Travel

Where is New England’s best beach?

Cape and New England number some top candidates

DAVID STONE/ESSEX HERITAGE

Cape Cod cottage rentals are disappearing fast (and may be gone by the time you read this sentence), and Bostonians are plastering beach stickers to their windshields quicker than you can say “75 degrees and sunny.”

If you’re among those who think our beaches are truly exquisite, you’re in good company. Even “Dr. Beach,” Stephen Leatherman (self-titled “America’s foremost beach expert”), selected a New England beach for his most recent list of Top Ten beaches in the United States. A slew of other publications and websites have also shown some love to our sandy coastline on their best lists. Here’s where they went, plus some of our own candidates for best beach in New England. Is your favorite on the list?

THEIR PICKS

Coast Guard Beach, Eastham

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Echoing Henry David Thoreau, who called Cape Cod’s outer coast “the great beach” in the 1800s, Forbes.com crowned Coast Guard Beach one of its “10 Best Beaches of 2014.” It also cropped up on the list of “Top Ten US Family Beaches” on NationalGeographic.com, thanks to its “classic Cape Cod vacation” appeal, featuring “boundless miles of sand and surf on the Cape Cod National Seashore.” And the redoubtable Dr. Beach anointed Coast Guard Beach one of his 10 best in the United States, ranking it eighth, the only New England beach to make the cut. Thoreau wrote, “A man may stand there and put all America behind him.” It’s still a place that overwhelms with its powerful beauty. www.nps.gov/caco

Ogunquit Beach, Ogunquit, Maine

One of two New England beaches that claimed a spot on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards list of Top 25 US Beaches for 2015, this 2-mile beach in southern coastal Maine came in 13th. Readers declared it to be beautiful, clean, and “cold, cold, cold!” (They actually went into the water. Rookie mistake!) www.ogunquit.org

Ogunquit Beach in Maine was named one of the top 25 beaches in the U.S. by users of TripAdvisor.com.

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Ogunquit Beach in Maine was named one of the top 25 beaches in the U.S. by users of TripAdvisor.com.

Fred Benson Town Beach, Block Island, R.I.

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Block Island was named one of the 12 “last great places in the Western Hemisphere” by the Nature Conservancy, yet it remains mostly unknown outside New England. Kudos to Coastal Living magazine for sleuthing out this Block Island gem (locally known as Crescent Beach) for its “21 Best Beaches” feature. Fred Benson Town Beach “rides a sandy isthmus between Great Salt Pond and the open Atlantic,” according to Coastal Living writer Joe Yogerst. This 3-mile stretch of sand abuts town (Old Harbor) at its southern end and conservation land to the north. www.blockislandchamber.com

Race Point Beach Provincetown

TripAdvisor.com contributors gave rave reviews to Race Point Beach in the 2015 Travelers’ Choice Awards (Top 25 US Beaches); one reviewer called it “the best beach on earth. . . . I could live there forever.” Beloved for its “fine white sand and gently-sloped sand dunes,” seals, and spectacular views, this beach ranked 16th on TripAdvisor.com’s list. Look for dunes as high as 100 feet tall near the Province Lands Visitor Center on Race Point Road. www.nps.gov/caco

Head of the Meadow Beach Truro

Joining Block Island’s beautiful strand on Coastal Living’s list of 21 Best Beaches, this untamed, ocean-side Cape Cod National Seashore beach is “ideal for romantic picnics, long walks, and adventurous over-sand driving,” says Yogerst. Our advice: Make it a twofer; bring your bikes and pedal the paved 2-mile Head of the Meadow bike trail, tucked behind the dunes. (Note: Permits are required for off-road driving on Head of the Meadow Beach; see the National Park Service website for details.) www.nps.gov/caco

Michael Galvin/Nantucket Chamber of Commerce

Nantucket's Children's Beach has a playground and calm waters.

Beaches of Nantucket

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TravelChannel.com placed the entire island of Nantucket third on its list of “Top 10 US Beaches,” calling it “a faraway fairytale land . . . set against a bright blue backdrop of ocean and bay.” Specifically, they name-checked Surfside and Children’s beaches, noting that Nantucket has “a beach for everyone.” We agree. Those two beaches are especially popular with families, given that Children’s Beach is an easy walk from town and it’s got a playground and picnic tables (plus playmates aplenty for the toddler set). Meanwhile, Surfside can be reached with a 3-mile ride on the bike path, or on the NRTA Wave bus that runs in summer, and it has amenities, including restrooms and snacks. www.nantucketchamber.org

Beaches of Martha’s Vineyard

Again, TravelChannel.com gave its “Top 10 US Beaches” nod to an island, probably figuring that readers wouldn’t have heard of Moshup Beach (a.k.a. Aquinnah Public Beach), the only MV beach they call out by name. And what a rave review: “an island paradise of soft, white sand framed by red, brown, and tan striated cliffs.” This luscious up-island beach came in eighth on the website’s list. So, two beaches in the top 10 — not too shabby, Massachusetts! www.mvy.com

Crane Beach, Ipswich

We happen to love Crane Beach, with its undulating dunes and secret maritime forest, and so do the folks at NationalGeographic.com. They hailed it as one of the Top 10 US Family Beaches. “Calm waters, warm tidal pools, and on-site amenities such as a snack bar . . . make this an ideal destination for families,” they noted. Not to mention the pure powdery-softness of the sand, and the cool views of the Great House, rising over the beach. www.thetrustees.org

GREAT ONES THEY FORGOT

Popham Beach Phippsburg, Maine

You can tell the first-timers by the look of pure bedazzlement on their faces. At low tide, this gorgeous midcoast beach seems to go on forever, a wide and golden 3-mile stretch of sand plus trails, a marsh area, and views of Seguin Lighthouse. This is the place where the Kennebec River meets the Atlantic, a perfect setting for long strolls (you can walk out to Fox Island) and sandcastle construction. www.maine.gov

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester

Thanks to its gentle surf and shallow tide pools, this half-mile-long, dune-backed beach is beloved by families with little ones. Styrofoam boogie boards are allowed, a boon for big kids. At low tide, wander out to Salt Island. On summer weekends, arrive early before the parking lot fills. (If that happens, try your luck at Wingaersheek Beach in West Gloucester.) www.gloucester-ma.gov

Lake Willoughby, East Burke, Vt.

Our top honors for best freshwater beach go to Lake Willoughby in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, thanks to the crazy beautiful could-be-set-in-Norway views from the shoreline. Called the “Lucerne of America” by some, this deep-blue, fiord-like lake is framed by mounts Pisgah and Hor. There’s a sandy beach on each end of this deep-water (reaching depths of 320 feet) body of water. The public beach on the lake’s north end borders shallow, bone-chilling water. The southern end is favored by clothing-optional beachgoers. www.travelthekingdom.com

Deep-blue Lake Willoughby, reaching depths of 320 feet, is bordered by two sandy beaches.

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Deep-blue Lake Willoughby, reaching depths of 320 feet, is bordered by two sandy beaches.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.
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