Shinnecock East County Park, Southampton, New York
TRAVEL TIME: Two hours via the Long Island Expressway
Drive out to the tip of the barrier island below Southampton, where an outer-beach permit ($40 if you’re not a Suffolk County resident) lets you pull a four-wheel-drive vehicle right onto the sand. Sleep under the stars ($30; no tents), wade in the ocean or the bay, and wake up early to cast a line in the surf for striped bass.
Little Captain Island, Greenwich, Connecticut
TRAVEL TIME: Forty-five minutes via I-95, or 50 minutes on Metro-North, then a twenty-minute ferry ride
Last year, the prohibition on non–Greenwich residents riding the ferries to Little Captain Island ended, opening the tree-shaded trails and sandy beaches to everyone. Stop by one of two Greenwich civic centers to buy $5-per-person beach passes (203-622-7817), then splash away in the gentle Long Island Sound or squish through the mudflats at low tide. There’s an abundance of picnicking grounds in the interior. Weekend ferries leave from town every hour from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Island Beach State Park, Seaside Park, New Jersey
TRAVEL TIME: One hour, 50 minutes via the Garden State Parkway
Load up a car with Frisbees, firewood, and stuff for s’mores, and barrel down the Jersey shore to the undeveloped barrier island just south of Seaside Heights ($10 per vehicle on weekends). Stretch out wherever: There are more than ten miles of beach. Stroll across the island to the bird blinds on Barnegat Bay to see ospreys and herons, or take a hike on one of the eight nature trails. Build a bonfire before dusk (when the park closes) and roast those marshmallows.