East Hampton’s Main Beach isn’t just a locals’ favorite. It’s one of the ten best from Maine to Malibu, says Stephen Leatherman, the author of America’s Best Beaches,. What makes Main national-caliber, says Leatherman (a.k.a. Dr. Beach), who has combed some 650 seashores nationwide on behalf of the sun-worshiping public, is its 300-foot-wide shore, lush dunes, and cozy water temperatures, plus handy amenities like outdoor showers and a concession stand with seating. “The water, some of the clearest in the country, gets up to 75 degrees in August,” he says. “It’s a classic.”
If you’re driving to Massachusetts for your sea air, make Nauset Beach in Orleans your destination, says Heather Baker, concierge at the swank and historic Chatham Bars Inn in nearby Chatham. Part of the 40-mile-long Cape Cod National Seashore, Nauset has a long, smooth shore (many Cape beaches are rocky) and clean, cool waters (“bracing,” says Baker). Nauset’s also fifteen minutes from the Beachcomber, a fantastic raw bar and the only place on the outer Cape to hear live music (Longwave will play there in August). Provided you don’t stay out too late, hit Nauset at sunrise, says Baker. “The sun comes up blazing right over the Atlantic. You’ll be one of the first people in the country to see it.”
If it’s rowdy crowds, funnel cakes, and silk-screen T-shirts you crave, there are ample choices in the Garden State. But if it’s a charming town and a quiet, pretty shoreline you want, head for Cape May, says Debra Donahue, manager of the area’s landmark Chalfonte Hotel. The Cape May beach is a miles-long swath of sugary, well-maintained sand with water that’s calmer than that of many other Jersey beaches (“We somehow miss a lot of the big storms,” says Donahue), and the town boasts Victorian homes, gas-lit streets, and excellent antiques shops.
After dinner, do a little browsing, then stroll down the waterfront promenade and stare across the Atlantic, in the shadow of the town’s historic lighthouse. “As my mom puts it,” says Donahue, “ ‘There’s just a lot of there here.’ ”
Half a mile to the east of Flying Point Beach, on the border of Southampton and Water Mill, is the area’s ideal sandy spot for families with children. Every year, the town opens a natural inlet between Mecox Bay and the Atlantic known as The Cut. “The water is rarely deeper than three feet,” says Kyle McCarthy of FamilyTravelForum.com, a Manhattan-based Website. “It’s like a lazy, slowly moving river where children can splash and raft and avoid the more choppy ocean.” The Cut also attracts little crabs, McCarthy says, and when the tide is out, “there are ideal sand dunes for castle-makers.”
The tan-line-phobic can let it all hang out at Sandy Hook in Monmouth County, New Jersey (about twenty miles south of the city), the only public beach in the tri-state area with an official nude section. Recommended by the Naturist (don’t call it Nudist) Society’s Nicky Hoffman, Sandy Hook is the largest clothing-optional beach on the East Coast, complete with life guards, concession stands, and (stop reading now if you’re not into the whole nudist thing) rollicking volleyball games. The beach is well marked with signs indicating clearly that bare-nakedness lies just ahead. “That way,” says Hoffman, “people can enjoy being nude without others gawking.”
According to the bartenders at Slide, the Manhattan gay bar du jour, The Pines on Fire Island still sets the sum-mer standard. In addition to its silky sands, the main draws are the well-kept “Abercrombie boys” in their twenties and thirties and Christopher Street’s old guard who own the million-dollar homes. A close second: Jacob Riis Park beach, which, the bartenders say, is all about cute Latin and black guys from Queens and Brooklyn “and their fans.”
At the easternmost end of Long Island you’ll find this coast’s answer to California dreamin.’