My summer plans with my children have pretty much always involved free or nearly free local day tips. This summer, though, our sons are 5 and 7, and we decided to try something we’ve never done before. My children love the beach more than anything. We sprang for a CT State Parks pass this year ($67), so we spend lots of time at Rocky Neck State Park, partly because it’s gorgeous– my favorite public beach in the state– and partly because we go for free with our pass. I’ve always wanted to check out Ocean Beach State Park in New London, but those prices scared me away. If you’ve been to the beach with young children, you know it’s a gamble; sometimes we’d be there all day, and sometimes someone would melt and leave after an hour. With parking that costs $17 on weekdays and $23 on weekends, I had visions of spending a single, nearly $20 hour on the beach and leaving with screaming children. Now that they’re a bit older, though, we gave it a go…and we were so happy we did!
Ocean Beach Park is the beach experience of my youth. I loved going to Misquamicut in Rhode Island, and it was a huge treat to grab ice cream and check out the nearby waterslides after. Misquamicut had great ice cream, food, plenty of space, and was all around fun. For the ages my kids are now, however, Ocean Beach Park is better. We went on a Friday, when parking was a bit cheaper and crowds a bit smaller. There was plenty of soft, clean sand for everyone; we didn’t feel at all crowded. We staked out our spot and the kids jumped right in. The water was really clear and seaweed-free– a bonus for a kid who hates seaweed. My children spent the morning jumping in the waves, digging sand pits to fill with the creatures they found (hermit crabs aplenty at this beach!), and making sand castles. We packed our own food, but had we not, there were plenty of the usual beach-food options right there on the boardwalk. After lunch, the temperature was up to 90, and we were hot. The kids would normally be done at this point, but since this was a big “staycation” family trip, we splurged and bought wristbands for the gigantic public pool at the park ($7 each). The pool was really awesome. It’s huge– the deep end was 11 feet– and there we lots of lifeguards. They also provided life jackets to anyone who wanted them to use for free, which is a great perk with little ones. There were showers, bathrooms, and lockers easily accessible. The bathrooms were typical “beach bathrooms” (re: super gross), but that was pretty much as I expected. It was a little crowded, since we got there at the same time as a summer camp, but the kids had a blast. We went back to the beach for another 3 hours, then spent a final hour at the pool from 4-5pm. The last hour before it closed it was nearly empty and very quiet.
We were happy with just the beach and pool, but the park also has really impressive waterslides (probably ages 8 and up), mini golf, and kiddie rides. If you’re looking for a way to try the park out before you splurge on the admission price, it’s free after 5pm on Monday evenings. While it’s hard to do things with little ones at dinner time on a weeknight, it’s a great way to check it out ahead of a full-on beach day. We did this earlier in the season and had a fun family picnic on the sand.
While our day at Ocean Beach wasn’t the “cheap” day I usually try for, it was fantastic, nonetheless. In fact, my 7 year old couldn’t sleep because he said “I can’t stop thinking about how much fun I had today.” Hearing that was worth pretty much any amount of money! So, if you’re looking for a local day of shoreline fun, give it a try! Have you been? Share your tips below! We will definitely be back.