Yesterday was my birthday, and with it came cards and strawberry shortcake and phone calls and Facebook posts and texts from my dental group and alerts from my Nike Fuel Band…and an inevitable feeling of forlorn. Not so much because I’m another year older, but because every year at this time, on this day, in this month, comes the reminder that it’s the end of my most favorite season. Yes, August 25th means summer is coming to a close. Looseleaf paper is being touted at CVS, scarves are being sold at The Gap, and new fall comedies are being advertised on television. I hated having a birthday in the summer growing up because it meant school was starting, and yet I still couldn’t bring cupcakes to class. It meant it was slim pickin’s when it came to my party guest list as so many people went away to camp. It meant shopping for a “birthday outfit” in the sale section (not a bad thing), but being tempted by knits and corduroys, too (waaaaaaah!).
So I spent the day at the beach yesterday, prolonging summer and my love for it with my mom and sister. As a summer baby born on the south shore of Long Island, I was very lucky to have been raised near—practically on!—some of the country’s best beaches and I’ve taken full advantage of them my entire life. From Short Beach, where we used to go on the boat, and Jones Beach, which my grandparents took me to, to Lido West, where we watch the surfers and Long Beach, where my brother has settled, there’s no shortage of great shores in these parts. Even yesterday we visited Tobay, a swathe of shoreline in the Town of Oyster Bay that we used to go to via boat years ago. While we’d been before, it felt new and lush and a world away from home despite it being a stone’s throw from our usual haunts.
In the last two weeks alone since returning from Europe, I’ve also been to Long Beach (twice), Fair Harbor in Fire Island and Montauk out East, which got me thinking: What are the best beaches I’ve been to all over the world? So, in honor of one of My Favorite Ways to Spend a Summer Day (second, maybe, to on the boat with my Dad at the helm), I have decided to list the six most beautiful beaches I’ve had the great fortune of being a bum on. Why six? Let’s just say the number plays prominently in this year’s day of birth.
But before I get to the list, let me reveal my Beach Parameters lest you start asking yourself why I chose the six I did.
- When I go to the beach, in order for me to truly relax, I prefer a good 10-foot radius of negative space (in every direction) between my chair and those of any strangers around me. If I can avoid any John Candy types a la Summer Rental that is ideal, and I’ll often walk a bit to scout out a good spot. I realize this is a little snobby. I’m OK with that.
- Speaking of chairs, mine should be facing the water. None of this face-the-dunes crap to worship the sun as many east coast beaches require one to do. Don’t get me wrong: Dunes are lovely to look at and maybe even paint like Bob Ross. But when I’m at the beach, even if I’ve got my head in a magazine or a book, I want to be facing the water.
- OK, so we now know where I like my face. What about my feet? As far as I’m concerned, a true beach has sand, not rocks. While I’ve been to some lovely rocky “beaches” (Santorini, Greece; Monterosso, Italy; etc.) when I hit the shore, I want sand in between my toes, not pebbles.
- The clearer, bluer the water the better. But for me, it’s not so much about the color as it is the clarity. Despite it being the big bad ocean where there are millions of living organisms such as plankton and jelly fish and seaweed, ideally the area in which I’m getting my dip on is devoid of such creatures. Also, waves that don’t tumble me around and plop me at the shore with saltwater in my nose, sand in my suit and Cousin It hair is also preferred.
- Finally, proximity to either the rising or setting sun is key. If I can catch that big, glowing round shiner dip into or out of the sea at some point in the day, it’s a winner.
So, here goes:
- FIRE ISLAND: This “barrier beach” off of Long Island, which is all of 32 miles long and less than a mile in width, is no secret—and yet it’s still rather unspoiled, despite all the weekend warriors and local lovahs that descend upon it from May until mid-September. The sand is soft, the water fairly clear (if not a bit rough) and the walk time—because there are no cars on this island!—from bed (or ferry) to beach can be as short as a minute or as long as…5. I’ve been going since I was a kid, so the whole of it—even the bay side, where some of the most magical sunsets take place—is my Happy Place. The second I get on the ferry from Bayshore, I’m smiling like a wide open clam.
- WHITEHAVEN, AUSTRALIA: The only way to get to this beach, which is part of the Whitsunday Islands on the eastern coast of Australia, is by boat. I went in 2000 when I was backpacking Oz as a recent college grad. I was sailing aboard the Condor, a boat that about 15 of us slept on for 3-nights while navigating around the isles that dot this stretch of the Great Barrier Reef. I can close my eyes and feel the soft-as-talc-powder sand and so-clear-you-want-to-drink-it water. It’s breathtaking. Since I was there in the time before digital cameras, I only have the following photo:
- BELICHE, PORTUGAL: This one is fresh in my memory as I just visited it on this last trip to Europe. Despite it being a bit of a trek—and a dangerous one at that, down a set of steep wooden steps—there’s no denying the clear, warm waters, the soft, wide shores and the natural architecture of the rocky cliffs behind you.
- GILI TRAWANGAN, INDONESIA: Not many people know about the Gili Islands, as traditionally when you visit Indonesia, you go to Bali and Kuta Beach. But Bali, and Kuta, in particular, can be very touristy. Not to mention that this Southeast Asian archipelago has over 16,000 other islands to choose from. During another backpacking trip in 2000, I trekked it to Lombok’s Gili Islands—and by trek I mean two buses, one ferry and two small boats. The journey was worth it. While I stayed on the less traversed Gili Air, whose shores were more rocky, I took a day trip (via a short rickety boat ride) to Trawangan, where I, again, took all but one photo that I had to wait until I arrived home three months later to DEVELOP. (THE HORROR!)
- TULUM, MEXICO: I’ve been to the Caribbean (St. Croix, Aruba, Bermuda, Jamaica) but in my opinion, they’ve got nothing on Mexico. And while my heart is currently still clinging to the Western shores of Sayulita and Yelapa, it’s hard to argue with Mexico’s east coast beaches, specifically those of Tulum, an hour’s drive from Cancun on the Caribbean side. I went years ago with my best friend Rebecca on a DIY yoga retreat of sorts. Surely, the presence of palm trees and coconuts up’d this destination’s presence on my list, but its prime spot for sun-rising in the early morning helped, too.
- LIDO WEST, LONG ISLAND: There are no palm trees or even aqua waters here (though, on a good day you may be able to see your feet), but this locals-only beach near my hometown makes my list not just because it’s close to home and provides me that familiar feeling, but because the sand really is soft, there are a ton of surfers to ogle (or join if you’re into that) and it’s never really crowded. (Though, the trick is to arrive before noon on a weekend and park by the “surfer beach” to the right. There are few kids in this area because you can’t swim here, so it’s quiet and roomy.)
There you have it! Even though I always rush to get to any beach early, the best time of day is way past 4p.m., when most people have packed it up. It’s then that I really hear the roar and rumble of the waves, creeping their way towards me. It’s then that I can lay peacefully, only popping an eye open or lifting my head to make sure I’m not about to get wet by the rising tide. It’s then that despite the impending end of the day, season, year—whatever—that I am truly, truly thankful for where I am in that very moment. My muscles are like jelly and my mind is at rest. And as hard as it is to pick myself up off that blanket, dust the sand from my chair and leave, I know beach days will come ’round again. And for that, I am a Happy, Happy Summer Birthday Girl.
So, tell me, what are YOUR favorite beaches?