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It is adored for its historic villages, cutting-edge galleries, verdant mountains and granite shores, but New England also has another less-obvious, but equally lovely, attraction in the form of its fabulous beaches.
Known for its scenic and cultural treasures. New England comprises six states in the northeast of the US: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. While its beaches are not as internationally-known and tend to be more understated than those found in sunnier parts of the country, they are pretty special. Many can be found along New England's almost 5000 miles of coastline and at some of the prettiest inland lakes in the US, and they offer myriad opportunities for sunbathing, fishing, swimming, surfing and sailing. Here are some of best and most popular beaches in the region.
Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine
Best beach for hikers
There are great views of Sand Beach from the Great Head trail © dkm725/Getty Images
At 265 meters long, Sand Beach is one of the most popular spots on Mount Desert Island, and it draws crowds of beachgoers on warm summer days. It is located in Newport Cove between granite mountains and rocky shores on the east side of Acadia National Park, the only national park in all of New England. One of the beach’s big draws is its pinkish-white soft sand, which is comprised of tiny shell fragments created by the pounding surf.
There are many hiking trails in the area, including a popular one that begins next to the beach and follows a loop around the perimeter of the Great Head headland. Those tackling this trail are treated to great views of the beach below.
Silver Sands State Park, Gold Coast, Connecticut
Best beach for bird-watching
Charles Island is visible from the beach at Silver Sands State Park © Photo by Bob Gundersen/Getty Images
The beach at Silver Sands State Park in Milford is popular with nature-lovers and bird-watchers, and it is accessible via a long boardwalk that stretches across the marshy area of the park. The main strip is popular for sunbathing and water activities, and there are dozens of cairns (rock altars) along the beach. There is also an all-weather boardwalk that runs along the Gold Coast beach to facilitate easy strolling.
A “tombolo” or sandbar emerges from the water twice daily with the tides, connecting the beach to Charles Island, which is situated about half a mile from the mainland. Be aware of tides if you make the trip. Crossing to the island is not permitted May 1 through September 9 to protect the nesting seabird population.
Bradley Point Park and Beach, New Haven, Connecticut
Best beach for picnicking
Historic Bradley Point Park is where invading British troops landed in 1779, and it is home to a wonderful, family-friendly beach. There are permanent posts for impromptu volleyball games available on the sandy beach, and its 1.7-mile waterfront walkway is perfect for taking in the sea air.
Located in the city of West Haven in New Haven county, Bradley Point is known as one of the best spots to picnic in Connecticut, because benches and tables in the park look out over the sea. Bicycle trails and a 3.5-mile-long walkway link Bradley with Morse Beach and Sandy Point to the northeast, with views of the Long Island Sound estuary en route. For those keen on wandering, the shoreline is located just minutes from the downtown business and entertainment district.
Sandy Neck Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Best beach for campers
Sandy Neck Beach is a great beach for hikers in Cape Cod © Luna Marina /Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cape Cod is home to many fabulous beaches, and Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable is one of its true stars. It extends 6.5 miles along Cape Cod Bay, backed the entire way by undulating dunes and a scenic salt marsh. It's a popular destination for all sorts of recreational activities, including brisk summer swimming, year-round hiking and saltwater fishing. The dunes reach heights of 100ft, and they provide a habitat for red foxes, shorebirds and wildflowers.
The beach is part of Sandy Neck Beach Park, and there is plenty of room for campers. There is plenty to see on foot, as hiking trails cross inland over the dunes to a path skirting the salt marsh from four points along the beach.
Ogunquit Beach, York County, Maine
Best beach for water-based activities
Ogunquit Beach in Maine has gleaming white sand © Jon Davison/Lonely Planet
Widely regarded as a sublime stretch of coastline, Ogunquit Beach is a three-mile beach in York County with gleaming white sand and tufted dunes. It's located in the former shipbuilding center of Ogunquit, a family-friendly resort town with a thriving arts and LGBTIQ+ scene. Named by the North American Indian Abenaki tribe, Ogunquit means 'the beautiful place by the sea' and its scenery has long been an inspiration for artists.
The warm back-cove waters make the beach an idyllic setting for sunbathers, swimmers, beachcombers and bodysurfers, and the coastline is known for deep-sea fishing, whale watching, sailing and sea kayaking. There are various areas to explore, as the beach fronts Ogunquit Bay to the south and the warmer waters of the tidal Ogunquit River are on the west side of the beach. Footbridge Beach, two miles to the north, is actually the northern extension of Ogunquit Beach and is a quieter alternative to the popular main beach.
Katama Beach, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Best beach for young people
Katama Beach in Martha's Vineyard is great for water-based activities © Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images
Katama Beach, also known as South Beach, is located on the south shore of the upscale Martha's Vineyard. Kept in a natural state, this barrier beach stretches for three miles and is one of the most popular beaches on the island. The rugged surf will please surfers on the side of the Atlantic Ocean, and while that's fun for body surfing, it's not ideal for children swimming. This is why many swimmers and families prefer the protected salt ponds on the inland side.
Flying kites and playing beach games are activities regularly enjoyed on the beach, which is popular with younger crowds and has a great reputation for cleanliness. There is plenty of free public parking around the beach and a bike path connects it with the town of Edgartown. Visitors wanting to explore beyond the beach can check out its cozy inns, chef-driven restaurants and a bounty of green farms.
Hampton Beach, Hampton, New Hampshire
Best beach for children
Hampton Beach is a great place for children © Walter Bibikow/Getty Images
New Hampshire only has 13 miles of coastline and Hampton Beach is its biggest and most popular beach. Its lively boardwalk has arcades, entertainment venues, stores and restaurants, and the sandy beach is the main attraction. There is also a 12,000 square-foot fenced beach playground for children, complete with slides, climbers and swings.
Prime season at the beach runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with live music, public firework displays and special events drawing locals and visitors to the beach town. Highlights include the annual sand sculpting competition in June, which features master sand-sculpting artists from around the world.
Echo Lake Beach, Grafton County, New Hampshire
Best beach for enjoying the scenery
The scenery at Echo Lake Beach is stunning © Cappi Thompson/Getty Images
The gorgeous Echo Lake Beach is located in Franconia Notch State Park in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. It's a great place to pass an afternoon swimming, kayaking or canoeing in crystal-clear waters. There is a boating facility on the 39-acre lake.
Photography fans will be in their element at the beach, as it offers spectacular views of Mount Lafayette and Cannon Mountain and there is an abundance of natural beauty to absorb. There is plenty to do in the park for those who want to take in attractions beyond the beach, including visiting the Old Man of the Mountain Museum, which pays tribute to the famous rock formation which collapsed in 2003 but remains the state's beloved symbol.
Silver Lake State Park, Barnard, Vermont
Best beach for fishing
Excellent fishing opportunities are a feature of Silver Lake © samaro/Getty Images
Vermont is known as the Green Mountain State, thanks to its abundance of mountains, lakes and forests, but it also has lovely beaches nestled along the shores of its lakes, with fabulous mountain vistas in the distance. The beach at the 35-acre state park Silver Lake State Park in Barnard is ideal for families, and it's popular for its sandy swimming area, picnic grounds and camping area. There are excellent fishing opportunities in Silver Lake and boats are available to rent through the park office, as well as equipment for stand-up paddle boarding.
Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett, Rhode Island
Best beach for surfing
Narragansett Town Beach on Rhode Island offers great surfing © cmart7327/Getty Images/iStockphoto
With more than 40 miles of stunning coastline, Rhode Island is nicknamed the Ocean State. Named after one of the most powerful Native American tribes in New England, Narragansett is surrounded by miles of sandy beaches and punctuated by salt ponds and mudflats. It became a much-frequented resort at the end of the 19th century, and Narragansett Town Beach is now one of the most popular beaches in all of New England.
The mile-long stretch of beach tends to be busy because it's an easy walk from Narragansett Pier. It features beautiful wild flowers and is a great location for walking, bird-watching and fishing. It's popular with surfers thanks to its soft curling waves that can get pretty tall, which is perfect for people who want to learn or improve in the sport.
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