10 Popular American Beaches Where You Can Actually (Legally) Drink Alcohol (Slideshow)
Assateague Island, Maryland
Assateague Island is so long (37 miles) that it actually stretches between two states, Maryland and Virginia. For the purposes of this article, we’re only interested in the northern two-thirds (the Maryland portion), which contains the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park — and, of course, the area in which you’re allowed to drink. It’s not a free-for-all though, as alcohol is prohibited in visitor centers and on decks, in ranger stations (especially if you’re a ranger, I’d imagine) and paved parking areas, on nature trails and boardwalks, and in vehicles — but the beach itself is totally fair game. The best way to celebrate your freedom? Checking out the wild horses and ponies that are native to the island. They can be spotted daily around sunrise and sunset (and often in-between as well), and on the last Thursday in July, tourists flock to the beach to watch “Saltwater Cowboys” swim the ponies from Assateague to neighboring Chincoteague Island.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Situated on the northern Oregon coast about 80 miles west of Portland, the four-mile stretch of sand known as Cannon Beach attracts 750,000 annual visitors, all of whom (provided they are 21 or older) are welcome to enjoy drinks on the beach. With all of the fantastic Oregon brews out there (click here for the best in 2015), we’d obviously opt for some suds, but feel free to bring the beverage of your choice. As you gaze out at the water and landmark Haystack Rock (a 235-foot tall igneous rock and protected marine sanctuary), feel free to picture yourself in a film like The Goonies, Twilight, or Point Break — they all had scenes filmed at Cannon Beach.
Carmel Beach, California
We’ve talked a lot about the attractions of Carmel, California, recently (see below), but we didn’t mention one of the big draws to the beach: no open container laws. As long as you’re on the beach, and not the roadways or pathways, you’re allowed to consume alcohol. Feel free to grab a cold one in between surf or boogie board sessions. Also, fires (no larger than 3’ x 3’ x 3’) are permitted on the beach, but only Monday through Thursday; fire takes the weekend off at Carmel Beach.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod includes over 400 miles of Massachusetts shoreline, and drinking is permitted on beaches for the entire length of the Cape Cod National Seashore (the northernmost section of the cape), so take your pick of the specific beach. Coast Guard Beach is probably the most scenic, but there’s no parking for non-residents (use the shuttle); Marconi gives Coast Guard Beach a good run for its money beauty-wise; Herring Cove has a convenient seasonal snack bar and awesome sunsets; and Nauset Light Beach is often the most popular and crowded. However, similar to the case with the Assateague Island National Seashore, you can’t drink in ranger stations, visitor centers, amphitheaters, and government buildings, nor can you use glass containers. Still, you can legally throw back a few Sam Adams or Harpoon cans while dropping your R’s with the New England locals. Ah, who are we kidding? Everyone you meet on Cape Cod in the summer will probably be a tourist.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Florida’s Cocoa Beach was the setting of the classic TV show I Dream of Jeannie, but if you’re dreaming of drinking, it’s also the location for you. Although the beach bans dogs, camping, fires, climbing the dunes, digging large holes, feeding the birds, and harassing sea turtles, alcohol is, surprisingly, allowed — provided it is not in a glass container.
If you’re in need of some air conditioning, bars and restaurants like Paddy Cassidy’s Irish Pub and Florida Seafood Bar & Grill are only steps away, but the best place to relax (and potentially even see a shuttle launch at nearby Cape Canaveral) and enjoy a cold drink is right on the sand. You can beat the heat right from your seat, and there’s no need to worry about pesky Dr. Bellows snooping around and trying to rat you out.
Fire Island, New York
This might get a little confusing, so try to stay with us. Open containers of alcohol are legal on federal park lands within New York’s Fire Island National Seashore (with the exception of historic structures and visitor centers), but as of 2014 it is banned on two small federal tracts of land between the communities of Atlantique and Corneille Estates, as well as in the Town of Islip, the Town of Brookhaven, and the Villages of Ocean Beach and Saltaire. As long as you’re not in one of those areas, you’ll be fine. For those unfamiliar with the region, this means that the beaches at Ocean Bay Park, Kismet, and Fire Island Pines are still fair game. These new restrictions are meant to curb the amount of litter and environmental destruction, and have nothing to do with drinking and driving — after all, cars are not welcome in Ocean Beach and Saltaire in summer anyway.
National Lakeshore, Indiana
I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering, “Hey Matt [we’re on a first name basis], what about all of us who can’t make it to the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans this year?” If you’re heading to a lake, specifically a Great one, you’re in luck. Although alcohol is prohibited in Indiana Dunes State Park, it is allowed along the stretch of beach from Kemil to Mount Baldy. If you live in or near Indiana and plan to get some sun in the sands along Lake Michigan, you’re welcome to bring some suds too, as long as there’s no glass involved.
As a caution, if you’re thinking of going to Central Beach, it is unfortunately closed until further notice due to erosion.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Although beer is allowed on beaches in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, glass containers are not, and, according to the official city travel guide, wine and liquor are “not officially allowed” either. That likely means if you’re cool about it (i.e. not chugging straight out of a Jack Daniel’s bottle), the police won’t bother you — but to be on the safe side, you might want to stick with a solid North Carolina brew in a can (like The Event Horizon from Olde Hickory). Remember, the OBX is made up of the counties of Currituck, Dare (where the Wright Brothers first took flight), Hatteras Island (home to numerous shipwrecks), and Hyde, so there’s an awful lot to explore all over the area. Find what works best for you, and simply set up shop.
Panama City Beach, Florida
If you didn’t know that drinking was legal on Panama City Beach in Florida, then clearly you've never woken up there with a face full of sand after a particularly poppin’ spring break party (I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me). Either way, you might be unaware that alcohol was banned on Panama City Beach this year — but only for the month of March. For the remaining 11/12s of the year, persons 21 or older are free to consume boozy beverages as long as they aren’t in glass containers (the drinks, not the people). Additionally, although grills and fires aren’t permitted in the area, weddings can be conducted on the beach without any special permit. Sounds like a nice, inexpensive ceremony and BYOB reception to me — just make sure to clear out any unattended personal items from the beach by 7 p.m., as per the Leave No Trace Ordinance.
South Padre Island, Texas
South Padre Island in Texas is a notoriously popular and often rowdy spring break destination — and for good reason, as drinking on the beaches (including the use of kegs!) is legal for all persons 21 and older.
Not into noise, seeing random people vomit, or getting hit in the head with wayward Frisbees? No worries, as Padre Island is actually 113 miles long and the northern end, the Padre Island National Seashore, allows drinking as well — without the crowds. Just make sure to bring your Shiner Bock in can form, as glass is illegal on the beach.