Sunsets, Surfing, and Lighthouses: Top 5 Beaches in New England
Sand Beach, Acadia National Park: Bar Harbor ME - Photo Credit: Eric Erquhart
While the season to swim at New England beaches is short, the region boasts a magnificent variety of coastline to be enjoyed at any time of the year. From long beaches with smooth sand to tiny rocky shores nestled among rugged cliffs, there are beaches to be enjoyed for those looking for nearly any oceanside activity or experience. Join us as we walk through some of the best of New England. Best surfing beach in New England? Check. Best Beach to take a dip after visiting a lighthouse? Check. Read on to see our favorites!
Best NE Beach to Surf: Sachuest Point “Second Beach” (Middletown, RI)
Sachuest Beach (“Second Beach”): Middletown, RI - Photo Credit: Olga Enger
Grab your board and head to Sachuest Point! Occupying a peninsula between the Sakonnet River and Rhode Island Sound in Middletown, Rhode Island, the location is conducive to consistently surfable swells. The ideal area to surf is on the Western edge of the beach (in the shadow of some beautiful cliff formations at the end of the beach), and there are usually very manageable crowds. While the water is warmer in comparison to most beaches in Northern New England, you can expect to be wearing a wetsuit for comfortable surfing conditions at least through the month of May.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve had your fill of surfing, drive up to the Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge (or take a full-length beach walk from the surf-zone) - you’ll see an abundance of birds, deer, and other wildlife as you walk along a beautiful network of ocean-front trails.
Best NE Beach for a Beautiful Sunset:
Old Silver Beach (Falmouth, MA)
Old Silver Beach, Falmouth, MA - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
One of few beaches facing West in New England, Old Silver Beach in Falmouth, MA is an absolutely stunning place to catch an ocean sunset. While you wait for the sun to go down, grab a bite to eat at one of several delicious local cafes, check out some contemporary art, or just pop down a chair and soak up some summer rays.
Pro tip: Because Falmouth is located on Cape Cod, you can expect a very busy summer season as tourists flock to the area. As a result, target September or October for your visit, and catch the sunset without the (sometimes overwhelming) crowds.
Best NE Beach for a swim after exploring a lighthouse:
Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park Beach Area (Cape Elizabeth, ME)
Portland Head Light Beach Area, Cape Elizabeth, ME - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
After exploring the picturesque Portland Head Lighthouse and the surrounding Fort Williams Park, head to the beach area for a dip! While the beach itself is rocky, you’ll be rewarded with clear water once you dive in. Since the swimming area sits in a small inlet in direct view of the lighthouse, you’ll get the benefit of warmer water temperatures (but still quite cold until Late July/Early August - that’s just New England) and a chance to take a swim while you gaze up at a classic New England landmark. Fun fact: the Portland Head Lighthouse is the oldest in Maine, and the most photographed in America!
Pro Tip: Make sure you give yourself at least a half-day to explore the entire park and surrounding area. With some fantastic bike/walking paths connecting the lighthouse, the beach, and the historical battery buildings, you’ll want to have plenty of time to explore!
Best Beach for a Diverse New England Summer Experience:
Odiorne Point State Park (Rye, NH)
Odiorne Point State Park, Rye, NH - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue
Just outside Portsmouth, NH, Odiorne State Park can accommodate all of your New Englandey needs. We’re talking an amazingly long jetty (with a view all the way to Maine!), a mix of rocky New England-style and sandy beaches, forests with trails, swampy marshlands, and abandoned gun batteries. Additionally, it is a great place to come with the entire family. Featuring a sea coast learning center, recreational and fishing boats galore, and local flora and fauna, the kids will definitely stay busy here!
Pro Tip: Take a few minutes to learn about the story of the area and its fascinating (and strategic) location on the mouth of the Piscataqua River. This area is steeped in history dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War days, and you won’t want to miss the chance to learn all about about the historical significance of the area!
Best NE Beach for a Post-Hike Swim:
Sand Beach - Acadia National Park
(Bar Harbor, ME)
Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor ME - Photo Credit: Brett Stanton
Sand Beach is a beautiful beach tucked between mountains and rocky shores on the East side of Mount Desert Island, in Acadia National Park. While the water temperature will rarely exceed the mid-50s, the chilled waters will feel amazing after a summer hike in the heat. While you can drive up to the beach after hiking elsewhere in the park, it would be a missed opportunity not to do the moderately-rated 1.4 mile Great Head Trail Loop that leaves directly from the beach. You’ll get sweeping ocean views and a beautiful perspective on the beachgoers below. Work up a sweat on the trail, then hit the water once you get back to the trailhead!
Pro Tip: For the best Acadia experience, be sure to hike The Beehive before you take your swim. The trailhead is directly across from the Sand Beach parking area, so you can leave your vehicle conveniently parked near your next stop before embarking on a thrilling and awe inspiring adventure. While not for people with a fear of heights, the Beehive trail takes travelers up a large (sometimes vertical) igneous rock face using ladders fixed into the stone. Climb your way to amazing views of Sand Beach, and the surrounding coastline (2 miles total distance), then complete the loop before taking your swim - you’ve earned it!
Best NE Beach for Connecticut Residents (and a chance to run into T-Swift): Watch Hill Beach (Westerly, RI)
Watch Hill Beach: Westerly, RI - Photo Credit: Steven Kornfield
Sorry Connecticut folks! We asked a Pathloom staffer who’s one of your own what his favorite beach is in the Constitution State, and he gave us two options in Southern Rhode Island?! If you are from Connecticut or have another beach recommendation we’ve missed, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be sure to update this piece!
While Connecticut may not have the famous beaches of its more Northern New England counterparts, Watch Hill Beach is just over the CT border into Rhode Island, and is an absolutely beautiful, family-friendly, sandy beach with clean water and an antique flying horse carousel for the children!
Pro Tip: Westerly, Rhode Island offers a cute little New England beach town atmosphere with multiple beaches, a classic Northeast lighthouse, and more. Check out the town after you’ve taken a swim at Watch Hill!
Brett Stanton enjoys spending time hiking, backpacking, and exploring the world's wildest and most beautiful places. Despite the pandemic interrupting travel, Brett hopes to get back to work on his goal of visiting all 63 American National Parks as soon as he can.
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