If you love the beach but worry about finding parking when you get there, take heart: While the early bird still catches the worm, you don’t have to leave home at the crack of dawn.
On a sunny summer day, most beach parking lots on the North and South shores are full by 11 a.m.; on weekends, you’re out of luck if you arrive after 10. But on the North Shore, you can eliminate the drive or shorten it, with public transporation. On the South Shore, you’ll have to drive or walk.
At the visitor center at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, you can park for the day for $15 and take the Cape Ann Transportation shuttle, a bus that looks like an old-fashioned trolley and makes a circuit of the city, stopping at every beach. A one-way fare is $1. An all-day pass will set you back 3 bucks, a pittance if you compare it with beach parking: $25 on weekdays, $30 on weekends and holidays.
This summer, bus service from Boston replaces MBTA train service from North Station to Cape Ann, suspended through Sept. 30, during bridge construction. Trolleys will continue to transport passengers to area beaches.
Riding the Gloucester trolley
Navigating is easier when you’ve studied the tourist brochures and maps. Better still, find a native companion, if you will, to show you the ropes.
That was my good fortune recently, when Gloucester native Heidi Dallin agreed to be my guide and asked her uncle, Bob Ryan, general manager of the Cape Ann Transportation Authority, to join us.
Mist was rising in the harbor when I arrived at Stage Fort Park on a Saturday morning, a half-hour before the first trolley was scheduled to run. A sea gull slanted across the sky over Cressy Beach. A fog horn croaked.
The park-and-ride lot at the visitor center was nearly empty.
Soon Dallin, her Uncle Bobby, and I were riding the bus, the day’s first passengers, headed toward Good Harbor Beach. The driver, who was new and probably wasn’t expecting his boss, didn’t say much.
“There’s not a prettier place in the world,” Ryan declared as we rode along Stacy Boulevard, past the Fishermen’s Memorial and the Fishermen’s Wives statue.
My native companion beamed a smile that lit up the bus. In real life, she is an actor, educator, and the media contact at the Gloucester Stage Company,
““We’re happy to share our good fortune,” she said.
At Good Harbor Beach, the trolley stops at a footbridge, riders unload their gear and walk onto the sand. Vehicles line up along the curb and deboard in a similar fashion, then move off to find parking in the beach lot or some out-of-the-way spot that’s free.
A one-way trolley ticket costs $1 (50 cents for seniors and people with disabilities); it’s $3 for an all-day pass. The price of parking illegally is $45 and a tow.
On this Saturday morning, Lynn residents Arthur Leite, 35, and Ashley Leite, 29, walked about a quarter of a mile from their car, carrying beach chairs and bags from their “secret” parking space, which they politely declined to reveal.
“We have to leave by 8 to get the spot where we usually park,” Arthur said.
Back at the visitor center after our trolley tour of downtown Gloucester, Bass Rocks, and Rocky Neck, we crossed paths with Kenneth Ryan, a retired Gloucester police detective and the city’s beach parking manager. (The two Ryans are not related.)
“The beaches can only hold so many people,” Ryan offered when asked for parking tips to share with readers. “If it’s sunny, hot, and humid, and you’re not in [the lot] by 9:30 a.m., you won’t get in.”
Off to Rockport
On the drive from Gloucester to the Blue Gate park-and-ride in Rockport, my native companion predicted that one of her cousins would be working at the gatehouse. The parking lot, built over a former landfill, holds 199 spaces, plus six spots for vehicles with handicap tags, all free. Trolley tickets here are the same price as in Gloucester. (Exact change, please.)
After landing in Rockport, we used the public restrooms, which are new, clean, and well appointed, and joined the flow of foot traffic wending through the downtown.
“I was born in December, and was on the beach that summer, with a lot of sunscreen, under a big umbrella,” my native companion told me while we sat on a bench facing the sea. “My grandmother taught me how to swim in the creek at Good Harbor Beach. We’d go early in the morning and stay till sunset, watch the sunset, and go home completely exhausted and exhilarated.”
At Rexhame Beach in Marshfield on a Sunday morning, snow fences contain the sand and the Cape American beach grass flutters in the breeze. Needham residents Julie Rothhaar-Sanders and Paris Sanders are spreading out their blanket on the white sand, glad to have left home by 8 a.m. to avoid the traffic.
Rothhaar-Sanders, who grew up on the South Shore, said Rexhame is a favorite destination for the couple. They had hoped to meet a sister who lives nearby, but it didn’t work out.
Rexhame, which means “King’s Hamlet,” opens at 7 a.m. every day. But Cindy Castro, the Marshfield beach administrator, recommended that visitors arrive before 9 a.m. to secure a parking space. If you get there by 10, you’ll probably be OK. But after that, expect a long line that ends at the ticket booth, where a sign tells you the parking lot is full.
“If you’re a morning person, come early. If you like the afternoon, come after 2 p.m. and stay until 7,” said Castro, who has worked at the town beaches for 30 years. “Time it right. And please be nice to the parking attendants.”
A few miles away, at Duxbury Beach, Nancy King and her 13-year-old son, Dylan, accompanied by his dog, Hope, met us near the harbormaster’s shack.
There are two beaches side by side here: Duxbury Beach and Duxbury Beach Park.
Duxbury Beach is managed by the Duxbury Beach Reservation, and beach-goers, both resident and nonresident, must purchase vehicle stickers for the season: $100 for a season pass for residents ($50 seniors); $200 for residents to drive onto beach, $340 for nonresidents.
Duxbury Beach Park is a public beach where visitors pay $20 to park for the day.
King, a longtime town resident, said there’s a small lot where you can park for free and walk over the Powder Point Bridge to the beaches. But parking there is hit-or-miss.
On this Sunday, the parking lot at Duxbury Beach Park, 1,400 spaces, is full by 10:40 a.m., and it’s the same at Rexhame Beach when we return about 20 minutes later to assess the parking situation there.
All off at Nantasket Beach
The last stop is Nantasket Beach in Hull, 948 parking spaces in eight metered lots ($15 a day for Massachusetts residents, $20 for out-of-staters), a sea of asphalt along a busy street. At noon, the sun is like a branding iron marking everything it touches — sidewalks, cars, skin.
A man and a boy are playing catch in the water. A young father from Milton said he and his family drove 40 minutes to get to the beach.
In the distance, sailboats tack under a painted sky. Old people and parents with young children sit on the boardwalk, protected by a long roof. Waves are gathering power as they rush toward the shore, and the parking lot separating the city street from this little piece of heaven is full.
Beach parking, by the number$
Note: MBTA rail service from Boston to Cape Ann is suspended through Sept. 30 for bridge construction; for details on replacement bus service, go to www.mbta.com.
Good Harbor Beach
Parking: 950 spaces (100 to 200 for residents only, with sticker)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fees: $20 resident season pass, good for all beaches: $250 nonresident season pass (limited number); $25 per vehicle weekdays, $30 weekends/holidays, $15 after 3 p.m. weekdays, $20 after 3 p.m. weekends, no charge after 5 p.m. Coupons for $10 off available for guests of hotels, motels, B&B’s
Public transportation: Park at Stage Fort Park, $15; trolley service daily, www.canntran.com; $3 for all-day pass; $1 for one-way fare; 50 cents for people with disabilities, seniors. Kids under 5, free.
Parking: 650 spaces; (100 to 200 for residents-only with stickers)
Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fees: $20 resident season pass, good for all beaches; $250 nonresident season pass (limited number); $25 per vehicle weekdays, $30 weekends/holidays, $15 after 3 p.m. weekdays, $20 after 3 p.m. weekends, no charge after 5 p.m. Coupons for $10 off for hotel, motel, B&B guests.
Public transportation: trolley service daily, www.canntran.com
Front Beach, downtown
Parking: 19 pay spaces; limited private-lot parking; resident/nonresident stickers https://rockportstickers.cityhallsystems.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Fees: $2 per hour/4 hour maximum (metered, kiosks)
Public transportation: Park free at Blue Gate (199 spaces; 6 handicapped), trolley service daily, www.canntran.com
Back Beach, downtown
Parking: 33 pay spaces, rockportstickers.cityhallsystems.com
Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Fees: $2 per hour/4 hour maximum (metered/kiosks)
Public: Park free at Blue Gate, trolley service daily, www.canntran.com
Crane Beach at Crane Estate
Owned and operated by the Trustees of Reservations, www.thetrustees.org
Trolley service on weekends and holidays, www.canntran.com
Parking: 1,450 spaces for public
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset
Fees: $75 season pass, available to Trustees members; for members, $15 per vehicle weekdays, $20 weekends and holidays; for nonmembers, $25 per vehicle weekdays, $30 weekends and holidays
Public transporation: trolley service daily, www.canntran.com
Rail service from Boston: Shuttle buses, making all stops, replace weekend service on Newburyport/Rockport line through Sept. 30.
Rexhame Beach (town-run)
Standish Street; 781-834-5543
Parking: 300 spaces
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Fees: Resident season pass is $40; nonresidents pay $15 weekdays; $20 weekends and holidays; $5 daily after 5 p.m.
Duxbury Beach Park (public)
260 Gurnet Road; 781-837-3112
Parking: 1,400 spaces
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Fees: $20 per vehicle per day (no sticker needed)
Duxbury Beach (town-operated )
309 Gurnet Road (accessed via Powder Point Bridge from Duxbury, or Gurnet Road from Marshfield)
Parking: 250 spaces for residents; 250 for nonresidents
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Fees: resident season lot $100 ($50 seniors); resident parking for season pass to drive on beach $200; nonresident $340.
Nantasket Beach, (state Department of Conservation and Recreation)
Route 3A/Nantasket Avenue
Parking: 948 spaces (eight metered lots); about 230 free, on-street spaces
Hours: dawn to dusk
Fees: $15 daily for Massachusetts residents; $20 for nonresidents
Season pass $60; seniors $10
Public transportation: MBTA Greenbush Line; Boston Harbor Cruises commuter ferry
Hattie Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.