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New England’s Best Beach Towns

by Barbara Rogers

Jul 1, 2019

Samwongjl | Dreamstime.com

North America

Whether your family likes the lively honky-tonk vibe of an old-fashioned beach resort or the quieter surroundings of a dune-backed shore, you’ll find it in New England.


Old Orchard Beach, Maine

With an amusement park sitting right on a miles-long, white-sand beach, and next to a pier filled with shops and eating places, it’s hard to find a better old-fashioned, fun-in-the sun town for families than Old Orchard Beach. And you can step right off an Amtrak train from Boston and be a few steps from the beach.


Ferris Wheel at Old Orchard Beach.

Ferris Wheel at Old Orchard Beach. Photo: Stillman Rogers


Palace Playground amusement park is clean and well supervised, with a classic carousel, roller coaster and a Ferris wheel on the beach. The miles of beach are free, clean and wide enough to make room for everyone’s beach blankets and umbrellas, even on a hot July day. Family-friendly hotels back right up to the beach, many with kitchenettes for money-saving meals. Families are welcome everywhere.


Kennebunkport, Maine

A different style of beach town, Kennebunkport is a historic maritime and ship-building center, its streets lined with fine old captains’ homes and smart shops. But families will find a warm welcome here, too. A trolley connects resorts like the family-friendly Nonantum Resort to a string of well-protected beaches along Beach Avenue, all connected by sidewalks: Gooch’s Beach, Middle Beach and Mother’s Beach.


Families with smaller children especially favor Mother’s Beach, with its large fenced playground, right next to a beautiful cove beach where it’s easy to keep an eye on kids. The whole family will love taking a lobster cruise on Rugosa, a classic wooden Maine lobster boat that leaves from the Nonantum dock.


Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

A lively boardwalk and casual atmosphere, along with lifeguards, changing facilities and a lively beach-side strip of restaurants, arcades, candy stores and shops made Hampton Beach a family favorite for generations. Facing the beach, you will find a lively strip of entertainment venues, restaurants, arcades, candy stores, gift shops and even palm readers.


All summer there is live music nightly on the Sea Shell Stage and fireworks on Wednesday nights and holidays. Special events like the mid-August Children’s Festival and the annual sand sculpting competition in June are big hits for families; at the latter you can watch the artists at work sculpting tons of sand into masterpieces. Much smaller and quieter than Hampton, Wallis Sands State Beach is a great family beach to the north, in Rye, New Hampshire. It also has a shower room, changing areas and snack bar.


Dennis and Brewster, Cape Cod

You’re spoiled for choice of beaches on Cape Cod, but for families the best choices are those that slope gently into the shallower and calmer waters of Cape Cod Bay, on the northern shore or protected from the Atlantic on the south-central cape. Protected even further by a breakwater is Corporation Beach in Dennis, where there are lifeguards, a snack stand and a playground. Mayflower Beach is another (kids love gathering shells here), but you’ll find them all along this shore.


Cape Cod Beach. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Cape Cod Beach. Photo: Stillman Rogers


More than a dozen more are off Route 6A and Lower County Road in Dennis. West Dennis Beach, on Davis Beach Road, has more than a mile of beach with parking for 100 cars. There’s plenty of sand, shells to collect and often a steady breeze for kite flying and wind-surfing.


Narragansett, Rhode Island

Long stretches of white sand slope gently into the calm waters of Narragansett Bay, reaching from the classic old beach resort town of Narragansett Pier into South Kingstown. Public beaches line the coast: Matunuck Beach State Park, East Matunuck State Beach, Roger W. Wheeler State Beach, Scarborough State Beach and Narragansett Town Beach, each with changing facilities and parking. Or you can take the bus from Providence and nearly any other point in the state, operated by Rhode Island’s excellent public transport system, RIPTA.


Watch Hill and Misquamicut, Rhode Island

Farther along the Rhode Island shore, almost to the Connecticut line, a series of beautiful beaches face onto Long Island Sound. Some of these have somewhat heavier surf, but the beaches are beautiful. Watch Hill is an old-fashioned (although pricey) resort town with a good family-friendly beach and a historic carousel. Misquamicut State Beach is in Westerly, and only part of the three-mile-long barrier island separating Winnapaug Pond from the Atlantic Ocean. The beach has a bathhouse, lifeguards, picnic tables and pavilions for shade.


Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Photo: Stillman Rogers


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