You may be dreaming of the beach, but if you want the full summer experience, you should also consider the beach town. Here’s our breakdown of the best New England beach towns.
10 Best New England Beach Towns
Our #1 best New England beach town has it all. No matter where you stay along the Route 1 strip in Ogunquit, you’ll be within easy walking distance of the beach. That’s a prerequisite for a world-class beach town, yet you’d be surprised how few New England communities offer the ability to walk from your hotel to the beach, and onward to classic seafood shacks and boutiques filled with the wares of local artisans.
Don’t Miss: The mile-long cliff walk called the Marginal Way, a float down the Ogunquit River where it rushes into the Atlantic, a show at the Ogunquit Playhouse, and the clam chowder and lobster rolls at Barnacle Billy’s.
Frankly, it was tough choosing between Provincetown and Ogunquit for the top spot. Located at the tip of Cape Cod, P-town checks all the boxes: Cape Cod National Seashore beaches where, if you’re willing to walk, you can always find a strip to yourself; stunning sunsets; a vibrant gallery and restaurant scene; popular whale-watching cruises; and the most eclectic (and at times electric) people-watching of all. For all these reasons, Provincetown is without a doubt one of the best New England beach towns.
Don’t Miss: A chance to explore the Cape Cod National Seashore either with Art’s Dune Tours or by biking on the Province Lands Bike Trail, a visit to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, a walk down Commercial Street to browse the shops, and a harborside meal at Tin Pan Alley.
In comparison with the other best New England beach towns, Nantucket offers notably sophisticated dining and an intriguing mix of shops, plus bike paths that branch off in every direction to a variety of beaches. Just remember that it takes some organization to get here: The ferry trip is lovely, and you have options — high-speed or not, there are six ferries a day — but you can’t just show up at the Hyannis terminal and hop on.
Don’t Miss: The impressive collection of scrimshaw at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the sunset at Madaket Beach, a visit to Bartlett’s Farm for locally grown produce, and a beer tasting at Cisco Brewers.
Old Harbor offers dramatic bluffs, secluded beaches, and quaint accommodations. Rent a bike and take a 13-mile loop around the island, stopping at the many lemonade stands, or hike the Greenway walking trails. Hungry? Check out Eli’s, an eclectic, no-reservations restaurant nestled into a clapboard cottage. Head north and you arrive at the glorious three-mile-long Crescent Beach, packed with day-trippers in the summer months.
Don’t Miss: The views at Southeast Light and Mohegan Bluffs, where sea-gouged cliffs plunge toward the water 200 feet below.
Amble along the sidewalks of this Martha’s Vineyard town, dotted with whaling captains’ homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then take your bike on the two-minute ferry ride over to Chappaquiddick and the remote Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, a long coastal stretch that you can call home for the rest of the day. If you feel like getting even closer to the sea, the Trustees of Reservations offers guided kayaking tours on Cape Poge and Wasque Reservation waterways. For an indulgent night out, try the lobster mac and cheese at L’étoile.
Don’t Miss: A cone at Mad Martha’s, the requisite stroll over to the docks, and a visit to Edgartown Light.
Most people associate Kennebunkport with the shopping at Dock Square, one reason why many consider it to be one of the best New England beach towns. That’s a shame, because the true joy of visiting Kennebunkport is driving on back roads to find the lobster traps stacked high on Cape Porpoise, the small strip of sand at Goose Rocks Beach, and the many favorite local eateries in between (like the Clam Shack, Nunan’s Lobster Hut, and the Ramp).
Don’t Miss: The four-course prix fixe menu at the White Barn Inn, across the river in neighboring Kennebunk Beach.
There are a few reasons we think Rockport is one of the best New England beach towns. Bearskin Neck, with its collection of boutiques, ice cream shops, and restaurants, juts out into Sandy Bay, ending at a rock jetty. Front Beach, a two-minute walk from Bearskin Neck, is ideal for sand-castle building and a swim. Neighboring Gloucester boasts two of the finest beaches on Cape Ann — Good Harbor and Wingaersheek — but you’ll want to spend most of your evening hours in Rockport.
Don’t Miss: A visit to Motif No. 1, famed as the most painted building in the world, and a classical music performance at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, whose floor-to-ceiling stage window overlooks the Atlantic.
You’ll find a quintessential village green here, replete with gazebo and bands playing concerts in summer, surrounded by a fine selection of restaurants and shops. This is definitely one of the best New England beach towns, but others know that, too: Parking at some of Chatham’s prime strips of sand is limited, so go early.
Don’t miss: A cup of chowder at Chatham Pier Fish Market, a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for best chowder in Massachusetts.
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
This classic summer retreat offers a pretty town beach, one of the oldest carousels in the country, long coastline walks, and an inviting array of shops and restaurants. If that weren’t enough to make this one of our best New England beach towns, the fact that Watch Hill is not directly off I-95 means you have to earn this slice of beachfront beauty.
Don’t Miss: Drinks on the glorious wraparound verandah of Ocean House and a visit to the aforementioned Flying Horse Carousel, where you can watch riders fly by on steeds that have revolved for more than 130 years.
Which New England beach town is your favorite?
This post was adapted from a 2016 Yankee digital feature by Steve Jermanok. For more, see Steve’s expanded list of the 25 Best Beach Towns in New England, including how he chose the best.