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North Shore Beaches

North of Boston, sandy beaches complement the predominantly rocky coastline. The water is cold -- optimistic locals say "refreshing" -- but typically not too rough. Parking can be scarce, especially on weekends, and lots often fill up despite costing as much as $25 per car. If you can't set out early, wait until midafternoon and hope that the people who arrived in the morning have had their fill. During the summer, lifeguards are on duty from 9am to 5pm at larger public beaches. Surfing is generally permitted outside of those hours. The beaches listed here all have bathhouses and snack bars. Swimming or not, watch out for greenhead flies in July and August. They don't sting -- they take little bites of flesh. Bring or buy insect repellent.

The best-known North Shore beach is Singing Beach, off Masconomo Street in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Because it's easily accessible by public transportation, it attracts the most diverse crowd -- carless singles, local families, and other beach bunnies of all ages. They walk 1/2 mile on Beach Street from the train station to find sparkling sand and lively surf. Take the commuter rail (tel. 617/222-3200; www.mbta.com) from Boston's North Station.

Nearly as famous and popular is Crane Beach, off Argilla Road in Ipswich, part of a 1,400-acre barrier beach reservation. Fragile dunes and a white-sand beach lead down to Ipswich Bay. The surf is calmer than that at less sheltered Singing Beach, and quite chilly. Pick up Argilla Road south of Ipswich Center near the intersection of Routes 1A and 133, or take the Cape Ann Transportation Authority's summer-only, weekend-and-holidays-only Ipswich Essex Explorer bus service (tel. 978/283-7916 or 978/356-8540; www.ipswichessexexplorer.com) from the Ipswich train station. Also on Ipswich Bay is Gloucester's Wingaersheek Beach, on Atlantic Street off Route 133. It has its own exit (no. 13) off Route 128, about 15 minutes away on winding roads with low speed limits. When you finally arrive, you'll find beautiful white sand, a glorious view, and more dunes. Because these beaches are harder to get to, they attract more locals -- but also lots of day-tripping families. At the east end of Route 133, the beaches and snack bar in Gloucester's easily accessible Stage Fort Park are popular local hangouts.

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.