For many of us, the magic spell of the beach begins when we're young and only gets stronger as time goes by. Nothing is more fun than to plan a day or weekend at the shore -- or more refreshing to the body and soul.
Fortunately, there are beaches for all tastes. Some like a quiet, dune-backed beach on Nantucket, Mass. Others prefer the bustle of Ocean City. Many seek the peaceful pleasures of Delaware's Bethany Beach or Fenwick Island.
Some beach lovers feel the ultimate way of life is a home right on the beach. Jacqueline Onassis built a beach house on Martha's Vineyard. Carol Burnett often returns from her many commitments to her home in Hawaii. In Malibu, Linda Ronstadt lives in a glamorous home built on the sand.
And if you're the governor of New Jersey, a house on the dunes of Island Beach State Park goes along with the job. Nice work, yes?
Many of us are only hours away from some of the finest beaches in the world. Whatever beach you choose, you'll probably see kites in the wind and kids in the waves. To help you plan your sun, sea and surf days, here are several locales to consider:
One-hundred-eighteen miles of seashore communities dot the 1,300 miles of Long Island coastline, offering beaches from noisy Jones Beach to the fashionable Hamptons. At Hot Dog Beach, in the middle of a remote marsh in East Quoque, about six miles east of the Westhampton Beach Bridge on Dune Road, young and old (mostly young) enjoy beach parties, picnics, volleyball and a happy-go-lucky atmosphere.
Fire Island, at the very tip of eastern Long Island, has beaches of stunning natural beauty with distinct personalities attracting a spectrum of beach-goers -- naturalists, writers and artists. It can be reached only by private boats or ferries, which frequently run back and forth from the Long Island mainland to more than a dozen communities. No cars are permitted on the island. There are two lifeguarded beaches: Watch Hill and Sailor's Haven.
The historic 25-room estate of William Floyd is open to the public, and there are old shipwrecks on the island to explore. Steep cliffs on the coast and dunes, of varying heights throughout the island, rise to more than 40 feet. The Fire Island Lighthouse is open seven days a week to the public.
Cape May Point is a little-known community at the southernmost tip in the state adjacent to Cape May, the quaint Victorian town known as "America's oldest resort." With wide beaches, a curving shoreline and gentle water, the Point is an oasis of delight for those who want an uncrowded beach scene.
At Diamond Beach, a lighthouse can be explored. Sunset Beach is one of the few places on the East Coast where you can watch the sun set over the ocean. Keep in mind, however, that food options are limited to only one or two casual restaurants.
Long Beach Island offers a diversity of beaches, where dunes are sprinkled with grasses and marsh plants. At the northern end of the island are upscale communities such as Harvey Cedars and Loveladies, with clean, wide beaches and stunning beach houses. Inland you'll find an art foundation, tony boutiques and lots of bait and tackle stores for the terrific fishing and crabbing there.
The southern end of the island is the activity hub: Beach Haven has amusements, lots of restaurants, a summer theater, shops and, of course, lovely beaches. Surf fishermen dot the entire strip of the island. Beach badges at modest prices are required ** at almost all Jersey shores while lifeguards are on duty. Call (609) 494-7600 for information.
At Hammonasset Beach near the town of Madison, a 932-acre ocean front park offers the largest section of the state's shoreline on Long Island Sound. A lovely 2-mile beach has facilities for swimming, camping, picnicking, saltwater fishing, scuba diving, hiking -- and even a nature center. You'll see a
delightful variety of shorebirds and wading birds, including waterfowl and sea ducks. There are shelters and concessions at this well-maintained state park.
Stonington, a small, charming maritime village, may well be the only town on the Connecticut coast where ocean waves roll into shore. There's a go-slow pace at this small but cozy beach near the Rhode Island border.
Rehoboth Beach, known as the "nation's summer capital" because of the many Washingtonians who maintain second homes here, has become quite crowded. But nearby Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island (not really an island) are called the "quiet resorts," with their long stretches of beautiful beaches. Fenwick Island State Park runs from South Bethany to the town of Fenwick Island and has public beaches on the ocean side and crabbing and fishing on the bay side. For nighttime action, head for the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach.
Ocean City, south of Fenwick Island, is the only beach resort in Maryland. A 10-mile ocean coastline is a beauty but packed with blanket-to-blanket people from Memorial Day through Labor Day. beach replenishment program has widened the beach, and a dune is being created from Fourth Street to the Delaware state line.
There are morning to night activities at this family-oriented community. A 3-mile-long boardwalk has amusement parks with rides, water slides, shops, food concessions and hotels.
At Assateague, a 37-mile-long barrier island that stretches into Virginia, 4 miles of beach and campgrounds offer the public the rugged beauty of the area with its wild pony population and flocks of shore birds. It is truly an unspoiled beach.
There are scenic back trails accessible to jeeps and over-sand vehicles. (A park service permit, good through January, is required and can be obtained for $30 at the National Park Seashore Campground Office at Assateague.) Call the visitors' center for more information, (410) 641-1441.
It takes a bit of time but is well worth the effort to settle in on Nantucket Island, just off Cape Cod and accessible only by ferry or plane. Miles of undisturbed beach are breathtaking. It's also an island with a split personality: The harbor end is filled with boats, charming shops and tourists; away from town are lovely inns on remote spots, where the beaches offer privacy, tranquillity and exquisite, silent stretches of shore.
Chatham is an upscale Cape Cod town that is three-quarters surrounded by water. Residents and visitors enjoy Chatham Light, a lovely, small cove beach. On a high bluff above the beach, there's a wonderful view of the Atlantic. Yachts and other vessels glide through the gentle waters here.
At the Chatham Fish Pier, fishing fleets bring in the day's catch, and there's an observation deck that provides tourists and camera buffs with a ringside seat. Mommy Island is a sandbar that stretches 10 miles south into the sea. Once the haunt of beach pirates, the island still has shipwrecks on the shore.
Ogunquit has been called "the most attractive, well-mannered, quietest and least pretentious" seaside community in New England. A 3-mile sandy beach stretches northward along a picturesque rocky shore. Originally famous as a fishing village, there is still great tuna fishing here. A shore road leads to Bald Head Cliff, 100 feet high, that extends 300 feet into the ocean. As the sea pounds against the cliff, sprays of more than 100 feet soar into the air.
Marginal Way is a most beautiful and unusual walk along cliffs overlooking the ocean with tide pools at the water's edge. Old Orchard Beach, 12 miles south of Portland, has a 7-mile-long beach that stretches from 400 to 700 feet wide. An amusement center and pier thrives from morning till night with rides and games.
There are very few beaches along the Granite State's coastline, but Hampton Beach attracts the young and the restless like a magnet. There's a 5-mile sandy beach along the ocean that is people-to-people all summer. An amusement park has the usual games. Bathhouses are available, and charter boats are for hire at several piers. Band concerts are held on the beach Sundays through Thursdays from late June through Labor Day.
For a calmer setting, try Rye and Rye Beach with 8 miles of seashore, a boat ramp, a commercial wharf and saltwater fishing from a jetty.
A marvelous 28-mile stretch of fine, sandy beach attracts hordes of visitors to popular Virginia Beach, so be aware that it's a bustling scene -- on the beach and on the boardwalk. And it's fun to get there if you use the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 17-mile drive over four man-made islands, through 2-mile-long tunnels and over two bridges and more than 12 miles of trestled roadway right over the water.