people watching. At Race Point Beach, watch for whales and passing ships, visit a lighthouse or go for a swim. If you have kids, visit Herring Cove Beach, as it lies on the bay, the water is calm and there is no undertow, it’s ideal for wading and swimming, even for children.
Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Oaks Bluff, located on the northeastern shore of Martha’s Vineyard, may best be known for its unique, vibrant-colored gingerbread cottages that give the town a storybook feel. The picturesque harbor village evolved from a mid-19th-century Methodist campground, and eventually, the canvas tents were replaced with the hundreds of tiny, elaborately decorated cottages. They became a tourist attraction in their own right in the late 19th century – many are still family-owned and passed on from generation to generation. The beaches here face into Vineyard Sound and usually have very minimal surf, which makes the water fabulous for swimming or for the little ones to enjoy wading. Everyone will love taking a ride on the Flying Horses Carousel too, open from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day, it’s the oldest carousel in the nation, spinning since 1876, and a national landmark.
While Rockport’s shops once sat boarded up, thanks to a resurgence in recent years, this scenic fishing village now welcomes visitors with colorfully-hued buildings housing a collection of boutiques, eateries and ice cream shops. The town is famous around the world as the hometown of Andre the Seal. The harbor seal spent his winters at Boston’s New England Aquarium, and his summers here in the harbor. His story was the subject of a feature film, “Andre,” and a book, A Seal Called Andre. Not only should you take a selfie with Andre’s life-sized granite statue while you’re here, but you can also do some great sandcastle building and enjoy a refreshing dip over at Front Beach. Afterward, dine at one of the multiple oceanfront eateries that serve up fresh, local seafood.
Nantucket sits 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and can be accessed via a scenic ferry ride. Many visitors come for the beaches, all of which are open to the public. Those set along the south shore are ideal if you’re looking for the big waves and unforgettable sunsets. Coatue is popular for sea kayaking, exploring the crescents and points, while Children’s Beach is known for its lack of current on the sheltered waters of Nantucket Harbor, where the little ones can splash around. The island also hosts lighthouses, a whaling museum and bike paths that branch off in every direction.
This popular coastal town in Maine sits alongside the Kennebunk River, about a mile from its mouth on the Atlantic. While most associate it with the shopping and dining at Dock Square, known for its colorful eateries like legendary lobster at Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant, the true highlight may be driving on the backcountry roads searching for lobster traps piled high on Cape Porpoise, the small strip of sand at Goose Rocks Beach. Kennebunkport is also a great place for whale watching tours as well as lobstering adventures where visitors can even step into the shoes of a real-life fisherman and pull up a lobster trap.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Perched on Mount Desert Island as the gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is a historic resort town that still maintains its Victorian splendor of bygone days. It’s filled with Victorian mansions that have been converted into elegant restaurants and romantic B&Bs. The downtown area is especially walker and bicycle-friendly – in fact, it was voted the best beach town for bicyclists by Smarter Travel. Cycling enthusiasts will love the miles of trails in nearby Acadia National Park, with more than 40 miles of unique carriage trails ranging from easy to challenging. Bar Harbor even offers complimentary rides into the park for you and your bike. Of course, on a hot summer day, when only a visit to a beach will do, head to Sand Beach which boasts a magnificent setting between two large walls of granite and evergreen, and is made up of shell fragments.
Summer days in Ogunquit are planned according to the tides. Halfway between high tide and low tide, when the current of the Ogunquit River flows swiftly out to the Atlantic, visitors and locals alike congregate on the flat stretch of sand that rolls down to the riverbank. Soon the mass of beachgoers are in the river, which is less chilly than the ocean, but still makes for a rather cool but refreshing dip. call. They bring with them flotation devices like rafts, boogie boards, and inner tubes. Just east of Ogunquit’s lazy river, is a wide swatch of sand, Ogunquit Beach, which spans some three and a half miles from the center of town all the way to more remote sections called Footbridge and North beaches.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport may best be known for its grand historic mansions, and sailing, but it’s also home to some wonderful beaches that are often overlooked. Visitors can enjoy sand and surf along Narragansett Bay and directly on the Atlantic, particularly at Fort Adams State Park, which hosts a beach alongside a well-used 19th-century fort, hosting tours, festivals and live music. Visitors can also enjoy a stroll on the rugged shoreline along the CliffWalk and sailing across the glistening waters of the bay.
Falmouth is one of the larger communities on Cape Cod, offering the opportunity for exciting activities, shops, and restaurants serving up fresh seafood, as well as more relaxing beach settings. This fun town is home to nine beaches, most notably the pearly white sands of Old Silver Beach on the shore of Buzzards Bay, ideal for families who want to swim with lifeguards on duty. Bristol Beach also has a lifeguard on duty in the summer, as well as rock jetties and an impressive view of the open ocean, while Wood Neck Beach features cool wetlands that are entertaining for both the kids and adults who want to explore the marshes of Cape Cod. Be sure to take a drive to view Nobska Lighthouse while you’re here, it’s an ideal spot for a picnic and offers some of the best views on the Cape
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Watch Hill offers a quintessential summer escape, with a town beach, the chance to take long and scenic coastline walks, as well as enjoy an array of eateries and shops. If you stay at the Ocean House Resort, you can take advantage of the fabulous wraparound veranda, soaking up the sunshine, sipping a cool drink, and watching the croquet pro give lessons on the manicured lawn. There’s enough to do at the resort that you don’t even have to leave if you don’t want to, including an award-winning spa, tours of the extensive art collection with the in-house curator, and complimentary daily resort activities. There’s also an indoor saltwater pool, a 24-hour fitness center, and access to a private beach, complete with beach butler service. If you can tear yourself away for a day trip, you’ll even be able to explore in the complimentary Mercedes Benz house car. Experience the Gilded Age by embarking on an excursion to Newport’s mansions, head to the historic seafaring town of Mystic, or any number of attractions throughout the region.