East End beaches worth Hamptons hassle

Emily Morse, 13, left, and Samantha Tepper, 13, Emily Morse, 13, left, and Samantha Tepper, 13, both from New York City, look out at the water at Main Beach in East Hampton. (Sept. 2, 2009) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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Clean white sand, decent waves, plenty of people-watching . . . Hamptons beaches tend to offer the best of everything.

But the hard part, as day-trippers can attest, is getting to them. Come summer weekends, many of the East End's top beaches are all but closed to nonresidents who haven't purchased a $300 parking permit.

But fear not - there are other (perfectly legal) ways to hit the beach in the Hamptons.

Main Beach, East Hampton 

THE VIBE: Consistently rated among the top 10 beaches in the country, this is where all the pretty young things flock. With baby-powder-soft sand and wide horizons, Main Beach deserves all the praise it gets. Of course, with the prominence come the crowds. Choose Main Beach for the sand, the sun and the scene - but not necessarily the solitude.

THE INS/OUTS: With a full snack bar and a pavilion where you can catch a break from the sun, Main Beach is quite comfortable. Full bathrooms and outdoor showers are available.

THE SKINNY: An East Hampton Village permit is required ($300 for nonresidents) - and they're already sold out for the season. You can pay $20 to park for the day, but only on weekdays. On weekends, your best bet is to park at the two-hour lot downtown and walk down lovely Main Street. You should arrive at Main Beach in time to take a dip, eat a hot dog and stroll back to save your car from the lurking meter maids.

BEACH INFO: 631-324-4142 (Town of East Hampton)

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Ditch Plains, Montauk

THE VIBE: With some of the best waves this side of Oahu, Ditch Plains is a surfers' paradise. The dramatic cliffs that jut out of the foamy water give it a distinct backdrop, ideal for sunsets or early morning surfing. The beach itself is on the rocky side - perfect for collecting shells but not so kind to bare feet. Whether you're looking to catch a wave with the best of them or just watch the surfers zip into their wet suits, this is the spot to take in the vibe on the East End.

THE INS/OUTS: The rugged Ditch Witch snack truck is a lot classier than it looks (think tofu pops and salads). Beach vendors dole out iced mochas. Bathrooms are available.

THE SKINNY: You need an East Hampton town parking permit - and there's no daily pass. Best bet - park in downtown Montauk, walk a couple blocks to the beach and turn left. A 15-minute walk on the sand will get you to Ditch Plains.

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BEACH INFO: 631-324-4142 (Town of East Hampton)

Sagg Main, Bridgehampton

THE VIBE: This is a beach with a split personality. If you're the type to take a running start toward crashing waves, face south and play the day away in the rough surf. Those who prefer cooling down with a delicate splash should face north, where the Atlantic meets the freshwater Sagg Pond. And stick around - when the sun goes down, the party's often only just beginning.

THE INS/OUTS: A snack truck has candy and ice cream. Full bathrooms and outdoor showers are available.

THE SKINNY: Summer parking permits are sold out for the season, but anyone can pay $20 for a weekday pass. Weekend warriors can get the same rollicking surf (alas, without the tranquil alternative) a few beaches west at Mecox, where it costs nonresidents $20 to park every day, all summer long.

BEACH INFO: 631-283-6000 (Town of Southampton)

The Long Wharf, Sag Harbor

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THE VIBE: Bring the kids to the little wading beach at the Long Wharf, right at the foot of town. Here you can watch the sailboats breeze by and set up at one of the picnic tables for lunch. In the shadow of a big old windmill (which you can explore inside and out), this is a great place to build sand castles, have a picnic or play fetch with a dog. And exploring the perfectly picturesque town of Sag Harbor isn't a bad way to spend the afternoon, either.

THE INS/OUTS: The entire village is at your fingertips, so have a sit-down lunch before you hit the beach or get takeout. Public restrooms are in the Municipal Building on Main Street.

THE SKINNY: Free parking is available up and down Main Street in Sag Harbor and along the pier. But move your car a few inches every two hours, because the parking enforcers are diligent about marking tires with chalk to make sure you don't overstay your welcome.

BEACH INFO: 631-725-0222 (Village of Sag Harbor)

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Valerie Deluca of Westhampton enjoys the sun at Hamptons beaches