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1. Old Orchard Beach Pier and Boardwalk, Maine
The fun is two-fold at Old Orchard Beach (1 Old Orchard St.; 207-934-2500), with a wooden pier offering numerous food, shopping, and entertainment options, and the seaside Palace Playground, an amusement park just off the sand—the only one of its kind left in New England. The city of Portland is not even 20 minutes away on the Downeaster, so you can have lunch on the beach and dinner in the city.
2. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
There’s so much to do at Hampton Beach (Ocean Blvd., Hampton; 603-926-8717) you’ll want to return multiple times throughout the summer. In addition to shops and restaurants just off the sand, this boardwalk also features an arcade, mini golf, a casino, weekly fireworks, and plenty of parking. Although there’s a classic New England feel, the bathrooms and other amenities are renovated and modern.
3. Nantasket Beach, Hull
Although it’s about to undergo a 10-year, $78 million restoration, Nantasket Beach (Rte 3A, Hull; 781-925-1777) is a close-to-the-city gem where you can still find skee-ball, salt water taffy, fried clams, and the historic Paragon Carousel. On a hot summer day, thousands of people will flock to this beach, so you can expect to pay a premium for parking.
4. Winnipesaukee Pier at Weirs Beach, New Hampshire
On historic Winnipesaukee Pier (263 Lakeside Ave., Weirs Beach; 603-366-5188), you’ll find classic arcade games, shops, ice cream stands, and typical beach food like fried dough and pizza. But if you’re looking for more upscale fare, there are sit-down seafood restaurants overlooking the lake, too.
5. Ocean Beach Park, New London, Connecticut
With mini golf, waterslides, a pool (hey, the Atlantic is chilly!), and a boardwalk with shops and restaurants, it’s no wonder the half-mile, sugar sand Ocean Beach Park (98 Neptune Ave., New London; 860-447-3031) was named one of the best in the U.S. by National Geographic.