Some of the best summer getaways require only the bare essentials: a few towels, sunscreen, and a cooler of cold drinks and snacks. If venturing away from the crowds, unplugged and ready to unwind, is what you’re dreaming about, Marinalife has found idyllic places for you. The following beaches will help you reconnect with nature and discover your happy place in the sun.
DAMARISCOVE ISLAND, ME
As the first island to be inhabited by European fishermen in the 1600’s, Damariscove Island lies six miles from Boothbay Harbor. Because of nesting birds and a fragile ecosystem, the northern half of the 210-acre hourglass-shaped island is restricted. On the southern portion, trails wind along the water’s edge through coastal tundra. The freshwater pond, salt marsh and a cobble beach are perfect for picnicking. At the head of the harbor, a small museum showcases Damariscove’s rich history. A stone pier on the working waterfront welcomes local fishermen. Tie-ups are not permitted here, but the tiny, protected harbor has two courtesy moorings.
BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS, MA
Many of the three dozen islands spread over 50 square miles of the greater Boston Harbor basin were populated in the 1800s and later deserted during urban migration. Partial foundations and stone walls remain as relics of long-gone days.
Each spot of land has its own appeal. Anchor off Great Brewster Island and trek to the top of 100 foot bluffs for a view of lighthouses across the harbor. The rugged New England coastline and tidal pools of Grape Island, and gorgeous wildflowers on Rainsford Island make brag-worthy photos. Four islands within the park offer moorings, but reserve a spot well in advance. Spectacle Island has a lifeguarded beach as well as breathtaking views from the top of North Drumlin. Graceful granite archways of Civil War era Fort Warren greet visitors to Georges Island. Peddocks Island is appealing for being off the beaten path. Once home to Native Americans, militiamen and prisoners of war, it was used for shooting scenes for the film Shutter Island.
FIRE ISLAND, NY
When cruising the Great South Bay, be sure to visit Fire Island, a thin slice of land off the south shore of Long Island. A home for diverse plants, animals and people for centuries, it has pristine beaches, ancient maritime forests, high dunes and frequent glimpses of wildlife.
Activities on this car-free beach haven include hiking the 40-acre maritime Sunken Forest at Sailors Haven, climbing 182 steps to the top of the Fire Island Lighthouse and soaking up nature on Fire Island National Seashore. Take care not to disturb the piping plover, an endangered migratory shorebird that burrows its nests in the sand of the park beaches. Anchor offshore and wade in, or tie up to the floating dock at Talisman (Barrett Beach). Sailors Haven and Watch Hill Marina are in the park itself.
The 37 miles of Assateague Island on the Atlantic coastline is part of a barrier island chain extending from Maine to Texas. Assateague Island National Seashore has inviting miles of sandy beaches, salt marshes, maritime forests and an inviting atmosphere, but the real draw is the wild ponies roaming free along the beaches.
The animals are thought to be descendants of horses brought to several remote islands in the late 17th century by mainland owners trying to avoid fencing laws and taxation of livestock. Assateague’s horses are tough enough to survive the scorching heat, exuberant mosquitoes, temperamental weather and poor-quality food on this
remote, windswept barrier island. They are truly wild and best admired from afar.
SANDBRIDGE BEACH, VA
Just a few minutes south of Virginia Beach’s festive three-mile boardwalk is secluded Sandbridge Beach. A spectacular hideaway of pristine sand dunes and dancing sea oats, it’s perfect for unwinding with nature.
The beach sits near Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, home to sea turtles and various bird species, and False Cape State Park. Both have protected areas but welcome kayakers, hikers and fishermen.
MASONBORO ISLAND RESERVE, NC
Just south of the vibrant coastal town of Wrightsville Beach, one of the great hidden gems of the southeast is Masonboro Island, an essentially pristine barrier island and estuarine system. Masonboro Sound’s nutrient-rich waters are an important nursery area for fish including flounder, pompano, menhaden and bluefish.
The beaches along the north and south sound side of the island are the best landing spots for boats. Trails lead cross-island to the beach where visitors can trek along miles of undisturbed ocean shoreline. Inland on the dunes, grassy flats, marsh grass and eelgrass beds, use care that the vegetation and the habitat of nesting loggerhead and green sea turtles are not disturbed.
HAMMOCKS BEACH STATE PARK, NC
Hammocks Beach State Park, known locally as Bear Island, is an untouched beach area accessible only by boat. Try visiting in the late spring or early fall to avoid sweltering heat and overzealous mosquitoes.
The park rents kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards for exploring the Bear Island Water Trail or just meandering marshy waterways. There are no marked hiking paths, but wander through beautiful maritime forests, secret tide pools and endless mudflats. It’s a great place for shell hunters, bird watchers and dolphin lovers.
MORRIS ISLAND, SC
Morris Island’s secluded 840 acres embody the unique ecosystem of the Lowcountry. Located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and accessible only by boat, the island is actively protected by naturalists and historians, but is constantly under threat of development.
Some deep drop offs in the channels between sandbars
make for great shore fishing around the area. Weekend partiers prefer the northern end, while the southern part has hiking trails, peaceful beaches and prime views of the historic Morris Island Lighthouse.
Morris Island has a violent history. In the 1700s, marauding pirates used it as a hideout. And some of the most heroic and consequential battles of the Civil War took place here. Of all the ghost tales told here, it’s been said that some are whispered by the ghosts themselves.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, GA
Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island is located six miles east of St. Marys. Primal maritime forests, wide marshes and unspoiled beaches hum with the tales of previous residents. Indigenous tribes, missionaries, slaves and affluent tycoons have all passed through here.
Over 9,800 acres of Cumberland Island is designated wilderness. You’ll find more than 50 miles of trails for hiking and birdwatching, as well as 18 miles of beach for swimming and beachcombing. Rent a bike and pedal around the island with a stop at Dungeness Ruins, the remnants of steel magnate Thomas Carnegie’s mansion.
The island is only accessible by boat. As the only commercial establishment on the island, Greyfield Inn offers access to 18 miles of beachfront and dockage to its guests.