There’s swimming, sure. But there’s also wading, strolling, sunbathing, and building the biggest sand castle you possibly can before the tide rolls in to sweep it away. Done right, beach season never gets boring. To make the most of your summer by the sea, we’ve assembled a comprehensive guide to the best beaches of the North Shore.
Good Harbor Beach
Known for: On the eastern edge of Gloucester, this sprawling beach is a perennial favorite for a reason—actually, for many reasons, including gorgeous views, soft white sand, rolling dunes, and a tidal creek that creates a perfect area for little ones to explore.
Fun fact: At low tide, the water recedes far enough that beach visitors can walk out to Salt Island, an uninhabited rocky hill that got its name in 1623 when an English ship stored a load of salt there, only to find it stolen upon their return.
Nuts and bolts: Without a resident sticker, parking is $25 per vehicle on weekdays and $30 on weekends and holidays. The sizable parking lot fills up quickly, and there is no legal street parking in easy reach. A concession stand, bathrooms, and showers are available.
Salisbury Beach State Reservation
Known for: Stretching from the mouth of the Merrimack River almost to the New Hampshire border, Salisbury Beach State Reservation provides nearly four miles of beach along with a playground, camping, boating, and fishing. Boardwalks stretch over the dunes to offer beach access. Come fall, keep an eye out for harbor seals sunning themselves on the jetty at the southern end of the park.
Fun fact: For several years beginning in 1861, the beach was the site of an annual local event known as the Great Gathering. As many as 30,000 people would gather to commemorate the year, listen to speeches, and eat clam chowder.
Nuts and bolts: Admission to the reservation is $14 per vehicle from Massachusetts, $16 for out-of-state vehicles. Bathrooms and picnic areas are available.
Newburyport and Ipswich
Known for: It is spoken of as a single destination, but Plum Island includes miles of beaches, private property, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and the Sandy Point State Reservation (the very southern point even dips into Ipswich). In addition to swimming and sunbathing, popular activities include fishing, beachcombing, and birding. But beware: Segments of beach may be closed to protect the breeding ground of the piping plover.
Fun fact: Consider bringing a camera along on your trip—the wildlife refuge runs an annual photography contest.
Nuts and bolts: Small private parking lots can be found around the island. Both the refuge and the reservation offer parking. The fee for admission to the refuge is $5 per car or $2 for bicycles or pedestrians.
Front Beach and Back Beach
Known for: A pair of public beaches separated by just a few plots of private land, these two beaches sit just on the outskirts of bustling downtown Rockport. These beaches distinguish themselves by offering an unusual combination of views: a sweep of ocean edged by charming and historic buildings.
Fun Fact: Back Beach is a popular destination for scuba divers, known for easy entry to the water, great visibility, and lots of lobster and squid sightings.
Nuts and bolts: Metered on-street parking is available. Free parking is available in a lot on Route 127; the trolley shuttle to the beaches is $1 per person.
Best Places to:
Grab a snack
The Cupboard at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester (home of both Cressy’s and Half Moon beaches) takes concession snacks to the next level, serving classics like fried seafood and ice cream alongside quirkier local selections like the bean and linguica plate.
Ride a wave
Long Beach—the one in Rockport—offers consistent waves perfect for beginning and intermediate surfers alike.
Take a dive
At the very end of Nahant, Canoe Beach offers scuba divers intriguing rock formations and crystal clear water.
Go fly a kite:
In Ipswich, Crane Beach’s expansive sands offer ample room for getting airborne.
Ride off into the sunset:
Come evening, the parking at tiny Niles Beach in Gloucester opens to non-residents, serving up views of the Boston skyline and stunning sunsets.
Known for: Singing Beach is just a half mile long but makes up for its compact size with expansive views of rugged shoreline, rocky islands, and the open ocean. It is one of the rare North Shore beaches that can be reached by public transportation—the sand is a pleasant half-mile walk from the downtown commuter rail station.
Fun fact: The beach’s unusual name comes from the unusual qualities of its sand: Under the right conditions, it resonates when walked upon, creating a squeaking or creaking noise. For your best chances of hearing the phenomenon, take a stroll on the dry sand above the high tide line.
Nuts and bolts: The beach-adjacent parking lot is residents-only from Labor Day to October 15, but some metered public parking is available in the town center. The Local Boy Scout troop also sells parking downtown for $25 per vehicle. Beach admission is $5 per person over the age of 12. Bathrooms and an above-average concession stand are available.
Known for: With four miles of shoreline and 1,234 acres of sand, trails, and conservation area, Crane Beach offers an unparalleled amount of space for oceanside fun. Play on the beach, swim in the waters of Ipswich Bay, or stroll some of the five miles of trails that wind through the dunes. The beach is also handicapped accessible. The beach now has a Mobi-chair—a floating beach wheelchair that provides an easy transition from the boardwalk to the beach to the water for visitors needing special assistance.
Fun fact: Pay careful attention to the stairs, shingles, and posts around the beach and picnic area and you may see some painted poetry. Several years ago, volunteers decked the area with the words from the poem “Align” by local poet Colleen Michaels, a call to think about climate change. Many of the words have faded, but some are still visible to those in the know.
Nuts and bolts: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, parking is $25 per vehicle on weekdays and $30 on weekends and holidays, with discounted rates after 4 p.m. Prices are lower in the off-season and for members of The Trustees of Reservations. Price includes admission to the adjacent Castle Hill estate. A concession stand, bathrooms, and outdoor showers are available.
Lynn Shore & Nahant Beach Reservation
Lynn and Nahant
Known for: Two abutting reservations connect to create miles of shoreline access along Nahant Bay, including Nahant’s Long Beach and King’s Beach in Lynn. A boulevard runs the length of the reservations for jogging, biking, or strolling.
Fun fact: Red Rock Park, adjacent to King’s Beach, boasts tide pools that often fill with colorful marine plants and animals at low tide.
Nuts and bolts: Free street parking is available along Lynn Shore Drive for King’s Beach; a lot for Nahant Beach charges $5 per vehicle from Massachusetts and $7 for out-of-state vehicles. Bathrooms, showers, and a visitor center are located at park headquarters.
Lounging on the sand is all well and good, but this summer, consider trying a different point of view with a charter boat excursion lets you see the beach from out on the waves. From intimate sails to party cruises, the North shore offers a wealth of options to those who want to try out their sea legs.
Built by a traditional Essex shipbuilder, the schooner offers public trips and is available for private charters, allowing glimpses of the historic Cape Ann coastline from its wooden decks.
Frayed Knot Sailing Charters
With three cabins and a spacious salon, Frayed Knot offers overnight excursions and day sails.
Ninth Wave Sailing Charters
Launching from the historic Newburyport waterfront, Ninth Wave can accommodate up to 48 passengers on its stable and fast-moving catamaran.
Public sailings available as well.
Mahi Mahi Harbor Cruises
When you want to go big, Mahi Mahi can host catered private parties—Wedding? Family reunion? Blowout birthday bash?—for up to 150 people.
Public cruises are also available.
Known for: Located along a narrow causeway connecting Marblehead Neck to the mainland, Devereux Beach is virtually surround by water. The beach itself looks out over sweeping views of the Atlantic; across the street, sailboats cluster in a quaint cove.
Fun fact: The causeway, which the beach runs along is not, as one might guess, man-made. It is a naturally occurring landform known as a tombolo, created when waves split on the far side of Marblehead Neck and then meet again on the far near side, depositing gravel and cobbles.
Nuts and bolts: Parking fees are $10 Monday through Thursday and $15 Friday through Sunday. Restrooms, a playground, and a concession stand are available.
Dane Street Beach
Known for: The beach at Lyons Park in Beverly—generally known as Dane Street Beach—is a kid-friendly destination. It’s small enough that children can’t wander too far away, while at low tide the water goes out far enough for some impressive tidal explorations.
Fun fact: The park’s green-and-purple playground opened just last summer and includes monkey bars, slides, and even a unique swing that allows a baby and parent to swing together. Signs, a map, and a telescope educate visitors about the ocean environment while they play.
Nuts and bolts: Free street parking and bathrooms are available. Just blocks from the amenities of downtown Beverly.
Winter Island/Waikiki Beach
Known for: It may not be quite the same as that other Waikiki Beach, but this small beach in Salem combines seaside charm and local history for a respite from the downtown crowds. The island park includes a campground, picturesque lighthouse, and 17th-century fort site.
Fun fact: Winter Island has a fishing heritage stretching back to before Europeans settled the area; when Captain John Smith first explored the region, the Naumkeag tribe was using it as a fishing ground.
Nuts and bolts: Parking at the park is $15 on weekends, $10 on weekdays.