Days may be growing shorter and hot-weather days in the Northeastern U.S. are waning, but there’s still time to book a late-summer trip to coastal destinations that are just a few hours’ drive (or ferry ride!) from Boston, Massachusetts. In fact, these two locales make wonderful fall long weekend getaways, too, once the summer crowds decrease after Labor Day. Into late September and early October, you can enjoy beaches, restaurants, and tourist attractions all to yourself – not to mention, lower room rates at popular hotels.
Drive north of Boston, along the coast of New Hampshire, to southern Maine, and you’ll reach the seaside resort town of Ogunquit in less than 90 minutes. Ogunquit’s main draw: the incredibly expanse of beach. It’s 3.5 miles long, but most impressive is its width, especially the stretch close to town. You’ll have no problem finding a square of sand to put your blanket down here.
Rocky cove at high tide in Ogunquit
However, we are talking about the Maine shoreline, so the beach may be rockier than some tropical locales you’re accustomed to. Yet, the craggy coast also leads to really cool tidepools for investigating marine life up close, as well as some spectacular views of jagged cliffs that descend into the water. For the best vistas walk Marginal Way, a mile-long public footpath from Perkins Cove (full of restaurants) to Ogunquit Beach. It’ll take you longer than you think to walk the paved trail, as you’ll stop often to peer down to watch the white spray from waves crashing below.
Naturally, on Ogunquit’s menus you’ll find plenty of boiled lobster, fish and chips, oysters, and clam chowder. Favorite seafood-centric restaurants that receive high marks year after year include the Perkins Cove Lobster Shack, MC Perkins Cove, and Barnacle Billy’s. For a change of pace, consider inland Clay Hill Farm, which doubles as a wildlife habitat and bird sanctuary. The seasonal farm-to-table menu focuses on locally sourced produce, with creative options for vegetarians and gluten-free diners. The setting is bucolic, with lush gardens, whimsical birdhouses, babbling brooks, and rolling hills in the distance; take some time for a walk around the grounds before your meal.
Viewfinder Tip: For the latest-and-greatest seafood restaurant suggestions, ask the locals (bellhop, store cashier) where they eat lobster rolls on their days off.
For at least one morning meal, be sure to hit Cafe Amore for breakfast. Its diner-meets cottage decor in a yellow-clapboard building features lots of black-and-white-checked accents: on the linoleum floor, on the tabletops, and along the rims of the white plates. The popular eatery is crowded in the mornings, but it’s worth the wait for filling dishes like Lobster Benedict, Belgian Waffles with Maine Blueberries, or Bananas Foster French Toast.
During a couples’ getaway to Ogunquit two summers ago, I overnighted at The Cliff House Resort & Spa, whose rooms have seen better days, but the cliff-top spa is top-notch. It was outside of Ogunquit town by a few miles and far from the sandy beaches (it’s indeed perched on the cliff). The next time I return, I’m eyeing the Beachmere Inn, which commands a fabulous location right off of Marginal Way, and within walking distance to town. I love the grand look of the sprawling white buildings on a wide expanse of grassy lawn; indeed, I can envision myself perched on a white chaise lounge, cocktail in hand, salty breeze running through my hair, without a care in the world. Sounds dreamy and romantic, right?
Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
A bustling whaling port in the early 1800s, Nantucket Island off the coast of Cape Cod is today a wonderfully laid-back, picturesque, truly quaint vacation destination with its cobblestone streets, quintessential grey-shingled homes, and loads of open space to simply appreciate its coastal beauty and wildlife. Frequent ferry service from Hyannis makes it easy to get to, especially in the summer (off-season autumn ferries aren’t quite as regular). You can also fly to Nantucket Airport on direct flights from as far away as Newark, New Jersey (as well as closer locales like Boston and Providence, Rhode Island).
Classic grey-shingled home with white trim on Nantucket
I love Nantucket because its small size makes it so easy to navigate. On a recent family vacation, our home base was a rental home on the southern side of the island near Surfside Beach. Surfside soon became our favorite daily excursion because its waves were big and ideally suited for a couple of boogie-board-loving kids. But we rented bikes for our week’s stay, with the intent of exploring the island, and rode about nine miles along a paved bike path to the tiny community of Siasconset (“Sconset”) on the east coast and about seven miles to Cisco Beach on the southwest coast. One must-stop not too far from the Cisco bike path is Cisco Brewers, with its outdoor tasting rooms not only for beer, but also its Triple Eight Distillery vodka, gin, and bourbon, as well as Nantucket Vineyard wines. (See why it might be smart to bike, not drive, on the island?)
Well-marked bike paths make it easy to get around the island
We did find it easier to take a taxi rather than bike into “town,” which is where the ferries dock and the majority of the (awesome) restaurants are. Here it just gets too congested with cars and people, and there aren’t always paved paths for safe biking (not to mention, the streets are primarily bumpy cobblestone). For my next trip to the island – in particular if I didn’t have kids in tow – I’d consider booking at the historic Jared Coffin House. The stately brick building decorated with period antiques dates back to 1845, and it’s a stone’s throw from Main Street’s array of preppy clothing boutiques, ice cream shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
And speaking of eating well, you could spend an entire week on the island and not make it through the incredible fine-dining establishments on Nantucket. With one date night planned for our family vacation, my husband and I had trouble deciding where to make a reservation. One unusual romantic restaurant that caught my eye was the Company of the Cauldron; here, the three-course, prix-fixe menu is set about a week in advance, and when you book your seating (usually one early and one late), you’re served that exact menu (no choices, no substitutions) in a cozy, candle-lit space.
Alas, there were no reservations to be had by the time I had my heart set on the Company of the Cauldron, and it was the same story at the heralded Straight Wharf restaurant. We ended up inland, on the patio at Dune, for tasty Cucumber and Green Tomato Gazpacho, Arugula Salad with Smoked Peaches, Sauteed Nantucket Sound Fluke (a delicious mild fish), and Grilled Black Angus New York Strip. For a sophisticated meal (to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary!), my husband and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setting with excellent service and superb wine.
What’s your favorite East Coast beach destination?