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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2011

Asphalt jungle meets sandy shore at urban beaches

BY BECKY KRYSTAL
WASHINGTON POST
Downtown Cleveland seen from Cleveland Lakefront State Park. Downtown Cleveland seen from Cleveland Lakefront State Park.
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Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on your way to or from the beach is no day at the, well, beach. But not every trip to the shore has to involve an onerous trek, or even a car. In cities nationwide, residents know where to find local gems of sand and surf. Visitors, take note.

New England

In Boston, the T will take sun worshipers to several easily accessible spots. Revere Beach, which claims to be the nation's oldest public beach, is just north of the city. In its early-20th-century heyday, Revere was the Bay State's answer to Coney Island. Today, visitors still come for the miles of coast.

Along the Boston HarborWalk, you'll find Carson Beach, and farther south, in Dorchester, is Tenean Beach.

Spectacle Island, one of the Boston Harbor Islands, is another option. A 15-minute ferry ride from the city's Long Wharf-North, the island remains under the radar because swimming has been allowed for only a few years.

While Maine's shore has a rocky reputation, several sandy beaches dot the coast near Portland. East End Beach is the city's only public beach. In nearby South Portland, Willard Beach is a neighborhood beach in the truest sense, located in a heavily residential area. Twenty minutes south of town is Scarborough Beach State Park, where you can enjoy surfing and boogie boarding.

South

Don't pack too much if you'd like to explore Texas Beach in James River Park, Richmond, Va.. Getting to the secluded area entails hiking down the long North Bank Trail. When you do get there, don't be surprised to find some young people, uh, recreating. Just so you know.

Finding Charleston, S.C., not laid-back enough? About 12 miles south is Folly Island. Folly Beach County Park sits on the west end of the barrier island, while Center Street Beach surrounds the city of Folly Beach's fishing pier.

For an even more secluded experience, drive northwest from Charleston and take the ferry to Bulls Island, in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities abound. Don't miss the three miles of Boneyard Beach, so named for the bleached dead trees strewn about the sand.

Even in landlocked Nashville, you're not far from a sandy excursion. Fourteen miles east at J. Percy Priest Lake, two beaches are open for swimming at the Anderson Road and Cook recreation areas. The facility operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also permits boating, hunting, and fishing.

Midwest

Though less known for its shore than nearby Chicago, Milwaukee has plenty of Lake Michigan real estate. Bradford Beach is the most popular. On Thursday nights throughout the summer, it hosts a free music series with a happy hour and bonfires.

On Lake Erie, Cleveland Lakefront State Park consists of six areas along 14 miles of coastline, including three swimming beaches. Edgewater Park is the closest to downtown. The beach is located on the lower tier of the park; the upper boasts views of the Cleveland skyline. Head northwest, and you'll find Euclid Beach and Villa Angela; the latter has a fishing pier and scenic overlooks.

Detroit's nearly 1,000-acre Belle Isle is another beneficiary of a riverside perch. Frederick Law Olmstead created the master plan for this Motor City playground. Visitors to the park can make a day of touring its many attractions, including a conservatory, a zoo, and an over-the-top marble fountain. Of course, there's also a half-mile swimming beach with an adjacent water slide for those in search of additional thrills. On Sunday evenings, catch a free jazz concert.

Pacific Northwest

The Seattle parks department maintains a string of swimming beaches along Lake Washington east of downtown. People in search of the liveliest scene, though, might want to head west for a day at Alki Beach Park. The Puget Sound water is too cold for swimming, but with city and mountain views from the more than two miles of beach, you can't complain. No need for a car either -- catch a ferry across Elliott Bay, and then hop on a free shuttle to the beach.

Canada

The concept of urban beaches is familiar here. In Montreal, Parc Jean-Drapeau takes up two islands in the St. Lawrence River. The beach is on the southern one, Ile Notre-Dame. If you tire of swimming or sunbathing, the park's other attractions include a biosphere, a history museum, and a free-fall simulator. Only minutes from downtown, it can be reached via subway or ferry. A little farther outside the city are the close-together Parc-nature du Cap-Saint-Jacques and Parc-nature du Bois-de-l'Ile-Bizard, both with beaches.

Vancouver is no slouch when it comes to beaches either, with more than half a dozen to choose from. An easy walk from downtown takes you to Stanley Park and its pair of options, Second and Third beaches. Out of town, Kitsilano Beach has a large heated outdoor saltwater pool for those who find the bay too chilly. On a warm day, the curious can check out Wreck Beach, where clothing is optional. We'd say that a beach towel, here and at all of the above, is not.



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