With more than 1,500 miles of coastline, the Bay State boasts a variety of beaches, trails, shipyards, and shoreline spaces where you can fish, surf, sail, kayak, swim, picnic, whale watch, or just watch the world go by while feeling an ocean breeze. So leave the online "surfing" for the colder months and get out there and take advantage of the "bay" in Bay State.
Public Access Places for All!
From soft sand to craggy cliffs, the Massachusetts coast has a wide variety of places for swimming, picnicking, launching boats, collecting shells, fishing, and more. These links have descriptions that can help you find your favorite spots.
Boston and the North Shore - For maps and more of beaches and other public access points from Beverly to Winthrop, see the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management's (CZM) Massachusetts Coast Guide to Boston Harbor and the North Shore. The guide has descriptions for nearly 400 coastal spots, photos of a variety of sites, transportation information, and more.
South Shore - Wondering where to find the best beaches on the South Shore? Squidoo.com lists public and resident-only beaches on their Where to Find the Best Beaches on the South Shore of Massachusetts page. This site includes directions, descriptions, photos, and parking information.
Cape Cod - VistitNewEngland.com covers Cape Cod's beaches for residents and tourists alike. Make sure to read the fine print—a number of these beaches require a resident sticker for parking.
South Coast - SouthCoastToday.com has a searchable South Coast Beach Guide. Click the types of amenities (such as food concessions and changing rooms and whether surfing or pets are allowed) and the locations you are interested in and get a listing of available sites.
Martha's Vineyard - Martha's Vineyard Online can guide you to beaches and scenic spots at this vacation location famously enjoyed by a number of U.S. Presidents.
Nantucket - Nantucket.net's beaches page provides site descriptions, photographs, and information on area beaches, including whether there are lifeguards and what the swimming conditions are.
Comprehensive Coverage for the Complete Coast - CZM's Coast Guide Online allows you to make personalized maps to beaches, rocky shores, boat ramps, and other shoreline sites open to the public all along the coast of the Commonwealth using Google Earth. The MassVacation.com beaches page also lets you search for beaches by location and amenity.
Hiking (Picnicking and Sightseeing Optional)
Happy coastal trails to you—CZM has compiled an extensive list of Coastal Trails in Massachusetts, which includes information on and links to a variety of sites. From the bike trails of Essex National Heritage Area to Halibut Point State Park's incredible views (on a clear day, you can see Mount Agamenticus in Maine!) to Ellisville Harbor State Park's 18th century farmstead, there are trails for all levels of hikers.
Got kids in strollers? No problem—The Trustees of Reservations Stroller-Friendly Trails page includes coastal trails where you can navigate your baby-in-a-Bugaboo.
Need handicapped-accessible sites? The Massachusetts Department of Conservation’s (DCR) Accessible Beaches page has you covered.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail can accommodate all of the above—including strollers, wheelchairs, cyclists, walkers, runners, and even horseback riders. The relatively flat trail follows a former railroad right-of-way for 22 miles through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet and provides both a paved surface and a wide unpaved shoulder, with well-marked automobile crossings.
While some may maintain that homo sapiens evolved from cave men to be able to sleep indoors, for those of you who delight in having nothing more than a nylon membrane between you and the great outdoors, see DCR's Campgrounds page for a complete list of state-owned camp sites (coastal and inland). And for an interactive map of private campgrounds, see Camping in Massachusetts. If you already know the name of the camp site you would like to reserve, or would like to search for a site within a particular part of the state, you can do so through Reserve America.
Want to see whales? There are a number of whale watching operations in Massachusetts, departing from the North Shore, Boston, South Shore, and Cape Cod. While every trip is different, it's not uncommon to see whales (humpback, finback, minke, and more), along with other ocean dwellers, such as seals and porpoises. See the MassVacation.com whale watching page to search for the right trip for you.
The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game's Division of Marine Fisheries website can help you enjoy the Commonwealth's recreational fishing experience. Their site provides information on fish species profiles, where to buy bait, regulation and permit requirements, and more. You can also access their Massachusetts Saltwater Recreational Fishing Guide to find specific information about marine finfish regulations, an extensive listing of the state's public boat ramps (see Access Sites), bait and tackle shops, charterboat and headboat operations, lobster and crabbing information and regulations, and the best time of year for catching specific species of fish (see Massachusetts Recreational Saltwater Fishing Calendar). The guide also includes information about how to handle your catch and encourages use of responsible fishing practices. If you don't have a boat, there are opportunities for saltwater fishing from the shore—see Marine Fisheries Access Properties for details.
Starting in 2011, all saltwater anglers aged 16 and older who wish to fish in Massachusetts (i.e., visitors and residents) are required to register. Registration links can be found at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Recreational Information Program. (If you are part of a chartered fishing trip, you don't need to register.)
BoatMa.com is the all-purpose boating site of the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association (MMTA) and includes extensive information on getting out on the water and owning and operating a boat. For a list of marinas in Massachusetts, you can browse Marinas.com—each site has a photo you can click to get the map location and a rundown of the amenities the marina offers. To properly dispose of boat sewage, see CZM's Massachusetts Pumpout Facilities. And for specific boating options, see:
Sailing - Boston Harborwalk's Go Boating page has links to Boston, East Boston, Dorchester, and Charlestown boating centers, including sailing spots. Boston Community Boating offers Friday Night Sails through Labor Day weekend. To navigate "one of the most challenging and satisfying bodies of water . . . on the East Coast," see CoastalBoating.net's Buzzards Bay page.
Kayaking - Kayak Online's Kayaking in Massachusetts has a full list of all things kayaking—from renting kayaks to taking lessons to places to kayak for all levels of kayakers. For some kayaking spots in Massachusetts and beyond, boston.com suggests 10 Great Places to Kayak in New England.
Charters - To charter a boat by the hour or the day, see the Northeast Charterboat Captain's Association Find a Charter Captain page for a comprehensive list of charter captains.
Looking for more ideas? How about finding a rare Piping Plover? Or seeing a life-sized whale sculpted from sand? And there's always parasailing at sunset or visiting a historic lighthouse. See the links below for these and other options.
Birdwatching - The Massachusetts shoreline offers some of the best birding opportunities in the world. CZM's Bird Watching on the Coast can familiarize you with some shoreline species in Massachusetts and direct you to web sites with information on birding hot spots, events, and clubs.
Sand Sculpting - To see the best sand castles of the summer, check out Revere's National Sand Sculpting Festival in July (at Revere Beach) and the annual Sandblast in August, which is held at Crane Beach on the Crane Estate.
More Water Sports - From parasailing to jet skiing, see the MassVacation.com water sports page to search for exciting outdoor activities.
Coastal Culture - For those looking for cultural enrichment along the shore, see Massachusetts Cultural Coast to discover more about the history, traditions, culture, arts and crafts, lore, theater and music, recreation, and economies of six coastal regions in the Commonwealth.