Spend the summer at these secret East Coast beach towns

By | May 21, 2019

See shells, not crowds.

Every year from Memorial Day to Labor Day, countless New Yorkers flock to the Kiawahs and Kennebunkports of the Eastern seaboard. They diligently check these la-di-da locales off their list, curtsying to their inner prep schooler. But you, dear reader, know better. This summer, seek refuge upon a lido less traveled. For swimming, shorefront bike rides, boat excursions and more, read on for our five favorite picks for local-ish beach vacations.

And do these small towns a favor — don’t tell your friends.

Portsmouth's lighthouse
Portsmouth’s lighthouseShutterstock

The Seacoast Region, NH

Often overlooked for New England’s Marthas and Capes, the Granite State boasts 18 miles of shoreline ripe for sailing, whale-watching and birding galore, just shy of 4½ hours from NYC.

Plop yourself down at Hampton Beach, a quintessential beach town with enough lobster shacks, clam stands and fried dough joints to make you second-guess that bikini. Stay overnight at the storied Wentworth by the Sea (from $ 389) on the island of New Castle (one of the state’s oldest settlements), or at least stop by to dine at its SALT Kitchen & Bar.

Another solid bet is the Great Island Inn (from $ 199), a circa-1920 clapboard house that’s a two-minute stroll to the ocean’s edge.

Westerly, RI

Taylor Swift may own a $  17 million mansion in Watch Hill — part ofWesterly, RI — but you don’t have to be a pop star to enjoy the area’s historic charm, natural wonders and nautical activities.
Taylor Swift may own a $ 17 million mansion in Watch Hill — part of Westerly, RI — but you don’t have to be a pop star to enjoy the area’s historic charm, natural wonders and nautical activities.Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

About 145 miles outside the city, slip into vacation mode with a dip in the water at Misquamicut Beach or Napatree Point Beach & Conservation Area, where you’ll also want to bring your binoculars along for birdwatching.

If you’re traveling with kids, make a detour after Napatree to the Flying Horse Carousel, said to be the country’s oldest platform carousel. For your accommodations, book the Ocean House (from $ 755) in the posh Watch Hill neighborhood, just steps from the shoreline, or the Margin Street Inn (from $ 300), two splendid homes on the Pawcatuck River.

Wherever you stay, definitely feast at Olympia Tea Room, “famous not fancy” since 1916.

Branford, Conn.

Kayak among the Connecticut coast’sbucolic Thimble Islands.
Kayak among the Connecticut coast’s bucolic Thimble Islands.Alamy

Mission No. 1: Rent kayaks or paddleboards at Branford River Paddlesports to meander around the Thimble Islands. Rather not feel it in your biceps the next day? Book a sightseeing cruise aboard the Sea Mist. Either way, reward yourself with a round at Stony Creek Brewery, a waterfront beer garden with food trucks aplenty.

When you’re done, take a kayak or a car to the Kelsey House Bed & Breakfast (from $ 205), a bayside abode with a wraparound porch that’s just begging for your latest book club read. All this, approximately an hour and 45 minutes away from Manhattan.

Bristol, RI

A bike ride along Narragansett Bay is just one perk of a road trip to Bristol, NH.
A bike ride along Narragansett Bay is just one perk of a road trip to Bristol, NH.Alamy

Four hours from the city lies Bristol, with bragging rights to the oldest Fourth of July parade in the country, inaugurated in 1785. Though considering the town was settled in 1680, that’s practically the modern era. Channel the days of yore at Mount Hope Farm B&B (from $ 190), perched on 127-soul-restorative acres.

Come for the property’s history (George Washington was a guest!) — stay for the area’s stellar seafood (the newly reopened Bristol Oyster Bar and a dockside meal at Quito’s are musts). By day, camp out at Walley Beach or visit Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. We daresay the latter, a 45-room English-style manor home brimming with antiques and art, is Little Rhody’s best-kept secret.

Bradley Beach, NJ

Sandwiched between Asbury Park and Belmaron the Jersey Shore, Bradley Beach offers clear waters and a lively boardwalk.
Sandwiched between Asbury Park and Belmar on the Jersey Shore, Bradley Beach offers clear waters and a lively boardwalk.Shutterstock / James Kirkikis

The pace of life slows down in this quiet, family-friendly retreat, whether you’re taking a creaky sailboat out on Shark River or playing a game of bocce ball on public oceanfront courts. Catch a wave on the 1-mile stretch of sand for surfers or rally up the crew for a game of miniature golf on the postcard-perfect boardwalk. “The Caribbean has nothing on Bradley Beach — standing in waist-high water we can still see our feet! It’s a big, wide beach with plenty of space for all.

Even though food is allowed on the beach (not all beaches in the area do so), the town keeps it very clean.” says Su Robotti, a Manhattan resident and Bradley Beach vacation home owner for 32 years. High schoolers, take note: “Belmar is a short walk away for teens that want to gawk at the abs and pecs on display,” adds Robotti, “along with loud music and some pretty good volleyball.” After taking New Jersey Transit or making the 60-mile drive from the Big Apple, travelers will find reprieve — and resplendence — at the Majestic Hotel (from $ 138). Erected in 1870, the renovated property is less than a block from the beach. Or, post up at The Sandcastle Inn (from $ 155), where the ocean’s salty musk floats into your nose like an alarm clock each morning.

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