Reach the Beach

Sick of squandering your summer Fridays placating mutinous kids in beach-bound traffic? Consider getting off the highway a few exits early.

In theory, the weekend getaway is great: Cruise along the coast Friday afternoon; wake up to ocean breezes Saturday morning. The ugly reality looks more like this: End-of-week, bumper-to-bumper traffic; a stressed-out Saturday; and a Sunday cut short in an attempt to beat the return-trip crowds. But while the uninformed simmer with road rage, smart drivers are turning to a trio of towns most weekend warriors crawl by at 10 m.p.h. Quietly up-and-coming, these locales offer sand, sun, and much less stress. So set your GPS for York, Maine; Sandwich, Massachusetts; or Westerly, Rhode Island, and sit back and enjoy the ride.

Forget Bar Harbor, Learn to Love York
Boardwalk charm still abounds in York, one of America’s oldest oceanfront towns. So does a healthy dose of appealing kitsch (see the old-school bowling alley) and lots and lots of lobster.

Car time saved: Around 5 hours
Highlights: Hiking Mount Agamenticus’ many trails; York Wild Kingdom, Maine’s largest zoo; the Nubble Lighthouse cliffs by day or night; ghost tours led by eerie hooded figures.
Stay: The five-building York Harbor Inn specializes in service, whether it’s booking a kayaking trip, arranging for tickets to local shows, or setting up an in-room champagne dinner. 800-343-3869,
Stay (with kids): Surrounded by water on three sides, the 58-room Stage Neck Inn has tot- and teen-friendly indoor and outdoor pools, a clay tennis court, a game room, and beach access, plus a spa and fitness center for harried parents. 800-340-1130,
Swim: Food stands line the beach at Short Sands, a wave-free cove ideal for beach bums of any age.
Eat: The new home of famed Boston chef Lydia Shire, Blue Sky on York Beach offers a scene that’s more New York than York; the lobster pizza is a must. 207-363-0500,
Eat (with kids): Youngsters can climb the next-door seaside rocks while waiting for a table at Fox’s Lobster. Adults enjoy the lighthouse view and creamy clam chowder. 207-363-2643,
Go: The Franco-Americaine and Windjammer Days festivals are in June.

Forget Chatham, Learn to Love Sandwich
Set on the Cape’s undervalued north shore, Sandwich is a laid-back beach community low on crowded resort developments and high on mom-and-pop eateries and historic charm.

Car time saved: Around 2 hours
Highlights: Sunset walks along the boardwalk; bike rides by the Cape Cod Canal; a beach picnic from local gourmet food purveyor the Brown Jug; a proper English lunch at Dunbar Tea Shop; tours of the Glass Museum; strolls though the Heritage Gardens.
Stay: The cozy Annabelle Bed & Breakfast trumps other quaint lodgings with its gourmet breakfast and über-comfortable sleeping quarters. 508-833-1419,
Stay (with kids): Smack in the center of town, the Dan’l Webster has one of the area’s only in-ground pools, a kid-friendly “tavern,” and extras like tasty fresh-baked cookies. 800-444-3566,
Swim: The attentive lifeguards at Sandy Neck have been known to preside over fierce sandcastle competitions.
Eat: A converted church is an unlikely place to swill martinis before sitting down to a gluttonous meal. But the Belfry Bistro delivers just that—an almost holy dining experience. 508-888-8550,
Eat (with kids): Great Italian food and an energized crowd keep the atmosphere upbeat at Amari Ristorante. 508-375-0011,
Go: Sandwich’s Fourth of July fete, complete with a parade, is far less mobbed than those of the outer Cape towns.

Forget Block Island, Learn to Love Westerly
Once a not-so-secret getaway for the likes of John F. Kennedy and Henry Ford, Westerly includes a lively three-block downtown.

Car time saved: Around 2.5 hours
Highlights: Antiquing, yacht-gawking, and mansion-scoping; the Flying Horse Carousel; spring and summer art and music festivals at Wilcox Park.
Stay: At the 8-room Villa Bed & Breakfast, request the Blue Grotto, a guesthouse next to the pool with an in-room fireplace, hot tub, and private entrance. 401-596-1054,
Stay (with kids): Steps from the carousel, the Watch Hill Inn’s many studios, apartments, and townhouses come equipped with full kitchens, flat-screen TVs, and ocean views. 401-348-6300,
Swim: Sunny East Beach has adjacent water slides, go-carts, and mini golf.
Eat: The Up River Café serves savory American fare at its waterfront location. 401-348-9700,
Eat (with kids): Kids like Señor Flacos for its camarones con aguacates (garlic shrimp in creamy avocado sauce); adults like the 16-oz. margaritas and the fact that little ones eat free on Sundays. 401-315-2626,
Go: May’s Classic Car Cruise draws antique hot rods from the 1940s; the summer months also feature Broadway classics at the Granite Theatre and a 10,000-person music festival.