New England vacations: 11 charming coastal towns and villages – USA TODAY

After months of hunkering down under snow and ice, summer and early fall in New England feel like a collective sigh. Families flock to the northeast’s lake towns and coastal villages for quintessential New England vacations that go all-in on the regional charm. There’s plenty of room for long, lazy beach days, hiking up cliffs along protected seashores and savoring those short-but-sweet months before temperatures plunge once more.
Don’t miss these seaside villages and coastal towns on your next New England family getaway.
Home to Acadia National Park, tiny Bar Harbor is the perfect starting point for any family getaway to Maine. With family-friendly and accessible trails like the Ocean Path (where you can gaze into the depths of the mighty Thunder Hole) and the 45 miles of scenic carriage roads to bike, there’s something for everyone.
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Stop at Jordan Pond House for high tea and popovers before taking a hike up the Bubbles, an easy 830-foot peak. Or take a drive up Cadillac Mountain for the first glimpse of sunrise anywhere on the east coast – reservations required from mid-May to mid-October – or for the more intrepid among you, hike up in time for breakfast.
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Midcoast Maine is one of the prettiest spots for a New England vacation. And at just 1½ hours from Portland, it makes for a great day trip destination. Camden Hills State Park, home to  780-foot Mt. Battie, is the place to start. The short-but-scenic hike gives you a great look at Penobscot Bay, one of the best sailing spots along the coast. Don’t miss lunch at the award-winning Long Grain restaurant (currently serving takeout only) and top it off with River Duck’s Ice Cream for dessert.
Kennebunkport is a classic Maine beach destination for a reason. Families and four-legged friends can spend the entire day hanging out at Gooch’s Beach or Goose Rocks Beach. If you’re tired of beach time, explore the quirky Seashore Trolley Museum, which showcases the history of buses, trains and automobiles from around the United States. Don’t forget to order ahead for beach-ready lunches from the popular Clam Shack, a Kennebunkport institution.
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From Kennebunkport, head up the rest of southern Maine’s charming Route 1. Spend a day at Old Orchard Beach or in nearby Ogunquit (it’s one of the best family beach vacations in the entire country) for more great views, charming antique shops and delicious lobster rolls.
New Hampshire only has 18 miles of Atlantic shoreline, but the Granite State sure makes it count. For families looking for a beach option only an hour away from Boston, Rye is a great choice. With a collection of oceanfront state parks with playgrounds and picnic tables – Wallis Sands, Odiorne Point and Rye Harbor – you have plenty to choose from.
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At Odiorne Point, stop in at the Seacoast Science Center to learn about the marine ecosystem, from whales to guided tide pooling excursions and an indoor touch tank.
Historic Portsmouth is the perfect New England vacation gateway to explore New Hampshire’s seacoast. The port town offers plenty of delicious eats along Market Street and Congress Street that overlook the harbor. Step back in time with a tour of the Strawbery Banke Museum, the site of the first Portsmouth settlement; or the USS Albacore, a decommissioned naval submarine. Most weekends, you’ll find live music or entertainment oceanside at Prescott Park.
Use Newburyport as your home base to explore Massachusetts’ historic North Shore. With a more relaxed feel than nearby Rockport or Salem, you’ll find live music down on the waterfront, cute cobblestone streets, a walkable downtown and great food.
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The North Shore is known for its roast beef sandwiches (with ocean views, no less!) and you’ll find some of the best at Port City Sandwich Co. or Black Cow.
Locals call Cape Cod “the Cape,” and for quintessential New England vacations on the Cape, start with cute-as-a-button Chatham. Located in the “elbow” of the Cape, you’ll find some of the best family-friendly beaches in the Northeast at Lighthouse Beach (home to the Chatham Light), Hardings Beach and Ridgevale Beach. Take a break from the beach with walking trails at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge or learn about monsters of the deep at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Shark Center.
Step into the world of gilded mansions and Gatsby-style glamour in Newport, Rhode Island. But the town is much more than tours of the Breakers or the Elms. Go mansion-spotting by walking the scenic 3.5-mile Cliff Walk or drive into town for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. If you have budding music lovers in the family, don’t miss the annual Jazz Festival or Folk Festival, which both take place every summer.
You can’t beat Narragansett Beach for a relaxing day, but it’s not the only option if you’re headed to Narragansett. Walk along the cliffs to the Point Judith Lighthouse for some great views. Catch the ferry to Block Island, which currently runs about every two hours , to explore the seven-mile long spit of land just off the coast for a day trip. For dinner, stop at one of the best clam shacks in New England, Monahan’s Clam Shack by the Sea.
Situated between the Mystic River and the Atlantic, Mystic is home to the perfect mix of classic seaside activities like sailing and beach days alongside great learning opportunities for the family. Spend a day wandering around the sprawling Mystic Seaport Museum, which recreates a 19th-century fishing village down to the workshops of the rigger and other shipbuilding tradesmen. Or say hi to sea lions, stingrays and other wildlife at the Mystic Aquarium (advance reservations required).
Hang out at Hammonasset Beach State Park or Meigs Point Nature Center in the classic beach town of Madison, Connecticut. Stroll the historic Madison Green district for a glimpse of colonial architecture (on the National Register of Historic Places). For the book lovers, grab your next great vacation binge read at RJ Julia Booksellers, one of the top independent bookstores (and the cutest!) in the country.
More from covers family vacation ideas; family travel destinations; all-inclusive resorts; and must-have travel accessories for families of all shapes, sizes and orientations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.


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