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Beaches are good for the soul

Whether you want to relax or act up, there’s a New England beach just for you
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 14, 2006

Beaches for every mood.
A day at the beach offers the ultimate sensual experience, and it’s not just because everyone shows up half-naked. It’s also because of the feel of hot sand between your toes and sea air cooling your wet shoulders; the sounds of children shouting, gulls screeching, waves crashing; the taste of salt water mingled with that coconut sun-block smell; and gazing out at the sea’s blue-gray horizon amid a flotilla of rainbow-hued umbrellas.

As with bodies and snowflakes, no two beaches are alike — and that’s good news for those of us who hanker for external stimulation on some days, introspection on others. Whether we’re on the beach or in the bedroom, our sensuality depends on our mood.

On extraverted days, we want our fun handed to us, loud and rambunctious and overflowing with sights, smells, and sounds. We want to slurp fast-melting ice cream before trying our luck at noisy arcade games. We want to swing our legs from wooden boardwalks, giggling with friends. We want it all there in front of us, where we can pick and choose and scoop up our pleasures by the armful.

For such experiences, Maine’s Old Orchard Beach gives us everything we desire. The beach is an old-school throwback to our parents’ days on Coney Island, complete with fast food and gift shops, carnival games, a wooden pier that stretches 500 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, and seven miles of prime beach-towel real estate. The Amtrak-accessible playground offers free concerts on Monday and Tuesday nights, and free fireworks every Thursday.

Or try Hampton Beach, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. New Hampshire may have only 18 miles of seacoast, but it capitalizes on its short shoreline with Hampton, where there are weekly fireworks displays on Wednesdays, as well as nightly concerts, a sand-sculpting competition starting June 16 (in which contestants will use 300 tons of imported sand), a Hampton Beach Idol contest, and a seafood festival that marks the end of the summer season in September.

Easton’s Beach, in Newport, Rhode Island, also has an amusement-park vibe (there’s a carousel!) that translates into a good old-fashioned romp of a day. And of course, carnival games or not, a trip from Point Judith, Rhode Island, to Block Island offers day-trippers everything from beaches and bike trails to breathtaking views — and occasionally rowdy crowds to boot.

Yet as fun as these assaults on the senses can be, there are days when we’d rather experience things a bit more tranquilly, with fewer bells and whistles. We want simply to share the day with one person, a book, or our thoughts — the sandy equivalent of a candlelight dinner or a hot bath.

On those days, Massachusetts’s North Shore provides peaceful perfection; the rocky Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester, the sandy-white Crane Beach in Ipswich, and the pristine Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea offer simplicity: beautiful bare-bones beaches. The water may be icy, but the sting is a welcome contrast to the spreading heat of the midday sun. No matter how many people crowd onto the sand (and many do), you can find sunny solitude at these North Shore idyls. And even when things get rowdy, as they do in Gloucester during the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta (June 21 through 25), it remains refined. Somehow, even watching grown men try to run across a greased telephone pole suspended over water seems to have historical resonance in this old fishing port.

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