The Beach Less Traversed: This Summer, Discover New England's Hidden Gems
Looking to escape to New England’s rocky coast this summer but hoping to avoid the thousands-strong crowd with the same intention? Here are a few alternatives that’ll exceed your vacation expectations.
By: Austin Eder, Let's Go Travel
Old Saybrook, CT
This authentic, quiet, upscale town embodies the charm people typically associate with coastal New England. Because of its prime location on Long Island Sound, many of Old Saybrook’s summer activities revolve around the ocean. Go for a swim at family-friendly Harvey Beach (or a stroll, as the water remains knee-deep as far as 300 feet from the shore), or change your vantage point by signing up for a boat tour of Connecticut’s beautiful rocky coast. Its parks picturesque and its buildings teeming with history, Old Saybrook has no shortage of things to do back on land. Fill your days by meandering in and out of boutiques, cafes, and breweries, picnicking on the Town Green, or visiting the town’s historical landmarks, and end them by kicking your feet up on the hearth of a rustic seaside cottage. No trip to Old Saybrook is complete without a visit to the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Center, named after the town’s most famous resident, film icon Katharine Hepburn. Half museum, half performing arts venue, “the Kate,” as locals refer to it, is home to local musicians, actors, and comedians. Stop in to catch a show or simply to catch up on your Old Saybrook history.
12 miles north of Old Saybrook on the banks of the Connecticut River lies Chester, CT. Although not necessarily a beach town, Chester is bordered by miles and miles of waterfront properties, and serves as a fantastic alternative to more mainstream coastal destinations. Spend your mornings scanning the shelves of the Chester Public Library or exploring the grounds of the Gillette Castle, your afternoons splashing around in picturesque Cedar Lake, and your evenings dining at critically-acclaimed farm-to-table restaurants. Though small, Chester’s city center is vibrant and teeming with activity. The town’s trendiest galleries, studios, and artisanal shops are all within walking distance of each other, and the equally-charismatic Essex and Old Lyme are just a short drive away. Because of its size, Chester’s lodging options are fairly limited, so I’d recommend booking your excursion pretty far in advance. In the meantime, rest assured – Chester is well worth the wait!
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Oh Cape Elizabeth, how I adore thee. Rugged but welcoming, formidable but alluring, this cape, unlike the Cod, is one of wonderful paradoxes. Get ready to be swept off of your feet by the majesty of the natural world and caught by the arms of its generous inhabitants. Feel the ocean’s cooling breeze on your skin and the waves’ strong pulse beneath your feet as you traverse the rocky trails of Twin Lights State Park, and feel the warmth of a fisherman’s smile in your heart as you enter the doors of nearby Lobster Shack – an outpost-turned-restaurant with tasty treats and commanding sea and lighthouse views. Speaking of treats, Cape Elizabeth is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Portland, ME, popular for its wide variety of culinary options and community-oriented culture, making it an ideal destination for wonderfully paradoxical people – those who prefer to spend their days in solitude and their nights in the company of other life-loving individuals.
Blue Hill Peninsula, ME
Originally settled in 1762 as Newport Plantation, Blue Hill Peninsula, like its aforementioned counterparts, has a rich colonial history. Today, it is one of the quintessential coastal Maine regions, graced by the sea and by enchanting villages like Blue Hill, Deer Isle, Stonington, and Southwest Harbor. While on paper these villages may seem astoundingly similar, in reality they all come their own unique charms and distinct attractions. Peruse through North Light Bookstore in Blue Hill, survey the wildlife at Barred Island Preserve on Deer Isle, try your hand at pottery in one of the many studios in Stonington, or depart for a private fishing trip from Southwest Harbor. Even better yet, do all of these things! This diverse collection of villages is extremely geographically concentrated, making travel between them an absolute breeze. So find yourself a beautiful spot to call “home-base” and hit a new destination every day, or hotel hop and spend a few days exploring each village – whatever floats your boat!
The Cape Cod that people envision, only better. “How so?” you may be asking yourself. Two words: No. Traffic. Located just 10 minutes beyond the Bourne Bridge, Pocasset has all the New England flavor necessary to satisfy your Cod cravings. This southeastern-facing harbor is part of the larger county of Bourne, and is relatively quiet compared to its neighbors. If you’re looking to relax, kick back with a good book and an ice-cold drink on Hen Cove Beach or taking a stroll down to the end of Barlow’s Landing Road to take in the scenery. If you’re one to bore easily, have no fear! There’s still plenty to do around town, from stuffing your face with scrumptious coastal delicacies, to biking along the Bourne canal, to chasing butterflies. Yes, I just said chasing butterflies. The options are endless!
Escape the hustle and bustle of Hampton – New Hampshire’s most popular beach town – by traveling inland to Bristol, a sleepy, yet delightful village located on the banks of beautiful Newfound Lake. The lake is situated at the base of the White Mountains, making it the perfect launching pad for those of you eager to spend your summer immersing yourselves in nature. Before you head off on your adventure through the forest, be sure to gather a sack of organic apples at Cardigan Mountain Orchard, visit one of Bristol’s numerous historic houses, and expand your palette at Newfound Lake Vineyards with a glass of blueberry wine.
One crisp August afternoon you stroll into a stylish restaurant. You ask for a table outside, with a view overlooking Smith Cove and the opposite bank of the Palmer River. As you sit down, a cool gust of wind blows through your hair, and the refreshing smell of the Atlantic fills your nostrils. To your left, children pick flowers and twirl around their table, stopping periodically to take bites of homemade ice cream. To your right, the sun sets ever so slowly, casting shadows upon docked boats, reflecting off of the glassware and producing rainbows on the tablecloth, and illuminating the already-beaming faces of your loved one(s). Such is life in Warren, Rhode Island. Go. It won’t disappoint.
New Shoreham, RI
Located 14 miles east of Montauk Point, Long Island, and only accessible by boat, New Shoreham, RI, is the pink star diamond of these hidden gems. Block Island’s got something for everyone: swimming, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, sailing, hiking, sightseeing, learning, shopping, eating, relaxing, and more. However, because of its glowing reputation and infamous shoreline, New Shoreham has grown increasingly popular as a travel destination in recent years. If you’re looking to avoid crowds – to find the beaches less traversed –, I’d recommend renting a bike (or simply going on foot) and heading to the northernmost or southernmost parts of the island. There, you’ll run into the North Lighthouse or the Mohegan Bluffs (pictured above) respectively, both of which remained relatively untainted to this day.