Northern Beaches to Visit Instead of the Hamptons

While the cobblestone streets of old Nantuket are undeniably charming and the party scene in the Hamptons is nonpareil, there are other locales not far from these classic Northeastern beach spots with ample appeal but without the large crowds and high price tags.
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Photo By: Stephen Saks

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Northern Michigan

New summertime visitors to the beaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, particularly the counties that surround the increasingly hip town of Traverse City, are often heard saying two things: “I can’t believe I’m in Michigan,” and “I can’t believe this is a lake.” Just a two-hour plane jaunt from NYC, this idyllic little corner of the state is another planet from Detroit. Here you’ll find teal blue waters expanding out from unpopulated white beaches, charming villages like Northport and Leland, and welcoming locals who seem happy to let you in on their little secret.

Northern Michigan

With a growing farm to market foodie scene, even Mario Batali is happy to call this northernmost part of the Lower Peninsula home. Climb the staggering sand dunes of Sleeping Bear National Seashore, pick cherries, sip tasty local Rieslings and Cabernets, sail, swim, paddleboard, and know you are in on something good.

Wellfleet, Cape Cod

While the turned-up-collar set hop the ferry over to Nantucket, the artsy crowd heads up Cape Cod’s Route 6 to the beaches and pine forests of the Outer Cape, the northernmost part of the peninsula. Wellfleet, with endless shores on both the Atlantic and the bayside, a thriving summer cultural scene and woodland ponds that would make Thoreau feel at home, is an ideal escape for the barefoot beach lover with a paperback in her pocket.

Wellfleet, Cape Cod

Stop by the buzzing Wellfleet Public Library to get the scoop on where and when the local concerts, art shows and poetry readings are happening. Ride bikes along Route 6’s railway trail, watch the waves roll in from the Beachcomber Bar – a seaside hangout with a wicked lobster roll – or attend world-class plays at the Harbor Stage Company Theater. And don’t leave the Cape without sampling the famous Wellfleet oysters.

Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard

If you are drawn to New England’s islands, but don’t want to hustle amid the throng, ferry out to the 300-year-old fishing village of Menemsha on the western point of Martha’s Vineyard. You will not find the lively tourist action of nearby Edgartown, but you will find quiet beaches begging for evening bonfires, fish shacks serving up the fresh catch of local fishermen – many of whose families have been trolling these waters for five generations – and what many argue is the best sunset in the Northeast.

Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard

Settle in for a lobster dinner at the mainstay Home Port restaurant, get back to nature at the clothing optional Lucy Vincent beach or throw your own fishing line in at the Menemsha jetty, a favorite spot for a sunset-drenched end to a perfect summer day.

Casco Bay Islands, Maine

While the presidential types may be savoring their summers in nearby Kennebunkport, you, too, can find blissful seclusion in Maine by retreating to one of the Casco Bay Islands. An archipelago that spreads out from the bay surrounding Portland, the largest of these islands are accessible within an hour’s ferry ride from the city; but with bald eagles swooping overhead and air filled with salty sea spray, you feel like you’ve journeyed much further.

Casco Bay Islands, Maine

On Bailey’s Island, eat lobster plucked fresh from the bay at landmark seafood joint Cook’s Lobster and Ale House. Or let your kids roam freely at Great Diamond Island where golf carts and bicycles are the only vehicles allowed. Long Island, a wee three-mile stretch of land populated by about 200 people year round, is a favorite thanks to its ample beaches with sands so pristine they are said to whistle as your feet shuffle through them.

The Rhode Island Coast

No matter where you are in Rhode Island, you are not too far from the ocean. The smallest state in the union (only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long) has so many inlets and coves, that its total coastline adds up to a whopping 400 miles. So while it is worthwhile to stroll amid the Gatsby-esque “summer cottages” of Rhode Island’s most celebrated summer town, Newport, there are seaside gems spanning the entire state. Just hit Highway One and explore. 

The Rhode Island Coast

In Westerly, play croquet on the green lawns of the Ocean House, a Grande Dame of a seaside resort that dates back to 1868. A visit to the luxurious Stone House, a hotel and restaurant in the sleepy beach town of Little Compton, will let you decompress while keeping a low profile. Sample some of the seafood shacks in the funky little village of Galilee on Point Judith, and take pleasure in knowing that no matter where you are, it won’t take you long to get to the beach.  

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