The beaches of Erie County—and beyond
Buffalo's Gallagher Beach. All photos by Nancy J. Parisi
A beach is an ever-changing collage of people interacting with sand and water. There are the nappers, the makers of sand castles, the splashers, the walkers, the beach game enthusiasts, and the watchers of waves. There is no work on a beach, and there should not be; beaches are for relaxing, sport, and socializing.
Buffalo’s site on the eastern shore of the warmest freshwater Great Lake offers a string of beaches with breathtaking sunsets, warm water, and, in many cases, neighboring parks and nature trails. Area pubic beaches are open daily from Memorial Day to a bit past Labor Day, roughly, but be sure to call or check websites to make sure before you go.
Location: Take the Lakeside Commerce Park/Outer Harbor Drive from Route 5
Concessions: None, but Dug’s Dive is down the road
Gallagher Beach, a breezy two-minute drive from downtown Buffalo, has the designation of being one of the windiest beaches around, which accounts for the gathering of wind surfing enthusiasts at the southern end of the beach. The boat launch is also used for small watercraft. Boaters and bathers coexist nicely on this beach, with enough room for all. This beach, situated across Route 5 from Tifft Farm Nature Preserve, is impressively wide and deep, within reach of the new Outer Harbor amenities. The new Gallagher Pier is perfect for a short walk on a mid-sized pier.
To the right of Gallagher Beach—with one’s feet planted firmly on the sand and facing the lake—is the Buffalo skyline, and to the left are some hulking concrete grain elevators, with windmills off in the distance. It all makes for a picturesque nature-meets-industry experience.
The terrain of Gallagher consists of small round stones, with patches here and there of washed-up vegetation. Many regulars wear water shoes on the beach to protect their feet. During Spree’s visit to Gallagher Beach a small gathering of people from a west side church on Niagara Street—all in white—were being baptized, with a picnic lunch to follow.
Times Beach Nature Preserve
Location: Adjacent to the Coast Guard Station S Road, Fuhrmann Boulevard, close to downtown
Concessions: Restroom, gazebo, benches
Times Beach combines natural beauty with distinctive and delineated design. The actual beach portion of the newly configured Times is a small rectangular spit of smooth sand in a very manicured environment. On the other side of the park, separated by fencing, is the nature preserve with a boardwalk to view migrating and nesting birds in reeds along the shore. Just like Gallagher, Times is nestled along Fuhrmann Boulevard minutes from the city.
On the beach side (to the left) is limited parking along the boulevard, and within the park. This area has been designed to be 100% handicap-accessible and has asphalt pathways that curve gently around a manmade hill topped by whimsical, kinetic sculptures. The view from the top of this hill is breathtaking: the city is to the right, a portion of the grain elevators are just behind to the east, and facing west is what resembles a giant zen garden with sailboats off in the distance.
Woodlawn Beach State Park
Location: Route 5, take route 179 to Woodlawn Beach when you see the Ford plant
Concessions: Restrooms, visitor’s center, refreshment stand, beach restaurant, picnic table, rentals, play area
Originally a state park, Woodlawn Beach was taken over by the town of Hamburg in 2011, and beachgoers praise the positive changes: the sand is groomed daily, water quality is tested regularly, lifeguards are on duty, and there are plenty of visitor amenities.
The beach is reached after traversing a handsome tree-lined boardwalk, leading from the attractive visitor’s center (which is often used for weddings and other events). Woodlawn’s sand is fine with some rounded, small stones, and there is a large expanse of beach—it’s perfect for families. Of special note here is Woody’s Beach Bar and Taqueria, a Tex-Mex restaurant for lunch or dinner serving tacos, burgers, and hotdogs. There is a nicely-shaded full bar and plenty of seating—all in a fenced-off area on the beach.
Location: Old Lakeshore Road, about twenty minutes south of the city
Concessions: Restrooms, picnic area complete with grills
Beautiful Bennett Beach’s distinctive concrete wall is the first sight seen after climbing the formidable sand dune to reach the beach, which features loose, granular sand and lifeguards atop distinctive red chairs.
Once in the water there are small stones before the rippled sand becomes smooth underfoot. The beach, approximately 120 feet deep from wall to shore, is populated but never crowded. Bennett is sister beach to Wendt Beach further down Old Lakeshore Road. The main difference is that Wendt has rentable shelters, gardens, and public restrooms.
Concessions: Bar, restaurant, live entertainment
For a beach daytrip that is more on the rollicking side, drive even further along Old Lakeshore Road to Mickey Rat’s & Captain Kidd’s, which have long hosted this legendary party bar and sporting beachfront. Their event calendar (on their website) features local bands five nights a week during peak season, DJ’s and dancing, and volleyball, as well as their popular indoor and outdoor bars.
Captain Kidd’s has a menu of grilled summertime basics, fried treats, lighter finger foods, and wraps. Annual beachy traditions here include the Pirate Raid party and their Fourth of July bonfire and fireworks. The crowd ranges in age from twenties to fifties.
Lake Erie State Park
Location: Town of Evans
Concessions: Restrooms, shelters, playground
Lake Erie Beach Park (not to be confused with Lake Erie State Park outside of Dunkirk) is a surprisingly compact and well-designed public park with free parking and a very short walk to the water’s edge. The beach is shallow yet wide, and is rimmed with amenities.
There are lifeguards, public restrooms, shelters, basketball courts. Nearby, restaurants and bars like Castaways Waterfront Bar and Stroh’s Tavern provide post-beach lunches and dinners.
Evangola State Park
Concessions: Snack bar, volleyball, restrooms, shelters, camping
The expansive vistas of this beach/park make it one of the loveliest beaches on the lake. The park consists of 733 square acres of former farmland, and now features deep and rich sand with a smooth texture. Once in the water, bathers will be walking on large slabs of smooth granite as well as sand, which can also be seen on the cliffs that surround the area.
The camping options here make it possible to extend your visit to a lakeside weekend getaway.
Beaver Island State Park
Location: Grand Island
Concessions: Picnic areas, snack bar, restrooms
If you haven’t been there in a few summers, Beaver Island State Park deserves a revisit: its manicured beach is groomed each morning. There is a daily fee to park, and there is a real boardwalk––always an elegant way to approach a beach.
The Niagara River location makes Canada visible across the water. Off to the left, Buffalo’s skyline is visible in the summery haze. Because the beach is more protected by geography, it has a lagoon-like feeling, and the water is usually quite calm.
This is a very family-friendly beach and it feels very safe with five on-duty lifeguards. If time permits, do visit nearby River Lea at the very tip of Beaver Island, a Victorian home open to the public for tours the second Sunday of the month. Migrating snowy egrets nest nearby and are visible with the naked eye, or binoculars, following a mucky walk through reeds.
Location: Thunder Bay Road
Ontario’s Centralia Beach merits a special mention amongst this list of stateside beaches as so many Buffalonians regularly visit––and love––this destination. There are many public beaches in Ontario, but Centralia, informally known amongst Buffalonians as “Hidden Beach,” has special status. It is tucked between private land, bordered on each side by fencing to keep the public from wending onto private lakefront real estate.
From its small lot, the beach is a ten-minute walk along a trail through lovely woods. Although a mere sixty-six-feet wide, it is never very crowded and has great appeal for families and small groups.