From the sandy shores of Martha’s Vineyard to the rocky coastline of Maine, the best beaches in New England have an idyllic charm. While the water here may never be a Caribbean shade of blue, these rolling sand dunes speckled with seagrasses and migratory birds’ nests have a loveliness all their own.
New Englanders dream of escaping to the ocean for much of the year and after spending even a short time in any of the towns that dot the coastline, you may well feel the same. These are places where the warm hospitality of the region really shines—picture seafood shacks serving up buttery lobster rolls and art galleries filled with oil paintings of lighthouses overlooking crashing waves.
Sink your toes into the sand or scramble over stunning oceanside rockscapes at the best beaches in New England.
Crescent Beach State Park, Portland, Maine
Situated on Cape Elizabeth, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Portland, this mile-long beach is a dream, with fine sands framed by waving seagrass. As the name implies, the cove forms a gentle curve, which is largely free from high waves or treacherous currents.
After exploring the sands, head back into Portland for a dizzying array of dining options. Visit Standard Baking Co. for sensational morning buns, which come sticky with caramel and studded with walnuts, or go to Eventide Oyster Co. for a browned butter lobster roll and a Dirty Dirty Martini, made with both olive and oyster brine, plus a dash of hot sauce.
Lighthouse Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard is for Bostonians what the Hamptons are for New York and for many locals, summer hasn’t really started until they’ve made their annual pilgrimage down “the Cape”— Cape Cod — or to “the Vineyard.” It helps that every inch of this island is practically dripping with charm.
Lighthouse Beach, overlooking the Edgartown Outer Harbor, is a great place to watch private yachts and sailing ships pull into port. With its freshly painted black-and-white exterior, the titular lighthouse here looks as though it was plucked from a postcard.
After you’ve had your fill of admiring the soft sands, take a 15-minute walk to the Atlantic Edgartown, a stylish eatery overlooking the waterfront. The kitchen has a well-earned reputation for putting an inventive spin on surf and turf.
Order the indulgent lobster mac n’ cheese, with summer truffles and a generous helping of claw meat draped over orecchiette pasta.
Constitution Beach, Boston, Massachusetts
From Fenway Park to the Freedom Trail, Boston is so known for its cultural attractions to the extent that many visitors to the city overlook its proximity to nature.
Constitution Beach is so conveniently located that travelers can pop over for a stroll, then head back into town for cannolis and other Italian-American confections at Mike’s Pastry in the historic North End.
Otter Point, Bar Harbor, Maine
Although it’s a far cry from a sand beach, this dramatic expanse of granite and sandstone boulders is hauntingly beautiful.
Otter Point is a short drive from Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, a similarly rocky coastal stretch where the rising tide enters with a thunderous boom. With its fringe of pine trees and jagged rock formations, this is one of the most evocative places on the coastline of Maine.
Crane Beach, Boston, Massachusetts
Considered by many Bostonians to be the best beach in the area, this sandy shoreline is an easy drive north of the city. With its white sands and shallow waters largely free from riptides, it’s one of the best places to go swimming—although bear in mind, even in the summer months, the water stays on the chilly side here.
There are miles of hiking trails winding around and near the gently sloping sand dunes, which provide nesting habitat for a number of species of protected shorebirds.
Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Easily one of the most famous panoramas on the entire island, Aquinnah Cliffs, near the southwestern tip, features dramatic bluffs rising above the white-capped waves of the Atlantic.
The point was formerly called Gay Head, and visiting the clay cliffs is one of the best things to do in Martha’s Vineyard especially for first-time visitors. Trek down to the small sand beach at the bottom, or simply stay up top and admire the view.
Easton’s Beach, Newport, Rhode Island
As far as many locals are concerned, Newport might be the best beach town in New England. For generations, this was a favored retreat of Boston’s wealthiest elite and the area still has the gorgeous, historic mansions to prove it.
These days, the town retains its architectural grandeur, but the ambiance is decidedly more laid-back. Spend an hour or two browsing at Commonwealth Books of Newport, where the friendly staff will happily tell you all about their favorite titles, then stop for a flat white and flaky almond croissant at Picnic.
Easton’s Beach, often called First Beach by locals, is your next stop on a perfect day in Newport. Situated right at the start of the Cliff Walk, an easy stroll from downtown, this strip of fine sand is just under a mile long and regularly ranks among the best beaches in New England.
There’s a play area for kids, as well as a lifeguard, well-maintained public restrooms, and everything else you could want for a day at the beach.
Sand Beach, Bar Harbor, Maine
Being home to some of the best hikes in New England, Acadia National Park is better known for its rocky, rugged coastline than its sandy beaches—with this one main exception.
The fact that this 290-yard beach is right near the start of the Park Loop, the road that winds through the National Park and the only real means of transportation, makes it particularly popular with families during the summer months.
Since the beach can get busy during peak hours, plan to swing by earlier in the day, then continue your journey through the park.
See if you can spot the nesting peregrine falcons, which return most seasons to the Precipice Trail. When these majestic birds of prey are raising their little ones, park rangers are always on hand below the trail with spotting scopes.
Pemaquid Beach, Rockland, Maine
If you close your eyes and attempt to picture the quintessential New England seascape, chances are high that it will look a lot like Pemaquid Point Light. The picture-perfect lighthouse that stands watch over the peninsula is so iconic that it once graced Maine’s state quarter.
None other than President John Quincy Adams commissioned the original lighthouse back in 1827 and while it’s been rebuilt since then, not much has changed about it.
In the summer season, the tower welcomes visitors to climb up for a sweeping view of the Atlantic Ocean. Not far from the lighthouse, you’ll find this sandy beach in Johns Bay, which makes for a sublime spot to spend a sunny afternoon.
Seal Harbor Beach, Bar Harbor, Maine
Sand Beach may be a favorite, but this pebbly beach near Seal Harbor is another lovely spot. Since it’s a little bit farther from the main thoroughfare of Bar Harbor, it tends to attract fewer crowds.
Note that seal harbor isn’t just a name—both gray seals and harbor seals swim in abundance around Mount Desert Island. If you keep a watchful eye out, you may see a head poking out of the water watching you right back.
After visiting the beach, head to the historic Jordan Pond House for tea and freshly baked popovers on the lawn.
Carson Beach, Boston, Massachusetts
Sometimes referred to as the L Street Beach, this sandy crescent is connected to three miles of well-maintained natural parks and preservation areas. Carson Beach is particularly popular with locals thanks to its accessibility.
It’s located right near the JFK/UMass Redline Stop and it’s close to the buzzing waterfront district of South Boston.
While Southie, as locals refer to it, has changed dramatically in recent years, there are still a few surviving stalwarts that capture the old-school appeal of the neighborhood. At My Diner, a family-owned institution that’s been in the area for decades, the portions are generous and the vibe is incredibly welcoming.
Echo Lake Beach, Bar Harbor, Maine
Acadia National Park boasts hikes suitable for all skill levels, from the heart-pounding vertical inclines of trails like Beehive and the Precipice, to the far gentler trail around Echo Lake near Beech Mountain. This laid-back, exceedingly scenic route is perfect for just about everyone.
As a reward for all that walking, you’ll find this small, exceedingly lovely sand beach. Since the lake is relatively shallow, the tranquil waters get pleasantly warm in the summer months, making this better for swimming than any of the oceanside alternatives in the park.
Fort Williams Park, Portland, Maine
A scenic 15-minute drive from downtown Portland leads to Fort Williams Park, a historic state park with plenty of benches for picnicking and a view of the Ram Island Ledge Light on clear afternoons.
At the heart of the park lies Ship Cove, a crescent lined with pebbles and boulders. When the tide is low, the cove widens just enough to reveal a slim strip of sand.
Spend a few hours exploring the 90-acre park, then make your way back into town to sample the local craft beer. Allagash Brewing Company was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement back in the 1990s. Today, their brewery tours are some of the best in the business, thanks to the expert guides who will gladly talk about wild fermentation techniques for hours.
The popularity of Allagash has led to several other significant craft breweries, including Maine Beer Co. and Bull Jagger Brewing Co., popping up on Industry Way within easy walking distance of one another.
Especially in the warmer months, the outdoor area takes on the convivial feel of a block party, with terrific dining options to match. Dozens of different food trucks gather here and rotate depending on the day. If you can, make a point of seeking out Mr. Tuna, a wildly popular roving sushi bar that emphasizes local Maine seafood.
Birch Point Beach State Park, Rockland, Maine
Nestled in the waters of Penobscot Bay in Owls Head, Birch Point Beach State Park feels a little like a secret, thanks to the dense pine forest from the surrounding state park shielding it from view.
You could easily spend hours just hiking through the surrounding trails, but it’s worth setting aside enough time to properly enjoy one of the largest beaches in the area. The sheltered bay means the water stays placid even on windy days and the view is achingly beautiful.
Since Rockland is the site of the world’s largest and most famous lobster festival—as immortalized by David Foster Wallace in his essay “Consider the Lobster”—ordering a lobster roll is practically mandatory here. Regardless of which restaurant you choose, it’s important to remember that there are two principal styles here.
Maine-style lobster rolls, which come chilled and lightly dressed with mayonnaise, celery, and perhaps a few herbs, are still the standard, but Connecticut-style lobster rolls, which come in a warm bun and are slicked with melted butter, have been gaining some ground in recent years.
Second Beach, Newport, Rhode Island
First Beach may have the distinct advantage of being walking distance from the heart of Newport, but its convenient location makes it so popular that during the peak summer months that locals often park their umbrellas elsewhere.
Luckily, they don’t have to go very far. Second Beach, or Sachuest Beach, is just a 10-minute drive away in neighboring Middletown. A mile long, with pristine sand and plenty of sun, it’s every bit as lovely as its slightly more famous sibling.
As generations of nautically inclined locals will tell you, the best way to experience the region’s quiet allure is by sea. A luxurious ship can whisk you from the stately docks of Boston to the bucolic seaside of Maine or Martha’s Vineyard—all without having to battle the city’s rush hour traffic. Browse Celebrity’s cruises to New England today to find your next escape.