May 27th, 2011

Those top ten beaches

In my continuing effort to get into a summer holiday mood this weekend, I am posting a link to Dr. Beach’s list of top ten sandy ocean spots. It’s heavy on the Hawaiian venues, but it also includes one in Cape Cod and another on Long Island that I think I’ve been to in the past.

It doesn’t surprise me that Hawaii would trump New England. I’ve never been to the former, alas, although I’ve heard enough about it to think I really ought to go some day. But I’m very familiar with the beaches in New England. They are beautiful and plentiful, and some of them are even places where you might want to get into the water and swim—if you’re exceptionally hardy, that is, and from Canada.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course. Southern (or at least southernish) New England—Block Island in Rhode Island, for example, and parts of Cape Cod—are swimmable in the summer. New Hampshire is sort of on the cusp. But Maine, even the southern part, is not a place for the weak or faint of heart. The water is cold, and suited only to very young and very active local children, who seem impervious to such things, and the aforementioned Canadians, who swarm there in great numbers. To them, these are tropical waters.

When my son was about four years old, a friend of mine came to visit from New York City with her four-year-old. It was summer and it was hot—really really really hot, over 100 degrees. What better place could there be to go than the beach? Unfortunately, the wind must have been blowing the wrong way, because it was just as hot there as it was inland, and you couldn’t step on the sand without footwear or you risked instant burns.

But it was early in the season and the water was still so cold it was almost unendurable—even if you merely dunked your toes in, it was instant freeze-up. My friend’s four-year-old daughter began wailing.

“It’s too hot and then it’s too cold!” she shrieked. “I want to go home!” It was difficult to argue with that; the kid had a point, and we bailed pretty quickly.

It occurs to me that this post might be construed as meant to discourage New England tourism. Hardly. It’s one of the most beautiful, charming, historical areas of the United States. But don’t come expecting to swim in its oceans in June. Unless you’re from Labrador, stick to the lighthouses.

18 Responses to “Those top ten beaches”

  1. texexec Says:

    For you beach lovers:

    I lived in Aruba while it was still unspoiled, have experienced beaches all over the Caribbean, Florida, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Acapulco.

    By FAR, the best beaches I have experienced are in St. John, USVI. Each one everything a tropical beach is supposed to be…white sands, crystal clear emerald/blue water, beautiful foliage growing right down to each beach. About 2/3rds of the island is national forest.

    And a nice swimable temperature, of course.

  2. Gringo Says:

    I have seen surfers in wet suits on Maine beaches in November. Old Orchard Beach is currently 47 degrees: bit too cold for me. I like it at least 60 or so.
    Galveston TX beaches in June have water as warm as your bathtub, to go to the other extreme.

    When I was working in Trinidad I had a house on the beach. No complaints there.

  3. Gringo Says:

    Here is sea temperature for Old Orchard Beach.

  4. Dan D Says:

    I’ve been going to Cape Cod since Jack was a senator, and the ocean beaches have changed a lot over the years as the elements change the Cape coastline. Years ago Coast Guard Beach had a vast parking lot and a couple of bath houses. A single storm moved the beach back at least fifty yards further inland and wiped out the facilities and parking. There is no sign of them today.

    Other beaches in Wellfleet and Truro had high, towering dunes and broad beaches leading to surboard-ready water. Today those are narrow beaches, and the dunes have eroded a lot.

    One thing that hasn’t changed is that summer water temperatures rarely exceed sixty-three degrees, and are often in the fifties. It’s the edge of the Labrador Current that hits the Lower Cape, while the Gulf Stream collides with it off the Nantucket Sound.

    Still, those are magical beaches. Outside the highest of the high summer season it is possible to walk for miles along the surf line, and find yourself out of sight of any occupied beaches and often with no other human in sight.

    Cape Cod bay beaches have warmer, gentler waves, and dramatic low tides where beachgoers can walk out on sand bars interspersed with shallow water, more than a mile from the high tide shoreline.

    Nantucket Sound beaches never did anything for me, though, and that part of the Cape is too crowded and congested anyway.

  5. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Kids ARE impervious to that cold New England water. We lived on an island in Maine for a little while when my son was a toddler. The already-cold waters of Maine were even colder out there because we were a couple of miles off the coast, where the water was deeper. This did not bother my little boy one bit, and not just in the summer, either. I used to take him down to the beach during the winter to run off his energy on the packed sand. I quickly learned that I had to run right along with him, hanging on tight to his hand, because if I set him free, he’d turn and scamper straight into the icy waves, snowsuit, hat, mittens and all, shrieking with joy.

  6. Sergey Says:

    Once I took a risk to swim in ice-cold water in winter, in an ice-hole carved in a frozen pond. 5 minites, no more. But how wonderful it felt after! Many Moskovites do it almost every winter day, they call themselves “walruses”.

  7. bluewaterneocon Says:

    As a sailor who has traveled around the world I have been to many beaches. Now, I am in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I walk 5 miles along the beach everyday. The water is clear blue, sand is pale brown, the sun shines 90% of the time. I am obsessed about going to the beach. It gives me energy. If I don’t go, I feel flat all day long. When I do go swimming I like opening my eyes in the clear water. It stings for a few seconds and then everything comes beautifully into focus. The water temperature now is warm. In a few months it will be hot. Wonderful. Especially since there are fresh water showers every 100 feet or so.

  8. model_1066 Says:

    No Great Lakes love? I swam in Lake Superior quite a bit as a kid – quite cold water, even in late summer. But what is really neat about these beaches is the geology and beautiful countryside surrounding it. Oh, and no people.

  9. SteveH Says:

    I’ll second Dr Beach’s choice of the Florida panhandle. The Atlantic has nice beauty but the skiined knees and elbows from its pebbles tends to take away from it.

  10. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    It’s actually heavy on Florida beaches. And it’s good to see St. George Island mentioned, as that is an excellent beach and just down the road a piece from me…not that I’m biased or anything.

  11. Bob From Virginia Says:

    My favorite beach, Gunnison on Sandy Hook, NJ. Big problem is that the water right up to June is cold. Warning, the beach is so popular the huge parking lot fills up by 0900 on weekends. Good facilities and a coastal artillery museum add to the pleasure of being there.

    Alas here in west Nebraska the number of beaches is very limited. Having the Platte River flood into the Sand Hills just isn’t the same.

  12. Beverly Says:

    I went sailing in Maine with the Windjammer fleet, two summers in a row, out of Camden. Divine!

    We did go swimming, but we had to wait to do it in the old rock quarries, which were cool but not icy.

  13. Bob From Virginia Says:

    Bev, I heard swimming in rock quarries is extremely dangerous because of a dramatic change in thermocline. You jump in, hit cold water after a few feet and sink like a rock.

  14. Jimbo Says:

    Neo, Your story of Maine remined me of back in 1989 when I took my wife and oldest son to a beach in Maine North of Kennebunkport. It was in the 90s and so I ran into the ocean before realizing why only children and Canadians (and very few of those) were the only ones in the water. The one good thing about going into very cold water is that once you get out, high air temperatures don’t seem so bad. Most of the Canadians were French-speaking and even the restaraunt menus had parts of them in French. The beaches in Maine are beautiful, just don’t jump in the water too fast!

  15. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    The selection of beaches seemed to emphasize safety and swimmability, which are important issues, especially for families. In March my wife and I spent a week on Ft DeRussy Beach just next to Waimanolo Beach that was listed. The DeRussy Beach is really just an extension of Waimanolo. It is quite safe for the keikis (children) and the water temps are just right all year round.

    For most of my adult life I have preferred good body surfing and snorkeling beaches. I love Ke’e and Tunnels Beaches on Kauai for snorkeling. My favorite beach for body surfing is Makapu Point on Oahu. However, they can all be quite dangerous for even experienced ocean swimmers in the winter, so I can see why they would not have been in consideration for this list.

  16. Danny Lemieux Says:

    Western Michigan’s Lake Michigan beaches. Only in July-Sept, however. Beautiful dunes, charming harbor communities, warm temperatures, clear water and very few people.

  17. waltj Says:

    If I had to pick a beach just to have fun at, it would be Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. If you like having a beach to yourself, go elsewhere. This is Tourist Central for Phuket. But it does have its good points. The Andaman Sea is warm most of the year, the waves range from almost flat (southern end) to surfable (northern end), and the Thais do a reasonably good job of keeping the place clean. The western side of Phuket tends to have high salinity that keeps out most seaborne pests like jellyfish (the eastern mangrove swamps can get the deadly box jellyfish, although why anyone would want to swim there is beyond me), and there’s enough infrastructure along the water so that if you get bored with swimming, surfing, or wave-jumping, you can rent a jet ski , get a (legitimate) massage for around the equivalent of $10, or head off to a nearby golf course. Of course, if you want the “other” kind of massage, that’s available, too, as is every other vice known to man as well. There’s literally something for everyone in Patong, good and bad.

  18. soupcon Says:

    Our family used to rent a summer home in Ogunquit way back in the early 70’s and each day was spent out on the eastern beaches,just doing what you’re supposed to do in summertime Maine.The water temps normally hovered between 55-65 degrees, with a rare day breaching over 65.It was wonderful swimming and body surfing weather, and the only fellow Canucks we saw were a few francophones from Quebec.This was in a time before Ogunquit became a foodie and gay mecca,when the Viking House reigned supreme for it’s ice cream smorgasbord, Barnicle Billy’s and Hojo’s served great clams and more ice cream, and no one missed not having a TV the entire month of July.Now who could possibly complain about cold waters when compared to all that bliss? It was nirvana.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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