Located as far from the city as we're going to take you, Martinique Beach is worth the one-hour drive. As a provincial beach it has access to outhouses, picnic tables, barbecue pits and boardwalks---currently being repaired to be ready for July 1---and it's also a protected area for the piping plover. Be sure to mind the signs for dangerous undertows, though---there are lifeguards for the July 1 to August 29 season, but it's safer to be careful. While Martinique is a decent drive away, it is close to Musquodoboit Harbour, giving you a few options if the weather turns stormy on your way out. The Tourist Trap (8384 Hwy 7, 889-3791) is a cafe, shop and guest house that's only 15 minutes from the beach and barely a few minutes off the driving route. You can also stop by Happy Dudes Surf Emporium (2137 East Petpeswick Road, 889-3301), the surf shop you'll pass just before getting to the beach. It offers surf board and suit rentals, as well as barbecued fare, cafe treats and a place to camp for just $10 a night.
Directions: Take Highway 107 outbound until it ends, turn right onto Highway 7 (Marine Drive) for 2.5km, take another right onto East Petpeswick Road. Follow the road---and the signs to Martinique---for another 12km.
A popular surfing destination, Lawrencetown beach offers change houses, vending machines, showers, flush toilets, mass amounts of parking and a system of boardwalks that take you from one end to the other. As an exception to the regular lifeguarding season that Martinique follows, Lawrencetown has lifeguards from July 1 to September 6 plus the following two weekends of September, giving you a few extra weekends of guided fun. You can head out otherwise, of course, but swim cautiously as riptides and undertows are well-known to the area. If you want to take advantage of the surfing but don't know how to start, Happy Dudes (4891 Hwy 207, 827-4962) has a Lawrencetown location---just 3km east (driving away from the city) of the beach---open from 9am to dark, and you can get a surf lesson or just rent the gear. You can also head to Kannon Beach Wind and Surf (4144 Lawrencetown Road, 471-0025), which is in the house sitting atop the hill just before the beach. Check the surf report and forecast at magicseaweed.com or windfinder.com---if the wind is considered an offshore one, you'll be nicely warm on the beach because the massive hill just before Lawrencetown will take the brunt of the chill. If it's an onshore wind, though, brace yourself: The wind whipping up from the ocean is a cold one.
Directions: Take Highway 207 outbound for 20km, and you can't miss it on the right.
Rainbow Haven beach
Rainbow Haven Beach Provincial Park is the closest beaching spot in this list to the city. It also gets crazy busy on hot days, so you may want to choose your beaching days wisely and go on a not-so-popular day of the week, or in the evening. Rainbow Haven is host to change houses, a canteen, showers, flush toilets, plenty of parking options, beach volleyball nets and boardwalks that make the beach wheelchair accessible. Rainbow Haven is also known for its tidal channel, which creates a strong current. During the lifeguard season, keep an eye out for signs that point out spots deemed too unsafe to swim.
Directions: Take Highway 207, turn right at Bissett Road then a left at Cow Bay Road.
At the end of a quiet road close to Lawrencetown sits Conrad's Beach, a place that holds the finest sand of any destination on this list. There are no facilities at the beach, so go prepared to be washroom-less and bring your own snacks, but parking in the small lot, crossing the rickety bridge (no joke, it sways) and boardwalk (broken in places, repair due to be completed June 22) and walking through the hole in the dunes onto the expansive shore is probably the best thing you'll do all summer. As a protected breeding ground for the piping plover, the bridge and boardwalk were built for both your safety and that of the birds. If you ever want to avoid the crowd at the more serviced beaches, Conrad's is simply a gorgeous and peaceful place to take in the Atlantic.
Directions: On Highway 207 outbound from Halifax, turn right on Conrad Road. If you get to Lawrencetown beach you've gone too far.
Crystal Crescent beach
The thing about Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park is that it can be gorgeous and sunny in the city, but the beach will be shrouded in fog. Located about the same distance from the city as Rainbow Haven (in the opposite direction) makes it a smaller trek than others if it gets fogged in, but instead of turning your car around try taking a walk on the kilometres of boardwalk and enjoy the Nova Scotia landscape---even if you can only hear the ocean. Another option: Walk past the first two beaches to the nude beach, where stripping down---on the third beach, not the trail---is the thing to do. The water is normally quite cold, so you may be only inclined to wear the nudist hat---figuratively speaking---while on the dry sand. In addition to the boardwalks and trails that'll get you to all of Crystal Crescent's beaches, there are also a couple outhouses and a large parking lot, but bring your own food if you're likely to get hungry.
Directions: While on Herring Cove Road, take a right at Old Sambro Road and stay on it for about 17km. Take a right onto West Pennant Road, then a left onto East Pennant Road and, finally, a last left at Sambro Creek Road. The beach is on the right.
Seriously, hear us out: Sir Sandford Fleming Park---home of The Dingle---is a modest nature oasis just minutes from the Armdale rotary. While you shouldn't swim at its few little sand and rock beaches, if you walk outward from the central beach---with the large dock---where all the traffic is, you can find a bench or picnic table that will let you watch the water traffic in the arm of the harbour and maybe even a storm pushing in from the Atlantic. There's also a canteen in the parking lot during the summer season, a playground for kids and two main walking trails that'll take you through the park.
Directions: On Purcells Cove Road, take bus #15 and get off at Flemming Drive; take a left onto Dingle Road and you'll be in the park.
Black Rock beach
Another unswimmable beach---though thanks for the demonstration, mayor Kelly---Black Rock beach is the first access to water you'll find from the lower parking lot in Point Pleasant Park. It's a fun place to skip rocks, and walking through Point Pleasant's 75 hectares is an afternoon in itself. Bring a book, a picnic basket and a few bucks---there's a canteen. Head out on Wednesday nights to watch boat races in the harbour, or use it as an excuse to picnic on your break.
Directions: Take the #9 bus (or walk) to the end of Point Pleasant Drive, or head to the south end of Tower Road for another way in.