One of the best things about living in Maryland, DC, or Virginia is the easy access to the water. A trip to the beach soothes the spirit and nerves like nothing else will. There are a wide variety of beaches all up and down the East Coast which are each awesome in their own right—here are just five that are quite beautiful and enjoyable, and are also relatively close to DC:
1. Sandy Point State Park
Sandy Point State Park is near Annapolis in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and is one of the closest beaches you can reach from DC. With its 786-acres it offers swimming, picnic areas and shelters, concessions, crabbing, fishing, and canoeing, and other types of boating to guests. Fishing and crabbing are not allowed in the swimming areas, naturally, but the jetties on South and East Beach are good spots for these activities. The beaches are very popular with families and have lifeguards between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 11 am to 6 pm. As you wander around the park you might run into some beautiful wildlife in their habitats, including deer, opossums, squirrels, various birds, snakes, turtles, and rabbits. It’s a beautiful place to get to know the Chesapeake Bay and enjoy a view of the Bay Bridge, and is included in the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network. This popular park does have a closing capacity, and is likely to end up turning people away on warm holiday weekends.
2. Ocean City
Ocean City, Maryland is a bustling, vibrant beach town lined with 10 miles of white sand beaches. It all began in 1875, when the Atlantic Hotel began accepting visitors in this quiet sleeping village. Along with staples like swimming and soaking up the sunshine, surfing and horseback riding are also popular activities at this beach. When you’re not by the water you can explore the shops and restaurants on the classic wooden boardwalk, go jet-skiing, play mini golf, try your luck at a racetrack or casino, ride the carousel at Trimper’s Amusements, or have a spa day. If you’re into family friendly activities like concerts, movies, and the beach Olympics, they are offered free six nights a week in the summer. The beach is closed to guests overnight. Beach wheelchairs are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. As OC Ocean says, “Whether you are into water sports, shopping or just relaxing on the beach, Ocean City has everything you need to make your beach vacation memorable.”
3. Virginia Beach
Having grown up nearby in Hampton, VA (another city in the Tidewater area) VA Beach is dear to my heart. From the rolling, salty waves and delicious seafood on the boardwalk to the wax museums, haunted houses, and surf shops, the streets of this popular East Coast beach town are among my favorites in the US. VA Beach is the largest city in Virginia and a very active beach vacation destination, with concert venues, golf courses, dolphin watching, and beautiful state parks. It’s also hosts the East Coast Surfing Championship and is known as the striped bass capital of the world. If you’re looking for a calmer beach experience in VA Beach away from the busy boardwalk, be sure to check out the quieter Sandbridge Beach, located south of the resort area.
4. Chincoteague and Assateague
These two Eastern Shore islands are both breathtaking and fun. Chincoteague Island is the Virginia gateway to Assateague Island, home of the wild ponies. I have seen them in the wild, wandering through the trees, and it really gives you a fairy tale feeling. If you’ve read Misty of Chincoteague, you’ll have no problem feeling nostalgic and content in the charming beach town of Chincoteague. Assateague Island National Seashore was set up in 1962 as a protective nature reserve in Maryland and Virginia. The Chincoteague site shares that at the southern end of Assateague, “Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, maritime forest, saltmarsh, and freshwater marsh.” There are plenty of quality accommodations, local restaurants and shops, and opportunities for typical beach swimming and fun available on Chincoteague Island as well.
5. Point Lookout State Park
At the southern point of Maryland, in St. Mary’s County where the Potomac River joins the Chesapeake Bay, Point Lookout State Park offers a lovely, scenic day at the beach as well as ecological and historical offerings. This former civil war prison camp has a Civil War Museum and Marshland Nature Center which offer new educational programs May through October. This beach park also offers lighthouse visits, fishing on a 710-foot fishing pier (including night fishing), hiking, camping, and of course, swimming. Another interesting fact to note is that the park was named for being a lookout post for British ships in the War of 1812.
At any of these Virginia and Maryland beaches, you may encounter jellyfish in the summer months, so keep your eyes open. If you are interested in venturing a bit further down the road, be sure to check out Edisto Island in South Carolina. This picturesque island town near Charleston is the perfect balance of sleepy and bustling, and offers a wealth of natural beauty from the state park to Botany Bay. Sea turtles even choose to nest there.
I do hope we all make it to the ocean this summer, the place Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called, “the vessel filled with all motion.” If for no other reason, visit an East Coast beach to get a glimpse of a young Plover (below) skipping in the shallow waves.