Connecticut beaches are often passed over for those in neighboring states. New York has the Hamptons, Rhode Island has its surfing beaches, and Massachusetts has Cape Cod. But Connecticut has nearly a hundred miles of coastline, with plenty of sandy beaches dotted across its length. And since the shoreline of Connecticut runs east to west along the Long Island Sound, most of its beaches have calm, swimmable waters.
Any beach in Connecticut that belongs to a city or the state must be public by law – although cities can charge higher parking fees to non-residents. This helps keep Connecticut’s many beaches from getting too crowded and pays for amenities like outdoor showers and changing rooms. Fees aside, the real issue is that there are so many public beaches it can be hard to know which ones to visit.
These 11 options are the best beaches in Connecticut for a New England beach weekend.
1. Waterford Beach Park in Waterford
At the far east end of the Long Island Sound, near Fishers Island, is Waterford Beach Park, an area worth visiting for its natural hills, tidal marshes, and dune grass. You’ll find everything you need at the beach, from lifeguards to restrooms. Bring your own lunch to enjoy at the lovely picnic area, there are nearby tennis courts and a place to launch your kayak. You can buy a daily pass at the gate before entering the park. It’s best to come early in the summer, as the parking area fills up. From June to September, pooches are not allowed. However, while it may be too cold for swimming come October, you and your dog can admire the stunning fall colors of the park’s trees up against the water.
Cost for parking: Day passes are $2 on weekdays and $5 on weekends and holidays for residents (or a $1 walk-in fee), and $20 on weekdays and $30 on weekends and holidays for non-residents (or a $5 walk-in fee).
2. Harvey’s Beach in Old Saybrook
Not much bigger than Hole in the Wall Beach, Harvey’s Beach is only about the length of a football field. Yet it remains a well-loved beach for its vast tidal pools and natural feel. You’ll find all the necessary amenities here that you would find at bigger beaches, from restrooms and changing rooms to outdoor showers and a lifeguard on duty. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can buy food at the beach and, on Friday nights in good weather, enjoy an outdoor concert.
Cost for parking: Parking is $15 per car on weekdays and $25 on weekends. Non-residents can buy a season pass for one car for $150.
3. Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison
Located about 20 miles west of New Haven, the two-mile-long Hammonasset Beach lies on a spit of land that juts into the Long Island Sound. The beach has been a state park for over a century and is one of the most loved summer destinations in Connecticut. Visitors can put a towel on the sand, walk along the boardwalk, picnic on shaded tables by the grass, or hike along several trails through the leafy Hammonasset Natural Area Preserve.
The nature preserve is at the end of the spit of land, as is the Meigs Point Nature Center that’s open every day except Mondays. In July and August, the center offers several programs throughout the day, including nature walks, canoe trips, and presentations about turtles or snakes.
Camping on the beach park’s 550 grassy sites usually opens in time for Memorial Day weekend and ends after the long October weekend celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day. Hammonasset Beach is also great for swimming, and has several designated swimming areas. It sits at the far end of the Long Island Sound, closer to the open Atlantic, but the shore is protected from ocean waves by a breakwater at Meigs Point that was built in 1955.
Cost for parking: In the summer, it’s $9 for locals and $15 for non-residents on weekdays, and $13 for locals and $22 for non-residents on weekends and holidays.
4. Hole in the Wall Beach in East Lyme
At the opposite end of the spectrum, length-wise, is Hole in the Wall Beach in East Lyme. It’s not just the wee size that lends charm to this beach on Niantic Bay, but also its location within the 62-acre McCook’s Point Park. It lies on one side of a grassy, wooded bluff, which you can cross to reach the larger McCook’s Beach. Beyond the park and beaches, you’ll find old New England homes. Note that there aren’t any stores, which keeps these beaches feeling more intimate. What also keeps them feeling more personal is the hefty price tag for non-residents. You can come in late spring or early fall free of charge, but from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, you’ll need a parking permit.
Cost for parking: Residents pay $15 for the day or $45 for the entire summer season. Non-residents pay $40 for a day pass during the week and $50 on weekends. Check the East Lyme site for more information.
5. Weed Beach in Darien
This beach wasn’t named after the smokeable type of weed, but any other kinds of weeds on the impeccably manicured lawn behind the beach are long gone. Weed Beach is located in one of the wealthiest and preppiest cities in the state. You’ll find folks playing tennis or pickle ball on the courts in this 22-acre park. A concession stand, washrooms, changing rooms, picnic tables, and an adorable children’s play area that looks like a boat are additional on-land offerings. There’s a place to launch your boat or windsurf. This is also the site of the Darien Junior Sailing team, where teens presumably hone their skills in the hope of getting the attention of a sailing coach in the Ivy League. Day passes are available, and dogs aren’t allowed.
Cost for parking: $53 per day per car for non-residents.
6. Jennings Beach in Fairfield
This 27-acre beach makes for an unfussy family day at the beach, with plenty of sand, a playground that looks like an oversized sand castle, a skateboard park, and volleyball courts. You’ll find the other conveniences you need, like washrooms and a concession stand. In the summer, the lifeguards offer swim lessons and junior lifeguard courses for those who sign up in advance on the Fairfield Parks & Recreation site. Come outside of summer months and you won’t just avoid the parking fees, but you can also bring your dog to enjoy the beach with you.
Cost for parking: Summer parking passes are typically expensive, at $40 on weekdays and $50 on weekends.
7. Ocean Beach Park in New London
This hugely popular beach park includes not only plenty of sand and all the amenities, but an Olympic-sized swimming pool ($10 per use) and enough attractions that, if you have kids, they’ll never want to go to another beach. This includes waterslides ($10 for the whole all day), an arcade, mini golf ($8), and a playground. If you’ve come without little ones in tow, you may prefer to walk on the trails or catch evening entertainment on the boardwalk.
Cost for parking: From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, parking costs $25 on weekdays and $30 on weekends. On July 4, parking is $40. Even pedestrians pay $8 to walk in. Parking is $10 the rest of the year.
8. Sandy Beach in Litchfield
If you find yourself in the northern part of Connecticut this summer, you can still cool off in the freshwater of Bantam Lake. Lovely Litchfield is a stunning stretch of the state that is sometimes known as the “other Berkshires,” since it’s part of the same gently rolling mountain range as the Berkshires in Massachusetts. You’ll find photogenic towns, covered bridges, lots of trees, and swimmable lakes in these parts. Sandy Beach at Bantam Lake has everything you need at a beach: bathrooms, a lifeguard, volleyball, picnic areas, and a concession stand. Locals who summer here also sign up their kids for six-week-long swimming lessons in the lake, so you may see a bit of splashing and hear plenty of laughter.
Cost for parking: Cars and boats only $10 weekdays and $20 on weekends.
9. Jacob’s Beach in Guilford
This 25-acre beach doesn’t tend to draw the same summer crowds as you may find elsewhere, which is what earns it a spot on this list. The lack of crowds has more to do with its off-the-beaten-path location than its facilities, which cover all the basics and then some. Jacob’s Beach has showers and washrooms, plus a boardwalk, playground, volleyball court, and a half basketball court. It’s also a great place for kayaking.
Cost for parking: $20 for a parking pass for the day.
10. Sound View Beach in Old Lyme
The only real reason to come to this sliver of sand is for the history. Sound View Beach became one of the first public beaches in the country when it opened up in the 1880s, but it’s just 100 feet across and flanked on either side by miles of beach that’s privately owned. Even so, this place is popular.
Cost for parking: $6 for every two hours on weekdays and $10 per two hours on weekends and holidays.
11. Calf Pasture Beach and Shady Beach Park in Norwalk
Calf Pasture Beach offers not just Long Island Sound vistas, but lots of shade. That’s because the beach is more like a park, with grassy expanses and trees. It also has a plethora of outdoor sporting options, among them two bocce courts, a basketball court, baseball fields, and a skateboard park. You can also rent kayaks through the Norwalk Sailing school.
Note that if you plan to swim, you should check the water quality before on Connecticut’s official website. The good news is water quality throughout the Long Island Sound has improved dramatically since the 1980s, a result of proactive measures taken by the states of New York and Connecticut together with the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, the EPA recently applauded the sound’s cleaner water. Many beaches have A ratings today for water quality – including all the other beaches on this list – but the water quality at Calf Pasture Beach still had a B rating in 2020. Luckily, it’s getting better every year.
Cost for parking: Non-residents pay $40 per car on weekdays, and the current list doesn’t include a weekend option for non-residents. Public transport with Metro North and one change will get you here as well.