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.