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 explore!
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.
Coast Guide Online - An interactive map developed by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), Coast Guide Online includes more than 1,900 sites along the Massachusetts coast that are owned by government agencies and nonprofits and open to the public—from long, sandy beaches and rocky shores to small rights-of-way and public landings. It was designed to be easily used on mobile phones and tablets, as well as desktop computers.
Boston and the North Shore - For maps and more of beaches and other public access points from Beverly to Winthrop, see CZM's 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? HubPages.com lists public and resident-only beaches on their South Shore Beaches 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 offers insight into the shoreline from the Cape Cod Canal to Rhode Island with Your Guide to SouthCoast Beaches.
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 details on lifeguard availability and swimming conditions.
Additional Coverage of the Complete Coast - In addition to Coast Guide Online, check out:
- CZM's Public Access and Coast Guide Program for other mapping tools and publications on beaches and other public access points in the Bay State.
- Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Saltwater Ocean Beaches page, which gives links to descriptions, maps, trail guides, and information on amenities and recreational opportunities for state beaches.
- The MassVacation.com beaches page to search for beaches by location or amenity and find scenic photographs to motivate you to get out and explore.
- BostonMagazine.com’s Best Beaches in Massachusetts - 100 Awesome Beaches in Boston and Beyond for highlighted beaches in every coastal region with information on accessibility, how to get there, family friendliness, and allowed activities.
Since 1987, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management has been part of the International Coastal Clean Up. Each fall, volunteers remove and catalogue trash found along the shores, around marshes and riverbanks, and even on the seafloor. With thousands of Massachusetts volunteers collecting tons of trash across more than 100 miles of coastline each year, that's a lot of cigarette butts! Check out the COASTSWEEP web page to get more information.
Hiking (Picnicking and Sightseeing Optional)
Happy coastal trails to you—CZM has compiled an extensive list of Coastal Trails of Massachusetts. 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 has a Stroller-Friendly Trails page that includes coastal options.
Need handicapped-accessible sites? DCR's 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 Camping 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.
See the MassVacation.com whale watching page for more than a dozen different options along the coast. 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.
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 Saltwater Fish Availability 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.
All saltwater anglers aged 16 and older who wish to fish in Massachusetts (i.e., visitors and residents) are required to obtain a permit. See Get a Recreational Saltwater Fishing Permit.
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. To properly dispose of boat sewage in Massachusetts, see CZM's Boat Pumpout Facilities. And for specific boating options, see:
- Sailing - The American Sailing Association provides a list of sailing schools in Massachusetts and information on their instructional programs and boats. Boston Community Boating, the nation's oldest, continuously running public sailing center, offers adult and junior programs with classes and racing for all levels and abilities. 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.
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 to stand-up paddle boarding and surfing, see the MassVacation.com water sports page to search for exciting outdoor activities for all coastal regions.
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.