We first published a version of this article around Labor Day 2017, but since another summer is coming and this weekend is going to be hot, we thought we’d share it again!
On hot summer days here in DC, heading to a large, cool body of water sounds tempting. Unfortunately, when planning a trip to the beach, traffic and parking can be a hassle. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are options for those of us who prefer not to drive.
While it should be much easier to get to a beach or other out-of-town outdoor location without having to endure the stress and inconvenience of driving, you do have a few choices.
You can take the bus to the beach
BestBus, best known for its DC to New York route, operates a weekend bus from Vienna, Dupont Circle, and Union Station out to Rehoboth and Dewey Beach in Delaware. It’s the best transit option to the ocean I have found so far. I used the route for a day trip, heading out on a Saturday morning and returning in the evening, though a Friday evening run (departing only from the two DC stops) makes a full weekend trip possible.
Rehoboth and Dewey are also really easy to get around without a car. The towns are compact and walkable, beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented (so you don’t have to carry them on the bus), and frequent DART First State and Jolly Trolley local buses connect the two coastal communities to each other and their surrounding areas. The BestBus ride was comfortable and on-time, though the bus was substantially underutilized on the day I rode.
There are other bus or rail options to more distant beaches that I have yet to try, but hope to check out in the near future. Amtrak (via a Thruway bus from its Newport News station) and Megabus both offer service to Virginia Beach. Amtrak (via a Thruway bus from BWI Rail Station) and Greyhound (via a transfer at Salisbury, MD) run to Ocean City. However, the schedules for these routes are not designed for day trips - one-way trips are scheduled to take four hours or more - so an overnight stay would be necessary.
One alternative is taking a commuter bus to one of the Chesapeake Bay beaches. Young Transportation Services runs a bus route to Annapolis, situated on the Chesapeake Bay’s shores, seven days per week. Route 921, operating from the New Carrollton Metro station, offers several morning runs to Annapolis and afternoon/evening runs back to New Carrollton, even on weekends, allowing for an easy day trip. Eight local bus routes serve the town of Annapolis, including some waterfront areas.
The Maryland Transit Administration runs several commuter bus routes from downtown DC to Chesapeake Bay beaches, including Annapolis, North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, and Golden Beach. Unfortunately, they operate only on weekdays, into the District in the mornings and out in the afternoons.
It’s a lot easier to take transit to the beach in other cities
In general, the dearth of transit options to out-of-town outdoor destinations in this part of the country has surprised me. The large number of people coming from cities create traffic congestion problems at the beaches comparable to those in the urban areas they are looking to get away from. The limited transit options cause major challenges for the local workers supporting these locations’ tourism economies, while the resulting congestion and associated stress can defeat the point of traveling out of town in the first place.
Scenic locations in other regions offer more substantial rural transit service to accommodate the tourists from urban areas. Boston residents can get to Cape Cod via a number of non-car modes, including ferries, rail, and buses, and hourly bus service connects many locations on the peninsula.
In California, where I am from, one can get to and around famous places such as Lake Tahoe or Santa Barbara on their bus systems, which connect to major Amtrak routes serving the state’s large metropolitan areas. Bus routes parallel the Pacific shoreline through much of the San Diego metropolitan area, and a number of rail stations serving commuter and Amtrak trains are situated within walking distance of the beach.
Like many transit systems, service in these areas has substantial room for improvement. But they still provide convenient access to beautiful locations that would otherwise be a nightmare to get to. After all, part of going on a vacation is not having to worry about traffic, right?