A summer trip to the beach in New England is one of the great American travel traditions – down the street from countless quaint coastal towns, beaches take a variety of shapes. You’ll find rugged and rocky shores, isolated and serene scenes, and classic resort village meccas.
No matter where you end up, the sun shines, the ocean spray beckons while relaxed clam bakes make for time-honored rituals and delicious feasts. Beaches up and down the coast – from Calf's Pasture in Connecticut to Reid State Park in Maine – are the perfect place to up the vitamin D levels while letting the stress and chaos of normal life fade away.
But while the beach may not have changed, the beach gear sure has. Today's sunseekers have some nifty options for taking a Northeast trip or New England getaway to the next level.
Relaxing in style
Let’s get this clear – a lot of New England beaches take a bit of effort, and that’s a good thing. But if you’re going through the trouble of bringing of lugging a chair over the dunes of Race Point Beach or down the steps of Nauset Light Beach, why not opt for the Ostrich On-Your-Back Chair (ostrichchair.com), which features a perfectly positioned massage-style head rest. What better way to get your suntan lotion applied than while lying face down in total comfort like you were in a fancy spa? Best of all, it folds up and has back straps so you have both hands free to cart other items to or from the car.
Meanwhile, today's sun shades have come a long way from the traditional umbrella, too. There are myriad options, from large meshed-in tents large enough to fit a family of ten, to pieces with UPF50-rated shade material and pop-up action that self-setup when you undo a strap. The half-dome type tents keep the sun away enough to facilitate texting or reading on tablets and phones. Of the many choices, the Coleman DayTripper (coleman.com) is particularly quick to set up, durable, and offers both a vented window in back plus a zipper front that allows it to close up for privacy when changing.
It's a bit ironic that sand, the raison d'etre for going to the beach, can also be your worst enemy. We've all been there: you spread out the towel or tarp and then five minutes later it's covered with sand. It gets in your food, rings the top of your beverage and mixes with sunscreen to sneak into off-limits parts under bathing suits.
One way to say goodbye to sand woes is with the military grade sandless tarps like the CGear Quicksand Mat (cgear-sandfree.com), that actively wick sand away, leaving the surface clean. Originally designed for military use, they are now available commercially and come in a variety of colors and sizes. Stake out your spot and it stays sand-free for the rest of the day. For all that sand that sticks to skin, try opting for a different sunscreen lotion. Not all of it goes on like oil paint and stays greasy. Try one of the dry versions and in seconds your skin is soft, smooth, and best of all, dry enough that sand won't stick. Problem solved.
Tech and tunes in the dunes
While there's something to be said for letting the sounds of the surf and seagulls score your coastal getaway, you’ll have lots of musical back-up options if you need them nowadays. Splurge and get a beverage cooler with Bluetooth speakers built in, such as the Brekx model (brekx.com) in gorgeous stainless steel, with a nifty side pocket for your phone or iPod.
And speaking of tech, cameras have maybe come farther than any other segment. Gone are those days of clumsy plastic disposables – grab something new that’s waterproof and shockproof like the tiny yet powerful GoPro Hero 5 (gopro.com), which can record 4K video (along with boasting a laundry-list of other cool features). Grab a suction-cup mounting accessory to secure it to a surfboard or kayak to really adrenalize your memories. The market is full of ever-less-expensive and ever-more-durable handheld cams, like the Olympus TG-Tracker (olympus.com), which is waterproof to 100 feet, shockproof, crushproof, freezeproof and with built-in GPS.
The region is full of great bike trails – the Cape Cod Rail Trail runs an incredible 22 miles, and bike loops are key features of visits to Barnstable's Great Beach, Duxbury Beach, Acadia National Park and beyond. We're all familiar with the easy-to-pedal beach cruisers like grandma used to ride, with a wide saddle and a basket in the front. Go for one of those if nostalgia’s your thing, but keep an eye out for fat tire bikes. These are the latest in two-wheeled trips and use oversize, fat tires with knobby tread to take on any terrain.
Snow, ice and (you guessed it!) sand are no problem for these go-anywhere machines, so instead of chaining your cycle to a post and abandoning it for the day, you can actually zip over the sand to a secluded spot in minutes, leaving the crowd behind. You don't even have to bike along the compact tide line – these work great on dry, soft sand. Fat tire bikes are available for rental from many New England bike stores, so you can try before you buy. But beware: once you ride one you may not want to ride anything else.
To sun or not to sun...
That is no longer the question. It's unequivocal that the sun's rays cause the skin to age faster and (for some complexions) can lead to melanoma. Sure there are many summer mornings and evenings where you’ll be wearing your classic Cape hoodie anyway, but when they sun’s out, you’ll need to take action. Scads of swimmers still slather on lotion, but there are alternate options for sun protection these days.
Enter the full-body swimsuit. Keep an open mind when considering this garb, which essentially comes in two styles: the Lycra version, which is essentially made of swimsuit fabric, stretchy and form flattering, or the rashguard version. The latter doesn't stretch as much, but usually guarantees a SPF of 50 or higher, and lasts far longer than Lycra or other stretchy fabrics, which tend to fray over time. Both options are available in muted or bright colors.
While we’re on the subject, don't forget about your eyes! If you've ever gone surfing at early morning at Cape Cod National Seashore or The Wall at Hampton Beach, you know the harsh glare of the sun and its reflection off the water can burn your retinas. Surfshades, available in a variety of frame colors and with new, high-contrast lenses, have a unique strap on the back that will keep the glasses on your head even in decently high surf. If you're lucky enough to surf overhead waves on the Cape, you might find they get torn off in a wipeout. But for mild to moderate surf days or any other watersport, Surfshades are an eyesaver.