Here's a list of beaches and beach-like activities that have sand and sun, require sunscreen, and include some kinda water, but none of the stress (all drive times are best case, 'cause, you know, traffic, which also ups the stress, right')
Assateague Island National Seashore, 7206 National Seashore Lane, Berlin, (410) 641-1441, www.nps.gov/asis Hailed as one of the best alternatives to OC, this beach has surf, sand, and wind--ensuring that it's cooler than OC with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s, camping, and the famous wild ponies.
Dewey Beach, Dewey Del., www.deweybeach.com All the things you want--stuff to do, surf, sand--but quietly nestled between Ocean City and Rehoboth beaches. (2.5 hours/115 miles)
Elk Neck State Park, 4395 Turkey Point Road, North East, (410) 287-5333, www.dnr.state.md.us/publicland.. Hiking is good for your glutes, or something, and at the end of the sand-covered trail is a big beautiful lighthouse. It's not the same as the sunburn and the tacky souvenirs, but that's why you're here. (1 hour/60 miles)
Hart-Miller Island State Park, 2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, (410) 592-2897, www.dnr.state.md.us/publicland.. We know you're tired of the tourists and souvenirs. That's just the reason you need this place: 244 acres of all the good stuff--mooring, wading, sand--and none of the bad. (35 minutes/25 miles)
North Point State Park, 2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, (410) 592-2897, www.dnr.state.md.us/publicland.. That's right, we got yer alternative right here, in Baltimore County. Get away without getting away for fishing, sand between yer toes, and shimmering waters. Ahhhh. . . . (35 minutes/25 miles)
Oregon Ridge Beach, Oregon Ridge Park, (410) 887-3780, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agen.. $4-$7. Enthusiasts consider this Baltimore's best kept secret: private swimming hole meets family beach with sand, shade, and cool spring-fed water. We've given you the secret to the almost-private beach, but we don't expect you to keep it. (25 minutes/19 miles)
Rehoboth Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Del. www.rehoboth.com Consider it Ocean City but without the people, the noise, the neon lights, or the chaos. Shopping, restaurants, families, and entertainment within walking distance of the surf. (2.5 hours/113 miles)
Rocky Point Beach, 2200 Rocky Point Road, (410) 887-3780, www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agen.. Ocean City doesn't come with all the amenities and convenience it should. Since this beach is only 300 spacious feet, the bathhouse, ginormous pavilion, shade, tents, and playground are within walking distance. (32 minutes/20 miles)
Sandy Point State Park, 1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis, (410) 974-2149, www.dnr.state.md.us/publicland.., Maryland residents $5, non-Maryland residents $6. By the time you get within sight of the bridge you're so anxious to sun and sand yourself that forging ahead is impossible. If you pull over here you can camp and cook without the hassle of wild ponies. Spin in a few circles once you're there and it'll be hard to know what side of the bridge you're actually on. (44 minutes/36 miles)
Get Wet and Wade
Baltimore boasts 20 public places to wade, 13 walk-to pools, and three indoor swimming pools. Lift your trousers at Ambrose Kennedy, Canton Playfield, C. C. Jackson, Central Rosemont, Clifton Park, Coldstream, Curtis Bay, Druid Hill Park, Farring-Baybrook Park, John E. Howard, Joseph Lee, Lillian Jones, North Harford, O'Donnell Heights, Riverside Park, Roosevelt Park, Traci Atkins, Towanda, and Willow. Stroll to Ambrose Kennedy, C.C. Jackson, Central Rosemont, City Springs, Coldstream, Farring-Baybrook, Greater Model, Harford/Lanvale, Liberty, O'Donnell Heights, Towanda, Walter P. Carter, and William McAbee; make it a day at the park at Cherry Hill Splash Park, Clifton Park, Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park, Riverside Park, and Roosevelt Park. Or shield your skin from the sun at Callowhill Aquatics Center, Cherry Hill Aquatics Center, and Chick Webb Aquatics Center. Everything opens June 21; splash, wade, and walk-to pools close Aug. 17 and park pools close Sept. 1. Cooling off is $1 per visit, $10 season pass, or $25 for the family. You can find out more online at www.ci.baltimore.md.us/governm..
Beaver Dam Swimming Club, 10820 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, www.beaverydamswimmingclub.com, $8-$14. Remember ye olde swimming hole? Diving into the quarry? Or maybe it's beach-blanket bingo? Whatever it is, it's here: grills, picnic pavilions, diving, volleyball, two pools, fresh-water swimming, and a rope swing. Geronimoooooo! (22 minutes/17 miles)
Cascade Lake, Snydersburg Road, Hampstead, (410) 374-9111, www.cascadelake.com There's some sand, but this is more extravagant-water-park-meets-six-acre-lake. Tube through the wilderness or splash through suburban-style wilderness with waterslides, fountains, and a water-based playground.
Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum, 8th and F streets, Washington, (202) 633-1000, americanart.si.edu/reynolds_ce.., free. Have a drink (the cafe is open 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.) and splish-splash indoors. Really, go ahead, that's what architecture firm Foster and Partners intended. After sploshing and swishing in our rain boots during the winter, we're looking forward to re-living the dream for real this time by wiggling our toes. Have a good look at the steel and aluminum roof: composed of 864 glass panes, no one pane is alike, and the cloud-like roof doesn't actually touch either building. (38 miles/57 minutes)
Rollingcrest-Chillum Splash Pool, 6122 Sargent Road, Chillum, (301) 853-9115. This year-round indoor facility marries the playground--slides, ladders, clomp-tromp bridges--with the pool. When it's too hot in September, you can still cool off here. (43 minutes/33 miles)
Silver Spring Fountain, Silver Plaza, 1200 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, www.silverspringdowntown.com, free. .22 miles from the Silver Spring Metro Station, and parking a nightmare, this is more like a tip for when you're getting a bite from Cake Love after dinner at Lebanese Taverna. You've already made the arduous journey downtown, the A/C in your car is out, so dive in and push the kids out of the way, you're allowed. (39 miles/57 minutes)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201