5 U.S. Beaches You Can Get to Without a Car

Beaches with a car - Chicago's Oak Street Beach
Flickr, Tom Gill

Summer may be winding down, but there are still a few weekends left to spend at the beach. Rather than sit in traffic or rent an expensive car, you can ride public transportation to many beaches in the U.S. Seasonal routes are especially likely to be popular, so go early and pack light.

Boston – CapeFLYER train to Cape Cod
Reintroduced this summer, the CapeFLYER train goes every weekend from Boston out to Hyannis, connecting to ferries for Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and buses up and down Cape Cod. Fares are from $18 from South Station, with a few bucks’ savings if you buy round trip. You can bring a bike, get concessions onboard and get free Wi-Fi. The train will run through Columbus Day, October 14.

Chicago – El train to Oak Street Beach
Not everyone thinks of this city smack in the midwest as a beach town, but thanks to Lake Michigan, there are more beaches around Chicago than Bermuda. There are many to choose from, but Oak Street Beach is the most central with the most spectacular skyline view. It’s a few blocks from the El train at Clark and Division, though a bus up Lake Shore Drive will get you there closer. Beaches are free and open until Labor Day, but you can enjoy the water views year round. CTA fares are $2.25, with deductions for transit cards.Los Angeles – Big Blue Bus to Santa Monica
While it’s a major car city, there are ways to get to Santa Monica and Venice Beach from downtown Los Angeles without wheels. The Big Blue Bus serves all of Santa Monica and connects to Venice Beach as well. Fares are just $1, with day passes available. LA Metro has rapid buses to Venice Beach, with fares from $1.50. A new light rail line will connect Santa Monica to downtown LA, getting you on the beach even faster.

New York – A train to Far Rockaway
New Yorkers are lucky to have lots of options for sand and swimming, from Brooklyn‘s Brighton Beach to Long Island‘s Jones Beach, and Rockaway Beach in Queens has long been an urban favorite. While it suffered a lot from last year’s superstorm Sandy, it’s back in a big way, with many boardwalk concessions reopened and a new boutique hotel. A $2.50 subway fare gets you there on the A train, and there’s also a weekend-only ferry from downtown Manhattan if you’d like a more scenic (and spendy, at $20 one way) ride.

Washington, D.C. – DC2NY bus to Delaware beaches
While a bit much for a day trip, budget bus company DC2NY offers seasonal shuttles to Delaware‘s Rehoboth (one of Dr. Beach‘s favorites in the country) and Dewey beaches from Washington, as well as Wilmington and New York. The trip takes about 2½ hours, leaving Friday night and weekend mornings through Labor Day. Fares are $39 each way, but you do get Wi-Fi, a power outlet and a bottle of water.

What are your favorite beaches to visit without a car?

Let’s Bring Capitalism To America’s Beaches

cape cod beachAmerica is a paradise for consumers. We can satisfy just about any consumer desire that strikes our fancy, even if it’s 3 a.m. on a holiday weekend. The one big exception to this rule is on our beaches, where most of the time we’re forced to lug coolers, chairs, umbrellas, beach toys and anything else we’ll need. There are some exceptions to this rule, but at many beaches around the country municipal restrictions prohibit entrepreneurs from renting chairs and umbrellas on the beach or selling food or drinks.

This point was driven home for us on a recent visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) in Massachusetts. The CCNS is a glorious 40-mile stretch of sand that encompasses six beaches. We were there in late August – peak season – and had to park about a mile away from the entrance to Marconi Beach. I pulled up to drop off our gear – we had no chairs or umbrellas – so it wasn’t that much effort to carry our cooler and my children’s beach toys.

But other people, particularly seniors, who were schlepping all kinds of stuff looked like they were ready to pass out from the exertion of hauling their gear in the heat. There are no chairs or umbrellas for rent at this beach and I didn’t see any food or drink for sale. The result of this dynamic is that 90 percent of beachgoers cluster right at the bottom of the stairs leading down from the parking lot.

Right at the bottom of the stairs the beach was absolutely jam packed with people so close that their towels practically touched. I know that some like to people watch and be where the action is, but I was happy to keep walking for about ten minutes to reach a spot where we had the place all to ourselves. The video that accompanies this post illustrates the crazy dynamic of this beach – it’s enormous but 90 percent of it is empty because people don’t want to haul their gear very far.

beach cafe with pretty girlThe weird dynamic at this and many other American beaches is in stark contrast to the way beaches are set up in many other parts of the world. We spent several weeks in the Greek islands earlier this year, and there, all of the most popular beaches have either chairs and umbrellas for rent at a reasonable price or cafes and tavernas with the same – right on the beach.

I’m usually the last person to argue for public spaces to be given over to commercialization. In fact, I get really sick of how we’re constantly bombarded with advertising and sales pitches here, even when we’re going to the bathroom in some cases. But I have to admit: I love having the option of renting a lounge chair and umbrella at a beach. And if there is reasonably priced food and drink available – even better.

If you’re visiting a beach close to your home, bringing your own gear is less of a pain, but when you visit a beach on vacation, bringing your own chairs, umbrellas and cooler isn’t very practical.

In late May, we were at a beach bar near Lecce, in Italy, where the lounge chairs and thatched roof shelters were free if you ordered a meal. In Italy, you can always eat well and I had a linguini with clam sauce dish that was out of this world for 7€, right from the comfort of my beach chair. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, but couldn’t help but wish we had the same sort of beach café culture here in the U.S.

That said, I do like my peace and quiet at the beach, so I am not enamored of countries that allow roving vendors to aggressively hawk their wares on the beach. And beach bars that play music so loud that you can’t hear the waves are a plague. No, I don’t want to turn our beaches into shopping malls or discos, I just want to have the option of not hauling chairs, umbrellas, and coolers. With our economy still a mess, municipalities around the country should be thinking about how to create opportunities for entrepreneurs that want to fill this void.

Video: Great White Shark Drafts Sea Kayaker

There have been a number of great white sightings in Cape Cod of late, but first-time sea kayaker Walter Szulc, Jr. got a closer look than most while paddling at Nauset Beach on Saturday. He safely made it to shore, and the beach was closed. On Sunday, three great whites were spotted in the region, the largest reaching up to 18 feet in length. [UPDATE: Scientists are now disputing the species following Szulc, which may have been a harmless basking shark, but have confirmed the presence of great whites in the region].

Scientists say the sharks are drawn to the area because of the growing seal population, and are monitoring beaches via aircraft. Researchers are tagging the sharks to aid with further study, as they’re on the endangered species list. The following YouTube clip shows a close encounter of the worst kind.


Megabus branches out to Cape Cod

If you’re still planning a summer escape and want to save some gas money, here’s some good news: Megabus will now send some of its blue, double-decker buses to Cape Cod. Known for offering fares as low as $1 and having free Wi-Fi onboard, Megabus will now make two daily round trips from New York to the Ocean Street Docks in Hyannis, Massachusetts (with a stop in Providence along the way). From the docks, travelers can hit a nearby beach, find sailing and fishing charters, or connect to island ferries for trips to places such as Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard.

Fares are still up for grabs as low as $5 in July, but the cheap seats probably won’t last long. Travelers who don’t live in New York can connect to the hub from locations all along the East Coast and in some Midwestern and Southern states – just be prepared for a potentially long road trip (the route from New York to Providence alone takes over five hours).

If taking to the skies is a better option, JetBlue also began seasonal service between New York and Martha’s Vineyard last week. The airline will send up to five weekly roundtrip flights on the route throughout the summer, with roundtrip fares being offered for as low as $147.

[Photo by Laura Padgett / Flickr]

Sharks circle Cape Cod

Cape Cod vacationers just lost access to five miles of beach, thanks to sharks in the water. A spotter pilot saw three more great whites, one of them a mere 100 yards from a party on the sand. They’re swimming around off South Beach in Chatham, Massachusetts, and swimming is definitely out of the question. No timeframe has been given for when the water will be open again.

One shark is estimated to be 14 long and weigh 1,50 pounds – this is the aquatic beast that was found only a football field away from the shore. Before the recent sighting, several other sharks were seen off the coast of Chatham.

The state’s marine fishery officials blame seals, which I imagine are tasty, for drawing the sharks closer.

[photo by miusam-ck via Flickr]