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Plum Island is a 11-mile-long island in Newbury/Newburyport Massachusetts that is known for its destination as a summer beach getaway. While the island contains many residential cottages, Plum Island is also open to non-resident visitors. It is known for its beautiful beaches- Plum Island Beach, Newbury Beach and Sandy Point State Reservation- which offer visitors a serene beach experience away from Cape Cod’s crowds.
Bird watchers and nature lovers love Plum Island too, as its ecologically diverse coastlines range from salt flat marshes, sand dunes to rocky beaches. Located along a migratory bird route, Plum Island contains thousands of bird species in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Stay at one of the idyllic cottage bed and breakfasts in Newburyport or come for a day trip!
Plum Island Beaches
Plum Island has three distinct beaches- Plum Island Beach (northside), Newbury Beach (central), and Sandy Point State Reservation Beach (southside). Driving onto Plum Island you will first encounter Newbury Beach which is the most commercial area of the island with restaurants and shopping along the main route.
If you head north, you will see residential cottages in addition to Plum Island Beach which offers views of the Merrimack River and the Newburyport Lighthouse. Head south and you will hit the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and its Sandy Point Beach within the park.
Plum Island Beach, northside Newburyport
Plum Island Beach is a long sandy beach in Newburyport, located to the north of Plum Island where the Atlantic meets the Merrimack River. Besides gorgeous views of the water and rocky jetties, visitors can also see the historic Plum Island Light House built in the 1700s. Many enjoy watching the boats go out of Newburyport Harbor, or sunbathing on the soft sand.
It is not advisable to swim at Plum Island Beach as the tides change quickly and are dangerous. You will absolutely need to keep a close eye on kids and not let them go in over their waists as there is a steep drop a few feet into the water. But there is a playground near the parking lot and plenty for kids to explore on the beach. Expect to see many fishermen along Plum Island Beach.
Parking address: 78 Northern Blvd, Newburyport, MA 01950
Plum Island Point Beach parking lot is publicly run and accommodates a limited 150 vehicles. On weekends it costs $20 for non-resident vehicles and $12 for resident vehicles (must have Newburyport sticker). Arrive early if you want to get a parking spot.
The parking lot is strict. Even if you arrive before the attendant you will still be expected to pay on your way out. However, some visitors claim that arriving after 5 pm can get you out of paying the fee.
There are no food stands or concessions nearby Plum Island Beach. Bring your own lunch or stop at one of the restaurants on your way onto Plum Island.
There are no public restrooms, just porta potties in the parking lot.
Sandy Point State Reservation Beach
Sandy Point Beach is located to the far south end of the island in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. It is an expansive beach offering both soft sands, and rocky areas for fishing and exploring. The adjacent National Wildlife Refuge is on a migratory path for birds so expect an abundance of wildlife.
Like Plum Island Beach to the north of the island, Sandy Point Beach also has a treacherous undertow that makes swimming dangerous. Please watch children carefully and don’t go out too far in the water. There are plenty of shells and fossils for kids to explore on the beach.
It is important to note that from April to August much of the Sandy Point State Reservation Beach is closed to protect the endangered piping plover bird that nests on the beach. When they are nesting you can still access the Wildlife Refuge just not Sandy Point beach.
The beach is the best early mornings or off-season if you want to avoid crowds.
Parking at Sandy Point Beach
Parking is limited and fills up quickly. It costs $5 to enter the Wildlife Refuge but once you’ve paid the entrance fee you don’t pay again for parking. You are able to directly access Sandy Point Beach from Parking Areas 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7.
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
If you are sick of the beach (or if Sandy Point Beach is closed due to piping plovers nesting), check out the rest of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is part of 3,000 acres of protected salt marsh and is home to over 300 species. There are many biking paths, hiking trails, and boardwalks with bird viewing platforms throughout the marshes.
Hellcat Interpretative Trail is a particularly easy and popular trail that has an elevated boardwalk through the marshes and dunes. Remember to bring your binoculars to check out the birds.
Amenities for Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point Beach
There are no food stands or restaurants within the Refuge. Be sure to bring a picnic lunch or purchase food at one of the many restaurants on the way in.
There are public restrooms at Parking Lots 1 and 4 which are ADA accessible. There are porta-potties at the other lots.
Dogs are not allowed at any time at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge or Sandy Point Beach on Plum Island.
Newbury Beach, central Plum Island
Newbury Beach is centrally located on Plum Island and should be a first choice for those who want to have access to restaurants, snacks, or ice cream. It is an expansive beach with soft sand and lots of seashell varieties. It is known for its driftwood sculptures and is rarely crowded.
The tides are extreme like the other Plum Island beaches so please exercise caution when swimming. I’d recommend going a few hours before low tide as you’ll have at least 6 hours before high tide arrives and the waters become more dangerous. High tide should definitely be avoided with children and actually shrinks the beach space considerably.
Parking at Newbury Beach
Parking at Newbury Beach isn’t quite as limited as Plum Island or Sandy Point but can be expensive as it is dependent on the prices of private lots and local businesses. There are no public parking options for Newbury Beach. Parking can range from $10-30. There are a few parking lots directly across from the main beach entrance.
Amenities at Newbury Beach
There are porta potties by the entrance of the beach.
There are no food stands or concessions on the beach but Newbury Beach offers several delicious restaurants nearby.
Greenhead Horseflys at Plum Island
Visitors beware that in the month of July Plum Island and all its beaches are very buggy with greenheads, an aggressive type of horsefly. They leave painful bites so be sure to avoid visiting the month of July or pack bug spray/long fabrics, especially at dusk. They can easily ruin your trip if you aren’t prepared.
Where to stay near Plum Island?: Cottages and Inns
✅Blue- Inn on the Beach, Newburyport
Blue Inn is a luxurious boutique hotel located right on the ocean. Enjoy room views of the water and late nice in the hot tubs listening to the waves. Truly a perfect destination for a weekend getaway.
This boutique will fill up quickly and well in advance of the summer months.
Click here to book Blue Inn for your visit to Plum Island!
✅Clark Currier Inn, Newburyport
This inn is located in a historic cottage within a 5 minute walk from the Newburyport Marina. Enjoy the charming decor, and the patio garden.
Perfect for those who want to be close to the downtown area with an abundance of dining and shopping options!
Click here to book Clark Currier Inn for your visit to PlumIsland!
✅Compass Rose Inn, Newburyport
Check out this historic cottage inn right near the center of Newburyport! This homey inn serves daily breakfast and is the perfect getaway to be near Plum Island’s beaches.
Due to its charm and close proximity to the water, this cottage inn will book quickly!
Click here to book Compass Rose Inn for your stay!
Plum Island: Other things to do
Plum Island offers more than just beaches and nature. Check out the cute residential town and its availability of delicious seaside restaurants, boutique shopping, and other nature activities.
Shopping and Eating
In addition to its beaches and nature refuge, Plum Island also has delicious casual seafood restaurants and shopping. Plum Island is rather residential so the shops tend to be a bit more upscale, with no kitschy tourist shops or cheap vendors like other beach towns.
If you are in search of someplace to eat check out highly reviewed restaurants by Newport Beach including Beachcoma Plum Island, a casual joint that offers live music, beachside drinks, tacos, and sandwiches. Looking for a classic seafood experience? Bob’s Lobster is known for its standard New England seaside food including clam chowder, and lobster rolls. Lastly check out Mad Martha’s Cafe for breakfast, sandwiches, and burrito options.
Outdoor and Educational Experiences on Plum Island
Searching for more nature-based activities? Check out Plum Island Kayak where you can take a kayak lesson, rent or take a tour. Captain’s Fishing Parties and Cruises is also an option for those looking to charter a boat out to sea or try saltwater fishing.
For a more educational experience visit the Joppa Flats Education Center run by the Massachusetts Audobon society. The 54-acre center offers kid-friendly programs including interactive displays, and guided tours of the area.
Are Plum Island and its beaches worth it?
Yes, Plum Island is worth it! Plum Island has multiple soft sand beaches and is known for its ecological diversity, especially in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. However, the aggressive undertow makes the beaches at Plum Island unswimmable. Off-season at Plum Island is ideal as the horseflies are long gone, and the beaches have emptied out. The dunes and wildlife are still beautiful in the spring and fall which make for a peaceful day at the beach.