Beautiful Beaches: Southeastern Connecticut’s Best Spots for Fun in the Sun
Coastal Connecticut is uniquely situated, not along the open Atlantic Ocean like its neighbor states, but on Long Island and Fishers Island sounds, protected estuaries that offer mostly tame beaches not pounded by surf rolling in from offshore.
The waters are popular with seaside walkers and bathers, and attract naturalists who come in search of the migratory birds that spend at least part of the year along the Connecticut shore. They are also home to recreational and commercial fisheries, and a popular summertime destination for mariners traversing the Eastern Seaboard and New England.
Beaches are a major attraction in the state and if a visitor were to drive the 117 miles of Route 1 along the Connecticut shoreline, from Greenwich to the Rhode Island border, there are many opportunities to pull off the road into a lot, slip off their shoes, walk in the sand, and plunge in.
Here are some beaches at this end of the state.
OCEAN BEACH PARK
98 NEPTUNE AVE., NEW LONDON | 860-447-3031
Just recently named one of the 25 best beaches in the country by Travel + Leisure magazine, New London’s jewel, Ocean Beach Park, is certain to be inundated with visitors this summer. And why not?
The main attraction is the supersized white sugar-sand beach, which is regularly groomed and maintained, and the one-third-mile-long boardwalk that runs adjacent to it.
There’s also an Olympic-sized pool, 18-hole miniature golf course, Family Fun Center with video arcade, waterslide, spray park for the little ones, a carousel, amusement rides, food court, playground and the Sandbar Café, which has an outdoor deck with a full restaurant menu.
Throughout the season, Ocean Beach Park hosts a variety of family-friendly events, festivals, sporting events and evening entertainment on the boardwalk.
Parking for nonresidents is $30 on weekends—the fee includes admission for everyone in your vehicle—and $25 on weekdays. City residents may buy season passes at a discounted rate.
ESKER POINT BEACH
900 GROTON LONG POINT ROAD, GROTON
A man-made, municipally managed beach that is about 600 feet long, Esker Point offers swimming, volleyball, picnicking under a grove of shade trees, restrooms, outdoor showers and about 250 free parking spaces.
There is also a launch for human-powered watercraft, like canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
Maintained by the Groton Parks & Recreation Department, Esker Point Beach is on Fishers Island Sound, at the far eastern end of Long Island Sound. It is an unstaffed beach, with no lifeguards on duty, but regularly maintained and free for visitors.
The only time there is a parking charge is on Thursday nights in the summertime, when beach concerts are held. Those festivities attract big crowds that come by car and by boat, dropping anchor just offshore.
GREAT HAMMOCK ROAD (ROUTE 154), OLD SAYBROOK
This beach gets its name from the family that originally owned the property. It’s a small beach, but popular, and known for its sandbar at low tide. When the tide goes out, the beach becomes massive and is favored for walking.
With just about 100 parking spots, on sunny summer days the lot is usually full by 10 a.m. There are lifeguards and parking attendants, and a food truck visits when a crowd is there.
Amenities include restrooms and an outdoor rinsing area. It’s $25 per car on weekends and holidays, and $15 on weekdays. Season passes are available from the Old Saybrook Parks & Recreation office.
MCCOOK POINT PARK & BEACH, HOLE-IN-THE-WALL BEACH, AND CINI MEMORIAL PARK & NIANTIC BAY BEACH AND BOARDWALK, NIANTIC
McCook, at 8-10 Atlantic St., is the main beach of this trio that are in close proximity, but each with its own personality.
Lifeguards are on duty at McCook from mid-June to mid-August and there is a pavilion, picnic area, restrooms, playground, bocce court and outdoor showers.
Niantic Bay Beach is an expansive swath that runs along the boardwalk, a treasure in itself. It’s popular for swimming, sunbathing and watching sunsets.
Visitors to Hole-in-the-Wall travel through a short tunnel under the railroad tracks, which is the inspiration for the name of the place. Its white-sand beach slopes down to a swimming area sheltered by a stone jetty. McCook Point is to the right, and the Niantic Bay Boardwalk is to the left.
They are all maintained by East Lyme’s Parks & Recreation Department and there are options to pay daily rates or buy season passes for both residents and nonresidents. There is information on the town’s website under Parks & Recreation.
STONINGTON POINT, STONINGTON
Maybe the best part of this little spit of a beach is the water traffic that passes by. Situated at the southernmost tip of Water Street in Stonington borough, duBois is at the entrance to Stonington Harbor just off Fishers Island Sound, and attracts all kinds of commercial and recreational vessels, from super yachts, to kayaks, lobster boats and trawlers, and every imaginable size of sailboat.
The beach is just inside a stone jetty where children delight in baiting string and hunting for crabs, and parents can find shade beneath a gazebo. In season, they put out a raft that young and old swim out to and dive and jump from.
Day passes are $10 per person, children under 18 are free, and season passes are available. duBois is owned by the Stonington Village Improvement Association and managed by the Stonington Community Center.
Parking is free in an adjacent lot, but beware, on busy days the lot fills up quickly. Another tip, duBois is an ideal spot to watch the sun go down at the end of the day.
HAMMONASSET BEACH STATE PARK
1288 BOSTON POST ROAD, MADISON | 203-245-2785
Hammonasset is a Connecticut state park with two miles of beachfront on Long Island Sound.
It is the state’s largest shoreline park and a very popular attraction, drawing an estimated 1 million annual visitors. There is a campground, a nature center, boardwalk and a stone breakwater at the Meigs Point end of the park.
In addition to swimming, the park allows bicycling, fishing and picnicking, and boasts more than 550 grassy campsites for adventurous souls who want to stay longer than an afternoon.
Facilities include bathrooms, showers, a launch for car-top boats, concessions, picnic tables and shelters. Connecticut registered vehicles do not pay a parking fee but there is a charge for nonresidents that varies depending on whether they visit on a weekday, weekend or a holiday.