Running on a beach is one of life’s great pleasures. There’s nothing like the feeling of firm sand underfoot, the splash of water kicking back, and that open, free feeling with a seemingly unlimited horizon.
In honor of Memorial Day and the unofficial start of summer, I’ve put together this admittedly subjective guide to the best beaches for running in the U.S. Northeast, from Maine to the Outer Banks. From a running perspective, not all beaches are created equal. There are three criteria that make for a great running beach: firm, compact sand, which on some beaches only happens near low tide; fairly flat; and sufficient length, with at least 1 mile one-way of continuous running.
With that said, here’s our list, from north to south, with a couple of our favorites in each state.
Virginia Beach (photo courtesy Great Runs)
Ogunquit Beach. 2.4 miles.
Ogunquit is one of my favorite beaches for running in New England. It’s long, wide, flat, open, and has consistently good “beach running” conditions. The run is about 2.4 miles one-way, from just south of Beach Rd., heading north toward Wells. North of Furbish Rd., the beach gets a little rocky. There are numerous access points to the beach, between Ogunquit and Wells. About 1/2 mile inland from the beach, in the small town of Ogunquit, there’s a wonderful old candy store, making for a nice post-run reward. A gorgeous add-on, while not a beach run, is to take the Marginal Way path, from just off Shore Rd. to Perkins Cove, about 1 mile.
Old Orchard Beach. Nearly 7 miles south to north from Camp Ellis to Pine Point.
Old Orchard Beach is a fantastic beach for running, featuring great views of Saco Bay and Prouts Neck, and a 500-foot pier. Like Ogunquit, Old Orchard Beach is flat and wide, with consistently excellent running conditions. The full 7 miles includes Saco, Old Orchard, and Scarborough Beaches. The area is not as tony as Ogunquit, but still lots of fun. The Downeaster Amtrak train runs several times a day from Boston, 1.5 hours and is inexpensive.
Hampton Beach. 1.4 miles.
No, New Hampshire is not all woods! Hampton Beach, along with Seabrook Beach directly to the south, are the two best beaches for running in New Hampshire. The place is a scene, with big crowds, waves, and bikers (of the motorized variety) on a typical summer weekend. The beach runs nearly 1.5 miles from the southern end at Hampton State Park to the Salt Marsh Conservation Area, at the intersection of Rt. 1A and Rt. 101. Add-On: there is some nice ocean side road running, heading north from Hampton Beach all the way to Odiorne Point State Park, 12.5 miles one-way, following Rt. 1A/Ocean Ave.
For Massachusetts, we’ve picked one favorite for each major region: North Shore, Boston Vicinity, South Shore and Cape Cod.
Provincetown, MA (photo courtesy Great Runs)
Crane’s Beach, Ipswich. 2.5–3.0 miles, one-way.
Yes, this beach is worth the $30 parking ransom. One of the most popular beaches within proximity to Boston. The running here is wonderful, particularly as the tide goes out. There are great views out to Plum Island to the north and Rockport to the southeast. It’s possible to do about 3 miles from one far end to the other, though this can vary due to tides and other conditions. There’s an annual Sand Stride 5-mile beach race in August.
Revere Beach, Boston. 1.5 miles one-way, also a boardwalk option.
One of the only beaches in our list served by subway. Along with Swampscott-Nahant, this is the best seamless beach run within proximity to Boston and accessible via public transport. It’s a great, flat run of about 1.5 miles. There is also a paved walkway along most of the stretch. It’s great people watching, there are famous snack joints such as Kelly’s Road Beef, and a sandcastle competition in summer.
Nantasket Beach, Hull. 3.5 miles.
The south shore cousin of Revere Beach. An oceanfront playground dating back more than a century, Nantasket offers a nearly seamless, 3.5 mile run. Fun spots and sights include the old-fashioned Fascination arcade, and the Paragon Carousel. Add-On: combine with a run/walk in nearby Olmsted-designed World’s End Reservation.
Bay Beaches, Cape Cod. Up to 5 miles one-way, 10 miles round-trip.
The beaches on the Bay side are more ‘runnable’ than the Ocean side. They’re marked by long, flat stretches of beach, revealing tide pools and mud flats at low tide. One of my favorites is in the Brewster area, near Nickerson State Park. One can do about 5 miles, one way, between Breakwater Beach to the north, past Skaket Beach and Rock Harbor, to Boat Meadow Landing in the south. Be aware of tides!
Narragansett Beach. 1 mile, plus 0.7 miles on sidewalk.
The beach is flat and quite pretty, and has some of the best waves in New England. Narragansett just qualifies as a running beach, since it’s barely 1 mile from end-to-end. To make this a slightly longer run, at the southern end of the beach, hop onto the sidewalk on Ocean Rd., and continue along the road, heading south, for about another mile. Great views.
Misquamicut State Beach. 2.5 miles from Winnapaug Rd. to the Weekapaug Breachway.
A gorgeous beach on the Rhode Island/Connecticut border, near the tony towns of Westerly and Watch Hill. It’s possible to do a lovely run on packed sand on the 2.5-mile main section of the beach. The beach can get a little narrow and crowded at high tide. There are the usual beach-y shops and restaurants along Atlantic Ave., including some rides and a water park.
Coney Island. 2.5 miles. Beach or boardwalk.
A famous New York attraction, from the beach to the boardwalk to the rides at Luna Park. The scenery and atmosphere are what makes this run special. For a stretch, there’s a carnival atmosphere with all the smells that bring back memories of childhood. Best of all are the funnel cake or original ‘Nathan’s Famous’ hot dogs post-run. All accessible by subway!
Coney Island (photo courtesy Great Runs)
Seaside Beach/Boardwalk. 2.6 miles. Beach or boardwalk.
The quintessential Jersey Shore run. Many Jersey Shore beaches are very runnable, as they have long stretches of firm, white sand. A favorite is Seaside Heights/Seaside Park, which features a 2.6-mile boardwalk, with the famous Casino Pier. Run on the beach or the boardwalk!
Rehoboth Beach. 7+ miles. Beach or boardwalk.
Nearly 8 miles of continuous beachside running, incorporating Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, and Delaware Seashore State Park. Fairly flat, with runnable sand especially around low tide. There’s a 1-mile boardwalk at Rehoboth. Group runs Tuesday 6pm from the Reboboth Beach Running Co.store!
Ocean City Beach 9 miles. Beach or boardwalk.
Very similar in nature to Rehoboth Beach, popular Ocean City stretches for nearly 9 miles from the Delaware line to the southern inlet. There’s a 2.3-mile boardwalk at the southern end.
Ocean City, MD (photo courtesy Great Runs)
Virginia Beach. 5+ miles, with 2.7 miles of boardwalk.
Virginia Beach is a popular tourist spot and is one of the best beaches for running in the mid-Atlantic. The beach itself is 5+ miles of wide, sandy beach, with firm, packed sand for much of the time. There is also the famed Virginia Beach Boardwalk, which goes for 2.7 miles from 2nd St. & Atlantic Ave. in the south to 40th St. in the north. There is an amusement park, and the famous Neptune’s Park and Statue.
Contributed by Mark Lowenstein, from Great Runs.