Secrets of the New England Sea Coast
Tired of the same old playbook for day trips, long weekends, and family beach vacations? We’ll let you in on a little secret: so are we.
Tired of the same old playbook for day trips, long weekends, and family beach vacations? We’ll let you in on a little secret: so are we. But even in the most tried-and-true New England destinations, there are secluded beaches to discover, fresh clam shacks to try, and new ways to get away from it all. Here’s where to look. Just don’t tell anyone!!
The trick to snagging the best room? Knowing exactly which one to book ahead of time.
Rooms 14 and 29 at Pelham House Resort
All of the rooms at the recently renovated Pelham House overlook the hotel’s private beach (on the ocean side of the Cape, to boot!), though you’ll want to request one of these second-floor oceanfront digs—on either side of the horseshoe-shaped building—to enjoy Nantucket Sound views uninterrupted by the resort’s swanky central pool.
Room 9 at the Castle Hill Inn
Newport, Rhode Island
Harking back to the Gilded Age, this opulent resort was once the 19th-century summer residence of marine biologist Alexander Agassiz. Located on the third floor of his former mansion, Room 9—a.k.a. the Turret Suite—takes guests back in time, with a spiral staircase in the (you guessed it) turret leading to the space’s second level: a marble bathroom with views of the water
in all directions.
Room 31 at AWOL
Plenty of rooms at AWOL in Provincetown have stunning views of the moors, but only one—Room 31, dubbed the Lark Suite—offers five huge windows overlooking the bay, plus a rooftop deck from which to enjoy those glorious sea breezes. Order dinner in at least one night of your trip to watch the sun set against the Province Lands dunes and seagrasses from the comfort of your own room.
Stone’s Throw Bungalow at The Claremont Hotel
Southwest Harbor, Maine
Could you get any closer to the beach than the aptly named Stone’s Throw bungalow, one of the sweet waterfront cottages at the Claremont? The answer: probably not, even if you prefer to take in the panoramas of the water, pine trees, and surrounding hills from the private deck instead. —Madeline Bilis
Don’t own a yacht, but want to pretend that you do? Find your sea legs aboard one of these four vessels.
For the Aspiring Old Salt
Hopping aboard one of Sail Acadia’s traditional Friendship sloops, the sailboats originally used for lobstering, is like hopping back in time. And whether you’re ogling the seal colony on East Bunker Ledge or sailing by Bear Island Lighthouse, the private two-hour cruises for you and up to 20 of your closest friends offer a vantage point of Mount Desert Island you won’t find elsewhere.
For the Wannabe Vanderbilt
Plenty of resorts have private cars you can take for a spin, but private boats? That’s a much rarer amenity. Guests at Newport’s chic boutique hotel the Brenton can enjoy its 36-foot Hinckley for a sunset cruise, picnic lunch, or tour of the mansions from the water.
For a Day of Sunning and Swimming
The perfect way to discover the more remote beaches around the island, Nantucket Mermaids’ charters range from a 95-foot power yacht with water skis, paddleboards, and kayaks to a 29-foot picnic boat with a draft shallow enough to explore the coastline.
For Hosting Out-of-Towners
Why not show off the beauty of that dirty water with a rental from Constitution Yacht Charters? Whether it’s a day of fishing for six or a special occasion for 100, the company offers a range of vessels for a day exploring Boston Harbor and its islands. —Jonathan Soroff
Trade traffic, crowds, and seagulls dive-bombing for hot dogs for the peace and quiet of these relatively untouched shorelines.
For a Day Trip
What to expect: This super-low-key stretch of sand features ocean vistas on one side and tidal river views on the other.
The terrain: Soft sand with shells, rocks, and dune grasses.
The perks: A snack bar (with beer!) and restrooms.
Who goes there: Town residents and nearby locals in the know, with their dogs in tow.
What to expect: You’ll have to hike about 1.5 miles through an abandoned apple orchard and aspen grove to get to this secluded beach, part of Wells Reserve. But it’s more than worth it to hear the gentle sound of waves—not stereos or parties—as you relax with a book.
The terrain: Lusciously soft sand when the tide’s in, pebble-filled when the tide’s out.
The perks: Events, concerts, guided walks, and more when you return to civilization at Wells Reserve.
Who goes there: Not many people at all. Most likely, it’ll feel like you have the place to yourself.
What to expect: There are no frills (read: no amenities) here, but plenty of breathtaking views of Boston Harbor.
The terrain: Ideal for rock and shell spotting, thanks to the wading-friendly shallow waters.
The perks: Watching planes fly into Logan overhead.
Who goes there: Mostly locals.
For a Long Weekend
Birch Point State Park
Owls Head, Maine
What to expect: Small and relaxed, this park offers the Maine beach trifecta: sand, rocks, and pine trees.
The terrain: Smooth, dark sand and outcroppings of bedrock.
The perks: Hiking on the short coastal trails before or after sunbathing.
Where to stay: Samoset Resort in nearby Rockport, which offers guest cottages with views of Penobscot Bay.
What to expect: The westernmost point of Madaket Beach can be reached only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle (off-roading Jeep adventure, anyone?). Pack a picnic and visit at sunset.
The terrain: Picture-perfect stretches of sand with great surf.
The perks: Lots of room to spread out.
Where to stay: Rest your head at Greydon House, an antique-chic inn steps from the ferry terminal.
Stonington Village, Connecticut
What to expect: While throngs of beachgoers compete for parking at Misquamicut, you can chill out at duBois Beach, a smaller and more relaxed patch of sand near the area’s Lighthouse Museum.
The terrain: Perfect for building a sandcastle.
The perks: A lifeguard to keep the kiddos safe, plus views of sailboats.
Where to stay: Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, one of the most luxe resorts around. —M.B.
Islands Under Wraps
Tired of the crazy Friday-afternoon ferry rush? Trade Nantucket or the Vineyard for one of these lesser-known escapes.
Isles of Shoals, New Hampshire
As we continue to emerge from COVID, this old-school retreat 7 miles out to sea offers what many are seeking right now: simple, meaningful leisure. After exploring the walking trails leading to historical stone cottages and even an old church, retreat to the former Gilded Age getaway known as the Oceanic Hotel, where you’ll find camp-like accommodations and activities including yoga, arts, and birding.
Getting there: Book ferry service on the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, which departs from Portsmouth.
Okay, so it’s not technically New England, but at only a four-hour trip from Boston, it’s a quick-and-easy island getaway. After a two-year renovation, the classic Pridwin Hotel and Cottages has reopened, with 7 acres on Crescent Beach and all the activities and amenities of summer camp. Lounge in the shade of an old-growth oak, laze in one of the Adirondack chairs dotting the lawn, or take a dip in the water to cool off.
Getting there: Take Cross Sound Ferry from New London to Orient Point, then catch the North Ferry from Greenport.
Get your rods ready: The last in the chain of the Elizabeth Islands, this hideaway has some of the best surf-casting for striped bass and bluefish in the Northeast. The charming eight-room B & B known as the Cuttyhunk Fishing Club, meanwhile, has food so good that people boat over from the Vineyard for breakfast.
Getting there:Book a ferry out of New Bedford through Cuttyhunk Ferry Company, or catch a ride on the Cuttyhunk Water Taxi. —J.S.
How to Skip the Line
They’re crowded for a reason, but with these insider tips and tricks, you can leave those snaking queues behind.
You’re sure to see the line curling around Red’s Eats from all the way across the Sheepscot River bridge. Rather than wait forever for an overflowing lobster roll, though, your best bet is to set up camp across the street at Sarah’s Café & Twin Schooner Pub: There, you can sip a beer on the patio and watch for the opportune moment to hop in a line that ebbs and flows throughout the day.
The backup plan: Make the trip to Muscongus Bay Lobster in Round Pond, a family-owned joint where there are plenty of picnic tables, waterfront views, and some of the best seafood around.
Flo’s Hot Dogs
Cape Neddick, Maine
Perched proudly along Route 1 in Cape Neddick, Flo’s has been beckoning scores of hungry customers with its no-nonsense wieners since 1959. You’re likely to wait a while outside the old-fashioned hot dog stand (the secret relish is always worth it), unless you make like the locals and squeeze in right before it closes at 3 p.m.
The backup plan: If you prefer burgers to dogs, pull off at Lexie’s Joint in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on your way up north from Boston. It’s a little off the beaten path, which means you won’t have to wait long for a Green Lantern burger with cheddar, tomato, avocado, and chimichurri.
On hot summer nights, so many families flock to Sundae School for cones that a police detail is needed to direct traffic in the scoop shop’s gravel parking lot. Once parked, though, it’s only newbies who wait in line outside to order from one of the walk-up windows. Locals know to head indoors, where the line is always shorter.
The backup plan: Head to What’s the Scoop, a two-minute drive down Lower County Road, for a huge lot and an even bigger selection of cones, cups, smoothies, Italian ices, and more. —M.B.
The Road Less Traveled
Sure, it’s easy enough to follow the quickest route on Google Maps to your summertime destination of choice, but sometimes, taking a slightly more circuitous journey is more than worth the extra effort. As a longtime summer resident of up-island Martha’s Vineyard (the far end, where no one wears clothing), my single favorite stretch of road anywhere is the Aquinnah “loop.” After passing the Chilmark General Store, the road winds along the edge of Menemsha Pond with views that stop traffic (literally), up to the Gay Head Lighthouse and the shops at the jaw-dropping clay cliffs. (To feel like a true islander, invest in a piece of wampum jewelry made by a member of the Wampanoag tribe.) Up north, after indulging in a Junior with cheese and sauce from Nick’s Famous Roast Beef in Beverly, the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway is one of my favorite places to bike, past spectacular waterfront mansions, salt marshes, and beachy towns like Manchester-by-the-Sea (don’t forget to stop for ice cream at the Captain Dusty’s there, or in Beverly Farms). Of course, it’s simply not summer without eating a big red bug, and if I really want to scratch that lobster-roll itch, I head to Mount Desert Island and the wonders of Acadia National Park. There, I can drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road, which takes about four hours, only because I want to stop every 10 seconds to glimpse rocky beaches, resident wildlife, and crashing waves. But that’s okay with me. After all, life is short. Why not take the scenic route? —J.S.
Taste Test: Fried Clams
We sent our anonymous testers out with a single mission: Find the tastiest bellies on the North Shore.
by Scott Kearnan and Lisa Weidenfeld
Clam Box of Ipswich
Clams: Plump-bellied and super-succulent, the Ipswich-sourced soft-shells burst with just the right bright brininess.
Fry: Twice-fried in oil that’s changed two times a day to create the ultimate fresh fry, the clams are well covered in crunchy, grease-free coats.
Vibe: The clam-box shaped building on Route 1A’s roadside looks great on the ‘Grem, and the nautical dining room has old school North Shore charm. Holy molasses, though, is the line ever slow.
Final Score: 14
Woodman’s of Essex
Clams: Fresh and uniformly mid-sized with nice umami, although every now and then we tasted an unwanted bit of gritty silt.
Fry: It’s great that there are dedicated gluten-free fryers (celiac sufferers need fried seafood, too!), but we’re a little stuck on the corn-flour batter’s only so-so clinginess.
Vibe: Inside, it’s pleasantly boisterous—and watching the action through the big kitchen window makes the line go (a bit) faster. Outside, there are Essex River-side picnic tables for laying out your spread once you’ve scored it.
Final Score: 13
The Lobster Pool
Clams: Meaty and substantive, the clams here were a robust mouthful with every bite.
Fry: The batter had a doughy consistency that didn’t provide quite enough of the crunch you’d expect from fried seafood.
Vibe: We’d give this an even higher score if we could. Visitors here can lounge in a seating area with a wide-open view of the water and the rocky coastline. On the more-practical side, we love the smooth buzzer-style ordering system.
Final Score: 11
Kelly’s Roast Beef
Clams: On the smaller side and occasionally a bit chewy, but always flavorful (and much better than you’d expect from a roast-beef joint).
Fry: Gratifyingly salty and perfectly crisp, with a batter that finds its way into every nook and cranny. Bonus points for the addictive proprietary tartar sauce.
Vibe: The stand is distinctly unglamorous, on the side of a busy road and packed with crowds during the high season, but picnic tables and the entirety of Revere Beach await across the street.
Final Score: 10
Clams: We respect the choice to focus on smaller clams, but if we want bellies (not strips), we want bellies. The line between briny and brackish, meanwhile, was crossed more than once.
Fry: The golden batter is toothsome and thick relative to the clam size, lending a popcorn-chicken-like quality that makes them highly snackable.
Vibe: Where Woodman’s down the street is clearly more touristed, this homey, rustic place is flush with local color. It also sits right on a salt marsh, offering a front-row seat from picnic tables or your own parked car.
Final Score: 9
The Ultimate Cape Cod Scavenger Hunt
Can you find these hidden-in-plain-sight landmarks along Route 6A and Route 6? On your next trip from the Bourne Bridge to P-town, see how many you can spot along the way. The answers can be found at the bottom of the page. —M.B.
An ice cream shop known for its blue and yellow Adirondack chairs.
A state park filled with scrub pines and kettle ponds.
A place that would easily blend in at the North Pole.
A larger-than-life machine that looks like it belongs in the Netherlands (not Orleans).
An iconic white-and-yellow striped awning.
A shack plastered with floats, toys, chairs, and more.
An entertaining spot that’s packed with cars—but only after dusk.
A bouquet of matching white-and-green flowers.
The Secret History of Christmas Cove
It sounds like the name of a delightfully cheesy Hallmark holiday movie, but this quaint little inlet situated along the Damariscotta River in Midcoast Maine actually exists—and its history is as surprising as a twist-filled Scorsese film.
The festive spot is named for the time of year when English explorer John Smith—of Disney’s fictionalized Pocahontas fame—is said to have anchored there in 1614. Smith, who served an important role in the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, also mapped much of Maine’s coast, and legend has it he sought a calm stay in Christmas Cove’s well-protected harbor that December. Historians, however, dispute his ever landing in the area at all, given that his voyage in 1614 was recorded as lasting from April through October.
Later, in the 1900s, Christmas Cove became a destination for summer visitors, thanks to the construction of hotels, boarding houses, tea rooms, and seasonal cottages. Soon enough, the town established itself as a yachting destination—a reputation that never faded. Though there aren’t enough shops or restaurants to make the area a bustling tourist destination, it’s Christmas Cove’s obscure—and somewhat hidden—charms that make it worth a stop, if only to delight in the postcard-like views, gentle boat rides, and quiet, soothing beauty. —M.B.
1. Cape Cod Creamery
2. Nickerson State Park
3. The Christmas Tree Shops
4. Jonathan Young Windmill
5. Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham
6. Marconi’s Beach Outfitters
7. Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre
8. The Days Cottages (or Flower Cottages) in Truro