Whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure or wildlife, the bountiful beaches of Massachusetts have a slice of coastline for you. From Cape Cod to the North Shore, Boston Harbor to Nantucket, these seaside escapes are begging for a day in the surf and sand. With more than 200 miles of coastline to peruse, the Bay State features endless options for beachgoers; but we feel these are 10 of the absolute best.
Leave civilization behind at Crane Beach. This Ipswich-area gem is the crowned jewel of the bounding Crane Estate nature reserve and is only accessible via winding trails through powdery dunes. Visitors here can enjoy some of the best sunbathing in New England while cooling off in the (very) chilly waters of Cape Cod Bay. Make it a day trip by touring the Crane Mansion, which also sits on the grounds.
A majestic beach to spread out and explore, the sands of Rock Harbor near Orleans are a playground of adventure at low tide. When conditions are right, sunset casts a mirror-like visage over the slick sand flats at Rock Harbor, where visitors can stroll beneath partially submerged pine trees.
The beach is renowned for sunsets and draws a crowd in summer months, but adventurous travelers can lose most of the throng by detouring to Rock Island’s lesser-used east side. To get there, take Dyer Prince Road to find a parking lot. Then, walk down the sandy pathway leading to the beach.
Chatham Lighthouse Beach
New England views don’t get much more idyllic than this. Chatham Lighthouse Beach is the perfect place for photographers to stroll and relax beneath the looming sentinel of a historic lighthouse. The beach’s fluffy sands abut Cape Cod Sound while playing host to a nearby population of harbor seals.
Local business owners have taken advantage of this cohort by offering seal tours that leave directly from the beach. Chatham Light is actively manned by the U.S. Coast Guard, but lighthouse tours are occasionally available.
Sand comes to life when conditions are just right at Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Here, mingling grains of silica sand rub together to create a sort of squeaking, “singing” sound that has not been fully explained by science.
This natural orchestra attracts curious onlookers from Boston, who stop by the charming town to enjoy the hamlet’s historic architecture and vintage bathhouse. The beach stretches for more than half a mile.
Public transportation is available from Boston.
Search for seashells and sea glass beside skyline views of Boston at Spectacle Island. Located across Boston Harbor from downtown, this small stretch of sand plays host to a marina, a five-mile hiking loop and some of the best views in Massachusetts.
Spectacle Island itself spans 114 acres and features a fascinating history dating back more than a millennia—notably, as a trash dump for both Indigenous people and Bostonians. In 1993, efforts were made to cover the trash-covered soil and plant the seeds of what is today one of the Bay State’s most beautiful public parks.
A trip to Madaket Beach comes with a dose of adventure, as either four-wheel drive, a bus ride via the NRTA WAVE or a bike rental are the preferred ways of accessing this quiet alternative to Nantucket. Travelers who make the trek to Madaket Beach won’t be disappointed. The wide, sprawling sands here are home to dramatic sunset views and powerful waves. The surf here is well known for offering secluded barrels beneath distant towering dunes and beachside cottages.
Geology serves up a colorful mystery at Marconi Beach, near Wellfleet. Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, the sands here spread out beneath pint-sized, grassy cliffs and appear to change color over time, with some hues more familiar to the desert southwest than New England.
The best way to access this beach might be via bicycle. Marconi Beach is a worthy pit stop along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a 25-mile bike path tracing a line through dunes and woodlands along the route of a former railway. Rentals are available in South Wellfleet.
Cahoon Hollow Beach
Getting there is half the fun at Cahoon Hollow Beach. Drop down a 75-foot dune clutching tight to a rope to access the sandy path towards the Atlantic here. This dramatic drop is one of the more adventurous ways to hit the sand in Massachusetts, and it comes with a bonus for thrill-seekers who’ve worked up an appetite on their way to the surf—the legendary nightlife of The Beachcomber seafood restaurant awaits back at the top of the dunes.
Half Moon Beach
Half Moon Beach looks like a pirate’s paradise. This small, quiet beach near Gloucester is surrounded by cliff faces. At low tide, the cliffs give way to nooks and crannies covered in sea grass, mussels, sea stars and other marine life ripe for investigation.
The rocks also harbor a series of paths that wind up and over the beach for a commanding view of Gloucester. Nearby parking maxes out at $15 on the weekends, making this gem an affordable getaway.
Scituate locals know the best way to visit The Spit is by boat. This remote barrier beach is a treasure trove of seashells and hermit crabs dotted by tide pools and long swaths of uninterrupted sand. Thanks to a large breeding population of terns, The Spit is also an ideal bird-watching location.
During peak months, anchoring down on The Spit can be challenging due to an influx of boaters, but boat rentals during shoulder season offer an intimate way for travelers to connect with this local-heavy favorite. Not much of a sea captain? The Spit is also accessible via a foot trail from Third Cliff.
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