Where To Visit The Best Beaches In The Northeast

The miles of shoreline up and down the Northeast are a study in geological variety. Some parts are flat and uniform, extending for miles in a level plain as they disappear into the ocean, while others are jagged and rugged, with cliffs and rocks that create a sense of drama. Along those shores, either by the Atlantic or inland by bays, rivers, and lakes, travelers will find beaches of all sorts. There are tiny wisps of beach that, if you blink, you might miss them, while others are extended strips of sand, unrolling as far as the eye can see. 

The Northeast is blessed with so many beaches, in fact, that a single list can hardly do them justice, but some of these beaches occupy a truly special place, hovering above the rest, either for their facilities and tourist-friendly amenities or for quite the opposite. Regular beachgoers in the Northeast will likely have their personal favorites, ones that they swear are beyond compare, but for anyone looking for alternatives, the list below, which extends to states as far south as Maryland, is a wise place to start.

Block Island, Rhode Island

Set roughly equidistant from the eastern tip of New York's Long Island and south of Rhode Island, this destination is the perfect distillation of a summer getaway. There are many beaches dotted around all shores of Block Island, a place where the interior features a large salt pond. For visitors in search of a "wow" factor, the beach at Mohegan Bluffs is the most theatrical. Cliffs that rise 200 feet sit behind the sandy waterfront. Getting to the seaside requires a little exertion, with a stairway of 141 steps descending to the sand. 

The scenery here is completely worth the effort, with clear turquoise waters and towering bluffs that combine to create an epic environment. Another spot worth seeking out is Crescent Beach, sometimes known as Town Beach, and close to where the island's ferries arrive. With sand that gently eases into the water and a nice curling shape (hence the name), it's a great spot for families with children.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The number of beaches here is mind-boggling, with large parts of the cape falling within the confines of Cape Cod National Seashore, a breathtaking national park to visit. One of the most fascinating is Head of Meadow Beach. Here, the shipwreck of "Frances" is visible, generally at low tide. A boat that fell foul of the weather during a howling gale in 1872, Frances is just one of many ships that have run aground in the waters here, hitting sand bars that hide under the shallows offshore up and down the coast. 

Some records suggest the earliest shipwreck dates to the 1620s, and thousands of boats have succumbed to the conditions after that. A lovely stretch of waterfront is Marconi Beach, named for the inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who, in a facility close by in 1903, succeeded in initiating wireless communication between the United States and England for the very first time. The sand is backed by sandy cliffs that rise up for 40 feet, and many have heaths with rare plants such as broom crowberry.

Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware

Cape Henlopen State Park is a piece of wilderness that sits across Delaware Bay from Cape May in New Jersey. While it offers visitors miles of beautiful coastline with fine beaches, that's not all to see here. The tip of Cape Henlopen, the point where the Atlantic and Delaware Bay come together, has long held importance, either due to the fertility of the land, making it a good place for Native Americans to grow crops, or for military purposes, with Fort Miles built here during World War II. 

The park is also blessed with a rich variety of ecosystems, including dunes, forests, and of course, the beaches, which provide home to a range of native flora and fauna. For adventurers, the trails for hiking and biking (there is even a free bike-rental program) let visitors explore the terrain via their favored method, while swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing are other fun ways to burn off calories. For fans of marine life, especially kids, the Seaside Nature Center shouldn't be missed. The center features a huge touch tank, where kids can get tactile with stingrays and horseshoe crabs.

Cape May, New Jersey

At the southern end of the Garden State, this popular summer seaside destination is one seemingly endless strip of sand that stretches as far as the eye can see. However, for ease of navigation, the waterfront is broken up into different sections, each designated with its own beach name (which typically refers to the streets that cross the waterfront Beach Avenue), hence spots like Congress Street, Madison, and Brooklyn. There is certainly an array of atmospheres from beach to beach, with some quieter (like Baltimore) and others more lively (such as Decatur and Jackson). 

For many visitors, swimming and sunbathing are the main draws, with lifeguards posted at points all along the shore. You can also play beach volleyball, head out on a kayak, or try surfing and fishing. For a little bit of patriotic pride, visitors can witness a flag-raising ceremony each evening during the summer at Sunset Beach, which is dedicated to fallen U.S. soldiers.

Fire Island, New York

A long, skinny barrier island that extends roughly in an east-west direction off New York's Long Island, part of Fire Island is a national park. From one end to the other, it measures 32 miles, with small communities along the way that draw loyal, repeat vacationers each year. The national park, officially called Fire Island National Seashore, takes up 26 miles of the island, with almost 20,000 acres of land and water within its remit. The beach, of course, is immensely attractive, fronted by generally calm water and backed by rolling dunes. 

One of the most fascinating parts of Fire Island is the Sunken Forest. Wild and windblown, the forest of holly sits behind the dunes and is an endangered and rare type of maritime forest. On the William Floyd Estate, which sits within the national park, wetlands and other natural areas support wildlife like box turtles, great horned owls, and even tree frogs, as well as plenty of local deer.

Hammonasset Beach State Park, Connecticut

There are more than two miles of beach at this park, with sections of boardwalk allowing visitors the chance to enjoy peaceful walks near the water. The swimming is excellent, and given the location of the beach, the sunsets are also memorable, especially if combined with an evening walk, from the jetty at one end of the beach to the jetty at the other end. While the sand varies in its graininess from one section to the next, the greatest variety might be in its color. 

Along the western part of the coastline, there are tiny pieces of garnet in the sand, and this can sometimes give the sand a deep pink hue. Some parts of the beach also have specks of black magnetite in them, making this part of Connecticut's shore a visual delight. Since this is a magnetic mineral, some kids like to come to the shore armed with a magnet to try to pick up tiny pieces of it from the sand.

Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

This piece of waterfront is one of the biggest draws for sun worshippers in the state each summer, but it's not just a one-dimensional wonder. The beach goes on for miles and features facilities like a band shell that hosts concerts throughout the summer. The southern end of the beach is a state park, with RV sites, and the broad piece of sandy waterfront can host huge crowds while still not feeling overly packed. Kids will enjoy the chance to explore the tide pools that form along parts of the beach, filled with small marine and amphibian life. 

There is a healthy selection of lodging along Hampton Beach, and plenty of restaurants ensure palates are sated. For visitors who like to play with their money, casinos are also part of the urban fabric here. Back on the beach, tourists can enjoy complimentary yoga on the sand, held twice a week, and free movies on the beach on Mondays during the summer, with screenings of films that are suitable for the entire family.

Ipswich, Massachusetts

Set on an estate that is run by a conservation non-profit, the beguiling Crane Beach is a marvel for beach lovers in the Northeast. It's a popular spot for visitors in and out of state, with more than 300,000 arrivals here each year. Wandering along the shore, travelers will encounter beautifully wild environments, with large divisions of sand, rolling dunes, and sections of forest along the 1,200 acres of beach. 

While humans populate the beach in sizeable numbers, it's also an important realm for avian life, especially the piping plover, a small, rotund bird with gray, white, and brown shading. The seabird almost vanished in the 19th century due to rampant hunting. Slowly recovering their numbers, the birds now use the beach as a nesting site. You might see them while walking along the trails that weave along the sand dunes or through the pine forest at Castle Neck.

Iron Pier Beach, New York

The distance between this quiet beach on the north fork of Long Island and New York City's Empire State Building is only 80 miles, but the two seem to operate in entirely different worlds. While beaches on the south shore of Long Island, including those in the Hamptons, seem to grab all the headlines, the north shore is equally appealing. The beach doesn't dazzle with facilities or grand parking areas, but it's easy to locate, set at the end of Pier Avenue in the village of Northville. 

What visitors will find here is a compact slice of sand with some boulders to the side and a white pier that pokes out into the Long Island Sound. The pier itself is more than a century old, constructed by farmers who thought it could play a key role in shipping their produce up the coast of New England. The farmers hadn't taken into account the machinations of the water on the sound, making it unsuitable for the large boats required, and within a few years of its debut, the pier was no longer functioning.

Island Beach State Park, New Jersey

Visitors to the Garden State who like to take long strolls on the beach should head to this barrier island. Forming a skinny vertical line between the Atlantic and Barnegat Bay, the park runs north-south for 10 miles, more than enough waterfront for even the most athletic beach walker. This is where to find a fascinating range of habitats, with wild dunes, wetlands anchored by fresh water, forests, and marshes formed by the motion of the tide. 

The park is a key environment for bird life and has a large colony of ospreys, making it one of the best birdwatching destinations in America. Visitors might also spot peregrine falcons, shorebirds, and wading birds. Flora also flourishes at this destination, and more than 400 species of plant live on site. This is a beautifully picturesque part of the coast, and for walkers who make it all the way to the bottom end of the park, by Barnegat Inlet, the reward will be views of the Barnegat Lighthouse.

Kent Island, Maryland

On this island in Chesapeake Bay, a number of beaches avail themselves to travelers. Given the location, deep inside the bay, sheltered from the open, unbridled waters of the Atlantic, the island promises a beach experience where the water is reliably calm. Depending on which beach you visit, the water might also come with fine views of the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bridge (sometimes simply referred to as the Bay Bridge), a grand structure that is about four miles long and handles more than 25 million vehicles per year. 

Back on the island, Terrapin Nature Park sits across the bay from Annapolis and has gorgeous water and bridge vistas, with a feeling of untouched wilderness that is truly restorative. Sunsets over the water from the skinny beach are also breathtaking. For visitors with dogs, there is a dog-friendly beach near the Matapeake Clubhouse, accessed via a trail that burrows through a section of woods.

Ocean City, Maryland

This is the state's most famous beach getaway, clearly evident from the frenetic action that takes over each summer. The hub of all the entertainment here is the boardwalk, which was built more than a century ago. Up until the early 1900s, hotels placed wooden boards for guests to access the property, moving them out of the sand at high tide. In 1910, a more comprehensive structure was built, a promenade that didn't require daily upkeep and vigilance. Ever since, the boardwalks of Ocean City, Maryland have proved to be the glue that holds together this teeming summer escape. 

A number of businesses along the boardwalk have endured, such as Fisher's Popcorn, which has been in existence for more than eight decades, and Trimper's Rides, an old-fashioned amusement park that is a nostalgic throwback to the days when attractions were as much about the craftsmanship behind the ride as they were about the gut-turning thrills.

Ogunquit Beach, Maine

Located a short distance southwest of Kennebunkport, this gorgeous stretch of sand is enlivened by waterfront cliffs. Set by the town of Ogunquit, the beach extends almost four miles along the coast, with soft sand meeting the Atlantic on one side and rising up to dunes on the other. The sand seems to extend forever, and visitors can appreciate its beauty along a walk known as Marginal Way, a path that runs for a little more than a mile as it traces its route along the top of cliffs. 

Look to the sea, and the water unfurls to the horizon, while inland, visitors will see storied hotels, small businesses, and even a rock-strewn beach at the section called Perkins Cove. Benches found all along its length allow travelers the chance to stop every now and then to reflect on the nature, lighthouse, and small boats found here. Some months of the year, this is also a popular destination for whale-watching boat trips.

Popham Beach State Park, Maine

Easy to reach from Portland, taking about an hour via a drive to the northeast, this park finds itself cupped between the Kennebec River and the Atlantic Ocean. From the beach, visitors will be able to see islands in the distance, as well as broad rivers merging into the ocean. This isn't a static destination, but one that is constantly in flux, with sands often shifting and parts of the beach appearing and disappearing with the conditions. 

Yet this dynamism also brings benefits. One exciting excursion is the chance to saunter out to Fox Island at low tide, and then quickly head back before the tide returns. Popham Beach also attracts surfers and beachcombers who scour the sands for pretty shells, as well as history buffs keen to learn the latest about the Popham settlement, a site that dates to the early 1600s and is currently being excavated.

Presque Isle State Park, Pennsylvania

While this doesn't border a sea or ocean, this park does offer visitors the opportunity to get in some beach time. A large peninsula, one that boasts plenty of sand and that covers more than 3,000 acres, Presque Isle State Park juts into Lake Erie and offers a range of water activities. Each summer, adventurers come for boating, hiking, cycling, swimming, and even skating along trails within the park. Birds also like this spot, especially during migration times, and many endangered species find refuge within the waterfront and land here. 

A great place to learn the lay of the land is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. Here, you can learn about the history of the park and its range of ecosystems; it also houses laboratories for scientists who conduct research on the local conditions. It's free for guests and uses interactive displays and panels to bring the destination to life. Better yet, it has an observation tower that offers striking coastal views.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Another beloved boardwalk awaits visitors to this summer haunt, where a wide strip of sand sits just beyond the well-worn wooden walkway. The beach is a faithfully dependable piece of waterfront, with enough sand to accommodate the crowds and the water that laps at its shore. This is where families lounge, swim, build simple or ornate sand castles, and look out in the hope of seeing dolphins frolicking in the ocean. By daytime, it certainly is the center of attention, but it's not the only game in town. 

Kids are drawn to Funland, an amusement park that is more than half a century old, as well as miniature golf courses, and arcades that bring the fun indoors. There's even a water park here, with a lazy river and plenty of water slides. Kids (and maybe adults) might enjoy the sweet treats such as Dolle's Popcorn or taffy from a boardwalk store, while adults can take some time out of their "busy" schedule to hit the shops — Delaware doesn't levy sales tax, and there is even an outlet close to town.

Westerly, Rhode Island

The bird watching is as satisfying as the swimming at Napatree Point Conservation Area. The point itself is in a section of town called Watch Hill, and while the beach is beautiful here, what draws many visitors is the abundant avian activity. Depending on the season, shorebirds and hawks come by in generous numbers, and they are left to their own devices in an area that is run by the Audubon Society. Beachgoers, though, should not despair, as Westerly is also home to fine beaches. 

East Beach, which starts at Watch Hill Lighthouse, has some decent waves, making it a good spot for body surfing and boogie boarding. While the areas where the birds congregate at Napatree Point Beach sit within an off-limits refuge, the beach is very much open to the public and a great spot for a swim. Watch Hill Beach is suited to family visits, and since it resides by a carousel (which is why it's also known as Carousel Beach), it is a fine place for kids to blow off some steam on a ride.

White Lake State Park, New Hampshire

White Lake State Park is only about two hours by car from Boston, and it offers visitors the thrilling, if chilly-sounding, prospect of swimming in a glacial lake. Located in New Hampshire's White Mountain area, the park snuggles up alongside the edge of White Lake, a body of water formed when ancient bands of ice melted to create an indent in the land. Over time, the land filled with water to form the lake today. This is a pretty spot, with dense forests all around, and water that, frequently, is so calm that it acts like a mirror. 

The lake isn't large and it's easy to circumambulate via the pathways around its circumference. En route, visitors can look for loons or signs that beavers have been busying themselves building something. Outfitters rent boats for explorations of the lake and fishing excursions — the lake is teeming with trout.