HULL — The first thing you should know is that you can get to Nantasket Beach by commuter rail only on weekdays. Whether this is good or bad news depends entirely on your attitude toward playing hooky on any given Monday through Friday. The long, gray sand beach “gets sardine-packed on the weekends,” one of the lifeguards told us, but there is more room to spread out during the week. The shoals beach near the mouth of Boston Harbor is especially broad at low tide, but tends to nearly disappear at high tide, so check the tide charts at www.tides.info (search for Nantasket Beach, Weir River, MA) before you plan your getaway.
In the 19th century, paddle steamboats used to run from Boston to Hull. We thought it would be fun to re-create that ride by taking the ferry from Long Wharf to Pemberton Point. Alas, the ferry schedule is biased toward workers coming into Boston rather than city dwellers seeking an escape. There are no departures to Hull until afternoon on weekdays (and none on weekends). That leaves the Greenbush line of the commuter rail (which also has no weekend service) as the best bet for a trip aboard modern double-decker cars.
The Greenbush departures from South Station at 9:25 and 10:30 a.m. are good options for beachgoers. The trip to Nantasket Junction is only about 40 minutes. Once you’re in Hull, the 714 bus passes the beach on its continuous loop from the tip of the peninsula to Hingham. Since Nantasket Junction is slightly off the route, call 781-396-2500 when you arrive at the station and ask for the driver to swing by. At worst, your wait will be 30 minutes and then it’s only about a five-minute ride to the beach. Ask to be let off across the street from the Art Deco-style Mary Jeannette Murray Bathhouse — and make sure that the driver points out the return bus stop (across the street from back of the Red Parrot near the Nantasket Beach Superwash at 259 Nantasket Ave.). The return bus comes by anytime from five to 20 minutes past the hour. The best option is to take the 3 p.m. bus, which allows plenty of time to make the 4:04 Greenbush train to South Station. If you miss the train, continue on the bus to Hingham Depot where you can catch the 220 bus to the Red Line T station in Quincy Center. For schedules of the commuter rail and the 220 bus, see www.mbta.com.
WHAT TO DO
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Paragon Park was known for its resort hotels, restaurants, and amusement rides. The Paragon Carousel (205 Nantasket Ave., 781-925-0472, www.paragoncarousel.com, rides $2.50) is a grand survivor of that era and a ride on the carousel is as much a part of the Nantasket experience as a dip in the ocean. It was built in 1928 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co. and brought to Hull to replace an earlier carousel that had been destroyed by fire. In addition to 66 horses, it boasts two unusual Roman chariots. The carousel even has its own small museum ($2 suggested donation) that recalls the glory days of the beach. But kids will probably prefer to spend time in the Dream Machine arcade (197 Nantasket Ave.) where they can try their hands at video games and some of the classic tests of skill like skee ball or the Candy Crane, which they can play until they win. For more incentive for your getaway, Nantasket Landing Miniature Golf (part of the arcade complex) offers a discount before 6 p.m. on weekdays ($6 per person, $4 reduced rate).
If you were struck by a sudden urge to get to the beach and didn’t bring any supplies, you can purchase a boogie board, sunscreen, beach chair, or towel at the Lucky Lemons refreshment stand (205 Nantasket Ave., $13-$20). Didn’t pack a lunch? Joseph’s Pizzeria (183A Nantasket Ave., 781-925-9019, sandwiches and pizzas $2.95-$18.75) is a classic beachside eatery. Check out the wall of historic photos while you wait for your pizza, fried clam roll, Greek gyro sandwich, or fried dough.
Greenbush commuter rail fares from South Station to Nantasket Junction (Zone 4) are $14.50 round trip and the Hull bus is $2 per ride. On our recent trip, both the train and the bus ran smoothly but their schedules don’t synchronize as well as we had hoped. It’s still well worth the trip — even though the wait times and the need to keep a close eye on the return time detract a bit from the experience of a carefree day at the beach.