The Best of New England: Beaches

Beaches From white sands to bustling boardwalks, the region's best offer something to suit all manner of beach bum.

CAHOON HOLLOW Part of the 43,600 protected acres that make up Cape Cod National Seashore, Cahoon Hollow has towering bluffs that afford peerless ocean views. As for the beach below, its youngish mix of day-trippers, surfers, and would-be bikini models makes for a social scene that’s lively without being obnoxious. Cahoon Hollow Road, Wellfleet, MA, 508-349-9818,

“Majestic” hardly oversells the landscape at Crane, where sand-swept hills roll sweetly to a pristine shore. To the north, Plum Island creates a welcome barrier from rough surf, while a ban on water toys and gear keeps manmade disturbances to a minimum. Most visitors are content to soak up the tranquil beauty. However, this beach is also a wildlife refuge, meaning its five-plus miles of trails may reward hikers with glimpses of rare species. Argilla Road, Ipswich, MA, 978-356-4351,

GOOSEWING BEACH This unspoiled barrier beach is tucked into Rhode Island’s southeastern corner, making it the state’s ultimate respite – one fiercely guarded by the locals, no less. A Nature Conservancy property, Goosewing has dunes, marshes, and excellent surf for swimming. The beach is narrow, but that means you’re less likely to have distracting folks parked in front of or behind you. Access via South Shore Beach, Little Compton, RI, 401-635-4400,

HAMMONASSET BEACH STATE PARK Crowned by two miles of white-sand beach along the temperate waters of Long Island Sound, Connecticut’s largest shoreline park has ample room to accommodate its million-plus annual visitors – and an equally impressive number of ways to keep them occupied. There’s a boardwalk for ambling, biking, or Rollerblading; fields for kite flying; boat launches; a nature center; concessions and picnic areas galore; and more than 550 campsites for those who can’t cram it all into one day. 1288 Boston Post Rd., Madison, CT, 203-245-2785,

HAMPTON BEACH A far cry from the 1920s, when “bathing censors” kept an eye out for scandalous swimsuits, today Hampton Beach is part Coney Island, part Carnival: You’ll see people wearing nearly nothing along this three-mile strip of arcades, T-shirt shops, and fried-dough stands. Spend a day playing in the cool, clear water (recently ranked among the nation’s cleanest), then take in the regular fireworks show or a rock concert at the beach’s century-old music hall. Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach, NH, 603-926-8717,

POPHAM BEACH The craggy rocks of Maine’s 3,500-mile-long coastline don’t often give way to swaths of sand – precisely why folks tend toward the gentler southern shore. But in the heart of Maine’s scenic midcoast, near the mouth of the Kennebec River, this three-mile crescent boasts prime beach-towel real estate, plus a surf well suited to water sports and fishing. Most unique is Fox Island, a bit of land accessible during low tide that provides views of nearby islands and lighthouses. 10 Perkins Farm Ln., Phippsburg, ME, 207-389-1335,