The beach was almost empty, so we didn’t have to look hard to find the perfect spot — far enough back that the sand was soft, yet close enough that we could feel the breeze. A couple was playing Frisbee, and a teenager was skim-boarding near the ocean’s edge. My daughter shucked her clothes and headed for the water. The surf was high. She dove into a breaker, rode the waves, signaled thumbs-up. It was mid-September.
I’m not sure when our family discovered that fall is the best time to go to the beach, but there’s something satisfying, even decadent, about swimming and sunning when most people have packed away their bathing suits and traded umbrellas for rakes. This seasonal sleight-of-hand makes us feel as though we’re getting away with something. School may start earlier and earlier, but a weekend day at the beach means taking summer back. For us, on nice autumn days we head for the warm waters of Charlestown Breachway State Park in Rhode Island. The ocean runs a season behind: cold through June, warmer in July and August, warmest in September. In Charlestown, it’s possible to swim comfortably into October.
My daughter wasn’t alone in the water. Several other folks went in and stayed longer than the typical New England dip-and-dunk. Motorboats cruised down the nearby breachway and into Block Island Sound. There’s plenty to do: We usually content ourselves with the sun, the surf, and a picnic lunch, but a snack shack on the access road serves burgers and chowder, and anyone averse to sitting can take a kayak out on a nearby salt pond.
Fishing is popular here, too. If my son had been with us, he’d have been casting his line from the jetty along with a dozen other fishermen. We’ve seen stripers and blues reeled in, and once while we were walking the beach, a scuba diver surfaced in the shallows with — no kidding — a spear in one hand and a large fish in the other.
Things feel different in Rhode Island from the way they do in neighboring states — looser, more relaxed. It was fabulous that day — all warm sand, deep-blue sky, and bluer sea. When I woke from a nap, my daughter wanted to swim again, so we walked to the water’s edge. The surf was calmer now. A man who looked to be in his seventies was soaking chest-high. He grinned at our approach.
“Wonderful,” he said, adding that he and his wife spend two weeks at the Breachway campground every September: “The best water in the world.” My daughter was already in, and I joined her. We floated on our backs, sun in our faces and the aroma of grilling meat on the beach mixing with the sea’s briny smell.
Ten minutes later, we emerged dripping, and I was already imagining our next visit here. School may reign from Monday to Friday, but autumn weekends can still belong to summer.
Charlestown Breachway State Park Charlestown Beach Road (off Route 1). For fees and camping information: 401-364-7000; riparks.com/charlesbreach.htm