Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island, MA

Since we discovered this beach, we haven't been to a different one. From our home in the Pioneer Valley it takes about 2 hrs, 15 min. to get there. Many of the beaches on the refuge are closed early in the season, as this land is primarily dedicated to wildlife, not recreation. Later in the summer, once the nesting season is over, all the beaches open. On your drive down to the beach of your choice, you will almost certainly see some gorgeous birds feeding and flying in the saltwater marshes that make up the island.
For $5, you can park at any one of 7 beaches that are part of the Reserve. For FREE you can drive down past beach 7 and park at Sandy Point Beach.
Beaches 6, 7, and Sandy Point are our favorites. The water deepens so gradually that even when your child has become a speck against the horizon, he is only up to his knees. The sand is light and fine.
The nearby (as in, 5 minutes down the road) Newburyport is a great little town for pedestrian sightseeing. A large waterfront walkway lets you see boats of all kinds, and the people who hang out on them! Fisherman are happy to have an audience. Street musicians are happened upon. The downtown is filled with expensive shops and art galleries - we've mainly avoided those! It is also home to a little playground in the middle of a pedestrian mall, adjacent to an ice cream shop (even the small was $3.70 but you get as many mix-ins as you want for free). On more than one occasion, including last Sunday, there was a festival going on downtown with music and street vending. We've always been able to find free parking in town, and have enjoyed the bookstore and toystore (and restrooms!!) in the Tannery building.
Both the Parker River Refuge and Joppa Sanctuary have visitor centers, though we haven't been yet.
Parker River Refuge

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