Small crowds, scenic views make Niantic Bay Beach enticing
Niantic boasts its share of crowd-pleasing available-to-the-public beaches — McCook’s, Hole-in-the-Wall and, of course, the behemoth that is Rocky Neck State Park.
A newer addition, though, is just as worthy a stop as those other locales. It’s Niantic Bay Beach, which became a town beach in 2015.
The site is just on the bay side of the Niantic River Bridge, on a spit of land between the train tracks and Niantic Bay.
If you’re heading into Niantic on Route 161, take a left onto Route 156 and, right before the bridge, veer left into the entrance for the town-owned Cini Memorial Park; you’ll see the sign. You park and then walk under the Amtrak bridge, where you’ll invariably encounter a brisk breeze, and come out onto the beach.
The site is gorgeous, with an expansive sandy waterfront and a view of the bay and houses far beyond, on Crescent Beach and Black Point. What you won’t see, if you sit fairly close to the bridge end of the site, is the Millstone nuclear power complex, which disappears behind a multitude of trees.
The beach also offers another popular feature: the Niantic Bay Boardwalk. If you need a break from lounging and gazing at the water, you can stroll along the one-mile boardwalk, joining people who come down to saunter or to do some serious powerwalking.
There are two beach volleyball courts and a fishing jetty, too. And visitors can watch the motorboats that putter from the Niantic River into open waters.
David M. Putnam, director of East Lyme Parks and Recreation, says Niantic Bay Beach has been a great addition to the town’s park system. “It’s really nice that people have three options of three quality beaches they can go to,” he says.
He adds that the new beach “is getting more and more popular. Our issue is we have limited parking.”
And there really isn’t room to expand the parking area, which has 127 parking spots and is on the Niantic River side of Route 156.
“It’s our biggest beach area, but it’s our smallest parking area,” Putnam says, adding that the parking is maxed out a lot of days.
The upside is that the site, which stretches nearly a half-mile, doesn’t get terribly crowded.
Becoming a beautiful beach
Longtime East Lyme residents probably remember back when this beach barely existed. The property, such as it was, on the bay-side of the Amtrak line was small and rocky.
In recent years, it’s undergone change and growth.
As part of Amtrak’s Niantic River Bridge project that culminated in 2013, for instance, Amtrak helped expand what is now Niantic Bay Beach by filling the area with about 76,000 cubic yards of sand; the goal was to double the width of the beach to 100 feet.
In 2015, the town put lifeguards on duty and started managing the site as it does with the other East Lyme-run beaches.
This past Memorial Day weekend, the town opened new bathrooms at Niantic Bay Beach, replacing the previously existing porta-potties. Now, bathrooms are located in a silver building adjacent to the parking lot; it also boasts shower towers and a drinking fountain.
Even if you want to leave the beach, there’s lots to do nearby, including shopping in downtown Niantic. If you need a bite to eat, there are plenty of places within short driving or long walking distance — clam shacks like Dad’s, Skipper’s and The Dock Restaurant, and restaurants including Main Street Grille and Sunset Ribs, where you can overlook the water from decks.
Lots to like
Lauren Ennis was packing up to leave after spending time at Niantic Bay Beach during a bright, beach-perfect day last week. Ennis, a teacher in and resident of East Lyme, comes to the shore often. She says she appreciates that this beach is much quieter than the others. And, she says, “I like the view over here. At McCook’s, you have to look at Millstone.” At Niantic Bay Beach, she gets a view of McCook’s Park.
Vivian Weinberger, who, like Ennis, is a longtime East Lyme resident, comes to Niantic Bay Beach for another reason.
“I like to swim, and the water’s shallow and maybe a little warmer,” she says, adding that she runs along the beach to warm up and then jumps into the bay. “I can swim well, but I’m afraid to go out too deep, and it stays shallow here for a pretty long time.”
She used to go to McCook’s and Hole-in-the-Wall when her kids were younger but has since become more loyal to this newer locale.
“It’s a lovely beach,” she says, adding, “I appreciate what we have.”
Niantic Bay Beach
Niantic Bay Beach
Where: Off Route 156, downtown Niantic
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The boardwalk is open 24/7.
Fees for 2019
Resident season pass, $40 ($15 for ages 62 and older)
Nonresident season pass, $115
Resident day parking, $10
Nonresident day parking, $30 on weekdays, $40 weekends and holidays
Walk-ins: Free for kids 16 and under and for residents ages 17 and older; the latter group needs proof of residency
Nonresident day walk-in fee is $10 per person
Day passes are sold at the McCook Point Park lower bath house Monday through Thursday; they are sold at all three beaches on weekends.
Parking permits are sold 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the Parks & Recreation office in the East Lyme Community Center, Society Road. Valid car registration required; people new to town can bring tax bill. For more options, visit www.eltownhall.com.
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