Admittedly, with only 18 miles of coastline, the state of New Hampshire is better known for mountain retreats than sandy feet. But there is one spot that quietly shatters that reputation: Hampton Beach. The seaside locale is a hidden gem, or at least it is to those outside of New Hampshire.
Have good clean fun
Hampton Beach made the Natural Resources Defense Council’s list of only 35 “Superstar Beaches” nationwide, based on water quality. It is also consistently ranked in the top three for general cleanliness, an attribute we islanders surely appreciate. The wide, white sand beach is situated toward the southern end of the tiny state shoreline. The lively boardwalk is acclaimed for being well maintained, and as clean as the beach itself. It’s lined with old-timey establishments offering all the cotton candy, taffy and fried dough anyone could want, as well as arcades and mini golf. Vacationers will also find a string of more upscale eateries, where all the fare is seasoned with a liberal dose of salt air. Nightly concerts are performed at the Seashell Stage and fireworks go off every Wednesday night all summer right on the beach.
Check in to old-time style
Twenty minutes to the north on the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth is arguably the coastal area’s most historic town. Many visitors to Hampton Beach stay here. They walk the bricked sidewalks, tour century-old homes, dine in intimate, family-run restaurants and shop in tiny boutiques. (New Hampshire doesn’t charge any sales tax, which is why it feels like everything is on sale for 8.625% off!)
Portsmouth is quaint, full of cute bed and breakfasts and other small-scale accommodations. For one, the Ale House Inn boutique hotel in the landmark Portsmouth Brewing Company building has a hip, yet charming vibe. Portsmouth is also known locally as the place for al fresco dining. More than 30 Portsmouth area restaurants offer outdoor seating, many overlooking portions of the river. Lobster rolls, steamers and fried clams are the menu stars.
End beach days on a high note
When one has had enough sun, sand and surf, at least for the day, an evening cruise is a popular option. Three different cruise companies take visitors up and down the river, around Portsmouth Harbor, and seven miles out into the Atlantic to the Isles of Shoals. Another idea for passing the evening is settling in at the Prescott Park Arts Festival, which hosts a series of concerts, movies and outdoor theatre productions all summer long.