Some beaches are so peaceful that even the seagulls whisper and the crabs walk on tiptoe. Others are a symphony of laughter, car horns and music. In fact, there are as many factors to consider when choosing a beach to visit this summer as there are beaches to choose from.
The ocean-going season in New England is short -- this year even shorter -- so choose wisely your beach destination. At points in the southern states, any day is a beach day so very few days are actually spent at the beach. And at resort islands and exotic locations, the option to surf in the surf or stand in the sand is always available, therefore seldom chosen, given the litany of other activities and attractions.
Because the window for enjoying the seaside here is so brief, consider all the variables before choosing your place in the sun.
For a tranquil day, devoid of vendors and commerce, at a calm spot where the ocean glides in gently, then Plum Island State Park is the idyllic destination. Located on the Rowley end of the island, the state park is a family-friendly, sea-safe and isolated tract of soft coastline that is perfect for children and wide-open enough for the sporting crowd. Although it is a rather lengthy drive from Plum Island's downtown area, the ride is scenic.
Actually, the ride is for the birds, literally, because to arrive there it is necessary to pass through the vast bird sanctuary called the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The 4,660-acre preserve situates between the state beach and the island's center. They are but a few of many features on the island, which spans across four coastal towns. There is also a modest night life and some centrally located public beaches.
Plum Island is but one of nearly 100 stretches of Atlantic Ocean visiting areas along the 150 miles of coastline spanning from Portland, Maine, to Boston. And there are other secluded, calm respites with similar attractions.
But Jessie Butler of Acton is a loyal patron of the island's public beach.
"I used to come here all the time when I was a kid. I love it here," she said, now toting her own child, Danny, 3, to the same bit of sandy heaven.
For a more festive and lively atmosphere, the competing resort towns of Salisbury and Hampton offer plenty of activities away from shore. With its legendary food and arcades, Salisbury Beach, the northernmost beach in Massachusetts, is a small enclave with easy access and affordable parking. The parade of winter storms this year caused minor damage to the central part of the beach, but a motivated municipality has repaired the area to its original splendor.
A few miles further north along Route 1A and over the New Hampshire border, separated from Salisbury only by the mostly private Seabroook Beach, is the familiar nugget of Americana known as Hampton Beach. Known for its nostalgic strip of shops and its boardwalk of boutiques and bodegas, the two-mile hub is perhaps one of New England's most famous beaches. The robust foot, automobile and bike traffic define the experience more than any other aspect. It's a rite of passage for many, cruising the one-way loop like generations before them.
Like Salisbury, and the further-south Revere Beach, near Boston, Hampton's entertainment is both inside and out of the water, on both sides of the roadway, in day life and in night life. And the handful of well-maintained public restroom stations add an element of convenience to the Hampton beaches.
Whether it's to swim or surf, sun or shop, there is a beach to choose from along the tri-state border of the North Atlantic Ocean. Short- and long-term camping and RVing is a popular vacation plan, and several beaches, including both Salisbury and Hampton, facilitate it. Those beaches and many others have a designated reservation area for such ventures.
Cory Coffaro, of East Hampstead, N.H., has staked his claim to a berth at Hampton's reservation, which lies in the immediate outskirts of the strip.
"We always go somewhere every summer for three months," he said of his RV and wife. "This year, we chose the beach."
To better see some of the region, plane rentals are available along with boat tours to outlying islands, whale watches and scooter rentals. Not every beach is at the ocean, as many inland lakes and rivers throughout the area showcase similar activities, and opportunities for sun-burning and skin-pruning.
And not every town along the northeast coast features a "proper beach." Many boast a vibrant boating harbor, picturesque rocky outcrops, romantic hollows or fishing hideaways.
For example, further up 1A is Odiorne Point State Park in quaint Rye, N.H., has the country's shortest coastline. But at barely 12 miles long, the Live Free or Die State, boasts one of the more pristine seaside landscapes on the East Coast. The Odiorne Point location exemplifies that claim. It has a genuine World War II fallout bunker, a novelty for sure that is overshadowed by an even more unique attraction. The Seacoast Science Center is a kid-friendly, hands-on museum and discovery nexus with indoor and outdoor frolics. The horseshoe peninsula is surrounded by a pebbly beach and lots of secluded mini-inlets. Its assemblage of fossils and marine-themed exhibits not only add to the beachgoing experience, but also provide for an inclement-weather Plan B.
If you're searching for hidden treasures with a metal detector, bike-riding, kite-flying or just plain loafing, you'll find a place for it in Maine. The beaches on the other side of the Piscataqua Bridge are a panorama of blue and white. Some of the beaches, like Ogunquit, are so broad and expansive at low tide that they could host a Patriots game and a Red Sox game, including fans and bleachers, simultaneously. From here, too, is the launching point for treks to nearby lighthouses and ferries.
Although no state has an encompassing statute about dogs, many towns do have local ordinances. According to some sources, Maine beaches have the loosest regulations on this. But it is important to check ahead of time about the leash laws, loopholes, caveats, stipulations and penalties. The same diligence applies to fishing, crabbing and skateboarding. The season is short, the memories are long. Don't let the fines linger longer than the suntan.
Each beachside community has its own comforts and character, each uniquely contoured architecture is an orphaned love-child of Mother Nature and Father Time. After millions of years of gestation, the beings emerge, distinct from each other and documented in poems and paintings and in the recollections of those who visited. A convergence of two massive ecosystems, they are disguised as sand or marsh or cliffs, draped in dunes and cradled by jetties, and swept clean twice a day by a purging tide.
There are only about 100 days left to enjoy your seacoast, so what are you waiting for. Stop reading this and get out there.