Beach bonanza: cool down on the Essex coast
All the Essex coast insider info you need, from the best beaches and beach huts to scenic coastal walks and where to get seafood suppers with a view.
It’s hot, I know, and where better to head when temperatures soar than the coast? Handily, I’ve got the lowdown on all you need for a dreamy Essex day-cation, from the cutest beach huts for hire to dining with a view and decent stretches of sand. Just don’t forget to pack your bucket and spade.
With its butterscotch sands, sweeping esplanade and wash of pastel beach huts, this pretty coastal resort offers up a slice of quintessential charm. Hugging the north Essex coastline, it first became a popular haunt for vay-caying Londoners in the 1920s, when its high street was affectionately dubbed the ‘Bond Street of East Anglia’. These days you can expect to find a small hub of independent boutiques, bistros and bars a short stroll from the shoreline, plus a thriving arts and culture scene. And this historic north Essex resort’s distinct lack of arcade games and beachside snack shacks seems to have paid off – because Frinton-on-Sea was just been voted the county’s best seaside town, according to a study conducted by Which?.
A peaceful stretch of powdery sand, The Naze beach backs onto a crumbling set of cliffs that jut dramatically out into the sea and offer unrivalled views of the Essex coast. Often overlooked for neighbouring Walton-on-the-Naze, it’s a uniquely positioned spot for beach-goers keen to swap crowds for the Big Blue and boasts an eight-storey 18th century tower complete with art gallery, museum and tea room. Just be sure to bring a head for heights. Kids (and history buffs) might also want to give fossil foraging a go here: shark’s teeth and whale bones are common, prized finds.
Home to Grayson Perry’s Turner-prize-winning ‘House for Essex’, Wrabness is a humble little corner in the north that deserves more coastal consideration. It might not have great swathes of sand, but set against the rolling hills of Manningtree, its coastline hugs a pretty stretch of the Stour Estuary. Dotted with rustic beach huts and a smattering of chalets on stilts, it’s not uncommon for passing dinghies to pull up on a sheltered bit of shore for an impromptu picnic, adding a certain whiff of nostalgia to the sea breeze.
East beach serves up a prime golden-sand stretch for Southend Pier swervers. Think gentle lapping waves for paddling pooches (restrictions apply), buckets and spades galore, and a smattering of ice-cream vendors for that 11am gelato fix. In fact, you can get two out of three (no pooches, sadly) at Shoeburyness institution, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Fancy burning off that Cornetto afterwards? The beach also has a thriving community of kite surfers, so strap yourself in and fly like the wind.
Find more strips of sand (and shingle), at these fave Essex beaches.
The Hut, Mersea Island
This pretty hut on West Mersea is super popular, so you’d better book sharpish. Managed by Ty, who loves nothing more than making a day in the hut extra special for guests (like helping with proposals!), it’s set on the seafront and is your bunting and Cath Kidston-filled beach hut of dreams. Best of all, £5 from each booking made this summer (it’s £80 per day) will be going to charity.
Cool Coastal Huts, Frinton
One of Muddy’s favourite beaches in Essex also has some of the best (and most expensive) beach huts in the county. Check out Frinton 343, a luxe, Hamptons-esque cladded hut right by the beach which comes with a sleek little kitchen, comfy seating, table and chairs plus board games and playing cards (great if rain stops play). It holds up to eight people, so perfect for a family gathering or a group of mates. From £85 per day.
Discover five more beach huts for hire here!
Southend-on-Sea to Old Leigh
Starting at the buzzy seafront attraction, Adventure Island make your way west along the prom until you’re completely clear of the casinos and crowds, and bound for a series of artisan beach cafes that sit under the arches. From here, this three-mile seaside potter will thread through characterful boat yards that clink and clatter in high winds, cobbled lanes dotted with salty dogs, and gorgeous deserted coves the colour of pale ale. Once you’ve hit Old Leigh, stop for one of the town’s famous cream teas or head beachfront for an alfresco fish platter at The Peterboat.
A nature reserve on Mersea Island comprising 102 acres of unique coastal landscapes overlooking the Colne and Blackwater Estuaries, this two-hour waterside jaunt spans more than three miles of rustic Essex coastline and will take you past an oyster fishery, 17th-century fort and Langenhoe Marsh – aka, birdwatchers’ paradise. Rich in wildlife, be sure to stop and spot the resident flocks of wildfowl, soaring peregrine falcons and dipping sparrowhawks. You can catch the foot ferry from Brightlingsea or Point Clear to Mersea to make the journey there more fun and there’s a great playground and ice cream kiosk at Cudmore for kids.
Discover six more amazing beach walks in Essex here.
SEAFOOD BY THE SEA
If you want to dine right by the sea (we’re talking barefoot on the beach) make a beeline for Ocean Beach on Thorpe Bay at Southend, which has a cool outside seating area right on the sand. Order an Aperol Spritz and tuck into a coconut tiger prawn salad beneath one of the cream parasols – your holiday pictures will look like you’ve flown long-haul rather than driven to Essex. And Frinton-On-Sea’s Pier One restaurant is a nautically-inspired new eatery serving up all things fishy, from plates of whitebait to catch of the day.
On Mersea Island you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to decent places to devour seafood by the sea. Food critics rave about The Company Shed and yes the freshly caught seafood is mouthwatering (buy local oysters for half the price you’d pay in London), however Muddy actually likes West Mersea Oyster Bar down the road where the seafood platters are just as impressive plus you can sit outside on picnic tables in the sunshine. On the other side of the rue you’ll find The Coast Inn, another lovely spot for sharing a seafood platter (the fish and chips are also great!), with a big garden for summer and roaring fire in winter.
STAY BY THE SEA
The Seven Hotel in Southend adds some sparkle to the UK’s latest city. I love the Aurum restaurant serving up local faves like Mersea oysters and Essex burrata (Jamie Oliver’s a fan), plus the sea-facing rooms with balconies.
Or, head to the Roslin Beach Hotel in Thorpe Bay. It’s a favourite haunt of many an Essex celeb, no surprise when it boasts sumptuous rooms, an AA rosette-awarded restaurant and spa bursting with ESPA and Elemis goodies. Book The Mulberry Suite for super-king luxury and panoramic sea views.
The Pier in Harwich is a contemporary harbourside hotel with Scandi and US flair, 14 rooms and, most importantly, an upstairs restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows and cooking of such high quality it should definitely be on your must-visit list. It’s by the sea, so the menu naturally has an emphasis on seafood (the local oysters are SO good), but there are plenty of meat and veggie options too. FYI its Navyard Bar has a 140 Gin Library and Scandi-inspired snacks – cheers!
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