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Beaches of the Hamptons, New York's insider take:

The Atlantic beaches of the Hamptons are some of the prettiest the country has to offer: clean, wide, often completely uncrowded—even on summer weekends—and set off by patchy wild dunes with no hulking, pink resort hotels to ruin the idyllic views. Finding a beautiful beach is as easy as turning down any of the small, zigzaggy lanes that run off Route 27 and continuing until you find some sandy parking spots off a dead-end road. Beware the limits on those choice parking spaces, though: Parking permits are required for the majority of beaches, and only residents can get them. Luckily, some of the better hotels buy them in bulk for guests—ask before you book. Otherwise, your options will likely come down to risking a ticket, walking or renting a bike instead, or stashing your car a good distance from the beach. Our favorite sandy strips follow, from west to east.

For access to Mecox Beach, a nice spot in Bridgehampton down Jobs Lane, be prepared to adopt one of the aforementioned strategies; the same goes for Sagaponack's Sagg Main Beach, to the east of Mecox, a popular social spot for a younger crowd. Farther down the coast is Gibson Beach, a nice, small stretch with a low-key, upper-crust vibe—if the upper crust can reliably be said to have vibes—and where, supposedly, women's tops are optional (parking permit required). Georgica Beach has an exclusive reputation and a prestigious location close to the mansions of Lily Pond Lane and Georgica Pond (parking permit only). East Hampton's Main Beach is the center of the action, with crowds and concession stands (a draw for some, a turnoff for others) and a see-and-be-seen energy (ditto); it's also one of only two beaches in East Hampton with daily summer parking, which costs $25 and is permitted only on weekdays. Close to the divide between East Hampton and Amagansett, Two Mile Hollow (same parking policy as East Hampton Main) has a reputation as a gay-friendly beach. Amagansett's Atlantic Avenue Beach offers $15 daily parking Monday through Friday, as well as lifeguards. Past Amagansett, where the Old Montauk Highway diverges from Route 27, Hither Hills State Park offers camping and fishing, a long beach, and the "walking" dunes of Napeague Harbor (entrance fee is $8 per car). Montauk's Kirk Park Beach, just off the two-lane highway, has $10 parking seven days a week, although youthful, fun Ditch Plains is the surfers' beach of choice in Montauk. While not quite as postcard-perfect as some East Hampton beaches, it has the Ditch Witch, a popular snack-stand hangout, and surfers to stare at as you while away another summer day. It once offered free parking; now, perhaps unsurprisingly, a town permit is required.—Updated by Darrell Hartman

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.