New Hampshire packs quite the punch in its 18 miles of Atlantic coast. Portsmouth and adjacent beaches might be the stars of the show, but there are plenty of park properties worth exploring if you’re in the mood to learn a little something about the area’s history.
I didn’t spend much time at the main beaches during my trips to the area, but if that is what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.
The 2 most popular beaches in the area are Wallis Sands State Park and Hampton Beach State Park. Both of these beaches have a park store, bathhouse facilities and reservable parking if you want to plan out a more structured day of fun in the sun. If you’re looking for something quieter – you might try North Hampton State Beach. This beach is a little more rocky in some parts but there is ample room on the sand during low tide.
Jenness State Beach sits in between Eel Pond and the Atlantic Ocean in Rye, New Hampshire. It encompasses about a mile of sand extending out to either side of the metered parking area (which fits only 67 cars). Although that doesn’t seem like a lot – the beach can feel pretty expansive when the tide is out. Rye Harbor State Park is just two miles down the road on Ragged Neck Point. This tiny peninsula features a huge stretch of lush green grass in which to spread out, play games, have a picnic, go fishing or just take in views of the Isle of Shoals.
Odiorne Point State Park
Odiorne Point in the town of Rye was my favorite stop, and I am already itching to visit again. This park is a gem—not too crowded and boasting incredible views. And the Seacoast Science Center is a must-see if you have kids or just like to look at fish.
The 3 mile Odiorne Point Loop Trail will take you around the 135-acre property on the Gulf of Maine. It is surprisingly diverse, with small forests, grassy meadows, and rocky beaches, and apparently, the area is home to over 3,000 species of plants and animals. Remnants of World War II-era bunkers and colorful playgrounds coexist in this coastal park, and with the Seacoast Science Center a few steps away, there is enough to keep you occupied for hours. The best part is, you don’t have to do it alone. You can tag along on a history walk or wildlife kayak tour if you need a richer experience.
The science center staff provides interpretive information about all the marine life you can find along the coast. You can hold starfish and ogle at small sharks through a sliver of glass. Some exhibits resemble aquariums with spider crabs, red anemones, and moon jellies, while other interactive programming walks you through pollution’s effect on the gulf.
Kingston State Park
Kingston is a small state park with a lot of heart in Kingston, NH. Its place in the community is cherished and park staff do a good job of keeping the park clean.
The beach has a well contained swimming area that is shallow for a long way out, making this a great location for family splash time. There’s a grassy area just behind the beach for spreading out blankets or tents and several picnic tables close to the water. Further back from the beach more picnic tables are set up under shady pines and many spots have dedicated grills permanently mounted nearby. Off to the right side of the beach is a beautiful wooded area with some short trails along the shore. The park also includes a little store that sells drinks, ice cream, floaties and other items. Canoes, kayaks and paddle boards are available to rent here as well.
Urban Forestry Center
The Urban Forestry Center is right in the heart of Portsmouth, so if you have any interest in your local environment, this resource is invaluable. Once I was out on the trails that wind through the forest, I had a hard time believing I was in a city. You can follow the nature walks and learn all about the trees, shrubs, and grasses, or you can plan to join a guided tour if you want to learn a little more.
Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site
Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth isn’t the only historic site in the Seacoast Region, but it was the only one I checked out. Fort Stark is another great option if you’re looking to get your history fix. In the mid-1700s Governor Benning Wentworth’s mansion was practically the center of town life, but now the charm lies in the bright yellow paint. You can roam the estate and watch the modern world unfold in the harbor before you.