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Tidal pools and plenty of rocks for climbing make Wingaersheek Beach (left) the region's best pick for children. Walk the dunes or go for a dip at Scusset Beach (right), sure. But you can also hike, bike, or fish.
Tidal pools and plenty of rocks for climbing make Wingaersheek Beach (left) the region's best pick for children. Walk the dunes or go for a dip at Scusset Beach (right), sure. But you can also hike, bike, or fish. (Mark Wilson, John Tlumacki / Globe Staff Photos)

The five best day trips

Don't pack an overnight bag or even a lunch. From north to south, our best easy beaches.

Stuck 3 miles back from the rotary on the way to the Cape, you have lots of time to think. So consider this: There are plenty of exquisite beaches less than an hour's drive or train ride from downtown Boston. Here are our picks.

Best Fun for Kids

With tidal pools to explore and lots of rock formations for climbing, Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester is a favorite for the pre-tween set. At low tide, you can walk a seemingly endless sand bar to within a few hundred feet of a gleaming-white lighthouse on the Annisquam shore, across the narrow Annisquam River. When the tide rushes in on Wingaersheek, indentations in the sand make ideal warm wading pools for toddlers. Older kids love to climb around on the boulders that bookend the beach, looking for crabs.

WINGAERSHEEK BEACH /// Atlantic Street, Gloucester. Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lifeguards are on duty from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day. Parking: $15 per day during the week, $20 on weekends. Facilities: restrooms, changing rooms, concessions.

Best Date

A 15-minute, half-mile walk from the commuter rail station in Manchester-bythe- Sea (45 minutes from North Station on the Rockport Line), Singing Beach is backed by cliffs at one end, with precariously perched mansions towering above the entire scene. It's rarely crowded, even on hot summer days; you'll always find a nice empty spot on this stretch of white sand, probably because parking is scarce and getting there – either from the train station or parking areas – requires a bit of a schlep. Refuel on your way back to the train with a cone from Captain Dusty's Ice Cream.

SINGING BEACH /// Beach Street off Route 127, Manchester-by-the-Sea. Hours: dawn to dusk. Parking: limited, at the train station and nearby Boy Scouts' lot, $20. By commuter rail: Take the Rockport Line to Manchester-by-the-Sea. Facilities: restrooms, changing rooms, concessions. Fee: $2 entry Fri

Best People-Watching

If your ideal day at the beach is less about swimming in the surf and more of an excuse to follow a great lunch with a long walk, scoot over to Revere Beach and line up for the mounds of roast beef on a sesame seed bun (or try the fish and chips) at Kelly's. Dine on one of the benches overlooking this historic stretch of sand, the first public beach in America. Just don't go to Revere for alone-time: The 3-mile-long crescent gets packed with sunbathers and breeze-seekers on sweltering summer days, even in the middle of the week.

REVERE BEACH /// Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere. Parking: metered. By T: Blue Line to Revere Beach or Wonderland. Facilities: restrooms, changing rooms, concessions.

Best Lighthouse

At the northern end of the suburban hamlet Scituate, a row of Victorian homes across from the Atlantic stands as a stately testimonial to a time when affluent Bostonians made summer pilgrimages 25 miles south to Minot Beach. Nestled between rocky outcroppings, the flat sandy beach – directly across the street from those Victorians – is popular with locals who keep cool in the water and climb the boulders for views of Minot's Ledge Lighthouse. At first glance, the 114-foot-tall structure looks like a giant buoy, jutting straight out of the water, until you spot its flashing white beacon.

MINOT BEACH /// Glades Road, Scituate. Parking: residents only. Facilities: restrooms.

Best Hiking, Biking, and Fishing

The swimming's fine, but Scusset Beach State Reservation – on Cape Cod Bay, at the east end of Cape Cod Canal and on our side of the Sagamore Bridge – is an ideal spot for anglers, who can fish for striped bass off a long jetty, as well as adventurers traveling on bike or foot. Hikers who stroll up Sagamore Hill (it's less than a mile, and not too steep), once a Native American meeting ground, are rewarded with ocean and canal vistas. For cyclists, there's a 7-mile paved trail that zips all the way out under the bridge.

SCUSSET BEACH STATE RESERVATION /// Scusset Beach Road, Sandwich. Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset. Parking: $7 per day. Facilities: restrooms, changing rooms, concessions.

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: Map of day trip locations