Beaches may not be the first thing that come to mind when daydreaming about northern ports. But you better believe that when temperatures rise and those warm summer breezes start to blow, residents and visitors alike make tracks for sandy Atlantic Ocean curves. These 10 favorites, chosen by our Marinalife readers, provide a contrast to their palm-fringed and reef-studded southern siblings. Instead, showing off naturally diverse and sometimes-rugged shores, along with a treasure trove of historic and modern attractions.
Several sections make up this beautiful, 2.5-mile stretch on the east coast of Block Island and everyone has their favorite. The easiest to visit is Surf Beach, just steps from the Old Harbor ferry dock, where small waves lap a tawny blanket dotted with rocks. Baby Beach, to the south, attracts families to its shallow tide pools and mild surf. Town Beach has a pavilion with concessions; Scotch Beach is broad and roomy, with a volleyball game usually under way. Whatever your taste, you can't miss with this varied, wonderful slice of heaven.
Where to dock: Champlin's Hotel, Marina & Resort (401-466-7777)
You don't have to be rich and famous to frequent this public beach in Long Island's East Hampton. In fact, it's better that way. A bite-size 300 feet long, Georgica is one of the quieter strands in the area, popular with surfers and kayakers who like to leisurely paddle around neighboring Georgica Cove. There are lifeguards on duty during the summer and restrooms are available, but expect no other amenities here. Plan to bring a fully stocked cooler with you. However, magnificent views of the horizon-swallowing Atlantic Ocean are free and available year-round.
Where to Dock: Sag Harbor Yacht Club (631-725-0567)
Down Park Loop Road on the east side of Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, Sand Beach lies hidden between mountains and rocky coasts on both sides. But the discovery is so worth it. The gorgeous, 290-yard swath is comprised mainly of tiny shell fragments that have been beaten into sand by the rough shores and surf. A lifeguard is on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Changing rooms and restrooms are located next to the parking area. One caveat: the water is bone-chilling cold, even in July and August, so enter at your own risk.
Where to Dock: Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina (207-288-5033)
Being located in a place called Pleasure Island sets a high standard, but Carolina Beach is up to the task. The 1950s-era motels and rental cottages flanked today by upscale condos and hotels evoke a vintage coastal feel. So does the boardwalk, which is a must-see (voted one of the 10 best in the country by Food & Wine magazine). Take a stroll there and peruse the amusements and boutique shops. Drop a line from the fishing pier, or visit the docks to watch the trawlers unloading the day's catch. You can bet there's some great, fresh seafood being served at the eateries right off the beachfront.
Where to Dock: Southport Marina (910-457-9900)
Perhaps the most picturesque pick on an island known for its magnificent beaches. The soft white sand, transparent water and good surf would put it at the top of many lists already but then there's the backdrop. The multi-colored clay cliffs in Aquinnah are spectacular, enhanced by small stone cairns built by previous visitors. A lookout area above the cliffs offers a few small restaurants that serve sandwiches, burgers and such. The beach is on the western-most part of Martha's Vineyard, often overlooked by tourists, which probably explains the clothing optional area. You have been warned.
Where to Dock: Vineyard Haven Marina (508-693-0720)
Looking for that Key West vibe without having to travel to, well, Key West? This is it. Coligny is Hilton Head's most lively beach, with sand volleyball courts and a giant outdoor bar just yards from the waist-deep ocean water. Here you'll find Hawaiian shirt-wearing musicians, all sorts of beach rentals, lifeguards, outdoor showers, changing rooms, even WiFi. Just a short jaunt north, Coligny Plaza feeds your need for touristy souvenirs, food and frosty beverages. Though this beach can become crowded in season, you have only to walk a few hundred yards north or south to get some elbowroom.
Watch Coast Guard ships come and go from the station around the point as you bask in the all-day glow of this khaki-colored gem. Dunes extend back from the wide cut of sand, with bike trails leading to the parking lot and, further, to Seashore Beach and Herring Cove. Stop by Province Lands Visitor Center before or after your sunning session to check out the short educational films and bookstore. Pilgrim Monument, also nearby, has exhibits about local plants and animals, as well as the Pilgrims' landing in Provincetown.
Where to Dock: Provincetown Marina (508-487-0571)
Sometimes you just want a little quiet time. So, after spending a day in Virginia Beach's bustling resort district, head 15 miles south to relax and recharge on Sandbridge Beach, five miles of golden sand along the Atlantic coast. Along with the blissful serenity of the ocean, those craving outdoor adventure can visit the marshes and open waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park for great kayaking, hiking and fishing.
Where to Dock: Marina Shores Marina (757-496-7000)
Let's get something straight right off the bat, this is not Wildwood, the noisier, newsmaking neighbor to the north. No, this is Wildwood Crest, a town known for its family appeal and historic architecture steeped in doowop culture. The beach is soft, white sand, with trained lifeguards and no alcohol, dogs or fires are permitted. Surfers have a designated area called Rambler Road Beach, where they can shred without disturbing swimmers. In the summer, outdoor concerts, fitness events and massive markets enliven this close-knit town.
Where to Dock: Schooner Island Marina (609-729-0900)
Rehoboth Beach is Delaware's largest beach resort, yet still spans only one square mile. But, oh, what a mile. The downtown boardwalk is where most of the action is. It's dotted with artsy boutiques and small, funky restaurants, along with a bevy of activities like video games, rides, go-karts and miniature golf. The vanilla-colored shoreline offers up surfing and skimboard lessons, as well as deepsea fishing expeditions. Back from the shore, Rehoboth consists of shady, tree-lined streets dotted with colorful cottages and tranquil parks.
Where to Dock: Indian River Inlet Marina (302-227-3071)