17 Gorgeous Vintage Photos of Summer at the Beach
Plenty has changed in the decades since these moments were captured and preserved in the TIME/LIFE archives. Bathing suit hemlines have crept higher (though we still love a fabulous one-piece), and beach goers across the country have traded belly sliding for stand-up paddle boarding.
Back in the day, people flocked to the beach for beauty parades and tanning competitions. There were no tablets or e-readers, no cell phones or Bluetooth speakers. For entertainment, they carried beloved beach reads and ukuleles.
But the appeal of the beach has remained constant, as Time noted. “People on a beach can feel just as free and equal as they were created,” observed Life editors.
Pictured in this gallery are people from all walks of life, sunning and splashing on the best beaches of Brooklyn, Sydney, California, Italy, and more. The images, taken from the 1940s to the 1960s, depict familiar crowds swelling beneath the now-defunct Parachute Jump at Coney Island, and men in a shaded cove behind a parking lot full of retro automobiles.
You may even spot an iconic itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, polka dot bikini—we can only assume it was yellow.
Some things never change, of course. From afternoons spent eating hot dogs on the boardwalk at Coney Island to lazy mornings lounging beneath a beach side cabana, these photos are really just proof that no matter how many years pass by, people around the world still love to spend summers by the sea.
Entertainment at the Boardwalk
A sky-high view of the now-defunct Parachute Jump ride, beach, and boardwalk at Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Model June Pickney is famous for sporting super-sized sunglasses, and this day on a crowded beach was no different. In 1960 she was caught in a bikini and the so-called Super Specs.
Sprinting into the Surf
Volunteer lifeguards at Garie Beach—on the edge of Sydney, Australia—race in a surf swimming contest.
Dog Days of Summer
Two men and a dog take cover from the sun on the edge of the beach. A parking lot full of antique cars transports us to another era.
Riding the Waves
What better way to spend a hot day in Miami Beach, Florida, than waterskiing? While on vacation, the Shah of Iran, Mohamed Reza, was pictured riding the surf.
Young men relax at Vung Tau beach in Southern Vietnam, presumably after a rousing game of beach volleyball.
Weekends at the Beach House
In 1959, at the Andrew Geller-designed Milk Carton Beach House in Fire Island, NY, two persons and a child enjoyed a day at the beach.
A row of boards stand at the ready for surfers on the beach.
It's not just sunbathing and boating that attracts beach goers to the water. In March of 1951, Truman Beach on Long Island Sound became a popular tourist attraction. After all, it was the vacation destination for President Harry S. Truman.
Popular Real Estate
A perfect spot on the beach is in high-demand in this picture of beach chairs (and visitors) stacked edge to edge.
Beneath the Cabanas
Chilean residents play on the beach—and doze in cabanas' shade—in June 1950.
Tanning On The Beach
A man and women in California, in July 1950, shield their faces from the sun with straw hats while working on their tans. The man also (of course) strums a ukulele.
Romance on the Beach
Couples dance on a terrace overlooking Ostia Beach in Italy.
Swimming with Friends
A trio of girls in matching swimsuits race to the waters in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This is the site of the famous Atlantic City Beauty Contest.
Even after the sun has set beneath the horizon, visitors to beaches draw out balmy summer nights with bonfires.
Governor of California, Edmund G. Brown, was caught napping in a beach hammock during the Governors' Conference.
Dance Class by the Water
There's no better way to practice balance than on the sandy shore. Here, the girls of the Children's School of Modern Dancing rehearse their routine.