Even before movies like Jaws, New England was known for its beaches. Though not necessarily Connecticut beaches.
To be fair, there’s a lot of competition in southern New England.
Some of the most well-known beaches and beach communities in the country, as well as some of the oldest, are here:
- Cape Cod
- Block Island
- Martha’s Vineyard
While not officially part of New England, nearby Long Island has even more beaches to which New Yorkers make annual pilgrimages.
This Connecticutian has never been to most of the above destinations.
And especially not in summer.
Better-known beaches in the area are typically crowded. And the traffic alone to get there on a peak summer day potentially ruins the beach getaway experience before you even arrive.
Besides, there’s no need to go so far.
The best Connecticut beaches offer a perfect escape when you need your summertime beach vacation fix.
While each beach has a different atmosphere, amenities, even entrance requirements; a little advanced planning is all you need to enjoy your day, stress-free.
Not sure where to start?
Then read on for our guide to the best CT beaches.
How to plan a visit to one of the best CT beaches
Connecticut has plenty of beachfront options along its 618 miles of coastline.
Some state-run beaches scattered throughout the state have lifeguards on duty during beach season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Coastal beaches with lifeguards include:
- Sherwood Island State Park
- Silver Sands State Park
- Hammonasset State Park
- Rocky Neck State Park
The inland beaches along rivers and lakes with lifeguards are:
- Squantz Pond State Park
- Indian Well State Park
- Black Rock State Park
- Burr Pond State Park
But Connecticut beaches are much safer than ocean beaches for one major reason. The waves and tides on Long Island Sound are much calmer than oceanfront beaches.
So as long as you’re a strong swimmer and are willing to take-on some personal responsibility, you should be alright wherever you go.
But even beaches without lifeguards often require passes and entrance fees. With only 618 miles of shoreline, pricing is how capitalist Connecticut keeps beaches from being overrun with visitors in the summer.
Depending on time, day of the week, and location of the beach, parking fees can range from $10 to as high as $65.
Some beaches still offer free parking and admission, but the trade-off is no amenities, not even bathrooms and trash cans.
Wherever you go, plan ahead to know what to bring (or when to stop to use a bathroom before you arrive).
Coronavirus Beach Information
Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, it was hard to keep track of information like parking and fees for beaches across the state.
Then the pandemic hit.
But it’s not impossible!
Some helpful pages on Connecticut’s state website for information related to the beaches and parks include:
- A list of state parks, and the parking fees charged, as well as when (weekends, holidays, etc)
- General information regarding public beaches across Connecticut
- All town-run beaches are open and closed based on the decision of each town’s health department. Here’s a list of each CT town’s health department.
- And finally, the first page to visit, a quick guide to what’s open and closed throughout the state.
Even before Covid, beaches often reach capacity during the summer. And as long as Covid remains a threat, occupancy is often limited well below official capacity.
Long story short, be sure to arrive early wherever you decide to go.
The best beaches in Connecticut
The Connecticut shoreline is lined with cute beach towns.
While each has its own unique flair, they all have a similar nautical charm endemic to anywhere on the New England coast.
Heading east from the New York state border to Rhode Island, or rather from Greenwich to Stonington, the best beaches in Connecticut are as follows:
Long before it was known for its hedge funds, Greenwich was a resort town for New Yorkers.
When the railroads first arrived here, some neighborhoods actually changed their names to make them more appealing to beach-going tourists.
For example, Old Greenwich changed its name to Sound Beach during tourism’s heyday here, hoping to entice train travelers to disembark on its main street while heading up the coast. They changed it again more recently to its modern, more staid, name.
Today, Greenwich still has three beaches easily accessible to visitors willing to pay the entrance fees:
Tod’s Point, or Greenwich Point Park
While each of the Greenwich beaches have their own unique appeal, Greenwich Point Park is the most spacious. As such, it has both the longest stretch of sand, and the largest parking lot for extra capacity.
Read our guide to the beaches near Greenwich, CT, for more information on park passes, and the unique aspects of each of our local beaches.
Alternatively, skip the planning and book our Connecticut beach vacation package to enjoy a stay at our Connecticut bed and breakfast, plus a day at the beach.
Head further east along Interstate 95 (or officially, north-bound) to reach the next town on this list, Darien.
This next affluent Connecticut Gold Coast town features two beaches:
This 22-acre park features a sandy beach as well as other amenities, including: restrooms, tennis courts, public grills, and picnic areas.
Pear Tree Point Beach
Pear Tree Point Beach is actually two beaches of an 8-acre park at the mouth of Goodwives River.
Besides the beaches, other amenities here include public restrooms, and shaded picnic areas with tables and grills. There’s also a concession stand, so you don’t have to bring your own lunch if you’re so inclined.
This beach even has a boat launch and rock jetty if you want to launch your kayak or similar watercraft.
The major drawback to each of these beaches is the expense. While park passes are not inexpensive to access Greenwich beaches, Darien’s park entrance fees are even higher.
Norwalk has long had ties to the sea.
In fact, its nickname of Oyster Town stems from its position as a top producer of oysters.
Norwalk, despite its industrial, factory-town side, has always had more of a beachtown feel to this writer.
Between such local longtime fixtures as:
- Maritime Aquarium
- The waterfront family-style dining institution that is Overton’s
- Even ferries to the Sheffield Island Lighthouse
It’s still easy to feel the nautical side of town.
And true to its nature of being more middle-class in nature than its surrounding neighbors, Norwalk’s beaches are more accessible.
Calf Pasture Beach
Norwalk’s premier beach stems from its use in the 1600s. Early European settlers used the areas to graze their livestock, as it was easy to enclose.
Calf Pasture features three quarters of a mile of sandy coastline, and is easily accessible by car. The parking fee is lower than surrounding areas, and is even lower for guests arriving after 5 pm.
You could even walk from the East Norwalk train station if you’d rather spend about 40 minutes walking than the $5 cab fare or parking fee. Entry to the beach is free, provided you arrive car-less.
Besides a sandy beach, other facilities include:
- Bocce courts
- Walking trails
- Beach volleyball nets
- Boating safety courses, as well as sailboat and kayak rentals from the sailing school
- A full-service casual restaurant with beach views
- A tiny coffee and ice cream shop
Literally right next to Calf Pasture Beach (and yet they’re different parks) lies Shady Beach.
Although a bit rocky, Shady Beach features lovely views of Long Island Sound.
The grassy area has grills and picnic tables for barbecues, and lifeguards are on duty in the summer months.
Parking can be a bit tricky, though, so be prepared.
Westport is the most avant-garde of the towns along the Connecticut Gold Coast.
But several of its neighborhoods are ideal beach towns.
So perfect, in fact, that the state picked this town as the site of the first state park. A commissioner determined that an island off its coast was perfect for a shore park after exploring the length of Fairfield County’s coast.
Westport’s town beach sounds more like a destination in the Caribbean.
But the beach itself is a gorgeous New England spot, prime for photos of sunsets over the Sound or the boats of the marina.
This 29-acre park sits on the Long Island Sound at the mouth of the Saugatuck River.
Bathrooms, lockers, and a well-stocked concession stand are available to guests. There’s also a boardwalk and pavilion for guests to check-out while they’re enjoying a day at the beach.
As is the case with every beach mentioned so far, there is a fee to enter the park. In this case, only a parking fee is required, serving as an entrance fee as well.
Sherwood Island State Park
The state did, admittedly, pick a great location for a state beach.
Beyond the beach is a range of woodlands and wetlands to explore on the various hiking trails. The western side of the island has oak forests and a small observation deck overlooking the marsh trails lining Sherwood Millpond. The Tidal Marsh Nature Trail sits to the east of the island, as well as the Nature Center.
But the biggest draw to Sherwood Island is, of course, the beach.
One of the most unique features of the beach is the three-color sand. Added to the more typical cream-colored sand is red and black sand, from garnet and magnetite, respectively.
The minerals separate with the tides, creating beautiful stripes in the beach.
This 238-acre expanse of a park is worth a visit, regardless of the time of year.
Just to the east of Westport (and one of the oldest settlements in Fairfield County), Fairfield has won awards for a high quality of life.
And one of the major benefits of living here are its beautiful beaches.
Like most CT beaches on this list, Fairfield beaches require entry fees for non-residents in peak beach season.
Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Penfield Beach’s amenities include concessions, a picnic area with public grills, a playground, and restrooms.
Just off of Interstate 95, Jennings Beach features 27 acres of sandy beach and gorgeous views of Long Island Sound.
If you can make it here during the week in the summer, parking fees are significantly lower.
Lifeguards are on duty here in the summer, and staff offer swimming lessons. Other amenities include:
- Concession stand
- Boat racks and a launch from Ash Creek Open Space
- Volleyball court
In the winter months, Jennings Beach is also one of the most dog friendly places in all Connecticut.
Bridgeport and Stratford Beaches
A majorly influential Connecticut city in the 19th Century, Bridgeport has fallen on hard times over the past century due to corruption and mismanagement.
But the vestiges of that gloried past makes Bridgeport an interesting place to visit, especially for visitors interested in industrial architecture and the romance of a place past its prime.
Pleasure Beach is one of those fascinating places, with an entire resort town on an island off the coast falling into decay. But as it’s less easily accessible, via only a ferry from Bridgeport or a mile walk from Stratford, this writer didn’t include it in this list.
Seaside Park Beach, Bridgeport
P.T. Barnum of circus fame loved Bridgeport passionately. So much so, that he served as mayor and donated his collection and extensive land to the city for parks and museums.
His contributions, like his museum and Seaside Park, are a major reason why Bridgeport is on the list of Fairfield County destinations.
Open for swimming from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Seaside Park Beach is an expansive park with many of its grandest features still visible.
Beachgoers can pay for day passes that are lower than many of the other surrounding towns.
Many of the amenities here are typical of Connecticut beaches:
- Concession stands
- Picnic area
And yet this beach features more unique, and grander, touches, such as:
- An impressive arch at the entrance
- Statues of some of Bridgeport’s most influential residents
- Old military installations
- Spanish colonial-style buildings experiencing a slow and elegant decay
Short Beach, Stratford
Like Greenwich, Stratford offers forests and hills for hiking inland, beautiful beaches along the shoreline, and a cute downtown in-between.
Unlike Greenwich, Stratford has a reputation for having a more moderate cost of living.
The neighborhood of Lordship, separated from the rest of town by an airport, industrial complexes, and marshes is the epitome of beach towns.
Of the several beaches along Lordship’s coast:
- Long Beach
- Lordship Beach
- Short Beach
Short Beach is most appealing for its view and accessibility, situated at the mouth of the Housatonic, looking across to Milford.
Handicap access is available at the northern end of the beach. Picnic areas and a playground are at the southern end of the beach. Guests will also find a concession stand and showers operating on the beach in the summer months.
The best Connecticut beaches in Milford
Milford is another one of the charming Connecticut towns lining the coast.
While you wouldn’t guess it from the view along Interstate 95, Milford has both a cute downtown and several beach neighborhoods.
Walnut Beach is a well-established beach community in Milford, and its eponymous beach is quite pleasant.
In a typical year, Walnut Beach hosts a summer art festival and concert series for visitors and locals.
While Walnut Beach is free for Milford residents, this beach also charges a parking fee for non-resident visitors arriving between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Silver Sands State Park
Walnut Beach and Silver Sands State Park are connected by a mile of wooden boardwalk.
Silver Sands State Park is another massive state park, with 297 acres of dunes, salt marsh, woodlands, a beach, and Charles Island.
Charles Island, accessible at low tide from the shoreline, is known as the “thrice cursed island”. Legend has it that Captain Kidd buried a treasure here before traveling to Boston, where he was captured and executed. The treasure is supposedly cursed, and despite many attempts to locate it, has yet to be found.
The island also bears ruins of a resort from the 1800s, as well as a chapel from a religious retreat that occupied the island in the 1930s.
Today, it is an important nesting ground for several species of sea birds. The interior of the island is closed to visitors from May 1 to August 31, to leave the nesting birds undisturbed.
Visitors can still visit the shore of the island, though be aware of the tides when crossing the half-mile long sandbar. The isthmus is slippery, even at its driest, and it submerges quickly.
Silver Sands State Park Beach
Back on the mainland, Silver Sands State Park is lined by a three-quarter mile wooden boardwalk. Unique to most of the parks on this list, until recently there was no parking fee.
But those days are gone, after the state invested in adding new amenities to the park, like restrooms.
That said, the parking fee is reasonable.
Lifeguards are on duty at the park from Wednesday to Sunday in the summer months.
West Haven beaches
As the name implies, West Haven is just to the west of New Haven.
All the beaches in West Haven are open to the public from 9 am until dusk each day. Lifeguards are on duty from 10:15 am to 3 pm:
- Weekends only from Memorial Day until late June
- Daily from the end of June until the middle of August
- Weekends only from the end of August until the beginning of September
Non-residents pay a daily parking fee from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
When a pandemic is not posing a health threat, at least.
Bradley Point Park & Beach
This small, sandy beach is the western start of West Haven’s string of beaches.
Facilities at Bradley Point Park include a volleyball court and portable toilets.
A walkway runs parallel to Long Island Sound starting at this park. The walkway is ideal for pedestrians, cyclists, and rollerbladers; with sweeping views of Long Island Sound along much of the way.
It connects all of the parks together, from west to east:
Oak Street Beach
Sandy Point Beach
The eastern terminus of West Haven’s line of beaches, Sandy Point Beach made the Boston Globe’s list of the best beaches in New England in 2018.
To be fair, this beach won the accolade for the birding opportunities, as an important breeding ground for shorebirds.
But any of these beaches are great. If you’re a birder, this beach just has one extra reason to visit.
New Haven County Beaches west of New Haven
Every town from New Haven to the Connecticut River has their own public beach to go with their cute, historic yet beachy downtowns.
Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven
Across the harbor from West Haven’s beaches, Lighthouse Point Park feels like Seaside Park in Bridgeport: as in, it’s seen better days.
But that adds to the charm of this park, with:
- Tours of the lighthouse
- Marine biology programs
- Paddling tours
- Old fashioned carousel, one of only about a hundred left of the thousands across the country in the 1920s
As should come as no surprise, there is a parking fee for non-resident visitors. Check New Haven’s website for more information on parking fees.
But this park is still one of the best things to do in New Haven, especially for the photo opportunities.
Jacobs Beach, Guilford
This beach is not very well-known, which adds to its charm.
Jacobs Beach is just off of Seaside Avenue in Guilford.
For the cost of a daily pass for non-residents (season passes are available to Guilford locals), visitors can find typical Connecticut beach amenities:
- Boat racks
- Grilling stations
- Picnic areas
And 25 acres of parkland and sandy beach, ideal for kayaking.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, Madison
This park is the largest in the entire state.
Hammonasset Beach State Park stretches over two miles along the coast of Long Island Sound.
It’s also one of the most developed, with ample parking, a boardwalk lining much of the beach, and concession stands and picnic areas.
With over 500 electric and primitive camping sites, this park is popular with campers, as well.
Dogs are even allowed in the picnic area of the park year-round, though not on the beach.
And last but not least, a designated car-top boat launch area makes kayaking here easy to do, as well.
Clinton Town Beach
Open for swimming the third weekend in June through Labor Day weekend, Clinton Town Beach is about a ten minute drive from Hammonasset.
Facilities here include:
- Covered picnic area
- Hiking trails
- Designated dog walking trail (the rest of the beach is closed to dogs)
- Boat access
- Old stone bridge over Hammond River for fishing
As with every other beach so far, access in the summer is restricted to residents with a beach pass or non-resident visitors willing to pay the town’s parking fee.
The best Connecticut beaches along the shoreline near Mystic
The stretch of Connecticut shoreline from Old Saybrook to Rhode Island is the center of summertime tourism in the state.
This writer spent many summers on Groton beaches as a child.
Harvey’s Beach, Old Saybrook
Katharine Hepburn’s old haunts have been a draw for visitors from New York City for about a century.
One of the major draws has always been its shoreline. Its arts and culture scene has recently served as icing on the cake.
Harvey’s Beach offers 100 yards of beach, with low parking fees.
Amenities here include:
- Concession booth
- Bathhouse with an outdoor foot rinsing station
- Lifeguards during the summer season
- Picnic tables
Harvey’s Beach also hosts events and special activities throughout the summer, such as:
- An annual event for appraising and selling antiques
- Beach yoga
- Kite lessons
- Sandbar walks
- Summer movie nights
But the beach and views of the surrounding coastline are a draw in and of itself. The sunsets over the coast and Long Island Sounds from here are definitely Instagram-worthy.
Sound View Beach, Old Lyme
Across the Connecticut River from Old Saybrook is Old Lyme.
Like Old Saybrook, this has been a resort town for the better part of a century. Like Greenwich, Old Lyme was the site of an Impressionist Artist colony in the early 1900s.
Sound View Beach in Old Lyme puts a lot of effort into attracting visitors to its beach.
Some of the more unique beach amenities close to if not right on the beach include:
- Beach front restaurants
- Ice cream shops
This is the only Connecticut beach that even has its own craft beer.
Some of the public events that are major draws in typical summers include:
- Bird watching
- Fourth of July parade
- Live music
- Movies under the stars
- Pancake breakfast
- Road race
One of the amenities not available at this beach is the presence of lifeguards.
To access the beach, non-residents can use (and pay for) parking at private lots, a town parking lot, or street parking. Parking fees are payable at kiosks.
Check the Sound View Beach website for more information regarding fees and events.
Rocky Neck State Park, Niantic
Niantic, like Old Lyme, is the epitome of a beach town.
This cute little town is popping in the summer months and quiet in the winter. The town and its beaches are easily accessible to both the train station on the main drag and I-95.
Rocky Neck State Park is a 708-acre park of varying terrain and interest:
- A boardwalk stretching along the beach
- Ellie Mitchell Pavilion – a big stone gazebo dating to the 1930s
- Rocky shorelines
- Salt marsh that attracts cranes, herons, and osprey
- Spots for fishing and crabbing
- Tidal river
- White sand beaches
Facilities here are centered at the West Beach:
- Large concession area
- Restrooms and showers at a bathhouse
- Bike rack for cyclists
Camping areas and hiking trails meander throughout the park.
Hole in the Wall Beach, Niantic
Closer to Niantic than the rest of East Lyme, Hole in the Wall Beach is part of McCook’s Point Park, a 62-acre park centered on a bluff overlooking Niantic Harbor.
Compared to McCook Point Beach a little further west, Hole in the Wall Beach has the better name. It derives from the tunnel entrance under the train tracks that gives the town of Niantic access to this little beach.
While this park is open year-round, visitors need a pass to access the beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when lifeguards are on duty.
Unique to many of the parks on this list, Hole in the Wall beach allows dogs, provided they’re on a leash at all times.
Restrooms and foot-washing stations are on the town-side of the tunnel.
On the western side of the McCook Point Bluff is the McCook Point Beach, which has a boardwalk, walking paths, a picnic area, and yet more restrooms.
Waterford Beach Park, Waterford
Close to Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford Beach Park is a quarter mile of sandy beach.
It’s actually one of the only unmodified, natural beaches in the state, and features an intact dune system, sandy hills, and tidal marshes.
Amenities here include:
- Picnic area
- Lifeguards on duty in the summer season
- Shore fishing in designated, non-swimming spots
Non-residents can purchase a daily parking pass at the entrance to the beach. But parking is limited, so plan to arrive early.
Ocean Beach, New London
Just across the Alewife Cove from Waterford Beach is Ocean Beach of New London.
National Geographic voted Ocean Beach as one of the best beaches in New England.
This park is more like a vacation resort, with more amenities beyond its half-mile, white sugar sand beach. Major attractions include:
- 50-meter freshwater swimming pool
- 18-hole miniature golf course
- Video game arcade
- Food court
- Cafe and ice cream shop
- Amusement park with rides and waterslides
- Nature walk
- Picnic areas
The park hosts live entertainment and weekly events on the Boardwalk Stage, including:
- Antique car nights
- Magic shows
- Sock hops
Ocean Park is open each year from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Ocean Park admission is parking for one car, up to five people per vehicle; or a per-person walk-in rate.
Williams Beach Park, Mystic
This small beach is the only public beach in Mystic.
The beach strand at Williams Beach Park is only 120 feet long. And while parking is free, there is no lifeguard on duty.
But it is close to many of the top activities, attractions, and things to do in Mystic, CT. So there’s that.
DuBois Beach, also known as Stonington Borough Beach
Stonington, an old whaling town just east of Mystic, is worth a visit any time of the year.
And beach goers can lump a trip to the beach onto their visit with a trip to DuBois Beach at the tip of Stonington Point.
Lifeguards are on duty in the summer, but visitors are encouraged to donate to help maintain the beach. Parking is free, but very limited, so arrive early.
Heading to town for lunch or shopping?
Then be sure to use the facilities before returning to the beach, as there are no restrooms here, either.
Misquamicut State Park in Rhode Island
This best of the Rhode Island beaches is close to the Connecticut border, across the Little Narragansett Bay from Stonington.
Misquamicut State Park is similar to Ocean Beach Park in New London in being an attraction in and of itself.
If its seven miles of sugar white sand and clear water aren’t a draw in and of themself, then other amenities should more than suffice.
The park’s bathing pavilion is a structure reminiscent of a small beach village. It features several buildings including a bathhouse, gazebos, concession stand, and gift shop.
Even more shops, restaurants, and water sports equipment rentals are a short walk back to town in Misquamicut.
Lifeguards are on duty from 9 am to 6 pm during the summer, and the park hosts two annual music festivals: Springfest and Fallfest.
Now that you know which of the best CT beaches to visit, keep planning your getaway
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the sun, surf, and sand, what else is there to do in Connecticut?
Keep exploring our state and plan the rest of your trip by reading more of our guides:
- Charming Connecticut towns
- A constellation of islands that’s a holdover from the Victorian Era, the Thimble Islands
- Attractions perfect to visit for your next birthday in CT
- Free things to do in Connecticut
- The most unique things to do in southern Connecticut
And be sure to download your copy of the free Connecticut Travel Guide!