What beachy place on the U.S. east coast can I go alone but feel safe?
August 14, 2016 3:09 AM   Subscribe

Looking for hotel or AirBnB recommendations walking distance from a beach. Snowflakes: female going by myself (no travel groups/guides, please); seeking a balance of safety+pleasantness between empty (would feel too unsafe to doze, walk at sunrise) and unpleasantly packed; I don't drive so need paid/free conveyance from airport/train station to hotel/beach/groceries.

I like ambient socialness (people nearby, talking in normal voices, not drinking/partying), as long as it doesn't mean it's hard to find a place on the sand or in the water, the noise is deafening, or I need to pay a lot of attention to navigating around other people when walking along the beach.

Complication: I can get to anywhere on the U.S. east coat accessible by plane/train (Maine to Florida; not interested in outside the U.S.), but I don't drive so would need shuttle/taxi/train/bus access from the airport/train station to walking distance from the hotel (and a grocery store with easy foot or shuttle/short local bus access from the hotel).

Plan: swim a bit, sit on the beach and read, walk along the beach. Non-necessary bonuses: seashells I can pick up on the beach, neat bookstores or reasonably priced thrift/antique stores, tasty but not overpriced food (including beachy junk food stuff!), a good reasonably priced all-day restaurant in or within three blocks of the hotel.

I'm interested in place suggestions (specific hotels would be great!), not how to be safe on vacation/less populated areas (lots of good Googlable resources, knowledge about that already). Thanks!
posted by rollcredits to Travel & Transportation around Maine (38 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Addition: can go any time of year when water/air is still warm enough to enjoy walking along water, swimming, sitting on beach with book without coat. Thank you!
posted by rollcredits at 3:10 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the beach in Hollywood, Florida fits your criteria, except I don't know about access from the airport/train station. It's a good place to go with lots of cute laid-back hotels and restaurants along the boardwalk. Plus as it's in south Florida you'll have much more of a choice of when to go and still have good swimming weather.
posted by hazyjane at 4:11 AM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm currently planning a similar vacation (I do drive but I don't want to spend much time driving, so must places I'm looking at are cab-able). I'm heading to the Gulf barrier islands in central Florida. There are a few regional and larger airports (Punta Gorda, Ft. Meyers, Sarasota) within 30 miles of a lot of beach communities. The internet has led me to believe that many of them are pretty chill and not jam-packed popular. There's a couple islands where they don't even allow cars at all--you get dropped off at a ferry or water taxi and once you're on the islands it's all golf cart or bike. If you're able to pay for a 30-40 minute cab ride, any of those islands it mainland communities might fit your bill.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:54 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Highly recommend the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Outer Banks are a 200-mile long stretch of barrier islands & beaches. Atlantic Ocean to the east for traditional beach type fun, Currituck Sound to the west for calmer waters, kayaking, sailboarding & other watersports. Huge swaths of the Outer Banks are national parks or wildlife preserves suitable for day hikes. Depending on what type of beach experience you want you'll probably find it.

The northern part of the Outer Banks are more developed -- pick towns like Duck or Nags Head for higher population density and easy access to restaurants, shopping, etc. Also nearby are the dunes of Kitty Hawk, where the first airplane took off. Great place to take hang-gliding lessons!

Or go farther south to Hatteras Island for smaller towns (mostly beach houses, fewer hotels) and a more-beach-less-boardwalk feel. The towns of Waves, Rodanthe, and Salvo are so small you might not notice them driving through. Avon is a little larger (restaurants and an actual chain grocery store). Don't miss the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

Or go even farther south to Ocracoke Island (only reachable by ferry), a quaint village best known for being a pirate lair in the 18th century and where Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard the Pirate) met his end!

Gorgeous beaches all the way from north to south. Can't be beat!
posted by gritter at 5:07 AM on August 14, 2016 [12 favorites]

Provincetown, on the end of Cape Cod. Regular ferry service from Boston, very walkable, funky and fun. One of the oldest gay enclaves in America, with lots of great history, excellent beaches, and a really chill (albeit touristy, but mostly your more colorful sorts of tourists) vibe. Lots and lots of AirBnBs out that way.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:26 AM on August 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

There's an unavoidable tension between the amenities you want and the semi-isolation you're after.

Very much any exploitable beach front anywhere on the east coast seems covered with a curtain of hotels and condos.

OTOH, I have stayed, off season, at large beach resort hotels that control a wide patch of beach. Their beachfront was pretty quiet, and the entire beach was reasonably crowd-free and walkable.

Larger hotels are the most likely to provide an airport shuttle. You'll need to look at specific hotel sites to determine if it's near shopping, restaurants, etc. Then, there are cabs, too.

Scheduling this during school months will likely tone down some of the beach crowds. Also, in the southeast you'll see periods of "warm enough" (highs in the 70's) beginning in February, if your schedule can be that flexible.

Specifically, based on driving through several times, look at the St Augustine and Fernandina Beach areas in Florida. Both are on the edges of the Jacksonville metro, with St Augustine the most distant.
posted by justcorbly at 5:33 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

@gritter's description of the Outer Banks is accurate (I'm in NC). I did not mention it because I'm not at all certain it is accessible other than by car. (Yes, there's a car ferry to Ocracoke from the mainland, but it departs from a small town on the southeast NC coast.)

So... look closely at the transportation issue, both re: getting there and getting around once you're there.

The nearest large metro area to the Banks is the Norfolk, VA area.

(You know, you might take a look to see what's available on Virginia's eastern shore, again assuming adequate transportation.)
posted by justcorbly at 5:43 AM on August 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

The southern end of the boardwalk in Virginia Beach is a tourist trap, but the closer you get to Fort Story at the north end, the more tolerable the beach becomes. Sandbridge is further down the coast, cut off from the rest of Va. Beach by a military installation, and is thus more secluded. I've stayed at a beach house on 81st St in Virginia Beach and found it sufficiently uncrowded for my taste.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Truro in Massachusetts! It's the next town over from Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.

From downtown Boston you can walk from the train station (or take the T from the airport) to take the ferry to P-town (which also fits your criteria somewhat). Truro is 6 miles from P-town either by bike or local bus shuttle. There is also a local taxi system. There are some great campgrounds as well as small B&Bs and well, that's about it. Very be achy and wild and utterly relaxing.
posted by floweredfish at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

When is this trip going to happen? Most East Coast beach spots are going to have a lot less people around after Labor Day, which might tip your isolation/safety meter sharply in one direction.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:07 AM on August 14, 2016

The best beach in Provincetown is actually a short drive from the town proper, by the way. But there are taxis and a shuttle, it looks like. And it's a National Seashore, so no hotels or condos; just miles and miles and miles of sand and water.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:11 AM on August 14, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers so far! Trip could happen any time weather allows at the chosen location.
posted by rollcredits at 6:12 AM on August 14, 2016

Provincetown, definitely! You could take the ferry or a small plane from Boston, and it's one of the most welcoming, safe-feeling places I've ever been. It's very much an LBGTQA mecca, but there are families who go, and everyone mingles really well. Also, the communities around it like Truro are very nice and are known for being artist's colonies. Lovely, lovely place in the summer and it's actually pretty nice in the Fall (though the water gets cold early) as well.
posted by xingcat at 6:22 AM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

There are gorgeous little barrier islands off Charleston, SC. Fly to CHS and get a taxi at the airport for a quick drive. Folly Island is tiny so everything is walkable and the beachfront hotels have decent restaurants. Do NOT go during college breaks because the character totally changes to paaaarty, but offseason it's warm and pleasant with surfers and vacationing families. You can easily get a cab or possibly a hotel shuttle into Charleston which will definitely give you bookshops and antiques aplenty. I went alone and car-less in early April and felt safe.
posted by kapers at 6:29 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Isle of Palms near Charleston, SC. I used to go there every year for my birthday in late September - the water temperature was perfect, the worst of the summer heat had passed, and everything was very uncrowded, but not deserted. Also the hotel rates were much lower than in summer. You'd have to get a cab from the airport.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:38 AM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Pass-a-Grille in St. Pete, Anna Maria Island in Bradenton and Siesta Key in Sarasota all come pretty close to your description, with the exception of walkable groceries (depending where you stay.) Siesta and Anna Maria have free local shuttles IIRC tho.
posted by gnutron at 6:45 AM on August 14, 2016

Block Island is lovely, and I believe in the summer there is a train that goes right by a ferry station. Martha's Vineyard is also lovely and you can get a Peter Pan bus from Boston year round that takes you to the ferry at Woods Hole. Both of these are very walkable once you are there and Martha's Vineyard is also very bikeable and has a decent set of buses. If you go to Block Island, Sea Breeze Inn is pretty magic (http://www.seabreezeblockisland.com/) but there were also a lot of other very charming looking hotels and inns.
posted by pie_seven at 6:45 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Palm Beach in Florida was pretty low-key and the beach is gorgeous. It's not the most exciting town-wise bc it's mostly just hotel after hotel, but there are some walkable small restaurants.

Otherwise I would agree with both Folly and Isle of Palms near Charleston SC.
posted by greta simone at 6:47 AM on August 14, 2016

Brewster, Cape Cod. You will need to Lyft or Uber or bike for groceries. It will be worth it at the right time of year (early September :))
posted by jbenben at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

In WellFleet, Cape Cod you would not need to Uber or Lyft, but I don't think I would swim there at the beach in the center of town.
posted by jbenben at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Any of the recommended Massachusetts destinations is great between Labor day and Columbus day (which is the traditional end-of-season date on the Vineyard, and, I imagine, elsewhere). The beaches & hotels are less crowded, but everything is still open & it doesn't feel deserted. The weather tends to be dry but not too hot, but the water stays warm so ocean swimming is still possible, especially earlier in September.
posted by mr vino at 7:52 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ogunquit, Maine! Accessible via train from Boston or Portland (you take the train to Wells and then you can take a trolley bus situation to Ogunquit or there are cabs and some hotels will arrange pickup).

The beach is generally packed close to the main entrance/parking lot/Norseman Hotel but then gets more and more deserted as you walk north towards Wells, so you kind of get to calibrate how quiet you want it to be (so long as you don't mind walking on the beach for a ways - the beach is a sand bar, so there aren't alternate entrance points).

There's a very small, walkable downtown full of cute shops/restaurants/bars. There are definitely supermarkets in Wells (accessible via the aforementioned trolley bus thing); there are small markets in Ogunquit proper. Sorry I don't have a recommended hotel! I generally stay with family.
posted by mskyle at 7:54 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Off-season is what you want, but just barely off-season. We travel during the last three weeks of May or the last three weeks in August. School is in session during these times, but the weather is usually still really nice. Almost all of the beaches will be semi-deserted, as the families won't be there. So focus on the other things you want, and you should be fine with the lack of crowds at pretty much any of them.
posted by raisingsand at 8:13 AM on August 14, 2016

Ocean City MD after Labor Day is a treat; my mom goes every year for just the kind of vacation you're describing. The right vibe is going to be staying in the 110's (110th street through 119th), but the whole island is long and skinny and there are cheap buses that will take you quickly and easily up and down the whole thing. It gets busier and noisier and more crowded the closer south you go, the Jolly Roger amusement park and the boardwalk starts around 30th.

There is a shuttle that will take you from BWI straight to the beach called the Bayrunner. Very cost-effective; I think it was $100 last time I used it, and knowing them, it probably hasn't gone up much.

There are lots of hokey seashell-and-tchotchkes shops all along the main drag and a little off, but OC has great antiquing and thrifting and local artisans. After Labor Day it's primarily a place for adults, not many kids after school starts and not much partying, but still warm and the townies and friendly. Local favorite food spots include famous ice cream, real boardwalk fries, and my family's personal crab cake preference.
posted by juniperesque at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2016

I grew up going to Manomet Beach in Plymouth, MA, which I believe meets your criteria. It's in a sheltered bay, so it's nice for swimming, and it has not been commercially developed, so it's quiet. Also, there is no public parking and you have to walk down ~100 stairs from the bluffs to get to the beach, so that keeps the crowds to a minimum. It spoiled me for beaches!

There is quite a lot of stuff within walking distance of the beach, so if you stayed in an Airbnb between the main road and the beach, you would be in good shape. There is also at least one bed and breakfast that I know of.

Getting there is a bit of a challenge. Your best bet would be either taking the T (subway and then commuter rail) from Logan airport and then a uber from the train station, or just take a super shuttle all the way.
posted by lunasol at 8:21 AM on August 14, 2016

Another voice for P-town. My kids and I have been vacationing on the Cape for over 25 years and we usually go to either North Truro or P-town.

Advantages to P-town are you can fly to Logan, cab to the ferry, and ride there. P-town is completely walkable, except for a quick trolley to the beach, where you can see seals and sometimes sharks.

it's a very friendly and relaxed community. As a single parent with kids, I've always felt very safe there. P-town may be a bit more expensive than a cottage beach rental in North Truro, and one upside to North Truro is you can easily bus, bike or walk to P-town (it's no more than 3 miles), it's more private, and you can get a cottage directly ON the beach.

You can also pretty much walk to P-town from North Truro ON the beach, except towards the end.

If you're a seafood fan, the Cape is terrific; fresh Wellfleet oysters and fish brought in daily. P-town also has a few terrific greasy spoons for mountains of fries and fried clams and oysters. Great coffee shops as well where you can camp for a few hours and play with the store's cats and dogs.

P-town has a gigantic Stop and Shop that is easy to get to so you don't need to drive for food.

Once in P-town, make sure you go to Cuffy's for "How are their prices so low?" comfy sweats, buy a sweatshirt and sweatpants and relax.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:30 AM on August 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

Block Island is lovely, and I believe in the summer there is a train that goes right by a ferry station.

That would be the New London ferry, which is indeed in easy walking distance from the New London train station (which is itself on the main Boston–NYC line, with several trains a day.) However, it stops running after Labor Day; after that time, the ferries only leave from Point Judith, which is harder to get to without a car; the nearest Amtrak station is Kingston, RI, and you'd have to take a cab or a city bus to travel the 12 miles to the ferry terminal.

On another note: an excellent resource to figure out how to get from point A to point B without the use of a car is Rome2Rio. It doesn't have complete listings of all options, and the interface is a little quirky, but it's good for figuring out whether a location is at all feasible.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:52 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding Cape Cod, or Weekapaug or Watch Hill in Rhode Island after Labor Day.
posted by BibiRose at 9:09 AM on August 14, 2016

N-thing Cape Cod - especially Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet. It's so fun there and it always feels so safe. Also, the Outer Banks are awesome too as people above suggested.

Since no one has mentioned this yet, Cape May in NJ is also pretty fun. Getting there is possible without a car but might be annoying. Basically, you'd take NJ Transit from whatever airport you flew into (Philly, Atlantic City, or Newark). Once you get there, there's beaches, lots of BnBs, a lighthouse, fun restaurants and shopping. There's a few wineries, and a nature center where you can see lots of birds. Once you get there, you can walk to a lot of things or rent a bike to get to the nature center and other stuff that is a few miles from the main area where all the BnBs are. I have a friend who goes to Cape May every year for a 2 week vacation by herself and she loves it. I would recommend going more towards the off-season, like September. It can get crowded there in the middle of the summer.
posted by FireFountain at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding Cape May.

There are parts of the NJ shore that are more 75% summer homes and only 25% tourist. Pt. Pleasant might be an example.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:29 AM on August 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was just in Ogunquit for the first time a week ago, and it was lovely! But *very* crowded this time of year. Water was chilly, though there were people in the water - but the sand was warm to walk on, and it was great for long walks (lacking in shells though). We had a car (rented a cottage in Wells), which is was a major pain in the butt because it took so long to drive everywhere, and parking was expensive. If you can get a place closer to the center and walk everywhere, that would be an ideal idea! Lots to see and explore, and very safe.

How about Amelia Island, Florida? There are lots of shuttle (or taxi, uber, etc) options from Jacksonville airport, and maybe only a 25 minute ride. The beach is long and quite pretty, with decent shell findings. I got a great group discount rate at the Ritz there, which was pretty close to a full-size Harris Teeter grocery store - I think it took me about a 15 minute walk? I've only been there once in January to run a half marathon, so it was pretty empty. But still a great place to walk around and enjoy if you need some ocean air. I didn't do any exploring at night, but I felt plenty safe exploring during the day by myself.
posted by raztaj at 10:53 AM on August 14, 2016

Cape May, NJ. Plenty of great bird watching, too.
posted by fixedgear at 11:20 AM on August 14, 2016

Asbury Park NJ could work. You can take NJTransit there and grab a quick cab to a hotel. It's been more recently gentrified than places like Cape May so it skews younger/hipsterier if you're into that. Fairly walkable with plenty of bars and restaurants.
posted by thirdletter at 1:05 PM on August 14, 2016

Martha's Vineyard in Sept is glorious, there is a nifty transit bus system, mefemail me if you decide to visit, Ms. Vrak and I can give you the nickel tour.
posted by vrakatar at 3:25 PM on August 14, 2016

Have you considered Key West? Can be crowded, but also very possible to find quieter beachy areas, particularly if you use the local bus service or rent a bike to travel farther up into the keys. You can fly directly to Key West International Airport, fly to Miami and then take a connecting flight to Key West, or take a bus from other locations in Florida. Multiple grocery stores give lots of options.
posted by the thought-fox at 5:55 PM on August 14, 2016

Seconding Ogunquit, Maine - go just after Labor Day for fewer fellow tourists but not too cold weather and water temperatures.

I must say, though, by restricting yourself to US, you miss out on some good Atlantic Canadian opportunities. For example, you can take a ferry up to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; which is pretty reasonably-priced for a walk-on passenger with no car. There are some lovely beaches in the area. You'd need to cab to whatever beach cottage or B&B you reserve a room at, but just once and back. Although you can find vacation rentals that are just a single home or cottage, most commercial ones involve either clusters of cottages, or are B&Bs. In both cases, there would be other guests around, but not too many, and more likely to be quiet retirees than noisy party groups. And the exchange rate is very good for for visiting Canada from the US at present.
posted by eviemath at 7:30 PM on August 14, 2016

Springboarding off soren_lorensen's and gnutron's comments, I highly recommend Anna Maria Island, Bradenton, Florida. I attended a girlfriend's weekend there in mid-April 2014, and the weather was *perfect* beach weather. We stayed at the Tortuga Inn Beach Resort which was 100% lovely - offering its own private beach with beach chairs and umbrellas, and a gorgeous, comfortable room on a beautiful property. There are plenty of restaurants either a short walk or a trolley-stop away; a small shopping district, at the south end of the Island near the Bridge Street intersection, hosts many unique stores to poke around in.

Fly into Tampa or Sarasota and pay for transport to the Island; once on-Island, almost everything is walkable -or- within a short distance of a trolley stop. The free trolley runs the length of the Island daily 6:30 am until 10 pm.
posted by Ardea alba at 8:05 AM on August 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Spring lake Nj. You could walk or bike up the coast to asbury park from there as well for variety
posted by WeekendJen at 4:58 PM on August 15, 2016

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