Sure, the centerpiece of a beach day is, well, the beach. But a good beach town can turn a simple outing into the sort of day you’ll remember all year long. Great food options, stunning scenery, and lively downtowns can all transform a simple beach trip into something special.
Sound intriguing? Here are some of our favorite destinations for summer magic.
The beaches: The eastern edge of Plum Island is essentially one contiguous beach, but there are a few main spots where people tend to access the sand and sea. At the northern tip, Plum Island Point Beach offers relatively easy access and parking. At the southernmost point, Sandy Point State Reservation offers true seclusion.
Eat and drink: Fun-and-casual bars and restaurants abound. We love the innovative lobster rolls at Bob Lobster and the local character of the Plum Island Beachcoma.
Places to play: Fishing enthusiasts can book a charter trip on Captain’s Fishing Parties, which depart from the northern end of the island. Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is a lovely destination for hiking, birding, and absorbing the beauty of coastline. Up the road, downtown Newburyport offers restaurants, shops, art galleries, and plenty of New England charm.
Nuts and bolts: Plum Island Point has a parking lot that holds 150 cars; non-residents pay $15 on weekdays and $20 on weekends. Access to Sandy Point requires a drive through the adjacent Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Entry to the refuge costs $5 per car, though an annual pass costs just $20, if you’re thinking of repeat visits.
The beaches: You’ll never go wrong with a visit to Crane Beach, one of the most popular waterfront destinations on the North shore, where recreation is balanced with wildlife conservation for a day at the beach that is a true escape. Just a little ways up the coast, small, scenic Pavilion beach is open to non-residents on weekdays.
Eat and drink: Fuel up before the beach with coffee and delectable pastry at Sandpiper Bakery. Some of the region’s iconic fried clams can be found at the Clam Box, and the Brewer’s Table at the Ipswich Ale brewery serves up elevated pub food with locally brewed beer.
Places to play: Adjacent to Crane Beach, the historic Crane Estate at Castle Hill has a 59-room Stuart-style mansion to tour, two lush formal gardens, and gorgeous views down the rolling lawn of the Grand Allée. The Trustees of Reservations schedule regular kayak and riverboat tours through the marshes and along the coastline around the beach.
Nuts and bolts: Advanced reservations are required for Crane Beach. Parking costs $40 on weekdays and $45 on weekends, with lower rates for members of the Trustees of Reservations.
The beaches: For out-of-towners, the major beaches in Rockport are the downtown-adjacent Front Beach and Back Beach, which are separated by only a small strip of private land. Cape Hedge Beach offers stunning views and quiet seclusion, but there is little parking available for non-residents.
Eat and drink: For an iced coffee or a sandwich, pop into Brother’s Brew before you hit the beach. Want some simple seafood in the rough? Roy Moore Lobster Co. is your destination. And try Feather and Wedge, Brackett’s Oceanview, or My Place by the Sea for delicious dinner with a view.
Places to play: Stroll down Bearskin Neck to take in the quintessential quaintness of its small shops, cafes, and ice cream spots. Hop in the car and head north along 127 to explore the sweeping views and historic quarry of Halibut Point State Park.
Nuts and bolts: Metered street parking is available near the beach, or visitors can park free at the Blue Gate lot on the outskirts of town and take a $1 shuttle to the beach.
The beaches: The two largest and most popular beaches are Wingaersheek in West Gloucester and Good Harbor on the eastern side of the city. But there are other options too: At Stage Fort Park, Half Moon Beach is charming and secluded, small and quiet Plum Cove Beach serves up thrilling sunsets, and Pavilion Beach balances sun and sand with easy access to shops, restaurants, and bars.
Eat and drink: The eateries of Downtown Gloucester offer fried seafood, wood-fired pizza, and plenty of eclectic American cuisine. For water views with your post-beach meal, try the Seaport Grille, 1606 at the Beauport Hotel, or Yella on the Water. Outside the center of town, Talise in Annisquam serves up seasonal farm-to-table fare and Lobsta Land is also bustling with happy diners.
Places to play: Stage Fort Park features a playground, picnic tables, and a dog park, for extending your outdoor enjoyment beyond the beach. Stacey Boulevard, home of the famous Man at the Wheel statue, provides a lovely place to stroll and take in the gorgeous gardens. And if you’re looking to get out on the water, Cape Ann SUP offers paddleboard and surfing rentals and lessons at Pavilion Beach and Long Beach.
Nuts and bolts: To visit Wingaersheek, Good Harbor, or Half Moon, you’ll need to make a parking reservation using the city’s new system. Other beaches generally have available street parking, but pay careful attention to the signs so you don’t get ticketed or towed for parking in a residents-only spot.
Manchester by the Sea
The beaches: Manchester is home to just one beach, but it is much beloved. Singing Beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand that has been known to make musical tones when walked upon. Picturesque rocky views frame the beach.
Eat and drink: For a small town, Manchester offers plenty of options for eating. Crosby’s Marketplace and the Laughing Gull Cafe are great places to grab a beach picnic. For a post-beach dinner, try the wood-fired pizza at Bravo by the Sea, the French bistro-inspired menu at Allie’s Beach Street Cafe, or the Italian specialties at Antique Table. Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream is a great stop for a sweet treat.
Places to play: Masconomo Park features a much-loved playground for the kids and a grassy expanse for relaxing and watching the boats sail in and out of one of the most picturesque harbors in the region. Up the road, Coolidge Reservation offers some easy hiking with spectacular views.
Nuts and bolts: Singing Beach is one of the few public beaches in the area accessible by public transportation – it is a pleasant half-mile walk from the town’s commuter rail station. If you drive, limited parking is available for non-residents in the beach lot, the local Boy Scout troop runs a lot in the town center, or you can scout for street parking nearby.
The beaches: The beaches at Lynch Park are perhaps Beverly’s most notable, but there are other options. Dane Street Beach and Independence Park are easily accessible from downtown, and Obear Park offers a small beach away from the crowds.
Eat and drink: Beverly is a small but bustling city with plenty of options for meals, snacks, and drinks. For a more casual meal consider burgers at A&B Burgers, banh mi at Soall Bistro, or deliciously authentic Mexican street food at La Victoria Taqueria. To unwind after a day at the beach, check out the four craft breweries on and near Rantoul Street downtown.
Places to play: For the young ones, there’s a popular playground in Lyons Park, adjacent to Dane Street Beach and an easy walk from Independence Park. Lynch Park includes beautiful rose gardens to stroll through, an ice cream stand, a splash pad, and 16 acres of land for picnics, cookouts, and epic games of frisbee. And downtown Beverly boasts cute shops, lively eateries, and live entertainment.
Nuts and bolts: Parking at Lynch Park for non-residents is $15 on weekdays and $25 on weekends and holidays. Street parking and public lots are plentiful for other beaches.
The beaches: The centerpiece of the beach scene here is Devereux Beach, which stretches along the causeway that connects Marblehead Neck to the rest of the town, offering incomparable views and plenty of room to spread out. Smaller options include picturesque Fort Beach and tiny, secluded Gas House Beach.
Eat and drink: Places to eat and relax abound in Marblehead. To unwind after a day at the beach, try the Mai Tai Lounge for upscale Asian food and at least eight versions of the eponymous cocktail. The Barnacle serves up seafood including lobsters gathered by the restaurant’s own boat, and the Landing offers globally inspired cuisine and amazing harbor views.
Places to play: Delve into history by checking out the original bunkers at Fort Sewall, the unique lighthouse at Chandler Hovey Park, or the exhibits of the Marblehead Museum. At low tide, you can stroll out to Gerry Island or Crowninshield Island for a different view on the coastline. And for a true adventure on the water, charter a trip on Sail Satori.
Nuts and bolts: Devereux Beach is served by two public lots that charge non-residents $15 from Monday to Thursday and $20 Friday through Sunday. Limited street parking is available for other beaches.
The beaches: Salisbury Beach stretches for miles along the town’s shore, offering plentiful easy public access. At the southern end, the beach runs into the Salisbury Beach State Reservation, a state-run park with beach access, picnic areas, and campgrounds.
Eat and drink: Dine in style at the waterfront Seaglass Restaurant, enjoy a smoothie or sandwich from Groundswell Cafe, or hit one of the plentiful pizza and sub shops for a casual bite.
Places to play: Joe’s Playland arcade and the Salisbury Beach carousel offer up old-fashioned fun, or you could catch a concert or a comedy show at the Blue Ocean Music Hall. At the state reservation, you can book a campsite and enjoy boating, swimming, and relaxing in the outdoors.
Nuts and bolts: At the state reservation, daily parking costs $14 for Massachusetts residents and $40 for out-of-staters. The state park alerts site will let you know if the lot has reached capacity. Along the rest of the beach, metered parking and public and private lots are available.