Some people looking for a New England beach getaway want a packed beach, a sea of blankets covering the sand, umbrellas tip-to-tip, and so many stereos and beer coolers it feels like spring break. Those people should not go to Plum Island. You might not even know where Plum Island is. Well, that’s what makes “the island” (as locals call it) so special. A barrier island of Newburyport, about 40 minutes north of Boston, Plum Island is known for its wildlife refuge, rare purple sands, endangered piping plover birds, and beach where you can actually get some peace and quiet. That’s right – a seemingly endless desert of beach space to set up camp, and no sounds except the lapping of waves. To take that peace and quiet to the next level, and add a splash of boutique luxury, check out the island’s only hotel – Blue, Inn on the Beach.
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Blue is just a short drive from downtown Newburyport, but feels like its own little vacationland. Perched on a dune overlooking the ocean, the 13-room hotel is defined by the blue and white hues of its signature pebbles, delicately arranged in rocky gardens and pathways around the property. The “basic” rooms aren’t so basic. They’re oceanfront rooms with decks right on the hotel’s private beach, or second-floor balconies overlooking the water. There are also cozy cottages across the street accommodating up to four people, and one right on the ocean side with its own private beach and fire pit. For a truly special occasion, the Blue Oceanfront Suite is the pinnacle of luxury. It’s a two-story suite with two bedrooms, its own private hot tub, four decks, full kitchen and dining room, and vaulted ceilings.
No matter where you’re staying, all guests have access to two hot tubs – one on the beach with perfect ocean views – and the other in the hotel’s secluded garden area, surrounded by trees. All guests also have the privilege of waking up to a woven breakfast basket at their door (that’s right – Yogi Bear style). These ready-to-go beach picnic baskets come with deviled eggs, yogurt, granola, croissants, and coffee.
You might wake up in the morning with high ambitions of a beach day, but you’ll find it tough to extricate yourself from the comfort of your room. I spent my whole morning sitting by the fire pit watching the waves, dissecting my breakfast basket, walking 30 feet to the hot tub, lounging around in my robe, and debating whether I really wanted to venture from my little oasis.
You could easily spend your whole weekend bouncing between the hotel’s private beach and hot tubs, but there’s a whole island waiting to be explored. Okay, it’s not a very big island, but that means it’s even easier to see the whole thing in a weekend. Since Plum Island is 11 miles long and rather thinly populated, the beach here is one of the most tranquil on the eastern seaboard. That means you can safely venture beyond the hotel’s private beach without having to jostle for umbrella space with a dozen other like-minded families.
You don’t need to go very far for a beach ice cream break, either. Georgie Porgie’s serves fried seafood and ice cream right on the beachfront. If you’re an ice cream sandwich fan, walk a block down the road to The Cottage – a liquor and convenience store with some of the heftiest ice cream sandwiches you’ve ever seen. When the beach day’s over and it’s time for a drink, there are two bars on the island. The Beachcoma is a decades-old staple, a classic beach bar with a tropical vibe, given color and character by the island locals who call the place home (some quite literally). The live music here every Friday-Sunday means this is probably where you’ll be ending most of your nights. Just a few hundred feet away, Sunset Club is a newer bar on Plum Island, but it’s quickly becoming a local favorite. Known for its sandy outdoor section with picnic tables, a fire pit, and sunset views over the marsh, if you didn’t get your Instagram moment at Blue, you’ll certainly get it here.
Your stay at Blue also comes with complimentary passes to the nearby Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. This wildlife sanctuary, which comprises most of Plum Island, was established in the 1940s as a feeding, resting, and nesting place for migratory birds. The refuge consists of beaches and dunes, bogs, swamps, marshes, mudflats, and salt pannes, which support a diverse bird, reptile, amphibian, and plant population. It’s a popular place for biking, hiking, jogging, bird watching, and photography, with several trails and viewpoints throughout the nearly 5,000-acre trust. Indeed, ask any in-the-know birdwatcher and they’ll tell you that the Parker River is one of the best birdwatching destinations on the East Coast.