With the Cape, North Shore, and South Shore a drive away, a day trip to a great Boston-area beach is always possible. The only drawback to the most popular beaches is, of course, crowds,—which can make parking, swimming, and watching after little kids somewhat stressful. If a lower key scene is what you're after, check out these sandy spots, which can all be reached in just over an hour from the city.
1. Half Moon Beach—Gloucester 45 minutes from Boston
What this crescent-shaped spot lacks in size it makes up for in beauty, with rocky bluffs on either side and lovely views. Its hemmed-in shape helps parents keep track of little ones, and there's a lifeguard, too. A paved path allows for stroller access. Parking is $10.
Steep Hill Beach in Ipswich offers tons of space, close to Crane. Photo courtesy of Essex County Trail Association
2. Steep Hill Beach—Ipswich 55 minutes from Boston
While the crowds flock to the parking lot at Crane Beach on the Crane Estate, consider veering left toward Castle Hill and Steep Hill Beach, a secluded area that most tourists don't even know is there. On Fridays and Saturdays at 10am in the summertime, pair a visit with a child-friendly "Cat's Meow" tour of the estate, where docents point out the places where kids and pets liked to play. Parking is $15 for non-members.
3. Dane Street Beach—Beverly 40 minutes from Boston
If North Shore ease is what you're after, simple Dane Street Beach is the ticket. There's free parking right at the beach, a new playground, bathrooms, and shops and restaurants of downtown Beverly in easy walking distance. Bring beach toys and money for fudge at Winfrey's.
Lovells is a boat ride and world away. Photo courtesy of Boston Harbor Islands
4. Lovells Island—Boston Harbor Islands 1 hour from Boston
This 62-acre island is less touristy than Spectacle and Georges, but has arguably the best sandy beach and swimming of all the Harbor Islands. Kids can tour the historic gun batteries and bunkers of Fort Standish, make sandcastles and swim on the island's sandy side, and hike the coastline on the rocky one. Catch the ferry from Long Wharf in Boston ($20 for adults, $13 for kids over 3).
Hit Humarock at low tide for tide pool exploring. Photo courtesy of Ali Crehan/cc 2.0
5. Humarock Beach—Scituate 50 minutes from Boston
Nestled between ocean and river, this lifeguarded and relatively quiet and spacious stretch of South Shore sand is a premier spot for beachcombing and sandcastle building. If you're lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of seals and their pups, which come ashore during the summer. There's a small restaurant and gift shop there, too. Note: It's technically in Scituate but accessible only by Ferry Street in Marshfield.
6. GoodSpeed Island Beach—Mattapoisett 1 hour, 10 minutes from Boston
Six miles east of New Bedford, Mattapoisett is closer to Boston and less crowded than a lot of other pretty beach towns in the area. GoodSpeed Island is one of the quietest beaches here, since visitors need to park and walk a bit out to the sandy spit stretching out from the mainland. The reward: great views and lots of room to settle in for the day.
Shell Point has calm waters and lots of space to play. Photo courtesy of the Buzzards Bay Coalition
7. Shell Point Beach—Wareham 1 hour, 10 minutes from Boston
Families don't need to drive deep into the Cape to find Shell Point, a quiet and prettier alternative to the nearby town beach in quaint Onset Village. Look for hermit crabs and rent kayaks on a calm day, then stop by Nana's to fill a beach bucket with candy before heading home.