From here on up, the Atlantic beaches are best reserved for strong swimmers: Waves are big (often taller than you), and the undertow can be treacherous. The flat, nearly placid bay beaches, on the other hand, are just right for families with young children. The sand slopes so gradually that you won't have to worry about them slipping in over their heads. When the tide recedes (twice daily), it leaves a mile-wide playground of rippled sand full of fascinating creatures, including horseshoe and hermit crabs. Stickers for town beaches can be purchased ($60 for a weeklong pass) at the Department of Public Works office, at 555 Old Orchard Rd. (tel. 508/240-5976), near the town dump. A day pass for $15 per vehicle ($3 for pedestrians and bikers) can be purchased at most town beaches and at the oceanside National Seashore beaches ($15 per day, $45 for the season at the National Seashore).

  • Coast Guard Beach & Nauset Light Beach, off Ocean View Drive: These pristine and popular National Seashore ocean beaches have lifeguards and restrooms. Coast Guard Beach, with its steep sand dunes, consistently ranks as one of the best beaches in the U.S. in national surveys. Though National Seashore beaches can be chilly (this is the Atlantic Ocean, after all), the water is clean and clear. Big waves attract lots of boogie boarders. Similar to all National Seashore beaches, the vistas are lovely (just 30 miles of beach). At Coast Guard Beach, the old white Coast Guard building is scenically perched on a bluff. At Nauset Light Beach, the red-striped lighthouse, having moved back from its oceanfront perch, looks over the parking lot. A short walk away are the Three Sisters Lighthouses, three squat structures that have been set in a parklike enclave. Parking either at the beach or the shuttle lot at the Salt Pond Visitor Center is $15 per day, $45 per season. Parking lots at these two beaches and the shuttle lot tend to fill up between 10am and 1pm. The shuttle runs every 5 to 10 minutes. Drop-off and pickup at the beach is prohibited. Coast Guard Beach has a boardwalk that provides access to the beach and is convenient for people in wheelchairs.
  • First Encounter & Campground beaches: Both offer the calm waters of Cape Cod Bay. The water is significantly warmer than at the ocean beaches listed above. At low tide, there are miles of flats, where youngsters might enjoy searching for sea creatures such as crabs. To get to First Encounter Beach, take Samoset Road, opposite town hall (on Route 6), and follow signs. To get to Campground Beach, follow Route 6 to the intersection of Brackett Road, turn onto Old County Road, and then take a right on Massasoit Road. These town-operated bay beaches charge $15 a day, $60 per week. First Encounter Beach's name comes from the fact that it is thought to be the site of the first encounter between Pilgrims and Native Americans after the Pilgrims landed in Provincetown. No snack bar, but an ice cream truck makes the rounds.
  • Wiley Park: This town-run freshwater beach is also open to the public, on the same terms as the bay beaches. It is off Samoset Road.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.