When I was growing up in northwestern Connecticut, my access to the ocean was limited. My mom didn’t drive on highways, making our lovely local pond the closest thing I got the beach. (This didn’t, however, stop me from developing a temporary but deep fear of sharks one summer after reading Jaws.) So when my sister and I would visit my father in Boston every August, I remained hopeful that we would have a chance hit the “real” beach.
No such luck. Not only did we spend most of our time at my grandparents’ idyllic lakeside cottage in New Hampshire, but the nearest beach to my dad’s place was—well, you just didn’t want to go there.
Imagine a stretch of road lined with restaurants, gift shops, ballrooms, and roller coasters and other amusement park rides. Coney Island? Atlantic City? Seaside Heights? Nope. It was “America’s First Public Beach”: Revere Beach. Located north of Boston, this beach was in its heyday until the 1960s, when it began an infamous downhill slide. By the Blizzard of ’78, what buildings remained were destroyed by the storm. As a child growing up in the early to mid-’80s, I remember a few things about Revere Beach: The water was polluted. Crime was high. So was hair.
We stayed away.
Over the past few decades, Revere Beach has undergone somewhat of a resurgence. The water, while occasionally still questionable, has improved. Crime is down. The big bangs of the ’80s and early ’90s have been replaced by softer styles (ladies, our ozone layer thanks you). In 2004, it was declared a National Historic Landmark. And every July, the beach plays host to its annual sand sculpting festival.
Having only seen pictures of past festivals (and having not set foot on the beach since, well, ever), I was intrigued. So today Devin and I headed a few miles north to check it out. What did we find?
Well, yes, there were sand sculptures. Although I would have liked to have seen more, I enjoyed snapping photos of the massive creations, literally formed only from sand and water by artists who hailed from as far as Mexico and Montreal. And who can resist a giant, sandy tribute to Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary, even if the Red Sox are currently back breaking the hearts of Massholes everywhere?
Yet I also found the scene oddly gratifying. Sure, the sand was soft, the water was blue, and there were a few kiddie rides and a merry-go-round nearby. But there were also hoards of paunchy, shirtless old men, Snooki and Situation wannabes, and leathery women who looked like they might knife me if I accidentally walked into their line of vision. This was the Revere Beach I had always imagined. It might be cleaner and safer, but it still had character. Lots of characters.
With the smell of fried dough wafting through the air, Devin and I took our last pictures and headed back to the car. Would I return just lie on the sand? Probably not—there are much better beaches nearby. But is it worth a trip for a fun stroll, a snack from the flagship Kelly’s Roast Beef, and some intense people watching? Absolutely.
Revere Beach is about 4 miles north of Boston and accessible by the MBTA Blue Line. This year’s Sand Sculpting Festival runs through the weekend.