1. Spectacle Island
Boston Harbor Islands, Boston
If South Boston’s Carson Beach is too busy on a hot summer day, take a 15-minute boat ride from downtown to Spectacle Island. Spectacle Island spans 105 acres and is the only Boston Harbor island with lifeguard-supervised public swimming. It also features a snack shack that is open seven days a week during the summer months, a visitor center with exhibits about the history and evolution of the island, and a venue for catered events. Boaters can even dock at the island’s marina with day or overnight slips.
Ferries leaving on the red schedule to Spectacle Island depart Boston’s Long Wharf North 11 times a day, starting at 9:30 a.m. and wrapping at 5:15 p.m. Three of the trips leaving Boston include a guided historical tour (2:30 p.m., 3:45 p.m., and 5 p.m.). Beachgoers beware: The latest boat returning to the mainland leaves at 5:35. Tickets for Spectacle Island are available for purchase online at www.bostonsbestcruises.com: $15 for adults and $9 for children round-trip through Sept. 2.
2. National Seashore
50 Nauset Road, Eastham
Yes, it’s a hike to the Lower Cape. Yes, it’s worth every minute of what may be a painful drive. The National Seashore attracts tourists from around the world for its open-ocean crashing waves and scenic coastline. Don’t be confused, the National Seashore is not just one beach, it is a National Park and its own entity that actually encompasses six beaches from Eastham to Provincetown.
The Salt Pond Visitor Center at the main entrance to the National Seashore in Eastham is full of maps and information on the park’s different areas, and also has a theater where visitors can watch one of five short films shown daily. If taking a break from the heat is a necessity, visit the center’s museum and bookstore for a reprieve.
There are also two beaches to visit in Eastham (Coast Guard and Nauset Light) for swimming, and the town boasts five walking trails, including one at historic Fort Hill where visitors can take in the Cape Cod landscape along the saltwater Nauset Marsh and Nauset Spit. The trail is 1½ miles long, and the National Park Service recommends a one-hour allowance to finish the walk. It intersects with the Red Maple Swamp Trail, which is the same distance, so if you’re feeling adventurous, double up your journey along the trail’s boardwalks and under lush vegetation.
You’ll need a car to get around to the different spots along the National Seashore. Before you reach your final destination, whether it be in Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, or Provincetown, budget time for a stop at the Eastham Superette on Route 6 for provisions. The small grocery store celebrated 60 years of business in 2012. The Superette sells deli sandwiches, which are great to grab for beach fare, and also features a meat counter if barbecuing is on the agenda.
3. Crane Beach
End of Argilla Road, Ipswich
With 5½ miles of trails to hike, Crane Beach on the Crane Estate in Ipswich is more than just a place to splash around. During beach season, visitors to Crane Beach can take advantage of conveniences like bathhouses, bike racks, and the Crane Beach Store, where refreshments and souvenirs are ready for purchase.
The aforementioned Crane Estate encompasses the beach, but the property’s main house is the crown jewel. The expansive 59-room home was designed by renowned architect David Adler for Richard T. Crane who purchased the property in 1910. The home was finished 1928 and is open to the public on a daily basis throughout the summer months for one-hour tours starting every half hour. If you fall in love with the Crane grounds, you can stay overnight on the Estate, at the Castle Hill Inn, a 10-room inn that can be rented by room or in its entirety.
You must be a member of The Trustees of Reservations to apply for a seasonal Crane Beach sticker ($80). If you are not a member, weekday parking will cost $15 and weekends run $25. For more information visit the Trustees website.
4. Carson Beach
Babe Ruth Road and William J. Day Blvd., South Boston
It’s not a hidden jewel, we know, but Southie’s Carson beach is the perfect getaway for city dwellers who can’t quite escape the Hub for a full day. The beach offers the Edward J. McCormack bathhouse, which isn’t the typical run-of-the-mill changing station. There are standard restrooms and showers, as well as bocce courts and chess tables for recreational fun.
Dining on the beach can become a sandy affair, so Carson visitors can venture to Mother’s Rest to take in views of the harbor and enjoy their lunch on picnic tables. The beach is walking distance from the JFK/UMass stop on the Red Line — and how many beaches around Boston can boast that? It is also accessible from a slew of MBTA bus lines. Good news for Boston’s drivers: There is ample free parking in the area.
If nibbling on something yummy is also on the agenda, head a little farther south to Dorchester and stop at Lambert’s Rainbow Fruit on Morrissey Boulevard. The grocery store offers an impressive salad bar ($4.99/pound) and a full-service deli counter that serves hot and cold jam-packed sandwiches on a variety of rolls and wraps.
5. Chebacco Lake
340 Chebacco Road, South Hamilton
Chebacco Lake is a freshwater boater’s paradise in Essex County. The great pond was chosen as one of the main backdrops for the 2010 hit “Grown Ups,” which was filmed at a house on the picturesque body of water. That’s right, Adam Sandler, his motley crew of funny men and ladies, and that adorable little girl (Alexys Nycole Sanchez) who wanted to get “chocolate wasted” all hung out here. Hollywood East chasers and fans can re-create the “Grown Ups” experience by renting a home along the water’s edge. According to the lake’s website, there are 150 to choose from, although it does not specify how many are privately occupied.
Fishermen can put their boats in the water at the South Hamilton boat ramp and leave trucks and trailers in one of the 14 adjacent parking spaces. Chebacco is home to several types of fish, including largemouth bass, white perch, and pickerel. Use of the ramp is free but boaters are asked not to create a wake when on the shallow waters. At its deepest, Chebacco is 22 feet, with an average depth of just 9 feet. The Chebacco Lake & Watershed Association requests that boaters traverse the lake in a counterclockwise direction.
Visitors without boats are welcome to use the beach at Centennial Grove for swimming on weekends through mid-August. The Grove, a free facility with bathrooms and a kitchen, is situated on a very small beach at Chebacco Lake. It will open to the public for daily use on Aug. 16 once a YMCA summer camp program finishes. There are no lifeguards on duty at Centennial Grove, so parents and beachgoers should be vigilant in watching swimmers. Centennial Grove can be rented for private events for a flat rate. More information is available at the Town of Essex website (www.essexma.org).
Before using the lake, travelers can make a stop at Nick’s Famous Roast Beef (www.nicksfamousroastbeef.com) in North Beverly for one of the best signature sandwiches on the North Shore. Everything on the menu runs under $10 and if adventure is calling, try some zucchini sticks or broccoli bites on the side.
6. Nantasket Beach
213 Nantasket Ave., Hull
Martha’s Vineyard may have the Flying Horses Carousel, but Nantasket Beach has the Paragon Carousel, one of the country’s oldest wooden carousel’s according to the Hull Chamber of Commerce. The carousel was crafted in 1928 and was part of Paragon Park, an amusement park on the beach’s property, until it was closed and sold in the ’80s. The carousel was rescued from auction in 1996 and, according to its website, draws more than 100,000 visitors each summer. Although the carousel may be a large draw for children, the beach’s idyllic views and small-town feel are a welcome escape for grown-up city dwellers. Nantasket visitors can partake in summer dance lessons or listen to a band play along the water’s edge in the warm months.
The beach spans more than a mile of coastline and is located on a peninsula, surrounded by waters on three sides. Kayakers are welcome to traverse the calm waters of the Weir River Sanctuary and history buffs can take a hike up to Fort Revere on Telegraph Hill to visit years gone by. The first fort was built on the property in 1776 to defend Boston during the Revolutionary War and another was constructed in the 1800s that remained in service variably through the end of World War II.
Parking prices vary depending on the lot, and some street parking is available.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Argilla Road in Ipswich.