The most historic Massachusetts beach is also the first public beach in the
United States. Revere Beach was established in 1896, and ever since it has been
a reflection of the history of New England and the country’s public landscapes.
It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2003. In designating it
as such, the National Parks Service states: “As the best remaining example of
Eliot's philosophy of landscape preservation and social responsibility, the
plans for Revere Beach informed the early development of regional planning in
this country.” The “Eliot” mentioned was the renowned landscape architect Charles
Eliot who designed Revere Beach in Massachusetts and numerous other public spaces
before his untimely death in 1897. His works include everything from Harvard’s
lush Arnold Arboretum and the graceful esplanades between Cambridge
and Boston to Mill Creek
Park in Youngstown, Ohio (the second largest
metropolitan park in the country).
If you had to choose any beach in the country as being quintessentially American, Revere Beach would be it. It was always the people’s beach, used by working class people from Boston and the other North Shore communities like Lynn, Swampscott, and Salem that were primarily blue-collar towns. This historic Massachusetts beach remains one of the most accessible in the state. There is ample public parking and a convenient T-stop (mass transit train) right at the beach.
Revere Beach is about five miles north of Boston, located along Route 1, the
coastal route that runs almost unbroken from Florida
to Maine. It forms a natural crescent,
with wide expanses of sand stretching for more than three miles and sloping
gradually down to the water. This makes it a perfect bathing beach and excellent
for families with children. There are scenic views of little Nahant island across
the bay, with lighthouses and the Winthrop and Logan Airport peninsulas to the
During the Golden Age before the Depression and even into the 1960s, Revere
Beach in Massachusetts was known as the Coney Island of New England. Ballrooms
and dance halls like the Hampton Beach Casino and the Winnipesaukee Gardens
in Weirs Beach, New Hampshire
drew dancers and concert-goers. Visitors from all over the world came to enjoy
roller coasters, carousels, and other amusement park rides. There was even a
grandstand just for people to sit and people-watch. There were famous dance
marathons, and the most famous of the Big Bands played here. Hotels, restaurants,
and movie theaters lined the boulevard.
Hard times hit the historic Massachusetts beach beginning in the 1960s, and
six great blizzards between 1974 and 1978 saw many of the businesses close.
Unsavory teenage gangs were known to frequent the beach, and it was even rumored
to be a dumping ground for what was called the Boston Mafia. Seedy bars replaced
the ballrooms, and many homes were left deserted. Beach pollution was rampant.
This certainly justified its lesser reputation among the wealthier, privileged
classes who summered at more genteel and refined places like Cape Cod, Martha’s
Vineyard, and Nantucket
Today, and since the 1980s, Revere Beach in Massachusetts has undergone a facelift and revitalization. The long, wide stretch of idyllic sand with fabulous views remains. It is the site of the respected New England Sand Sculpting Festival. If you want to schedule your trip during one of the beach events, you will see fabulous sculptures by artists from around the country in July. The graceful walkways and promenade have been refurbished; the typical New England bandstands and pavilions have been restored; the water is clean and monitored; and restaurants line the boardwalk. Try historic Kelly’s, serving famous roast beef sandwiches, and traditional lobster and fried clam rolls since 1951.