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Sand Ho!

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Outside magazine, July 1993


Sand Ho!

No summer’s complete without a little sugar underfoot. But don’t you want more in a beach? Fifteen that have it.
By Parke Puterbaugh


NORTHEAST

Cape Elizabeth, Maine

Maine has more than its share of rocky coastline, but sand
beaches are a scarce commodity. You can have both at two
state parks on Cape Elizabeth, eight miles (a bracing bike ride)
from Portland. Two Lights State Park (207-799-5871), on the Casco Bay
side, admittedly has the more spectacular setting: waves crashing noisily against
a rocky headland that rises steplike to a piney woodland. Swimming
is out of the question–especially after a pilgrimage to the Lobster
Shack to gorge yourself on its heavenly (and cheap) lobster rolls.
But just a mile away, on the sheltered southeastern side, lies
Crescent Beach State Park (207-767-3625) and a swath of soft
sand, where a typical summer Saturday finds Down Easters and Canadians
dashing breathlessly into the ocean–water temperature barely tops 60 degrees during
the dog days–and dashing back out with renewed appreciation for the
sun.

Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware

The mood on Delaware’s relatively brief coastline can range from the
vigilant civility of Rehoboth Beach to the Animal-House-by-the-sea mentality of Dewey
Beach. Happily distinct from either is Cape Henlopen (302-645-2103), an expansive
seaside wilderness where Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic. The park encompasses
3,400 acres of salt marshes, migrating dunes, tidal flats, pinelands, cranberry
bogs, and a four-mile sand beach where you can stake out
a comfortable plot, if not a private one, even on July
4. On your way to the beach you’ll pass Hoss’s Pier
1, where you can rent the tackle to lure a bluefish
or a flounder back to dinner at the park’s 160-site campground.
And pack the disc–there’s a nine-hole Frisbee-golf course right off the
beach.

Crane’s Beach, Massachusetts

The town of Ipswich was settled by shipbuilders, fishermen, and lace
makers in the 1630s. Life was not a beach on the
North Shore back then, nor is it now. But since 1945,
the 12,000 denizens of Ipswich have been able to claim as
their own Crane’s Beach, a four-mile-long, dune-backed white wonder along Ipswich
Bay. The beach and the adjacent wildlife reservation fall under the
purview of the Richard T. Crane, Jr., estate, dominated by the
plumbing-fixture mogul’s 59-room Georgian-style mansion. (The bathrooms alone warrant the guided
tour.) With a permit from the town clerk (508-356-4161), you can
dig for a less glamorous bit of heritage: the Ipswich clam.
Wait for low tide, then look for bubbles in the sand.
The best flats are on the beach’s eastern edge near the
Castle Neck River.

SOUTHEAST

Jekyll Island, Georgia

At the turn of the century, a handful of America’s filthy
rich turned Jekyll Island–one of what the poet Sidney Lanier called
Georgia’s “golden isles”–into a private terrain de jeu. Today the 5,550-acre
island is state-owned and open to commoners. Deep green vegetation still
carpets much of the island. There’s also an unfortunate plentitude of
deep green golf courses, but every person on the links is
one fewer on the seven-mile beach or in the wild marshlands.
They’re unbeatable settings for hours of near-solitary wading, bird-watching, swimming, picnicking,
sunning, reading, surf-fishing, and generally acting like a millionaire with time
on his hands. Bait and friendly advice are available at the
historic marina (912-635-2891); the Jekyll Island Authority (912-635-3636) has advice, but
no bait.

Kiawah Island, South Carolina

While many East Coast beaches are eroding away, Kiawah Island keeps
growing, thanks to sand passed its way by the Charleston Harbor
jetties. Fortunately, development hasn’t followed suit. Kiawah Island Real Estate, which
owns most of the island, practices controlled growth: Four thousand acres
of this drumstick-shaped 10,000-acre barrier island will forever remain wilderness, and
the abundance of wildlife, including the endangered brown pelican and the
threatened American alligator, is viewed as a valuable attraction. The town
of Kiawah itself sponsors a state-licensed program to protect the threatened
Atlantic loggerhead turtle, which nests all along the 11-mile beach between
May and August. To help patrol the nests and collect data,
call Robert Cowgill at 803-768-1311.

Long Key, Florida

Midway down the Florida Keys, where white sand beaches are the
exception rather than the rule, the beach at Long Key is
a little bit grassy, a little bit rocky, and a whole
lot beautiful. About half of it falls within the Long Key
State Recreation Area (305-664-4815), which has 60 oceanfront campsites and two
nature trails that thread tangled hardwood hammocks, sand dunes, and tidal
flats but inevitably lead to the beach. Rangers teach snorkeling and
marine ecology in the emerald shallows. Historically, however, the essential items
on a Long Key packing list are not a mask and
fins, but a fly rod or light spinning tackle. In fact,
the recreation area includes the former site of an anglers’ club
once presided over by writer and bonefish fanatic Zane Grey–and wiped
out, with other harbingers of the tourist trade, by the 1935
hurricane.

GULF COAST

Cayo Costa, Florida

Like Sanibel and Captiva islands, its developed counterparts immediately to the
south, Cayo Costa is shell-hunter heaven. The white beach that rims
the lush interior is sometimes so dotted with baby’s ears, banded
tulips, or the shells of some 396 other species that you
can’t see the sand. What’s important here, however, is what’s missing:
electricity, commerce, and waves of amateur conchologists practicing “the Sanibel stoop.”
The seven-mile-long barrier island, 90 percent of which is state parkland,
is accessible only by boat (passage can be found from any
marina on Captiva, Pine Island, or Boca Grande). There are 12
primitive cabins (call 813-964-0375 for reservations) and a pine-and-palm-shaded camping area
for about 30 tents, all 100 yards from the Gulf of
Mexico. Take no live specimens from the park, and bring your
fishing tackle: Boca Grande Pass, off the northern tip, is famous
tarpon territory.

Mustang Island State Park, Texas

In the words of an early explorer, “her treasure is the
gold of her sun, the silver of her moonlight, and the
sapphire of her pearl-crested waves.” Mustang Island State Park (512-749-5246), on
the eponymous barrier island that separates Corpus Christi Bay from the
Gulf of Mexico, looks much like it did then–except for the
preponderance of beach blankets. But the mile and a half set
aside for primitive camping on the five-mile beach allows for relative
peace and quiet. The main event here is–what else?–fishing. Shell gathering
runs a close second, especially in late fall, when a reversal
of current erodes the beds and washes the booty ashore.

Santa Rosa Island, Florida

Follow the neon fish sign out of Pensacola, and two bridges
later you’re on Santa Rosa Island at Pensacola Beach, a not-unappealing
place to spread a towel or gobble steamed shrimp and crawfish.
Don’t stop here, though, because bookending Pensacola Beach’s commercial hubbub are
the beaches of Gulf Islands National Seashore (904-934-2600), an undeveloped oasis
in the Redneck Riviera–which you may know by its more salable
moniker, the Emerald Coast. The location and $4 entrance fee of
the Fort Pickens area, nine miles west of Pensacola Beach on
the western tip, keep the hordes at bay. You can explore
the labyrinthine fort that once held Geronimo, recline on the white-quartz
sand on the gulf side, snorkel on the sound side, or
fish for trout, mackerel, and mullet off the pier.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Carpinteria State Beach

Carpinteria is known as the “world’s safest beach,” an appellation that
extends back to 1602, when a Spanish explorer first proclaimed it
costa segura. The mile-long beach slopes seaward slowly; there’s no undertow
and no riptides, and at low tide you have to walk
for what seems like forever to immerse yourself completely. But what
makes it more than merely soothing is its setting at the
foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains and its view of the
Channel Islands. (The adjacent 262-site campground includes a number of beachfront
sites; call 805-684-2811.) Because the waters are so kind, those serious
about surfing tend to stay around the corner at legendary Rincon
Point.

Sunset State Beach

The hard-to-reach beaches of Santa Cruz County are often overlooked, but
they’re worth the extra effort to visit for their striking wildness.
At Sunset State Beach (408-724-1266), seven miles of broad white-sand beach
and roiling surf rise into dunes crowned by wind-gnarled trees. The
park’s northern entrance is a roller-coaster ride of hairpin turns along
steep cliffs–actually ancient, overgrown dunes. To the south, a lower entrance
road meanders through fields of artichokes and flowers. The swimming is
good for an area better known for its surfing, and a
eucalyptus grove behind the dunes grants shady picnicking and protection from
the beach winds. The 90 campsites are a five- to ten-minute
hike up the bluff, and after sundown the beach is open
only to campers.

Zuma Beach

At its best, Zuma Beach, on the Malibu coast, is a
geologic symphony: The chaparral-covered Santa Monica Mountains plunge into the sea
here, with only a sparkling three-mile strip of sand as a
buffer–think of it as Little Big Sur. At worst, it’s a
still-beautiful cacophony: Southern swells from storms off Mexico end their crescendo
here, and mudslides or firestorms can close up the entire area.
It’s therefore fitting that beachgoers seem to have no shortage of
adrenaline. Surfing, scuba diving, and volleyball in particular are pursued with
a vengeance. But take care in the water: Riptides have been
known to drag up to 20 people at a time out
to sea, necessitating blitz rescues by the lifeguard patrol. For a
surf report, call the Los Angeles County Lifeguards at 310-457-9891.

NORTHWEST

Cannon Beach, Oregon

The focal point at this northern stop on U.S. 101 isn’t
the cold-but-surfable ocean; it’s Haystack Rock, a 235-foot mound of barnacle-encrusted
basalt that’s the third-largest coastal monolith in the world. When the
tide retreats, wade around the base, exploring the prolific marine community
there. Down among the waves it’s chockablock with sea anemones, minuscule
crabs, starfish, and mussels. Above, hordes of squawking gulls, tufted puffins,
and cormorants–for all of which the rock is a protected rookerycontinuously
circle. The beach itself is hard and flat, and the dry,
powdery sand “sings” as it’s blown around by the stiff coastal
breezes that bring out the kite-fliers en masse. Call the chamber
of commerce at 503-436-2623.

Mackerricher State Park, California

Mendocino County hugs the coast for 130 miles, much of it
inaccessible sea cliffs and tiny pocket beaches. Almost exactly at midpoint,
near Fort Bragg, is an anomaly: MacKerricher State Park (707-937-5804), which
includes a long, broad, mostly sandy beach and an equestrian trail
that runs seaside the entire ten miles. If you prefer a
steed with two wheels, pedal the logging road that separates the
beach from the rest of the park. (Rent horses at Ricochet
Ridge Ranch, 707-964-7669; bikes at Fort Bragg Cyclery, 707-964-3509.) A boardwalk
on the bluff leads out to Laguna Point, an opportune place
to observe seals, sea lions, and California gray whales. If you
want to make a night of it, the park’s ten no-frills
walk-in campsites are a five-minute hike from the sand.

Point Roberts, Washington

There are two ways to go to the beach (and no
fewer than four customs checkpoints on the round trip) on this
4.5-square-mile conifer-blanketed raindrop that drips off the Canadian mainland into the
Strait of Georgia. You can own or rent a home–a double-wide
trailer, an adobe hacienda, a prim Cape Cod–and take advantage of
the state law that extends waterfront property to the low-tide line.
(Call the chamber of commerce at 206-945-2313.) Or you can visit
one of the three distinct expanses of public coastline: Lighthouse Park
(where you can also camp; 206-945-4911), a gravelly, windy, prime whale-watching
spot; sheltered Maple Beach, with its single general store and fine
boardsailing conditions; or the unnamed south beach, from which a panorama
of the San Juan Islands unfolds. Blissfully, there are no motels,
only one B&B, and a few restaurants–in short, nothing has been
Californicated, because there’s nothing to Californicate.

Parke Puterbaugh is a coauthor of the Life Is a Beach
guidebooks, published by McGraw-Hill.

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