The 10 Most Picture-Perfect Beach Towns in New England
You'll want to hit up these gorgeous destinations this summer.
Photo By: Rhode Island Commerce Corporation
Photo By: Moment Open/Getty Images
Photo By: iStockphoto/DenisTangneyJr
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/BenjaminSullivan
Photo By: iStockphoto/OlegAlbinsky
Photo By: OlegAlbinsky / iStock
Photo By: Shutterstock/James Kirkikis
Photo By: Connecticut Office of Tourism
Photo By: iStockphoto/OlegAlbinsky
Photo By: Shutterstock/Dan Logan
Westerly, Rhode Island
The town of Westerly, Rhode Island, is actually a collection of small villages, many of them boasting quaint Colonial-style and Queen Anne-style homes. Beaches abound across all of them, from the sprawling Misquamicut State Beach to gorgeous Napatree Point, which is popular with hikers and bird watchers. When you’re finished sunbathing, head to Watch Hill Beach and hop on the Flying Horse Carousel, which dates to 1883.
Located just halfway between New York City and Boston, Stonington, Connecticut, is a pleasant, coastal remedy for hectic urban life. First established in 1649, the town is home to beautifully preserved Colonial, Federal and Greek revival buildings that are worth scoping out on a walk through town. Afterward, fuel up with a hearty bowl of New England clam chowder at the Breakwater at Stonington Harbor and an espresso at Social Coffee Roasters, which roasts its own organic, fair-trade bean each morning at 3:30 a.m. Of course, don’t miss the breezy duBois Beach on the tip of Stonington Village, and save time to explore the town’s many nature trails and seaside meadows, which are filled with wildflowers and beach roses.
This historic seaport city has no shortage of gorgeous early American architecture, the fortunate result of a huge movement in the 1970s to preserve and restore the downtown. Between scoping out the majestic First Period, Georgian, Federal and Greek Revival-style homes, dig into local fare like oysters, ceviche and cocktails at Brine and scope the shops at the Tannery Marketplace. Make sure to leave enough time to explore Plum Island Beach, a barrier beach island located just two miles from downtown Newburyport. Named for the beach plums that grow wild along its dunes, it's one of the area's most popular summertime attractions.
Maine’s most populous city is also one of its most charming. The food and drink scene here is outstanding—grab a lobster roll from Bite Into Maine’s 1977 Airstream, parked at Allagash Brewing Co., and snag a Belgian-style wheat beer while you’re at it. The area also has a top-notch arts district, which is home to numerous museums, music venues and galleries. There’s more to do here than one could ever cover in a weekend, but there’s no harm in trying. Portland is also just 20 minutes away from scenic Cape Elizabeth, which is home to the iconic Portland Head Light, the oldest lighthouse in Maine.
This island town—which also includes the neighboring islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget—has a history that runs deep. Inhabited by the Wampanoag people for centuries before European settlement in the mid-17th century, it’s easy to see why people have for so long been drawn to Nantucket. The waters that surround it are among the most pristine in New England, teeming with lobster, scallops, oysters and more. Sample this marine bounty at seafood-centric bar and restaurant Cru, or for some island-inspired fare with an Asian twist at The Nautilus. Of course, make sure to spend a whole day at least at Cisco Beach, taking time to admire the many surfers who come here.
Like many towns in New England, Barnstable, Massachusetts, is a collection of villages, the most famous being the Kennedy hangout Hyannis. In addition to the John F. Kennedy Museum, Barnstable is also home to the historic Gideon Hawley House, a Georgian-style house built in 1758, and an ancient burying ground with pre-Revolutionary War grave markers going back to 1743. But most people come here for the beaches, which are bountiful. We’re especially partial to Sandy Neck Beach for its majestic dunes and the designated hiking trails that wind through the surrounding forest and marshland.
In the language of town's native Abenaki tribe, Ogunquit means "beautiful place by the sea," and it's a designation hard to argue with. Rich with quaint buildings, coves and pedestrian bridges, Ogunquit is as cute a town as they get. Spend the night at the newly renovated Cliff House for a luxe retreat, and head to local seafood institution Barnacle Billy’s for its famous lobster roll and a cup of rum punch. Of course, no trip to the area is complete without a trip to Perkins Cove, a former fishing village filled with independent boutiques and seafood restaurants. Drop into the Perkins Cove Lobster Shack for another lobster roll (when in Maine, one is never enough) and check out the town's manually operated drawbridge.
Famously the setting for the 1988 Julia Roberts flick Mystic Pizza, Mystic, Connecticut, has much more to offer than slices of za. Small and picturesque, Mystic has a rich maritime history that stretches back centuries, with a notable living history museum that in 1929 became the first of its kind in America. With more than 60 historic buildings and ships spanning nearly 20 acres, the Mystic Seaport is a fantastic way to get to know the Mystic of yesteryear. After you're done exploring, tuck into dinner at Captain Daniel Packer Inne, which was built on the Mystic River more than 250 years ago, and, because you can't leave Mystic without visiting, grab a pie at the real-life Mystic Pizza. Afterward, head to the nearby Ocean State Beach Park for a beach day packed with miniature golf, sunbathing, carousel rides and nature walks.
Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
A collection of six separate towns, the island of Martha's Vineyard has for decades captured public fascination for everything from its association with the classic Steven Spielberg film Jaws (it was filmed at locations across the island) to its popularity with high-profile visitors like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Bill Clinton. Though its year-round population hovers around just 15,000 people, in the summer numbers swell to more than 100,000 thanks to the hordes that flock to Martha's Vineyard's many beautiful beaches. We suggest visiting South Beach in Edgartown (be sure to hit up the nearby Right Fork Diner afterward for ice cream and fries) or Menemsha Beach on the Vineyard Sound in Chilmark (before you leave, stop by the Home Port restaurant for baked stuffed lobster and fried clams).
Northeast Harbor, Maine
Northeast Harbor has a minuscule population most of the year, but this tiny village along Maine's rocky coast expands exponentially with sun-seeking visitors during the summer months. At one point in the last century, it became so popular with Philadelphians that the quiet enclave was sometimes called "Philadelphia on the Rocks." Northeast Harbor is a great stopping off point for visits to lush Acadia National Park, but there are plenty of in-town draws, too. Watch the yachts and luxury boats come and go on the water, followed up with a bowl of creamy clam chowder at The Docksider. Spend the night at the quaint Asticou Inn, which boasts many rooms with a water view. In the morning, fuel up for a day of adventure at the onsite restaurant, which specializes in pancakes dotted with wild Maine blueberries and popovers smeared with local strawberry jam and whipped butter.