Longnook Beach, Truro, Massachusetts
I like to arrive at Longnook in the early morning, while the fog still casts a hazy glaze over the water. Joined by surfers and dog walkers, I stroll down the sandy path to the soft, white beach. Then I glance back at the towering tan and red dunes, realizing instantly why JFK wanted this landscape preserved as a National Seashore. As I look to the left, the beach curves toward Provincetown, the dunes melding with sand, sea, and sky, as if the land is going to plummet into the water. Listen to the waves, watch the surfers glide atop the ocean, walk the beach to find an errant lobster trap run ashore, and savor the scene before families start to pour in around 11 a.m.
Longnook Road, Truro, MA. Within Cape Cod National Seashore but town managed. From Route 6, look for the green sign: “to Longnook Road.” Stickers/fees and other information: 508-487-6983; truro-ma.gov
Where to stay:
Downtown Truro. Lodging options: 508-487-1288; trurochamberofcommerce.com
Second Beach, Middletown, Rhode Island
Everyone rides the waves at Second Beach, located just outside the Newport town line. Surfers are found to the west, near Purgatory Chasm, a deep cleft in the bedrock rising above Sachuest Bay. Atop the rise is the campus of St. George’s School, its limestone chapel tower a dramatic backdrop to the powdery sand. Families grab their boogie boards and head to the center of the beach to try their luck. You’ll find singles and college kids to the east, using their bodies to ride the crest. Everyone comes for the surf, pounding the shores with its consistent thump. Rhode Island’s waters are warmer than the beaches of Cape Ann and Cape Cod, so Bostonians think nothing of making the hour-long drive south. After swallowing gulps of the Atlantic, the crowds retreat to the spacious shoreline, only to jump back into the ocean when their bodies wilt under the sun.
474 Sachuest Point Road, Middletown, RI. Follow Route 138 east from Newport; over the town line, at the junction of Purgatory Ave., Paradise Road, and Hanging Rock Road. Legal parking only at beach lots. Stickers/fees and other information: 401-846-2119; middletownri.com
Where to stay:
Downtown Newport and Middletown. Lodging options: 800-976-5122; gonewport.com
Odiorne Point, Rye, New Hampshire
The Granite State extends to the rock-littered shoreline of Odiorne Point, southeast of Portsmouth. One sandy stretch here offers a quintessential New England seascape, including a picturesque lighthouse (the circa-1872 granite Whaleback, on the Kittery, Maine, side of the harbor), the historic Wentworth by the Sea hotel in New Castle, and all those sailboats on the dark-blue Atlantic. The hard part is finding this hidden gem. I always park my car at the boat launch and then bike the trail along Route 1A toward the main parking lot. Less than a half-mile later, a wide, grassy dirt road leads through Odiorne’s forest all the way to a long breakwater called Frost Point. The dense sand slopes to the water’s edge just to the left there: a placid retreat, with fewer than a handful of people in the know reclining on their beach chairs. And you thought all New Hampshire beaches were crowded …
Where to stay:
Arbor Inn, 400 Brackett Road, Rye, NH. A quick walk to Wallis Sands State Beach and about two and a half miles from Odiorne. 603-431-7010; arborinn.com
Wentworth by the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle, NH. A restored grand hotel. 603-422-7322; wentworth.com
Downtown Portsmouth. Lodging options in this historic maritime city: 603-431-1925; portsmouthnh.com
Boulder Beach, Groton, Vermont
There’s nothing quite as nourishing for both body and soul as a dip in a Vermont swimming hole, where the sylvan surroundings enfold you in a blanket of green. Nestled in one of the largest state forests in the Northeast Kingdom, Lake Groton is actually too large to be called a genuine Vermont swimming hole. There’s no waterfall or covered bridge–but in its place is a ring of mountains, with a forest of hemlocks, birches, and maples dropping all the way down to the lake’s rim. The sand is nothing special, especially compared with the beaches of its New England neighbors and their oceanfront settings. Ahhh, but there’s that cool refreshing lake water … Try it after a morning climb up 1,958-foot Owl’s Head Mountain just north in Peacham, or a bike ride along the abandoned Montpelier/Wells River Railroad bed, and I guarantee that Boulder will be nourishing.
2278 Boulder Beach Road, Groton, VT. From Groton, go 2 miles west on U.S. Route 302, then 6 miles NW on VT Route 232, then 2 miles east on Boulder Beach Road. 802-584-3823; vtstateparks.com/htm/boulder.cfm
Where to stay:
Seyon Lodge, 2967 Seyon Pond Road, Groton, VT. This historic ranch is nestled in the heart of a 27,000-acre state forest. 802-584-3829; vtstateparks.com/htm/seyon.cfm
Hammonasset Beach, Madison, Connecticut
I’m a sand hog–I admit it. I like to stretch out on my own slice of paradise with beach towels, chairs, books, magazines, and snacks. That’s why I savor the space offered by the two-mile-long stretch of shoreline at Hammonasset. I park my car near the East Bathhouse and walk a short way on the soft, white sand toward Meigs Point. Backed by grassy dunes and wildflowers, this shallow strip is so long it never feels crowded, even on a hot summer weekend day. I read, swim in the blue-green waters of Long Island Sound, peer at the lighthouse off in the distance, read some more, bite into fresh fruit, and always wander over to Meigs Point Nature Center with the kids. We feel the crabs in the touch tank, watch the native snakes and turtles, and walk through the butterfly garden. Then it’s back to my towel to stretch out as far as I can.
1288 Boston Post Road, Madison, CT. From I-95 take exit 62 and follow signs to the park (about a mile). 203-245-2785; ct.gov
Where to stay:
State park’s 550-site campground. 203-245-1817 (seasonal), 203-245-2785; ct.gov
Downtown Madison and Guilford. Lodging options: 203-245-7394, madisonct.com; 203-453-9677, guilfordct.com
Popham Beach, Phippsburg, Maine
At the end of one of those fingers of land that dangles off the Maine coast into the Atlantic, Popham is hopelessly exposed to all the elements. There’s nothing manicured about this rare spit of sand sandwiched between rocky shores. Pieces of driftwood lie on the beach, backed by dwarf pines and uprooted trees. Come at low tide, and the grooved sand leads to a tiny island where seagulls have picked over unfortunate crabs, and mussels lie exposed on the kelp. When the water rolls in, kids swim in the warm (yes, warm) waters of the tidal pool as parents take long beach walks, watching three-masted schooners and lobstermen cruise past pine-studded islands and lighthouses. Let the cool breeze blow through your hair and breathe in the salty air. This is the raw, genuine Maine coast you’ve yearned for.
Route 209, Phippsburg, ME. 14 miles from downtown Bath. 207-389-1335; maine.gov
Where to stay:
Popham Beach Bed and Breakfast, 4 Riverview Ave., Phippsburg, ME. Former lifesaving station right on the beach. 207-389-2409; pophambeachbandb.com
Sebasco Harbor Resort, 29 Kenyon Road, Phippsburg, ME. Featuring its own ice cream stand, bowling alley, and pool jutting out into the Atlantic. 207-389-1161; sebasco.com
Downtown Bath. Lodging options in this historic shipbuilding town: 207-442-7291; visitbath.com