Local Conundrums: The Beach

One of the strange things about the Boston area, to me, is how close you are to the water… yet how tricky it can be to simply go to a beach.  I grew up on the Jersey shore, and on a summer morning we’d just get up early, get good parking, and get on the beach, which was (as you would expect coastline to be), continuous and extending in either direction when you stood at the water.  You could go on a long walk on the sand or boardwalk, crossing municipalities and passing a lot of Italian Ice and seagulls, but always with the sense that you were at the beach.

Yes–critics–there are detractors to the NJ beaches.  We had to pay for beach passes, and the beaches were often quite crowded. But it was The Beach, and it was what I grew up with.

The past six years in Boston have convinced me that around here, the beach is a lot more complicated. It’s not as ubiquitous, and in the city’s immediate burbs you can forget how very few miles there are between you and the Atlantic. Shortly after moving here sans car, I wanted to go to the beach, so I got out my guidebooks and got on the subway and went to Revere.  To say I was less than impressed… would be accurate. My recollections of that day are of litter, suspect locals, and a strange lack of nearby amenities.  Although yes, the ocean was present, too.  With friends, I also made a couple forays to the lovely beaches of the North Shore– which are unmistakably nicer and offer more nearby–but found parking to be either expensive or minimalist, and in many cases restricted to town residents.  And on a summer weekend– fuggeddaboutit. You’ll spend more of your day in traffic on 95 than in the water. What’s a city girl to do?

Recently I read on Yelp that there is a lake beach, known as Sandy Beach, in Winchester, on one of the Mystic Lakes (which I can see from my living room). Reviewers raved about it and tout it as better than Walden Pond for a lake beach– which I am relieved to hear. Walden is not the spot of reflective tranquility it once was, and there is enough sand there for about 15 people….  So I decide to give Sandy Beach a try.  The only problem is, no one seems to want me to find it.  Yelp lists the address as “Mystic Valley Parkway”, and links to this helpful map from the Mass DCR page:

MapI was surprised by the simplicity of said map, but failed to find any further clarification on the DCR Website (also just listed as off the Mystic Valley Parkway– but confirmed the existence of a “Sandy Beach”), and figured, well, maybe it’s just that simple. Got in the car and went.

Sure enough, off the Mystic Valley Parkway, I came to a lake beach.  It had a sandy shore, a lovely playground/field for children and sports, several lifeguards, a bathhouse of sorts, and an expansive view of the lake. (We live somewhere off the water on the far side in this picture.  Most of the West side is private, and most of the East side public.)

Lake Beach 1Parking was free and definitely available on a Tuesday morning. The beach was not too crowded (I imagine the weekend is another scene entirely), a lot of moms with young kids, which made for good people-watching. The Mystic Lakes squat right between wealthy Winchester and more affordable Medford, so the beachgoers were diverse (although many of the Winchesterites I’m sure were at the boat and country clubs on the private side of the lake).

I was just surprised that this was the beach which had received such praise on Yelp.  The swimming area was small, and the water seemed less-than-pristine in that great “kids + ducks” kind of way.  I went in, and I’d probably go back again, but I didn’t feel like I’d found some hidden gem.  I stayed for about an hour and a half (the Irishness can’t take the sun forever; also I did my own sunblock, which is always questionable) and then on the way out…

…passed a DCR sign proclaiming this not as Sandy Beach, but something called “Charles E Shannon Memorial Beach.”  Completely perplexed, I decided I hadn’t found the lauded Sandy Beach at all and drove all around the Mystic Valley Parkway not finding anything else even close. Came home, did a further internet search and discovered that at some point Sandy Beach was renamed in honor of Mr. Shannon, and was able to conclude that I had been at the beach I intended to be at, but was less excited than I had hoped to be.

Nice shirt, kid.

Nice shirt, kid.

A relatively quiet beach

A relatively quiet beach

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Local Conundrums: The Beach

  1. Oh I, too, was shocked about the ‘so close, yet so far” beach when I moved to Boston. I also called it The Shore until my brother-in-law pointed out that The Shore was in New Jersey and not Mass….

    One more thing – holy FREEZING COLD water, Batman!

    I am now getting accustomed to pool water that is so warm, when it cools to a likely 85 degrees it feels chilly! Headed to the Gulf this weekend where it’s like a salt water bath. Will take pictures!

  2. Katie

    In our defense, if you hop on the red line and take it to Savin Hill in Dorchester, you are about a two minute walk from Malibu Beach, which is actually quite sweet. You can even go in the water.

  3. Karen

    There are plenty of coastal beaches close by. It’s odd you have not found them yet.

    What about Carson Beach (my favorite urban beach)? One minute walk from JFK stop on the Red Line. A little further into South Boston is Castle Island Beach.

    Also, instead of going to Revere Beach on the Blue Line, you can get off at Orient Heights for Constitution Beach which is a one minute walk from that stop. (Small beach opposite one of hte runways at Logan airport.) Notice I said the airport. The sound is not as bad as you think, and it is novel to be on a beach walking the planes take off. I used to frequent it a lot when I lived in East Boston.

    What about the wonderful Singing Beach at Manchester-by-the Sea; it’s within walking distance of the Commuter Rail stop.

    If you google Boston area beaches you’ll find more. These are just my favorites for getting to fast on a hot day.

  4. Robert

    I moved here to Boston 2 years ago, from San Diego CA, and all I can say about the “beaches” and beach situation here is “Bah!” Really? I’ve seen these little spots noted in the comments and they were not impressive at all. “Quaint” is what comes to mind for me. And after having grown up enjoying the beaches of Southern CA, and really the whole coastline of CA, these “beaches” just cannot compare and I am left wanting.

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