Before packing away the hibachi and hitting the back-to-school sales, there's still time for the beach trip that never quite happened this summer. And for those without a car, many beaches are accessible by public transportation. All are good destinations for impromptu trips, but also get you outside the city, even if the skyline is still visible.
Wollaston Beach in Quincy offers a view of Boston across blue-gray water peppered with sailboats. The longest Boston Harbor beach, Wollaston's three miles of shoreline is backed by a cement sea wall and attracts sunbathers and swimmers. A lifeguard is on duty from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and a flag announces the day's water quality: Blue says dive in, red means stay out. But bad-water days are infrequent, usually occurring after big storms, according to beach staff, who say the beach gets crowded on nice weekend days.
Across the street is a local institution, the Clam Box. The main draw is served in cheap, heaping portions. While no longer quite up to the accolades the restaurant once received, the clams and fish tasted fresh and breaded to order, and you can complete the beach experience with ice cream and fried dough.
Also easily accessible on the T is the Revere Beach Reservation, which is the oldest public beach in America, and once drew crowds with rides and dance halls. The water of Massachusetts Bay is actually warm, a treat for an area beach, and full of swimmers. A few white sails hover on the horizon, and a stone jetty curls out into the water, behind which condos rise up.
The long strip of sand is packed with sunbathers and people playing volleyball and Frisbee, and one of Revere's main attractions is people-watching. Beachgoers include families loaded down with squealing children and coolers, teenagers preening in bikinis, and young urbanites on a car-free beach vacation. Plus there are assorted characters, like a tanned woman with a tattoo of a cartoon lion playing guitar, visible below her neon green bikini bottoms.
For sustenance there is a famous institution, Kelly's Roast Beef, or options from ice cream and frozen yogurt at Twist & Shake, to lobster rolls and fried dough at The Pizza Kitchen, both along Revere Beach Boulevard.
While Revere is the best-known, there are several other area beaches, including Constitution Beach in East Boston. It is a closer option than Revere, but not as much of a beach. A short strip of sand borders mild water, watched over by a lifeguard. There is a playground with slides and swings, and shade areas with picnic tables. Houses and the Logan Airport runway bordering the small cove create an urban mood. But while the planes are a bit noisy, watching them take off is a unique beach experience.
From the Orient Heights T stop, you can also take the Point Shirley or Winthrop Beach bus to Winthrop Beach, which is used for swimming, volleyball, and kayaking; or Yirrel or Short Beach, both popular with locals.
Another destination for boardwalk culture is Nantasket Beach in Hull. And while it is accessible on public transportation, you should check the bus schedules before going. Along the way, you'll pass the Hingham Bathing Beach, which offers a closer sandy beach with grassy lawn and picnic tables.
Nantasket is 10 minutes from Hingham by bus, which drops riders in downtown Hull before traveling to Pemberton Point. The beach, backed by a cement sea wall lined with beach grass and pink wild roses, can be quite crowded, with thousands of people sunbathing and swimming, even on weekdays.
Need a break from the sunshine? There are plenty of distractions, especially since many businesses have prominent signs welcoming bathers and bare feet. Strolling Nantasket Avenue offers all the accoutrements of a perfect beach day. Buy a kite at Seaside Kites, fill up on fish cakes and Mediterranean fish soup at Anastos Corner Cafe, or peruse beach-themed art at the Hull Artists Studio Connection.
Hull's biggest attraction is the antique carousel, circa 1928, which was once among the attractions of Paragon Park and still has its original bejeweled wooden horses. There's also an arcade, with Skee-Ball and air hockey. Just 122,500 tickets and that gas-powered motorbike can be yours.
For a beach with more beauty than boardwalk culture, Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea is easy to reach on the commuter rail. Once in Manchester, stock up at the grocery store on provisions for a beach picnic. Or, after turning left onto Beach Street, get a treat at Captain Dusty's Ice Cream.
The 10-minute walk to the beach follows a pretty, shaded path, past a park with playground and baseball field and a residential neighborhood. A parade of bathers from the commuter rail station means the sound of flip-flops flapping will guide you.
The beach is peaceful during the week, with about 50 people spread across the sand, and just the sounds of fat gulls squawking as they ride the strong breeze, and the cries of a few excited children. The pale, immaculate sand squeaks when walked on (hence the beach's name) and descends to deep blue ocean that is beautiful to gaze at but painfully cold for swimming. There are two lifeguard stations.
Backed by a rock wall, above which a tall bank is topped with low trees and goldenrod, the beach offers an ocean view dotted with large dark boulders and a few sailboats in the distance. A concession stand sells ice cream and sandwiches, and the Manchester Public Library offers paperback books for children and adults.
Another scenic beach closer to Boston is the Nahant Beach Reservation, which includes Long and King's beaches on Nahant Bay. Almost deserted during the week, the reservation beaches have dark hard-packed sand with lighter dry sand that gets blown in spiral patterns toward the cold, blue-green water. Some seaweed has washed up and dried in the sun, but there is enough clean sand for sunbathing on the beach, which is backed by short sea grass and a cement pedestrian way.
All of these beaches offer abundant reasons to grab your suit and sunscreen and hop on the T or commuter rail. You can safely bet that on your return trip, sunburned and sandy and unstressed, commuters and landlocked city dwellers will eye you with envy.