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A recent travel survey asked respondents to pick their favorite family friendly New England beaches. Picking a favorite is hard, since some travelers are looking for killer surf, while others seek solitude, and still more want warmer waters or a spectacular view. Here are the beaches travelers chose as their top faves, and what each beach has to lure you into a visit.
1. Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Old Orchard is a festive town, loaded with crab shacks and souvenir shops. It boasts a 500-foot wooden pier jutting into the beautiful, chilly Atlantic waters, which has been rebuilt three times over the years after Mother Nature had her way on the treacherous Main coastline. Though many shops and restaurants cater to summer tourists, the town manages to retain its quaint heritage.
Old Orchard is a seven-mile stretch of beach with everything from bustling business to residential areas. Palace Playland is the seaside amusement park here, built in 1902 on four acres of beachfront property. This old timey amusement park entertains tourists, while fourty-odd restaurants cater to their every culinary whim, from clam steamers to pizza, prime rib to Greek, Chinese to karaoke bars, and Italian to Mexican. Of course, many of Old Orchard’s restaurants serve the traditional local delicacy: lobster and clam cooked every way you can conjure up.
2. Ogunquit, Maine
If Old Orchard is small, Ogunquit is comparatively tiny. The name means “beautiful place by the sea” in the indigenous Abenaki language. It sits at the junction of the Ogunquit River and the Atlantic, blessed with three and one-half miles of white, sandy beaches. The Ogunquit Playhouse is their summer theater, featuring music performed by Summer Stock, also known as Straw Hat Theater. The Playhouse is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Along the rocky cliffs of Ogunquit winds the 1.5 mile Marginal Way, a walking path overlooking the ocean. Ogunquit is an excellent beach for boogie boarding, with waves large enough to thrill children yet tame enough to be safe. The northern end offers lighter crowds. Visiting the tidal pools is popular here, where the waters are chilly year round. Bakeries and lobster shacks await the hungry Ogunquit visitor.
3. Kennebunk Beach, Maine
Kennebunk Beach features several distinctly different beaches, including Gooch’s Beach with its exciting wave action, Mother’s Beach with a playground and calmer waters, and the rocky yet spectacularly beautiful Middle Beach. Cleaves Cove Beach is more secluded with lots of scenery but no facilities. Goose Rocks Beach features soft sands ideal for walking and trolley access, but no facilities.
Boating, kayaking, white water rafting, golf, and skiing keep visitors merrily occupied in between lush meals prepared by local chefs using the bounty of fresh Maine seafood and produce. Kennebunkport is home to New England’s only five-star, AAA five-diamond restaurant: The White Barn Inn.
Breakfasts here consist of locally harvested blueberries cooked in fat pancakes and smothered with Maine maple syrup. Lunch is a hearty bowl of clam chowder, and dinner is a yummy Maine lobster. For snacks (and to take home and brag about), check out some Maine saltwater taffy and harbor candies. Get reservations for summer dining plans, as restaurants fill up quickly.
4. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
This small town does summer in a big way: providing 80 free summer concerts, fireworks displays every week (16 total), a sand sculpture competition, the Miss Hampton Beach pageant, the Seafood Festival and national acts constantly at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. If you want an action-packed vacation, Hampton Beach is perfect for you.
Hampton Beach has the distinct honor of scoring perfect in the water quality department for the past three years, and it’s one of four beaches that made “Superstar Beach” by the National Resource Defense Council for its safe environment and cleanliness. Ocean Boulevard is where all the action is, brimming with shops and businesses along the boardwalk. Nearby, residents and visitors enjoy 63 oceanfront acres of saltwater fishing, whale watching, and picnicking at Rye Harbor State Park. Odiorne State Park offers boating, fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, and picnicking along the rocky ocean shoreline.
5. Narragansett, Rhode Island
Nestled along the Pehaquamscutt River and Narragansett Bay, Narragansett isn’t as small as the first four towns on this list, and offers several beaches to enjoy. North Town Beach is the only paid beach in the area, as it’s the only one that doesn’t receive operational support from the government. Scarborough State Beach, Roger Wheeler State Beach, and Salty Brine State Beach are state-funded and charge only for parking.
Scarborough beach is separated into a north beach and a south beach, and offers lots of convenient facilities, including a boardwalk and observation tower. Salty Brine is situated in Point Judith, the southermost point of Narragansett, and is shielded by the breakwater which protects the port of Galilee. Hence, the waters here are the calmest of all Narragansett’s beaches.
Nearby Fisherman’s Memorial State Park is 91 acres of fun, featuring a real military fort. It was named in honor of Rhode Island’s many lost commercial and sport fishermen. If you tire of the endless offerings of clam and lobster along the New England coast, Narragansett is a great place to grab something a little different. Sample some of the unusual yet yummy flavors at Brickley’s Ice Cream, and have them serve it up in one of their fresh, homemade waffle cones. Or, sample some classic French cuisine at Basil’s Restaurant. For a flair of Portugal and Spain amidst an array of American dishes, spend an evening at Spain of Narragansett.
Did you expect more of the beaches in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard to make the list? Many did make the top ten. Coast Guard Beach and Marconi Beach in Cape Cod cam in at numbers seven and nine, respectively, and Aquinnah Beach in Martha’s Vineyard rounded out the top ten.
Maine fared exceptionally well with travelers in the Family Friendly New England Beaches survey, with some squishy sand breaking up the rocky New England coastline to delight sunbathers and surfers alike. The only complaint most visitors gave these stellar beaches was cold water — which there is unfortunately no way to avoid in the northern Atlantic.