New England Road Trip: 5 Best New England Beaches

May 27, 2020

new england road trip

Unlike most people who travel to New England for the brightly-colored fall foliage, I prefer the summer in New England. Born and raised in Rhode Island, then raising my own children in New Hampshire, I had ample opportunity to explore and take a New England road trip many, many times.

New England weather during the summer months is consistently perfect – warm but not too hot during the day and cooler, comfortable nights. Summer is the perfect time to plan a New England road trip!

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Ogunquit, Maine

new england road trips

Ogunquit Beach (pronounced /o-gun-quit/) rests on a long, sandy peninsula with grassy dunes between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River on the rugged coast of southern Maine.

Named by the Abenaki tribe meaning “beautiful place by the sea,” Ogunquit began as a small fishing and farming village in Perkins Cove. In the 1920s artists began converging on the town and it gained the reputation as a summer art colony. Today, you can find lots of small boutique artist shops as well as the Ogunquit Playhouse for seasonal live entertainment.

Ogunquit boasts 3.5 miles of sandy beaches the highlight of which is the famous Marginal Way – a hugely popular 1.25-mile long scenic walking path along the sea.

Hampton, New Hampshire

new england road trip

While some disparage it as too touristy and overcrowded, Hampton Beach is a fun seaside destination for families. My kids loved it! Not only is it one of the few ocean beaches on the short coast of New Hampshire, but the strip behind it is filled with all the trappings of a kitschy fun day – arcades, fried dough, ice cream, pizza, and mini-golf.

For adults, there are two festivals not to be missed. The first is the annual seafood festival which features 60 of the seacoast’s top restaurants for seafood tastings, plus arts and crafts, a lobster-eating contest, and live entertainment. The second is the sand sculpting competition where prizes totaling $15,000 draw some very fine artists and produce some mind-blowing sandcastles and sculptures.

Note: As you continue the New England road trip south, make sure to stop to check out the best things to do in Rockport, Massachusetts before heading to Martha’s Vineyard!

Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Aquinnah Beach

A magnet for millionaires, the lovely but hard-to-get-to island of Martha’s Vineyard is often the place where Hollywood celebrities, high ranking politicians, and successful musicians have been hiding out for decades.

In the more remote southwest corner of the island, Aquinnah Beach, aka Moshup Beach is nestled in the vibrant clay Gay Head Cliffs. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States, known for its dramatic sunsets. Soft golden sand, occasional boulders, and clean deep-blue crashing waves make the mile-long beach a very enjoyable and walkable beach. Because it’s far from the bustling and touristic town centers in the western half of the Vineyard, Moshup Beach is usually quieter and less crowded than the other beaches on the island.

Be aware that a portion of Aquinnah Beach is known for its unofficial “clothing optional” area. There’s no signage so it’s easy to accidentally stumble onto it.

Also, it is prohibited to climb on the cliffs or remove any clay; the cliffs are owned by the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe and are under special environmental protection to prevent erosion.

Newport, Rhode Island

Aquinnah Beach

Photo credit: Discover Newport

Arguably the prettiest seaside city in New England, it’s no wonder that the likes of the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers, the Astors, and other elite American families chose Newport to build their lavish, ostentatious mansions.

Also known as First Beach, Easton’s Beach is located along Memorial Boulevard near the entrance to the Cliff Walk, so it can also be combined with that activity. Aside from a frolic in the ocean on a hot day, the big draw at Easton’s is the vintage carousel. There’s also a visitor’s center with a small aquarium and a snack bar that sells legendary double lobster rolls.

Editor’s Note: A New England beach road trip is one of the best things you can do in the summer. But if you’re not a beach person, or planning a trip to New England during another season, no worries! Fall, in particular, is even more popular than summer. Here’s a guide to the best New England road trips for fall.

Madison, Connecticut

new england road trip

Known as the Nutmeg State and home of the Gilmore Girls, Connecticut isn’t typically a vacation spot or a bucket list beach destination with most people preferring the border states of New York or Massachusetts where there are more selections of beaches or activities.

But that just means that Connecticut’s beaches are hidden gems and Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison is one of the best. Laying claim as the longest beach in the entire state, charming Hammonasset is popular with families and campers, attracting the likes of one million tourists each year.

Once a settlement farmed by woodland Indians, the beach sprawls out more than two miles of white sand beachfront overlooking scenic Long Island Sound and has a long, wooden boardwalk, a hiking trail, and Meigs Point Nature Center – a 4,000-square-foot environmental education center.

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About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.

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