Americans may not agree on much/anything these days, but who’s to argue with the curative properties of sand, sun, and surf?
Here in the Bay State, we’re blessed with fabulous beaches. And that’s not just local pride talking: Our beaches crop up on “best beach” lists all the time. On May 25, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. “Dr. Beach,” ranked Coast Guard Beach as No. 10 on his top 10 beach list among 650 public beaches in the country. Recently, Travel + Leisure named Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach as one of the top 25 best beaches in the country. Meanwhile, Conde Nast Traveler named three Massachusetts beaches among their “19 best beaches in the U.S.” last August. Their picks included Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, Siasconset Beach in Nantucket, and Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Closer to home, Boston.com readers rated Crane Beach in Ipswich as tops, in a “best beach in Massachusetts” poll last summer. (Other big vote-getters with the local crowd: Coast Guard Beach, Good Harbor Beach, and Mayflower Beach in Dennis.)
Here’s a closer look at these top-rated beaches, and the nitty gritty (sand pun!) on where to park (always an issue here, sigh) and other intel that will improve your beach game this summer.
Coast Guard Beach, Eastham
The Cape Cod National Seashore is 40 miles long, but this stretch is something special, according to experts like Dr. Beach, director of the Laboratory of Coastal Research at Florida International University. (Wait, what? “Beach expert” is an actual job?) Lofty dunes and an old Coast Guard station overlook this sandy strand on the Atlantic. The southernmost beach managed by Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach marks the start of what Henry David Thoreau called “the great beach.” Trails located behind the Coast Guard Station wind through the tidal flats and salt marsh grass of Nauset Marsh, home to myriad shore birds.
It’s no secret that seals have moved northward from north and south Monomoy Islands toward the Cape’s beaches in recent years, attracting great white sharks. Lifeguards fly blue flags with shark images on days when these predators are around; that’s a sign to avoid swimming and stick to sandcastle-building.
What lies beneath: The outer beach of Cape Cod has been the graveyard for more than 1,000 ships since the wreck of the Sparrowhawk in 1626.
Park it here: From mid-June to Labor Day, the parking area at Coast Guard Beach is open only to Eastham residents and vehicles displaying disability placards. The beach is accessible by bicycle from the Salt Pond Visitor Center, or via free shuttle bus from Little Creek. The Little Creek Shuttle Staging Area is located 1.5 miles east of Salt Pond Visitor Center via Nauset and Doane roads. Look for sign advising summer beach shuttle. There are seasonal restrooms and a wheelchair-accessible ramp to the beach.
Salt Pond Visitor Center, open year-round; 50 Nauset Road, Eastham; 508-255-3421; www.nps.gov/caco.
Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester
There’s a timeless quality at Good Harbor Beach; kids who grew up on these beaches are bringing their own kids now. Travel + Leisure called out its “sugar-soft sand” and “relatively calm water” in its description, naming Good Harbor Beach one of the “25 Best Beaches in the U.S.” Small fry spend happy hours digging and splashing in warm tidal pools, and at low tide, you can walk out to rocky Salt Island. Wave action is typically good here, and boogie boards are allowed.
Yep, the water is cold up here, but nobody seems to mind. Amenities include a concession stand, restrooms and showers, and portable toilets (useful when the restroom is closed). The parking lot has 16 disability spaces and a beach wheelchair.
Beach picnic fixings: Located close to the beach on Bass Avenue, Cape Ann Coffees (www.capeanncoffees.com) is a go-to zone for tasty sandwiches, roll-ups, packaged beach lunches (order ahead for the latter), and house-baked treats.
Park it here: The city of Gloucester uses an online reservation system called Yodel for beach parking for nonresidents. Beachgoers must make a parking reservation up to 10 days in advance to park at Good Harbor Beach, along with Wingaersheek Beach and Stage Fort Park. Cash is not accepted. To book, visit https://gloucesterweb.yodelpass.com/beaches/#/ Parking costs $35 on weekends and holidays, dropping to $25 after 3 p.m. On weekdays, the rate is $30. ($20 after 3 p.m.)
99 Thatcher Road, 978-281-9785; www.gloucester-ma.gov.
Crane Beach, Ipswich
Chosen by Boston.com readers as tops in the state, this 1,234-acre paradise of beachfront, dunes, salt marsh, and maritime forest is “one of the Northeast’s most spectacular beaches,” according to The Trustees of Reservations, which owns and manages it. No disagreement here; Crane Beach is gorgeous. This 4-mile-long stretch of pale, powdery sand is great for long walks on the beach, with views of the Crane Estate and Plum Island’s Sandy Point. The bathhouse complex offers restrooms, showers, changing booths, a seasonal refreshment stand, and a beach store.
But the glories of Crane Reservation don’t end there. Beyond the beach, explore 5.5 miles of hiking trails in the dunes and maritime scrub forest. (Look for the trailhead on the right-hand side of the main parking lot.)
Unwanted guests: Known for their nasty bite, greenhead flies are active on North Shore beaches from around mid-July to early August. To avoiding getting bit, wear light-colored clothing, go to the beach on windy days, and rinse off after a swim (greenheads like salt). Check the Crane Beach Twitter feed, @CraneBeachMass, for updates on greenhead presence and parking.
Park it here: Visitors are required to reserve a timed entry pass. Ipswich residents with a valid 2022 Crane Beach sticker do not need a reservation but are required to park in the Town of Ipswich lot. From May 16 to Sept. 5 this year, passes are released at noon on Mondays (for the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) and noon on Thursdays (for the following Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). Non-members: weekdays, $40 per vehicle; weekends, $45; members of the Trustees of Reservations: weekdays, $25 per vehicle; weekends, $30. Individual membership to The Trustees starts at $50. Members have the option to buy a Crane Beach permit sticker for $85, which covers parking at the beach for the whole year.
310 Argilla Road; 978-356-4354; www.thetrustees.org.
Siasconset Beach, Nantucket
It takes some doing to get to this luxuriously wide beach on the eastern tip of Nantucket, but perhaps that’s part of the draw. Conde Nast Traveler swooned about ‘Sconset Bluff Trail, a public footpath that meanders along the eastern shore bluffs to reach this pristine stretch of sand, “with the strong Atlantic on one side and a row of multi-million-dollar homes on the other.”
Two bike paths lead to the beach — it’s a 6.8-mile ride from town on the Milestone Road Path or 9.5 miles on the Polpis Road Path. Once you arrive, expect heavy surf, strong currents, and nothing in the way of services — for restaurants and restrooms, head to the village of ‘Sconset, a former fishing village lined with rose-covered cottages. But oh, what a beach! The sand is tawny and fine, and you can walk to Sankaty Lighthouse (via Baxter Road) when you get bored watching the waves roll in. A bonus: Siasconset Beach can be blissfully uncrowded if you time it right (early or late in the day). It’s mostly used by people who live or rent houses in the neighborhood.
Top this: Residents of Nantucket approved a measure allowing women to go topless at all town beaches. The Gender Equality on Beaches bylaw amendment passed following debate at Nantucket’s annual town meeting. At this writing, the amendment is awaiting approval from the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
Park it here: There’s a small, free parking lot, but the best way to get here is via the WAVE (NRTA shuttle bus). It costs $3 each way. https://nrtawave.com/maps/bus-routes/all-routes.php.
Codfish Park Road; 508-228-1700; www.nantucketchamber.org.
Singing Beach, Manchester-by-the-Sea
OK, so we’ve never actually heard it sing, but supposedly the dry sand makes a squeaky sound if you shuffle your feet. You’ll definitely hear beachgoers singing its praises. Nearly ½-mile wide, Singing Beach is home to a 1920s-era bathhouse with restrooms and a snack bar. Managed by the town’s parks and recreation department, this curving slice of pinky-beige sand is ¾-mile long and flanked by two rocky promontories: Eagle Head to the North, and Pickwith Point to the south.
Fun fact: According to the Manchester Historical Society, a lavish hotel sat on the corner of Beach and Masconomo streets from 1878 to 1919. The Masconomo House had 103 rooms, a fancy dining room, and a concert hall on its 12 acres. Guests enjoyed tennis, bowling, billiards, boating, horseback rides, musical shows, and access to Singing Beach, all for $3.50 a day.
Park it here: On weekends, parking at Singing Beach is limited to residents with valid a beach parking sticker. Beginning in mid-June, nonresidents can pay to park in the beach lot on weekdays if space is available for $30 per day. On weekends (and weekdays if the parking lot is filled), look for parking in town. There are parking spaces at Masconomo Park (near the MBTA train station), and 2-hour-limit parking meters throughout downtown. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Boy Scouts sell parking spaces at the train station for $25 per car. The MBTA commuter rail is an option here; travel lightly because it’s a trek to the beach. From Boston (North Station), take the Rockport Commuter Rail Line to the Manchester stop. As you depart from the train, walk up Beach Street (away from downtown) ½ mile to Singing Beach. If you’re not paying for parking in the Singing Beach lot, there is a walk-on fee of $10 per person between the ages of 12 and 65. Under 12 and over 65 are free. Anyone can buy a season pass for $35 (these are sold at the beach).
121 Beach St., 978-526-7276; https://manchesterma.myrec.com/.
Mayflower Beach, Dennis
The Cape Cod National Seashore has all the drama (think pounding surf and bobbing seals), but for pure family fun, you can’t beat this calm bayside beach. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to the beach, a stretch of the north Dennis shoreline on Cape Cod Bay that ranges from Nobscusset Point on the east to Chapin Beach toward the south. At low tide, little ones can toddle out to the sand bar and tidal pools to search for shells, hermit crabs, and other sea creatures. The waves are gentle, the sand is soft, the water is crystalline, and the beach seems to go on for miles when the tide is out. Plus, there are actual restrooms, changing stalls, an outdoor shower, and a snack bar. No wonder people who discover this one keep coming back — some tell us they started booking rentals in Dennis to be close to Mayflower Beach.
Post-beach eats: Come as you are, sandy feet and all, to Cape favorite Captain Frosty Fish & Chips (www.captainfrosty.com) on Route 6A, a 5-minute drive from the beach. Or stash some charcuterie in that cooler and plan to stick around for sunset; Mayflower Beach is a fabulous spot for sunset-seekers.
Park it here: There’s a parking lot at the beach, staffed this season from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Arrive early (before 9 a.m. on weekends) to snag a space. Parking fee is $25 on weekdays and $30 on weekends. Or aim for afternoon (after 3 p.m.), when the early crowd departs. To assess parking availability before you go, check the Twitter account for the Town of Dennis beaches, @DennisParking.
2 Dunes View Road, Dennis; 508-760-6159; https://www.town.dennis.ma.us/beach-department.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com