As a residential community, the South Shore  tends to fill its wide, sandy beaches with locals rather than tourists. That means that each beach tends to take on many of the characteristics of its town.
Duxbury Beach (Duxbury Beach Park by Gurnet Rd., 781/934-1108, www.town.duxbury.ma.us ) is the very picture of quaint coastal living. With its long wooden bridge spanning the abutting bay, the beach attracts hordes of preppy families (mostly to the area near the main parking lot and bathhouse, though in-the-know locals make the trek all the way down toward the lighthouse, where there’s notably more space to stretch out).
Likewise, the clean, long shoreline of Horseneck Beach (Rte. 88, Westport Point, 508/636-8816, www.mass.gov ) is a magnet for day-trippers in search of an easy-to-access pristine natural setting—but things can get crowded, so it’s best to arrive early to claim a spot.
Trading bucolic for breezy, cheesy charm, Nantasket Beach (Rte. 3A, Hull, 617/727-5290, www.mass.gov ) is swarmed during summer months with a jumble of sun worshippers, from the trendy to the tattooed. The beach’s boardwalk stretches from end to end, sporting everything from bingo rooms and sports bars to clam shacks. The buzz continues into autumn, too; families and packs of teens line up to ride the historic wooden Paragon Carousel (205 Nantasket Ave., Hull, 781/925-0472, www.paragoncarousel.com ), one of the few remaining vestiges left from Nantasket’s heyday as a 19th-century seaside theme park and resort.