39 Vintage Beach Photos From Summers Past

Atlantic City, 1922

Library of Congress

Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Atlantic City, 1922
Library of Congress

A Look Back

History isn't just stuffy old books and Civil War reenactments. History is also beaches, where humans have gathered since the dawn of time. While beach attire has certainly changed, the innate desire to stare out into the endless sea has not. So whether you're making your way to the beach this summer or turning your backyard into a beach of sorts, remember those that came before you with a look at these vintage beach photos from summers past. 

RelatedSurprising Facts About America's Beaches

Lifeguards, 1880
Library of Congress


Circa 1880
Atlantic City Beach Lifeguards didn't always look like David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Instead of sexy "Baywatch"-style modern suits, the 1880s version of the lifeguard outfit seems almost circuslike by comparison — as in this image from Detroit Publishing, most likely taken on an Atlantic City beach between 1880 and 1906.

San Juan Islands, Washington, 1890
Wikimedia Commons

San Juan Islands, Washington


This image depicts the rugged beauty of Wasp Island, part of the San Juan Islands chain off the coast of Washington. The photo was taken by Arthur Churchill Warner, who worked for John Muir's expedition to Mount Rainier in 1888 while also serving as a staff photographer for Northern Pacific Railway.

Related: Stunning Photos of Every National Park in America

Harper's Magazine, 1898
Library of Congress

Harper's Magazine

This Library of Congress image from the July 1898 issue of Harper's Magazine depicts a man showing off a bathing suit of the era. New York-based Harper's has been published monthly since 1850, making it the second-oldest continuously published magazine in America after Scientific American.

Santa Monica, 1900
Wikimedia Commons
Lower Columbia River, 1900
Wikimedia Commons

Lower Columbia River

Circa 1900
The beach is a place of work for some people, such as this hearty group of fishermen from circa 1900 in a University of Washington image — seen fishing for salmon in the vicinity of the Lower Columbia River with a large net called a seine. The 1,243-mile Columbia River is the country's fourth-largest river by volume.

De Wolf Hopper, circa 1900
Wikimedia Commons

De Wolf Hopper

Circa 1900
Beaches have long attracted the rich and famous. Around the turn of the century, one of the most legendary stars was De Wolf Hopper, most known for his work in musical theater including performing the iconic baseball poem "Casey at the Bat." In this photo from the Nantucket Historical Association, Hopper gets theatrical on the beach.

York Beach, Maine, 1901
Wikimedia Commons

York Beach, Maine

When taking a trip to the beach around the start of the 20th century, women often would bring their own umbrella or parasol, as this 1901 image of Maine's York Beach demonstrates. The popular summer resort town of York was founded in 1652, Maine's second-oldest town after Kittery.

Related: Things You Never Knew About New England

Coney Island, 1902
Library of Congress

Coney Island

This image from Detroit Photographic shows a Coney Island beach in 1902. Clearly, people wore a lot more clothing to the beach in those days, including suits and ties. Having attracted visitors since before the Civil War, the first enclosed amusement park on Coney Island was opened in 1895.

Related: Iconic and Beautiful Boardwalks in the Country

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, Washington, 1905-1916
Wikimedia Commons

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, Washington

Not everyone wears shorts and flip-flops to the beach, as seen in this image of four suit-clad men at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington. The 760-acre Point Defiance Park began as a military installation in the 1840s and today attracts more than 3 million visitors yearly.

Belle Isle Park, 1908-1909
Wikimedia Commons

Belle Isle Park

Looking like something out of a Monet painting, this photo — taken sometime "after 1898" as part of a "postcard series" — depicts a peaceful scene outside the Bath House in Detroit's Belle Isle Park. Opened in 1845, the 982-acre Belle Isle Park is the country's largest city-owned island park.

Related: Idyllic Parks That Bring Nature to the City

Staten Island, 1910
Wikimedia Commons

Staten Island

This Library of Congress image depicts the Woodland Beach Resort on Midland Beach (formerly known as Woodland Beach) in Staten Island, New York. Midland Beach became a resort in the 1890s, complete with its own miniature train, and was a popular destination through the 1920s offering views of nearby Coney Island.

Neah Bay, Washington, 1910
Wikimedia Commons

Neah Bay, Washington

Not everyone on the beach is there to party, as this 1910 image of a Native American woman of the Makah tribe clearly shows. She is gathering firewood on the beach at Neah Bay within the 47-square-mile Makah Indian Reservation on the northwest tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

Puck Magazine, 1911
Library of Congress

Puck Magazine

This cover image from an edition of the now defunct Puck magazine, America's first successful humor magazine, depicts a woman diving into the warm waters of Florida after fleeing the cold of another Northeast winter. Puck, deriving from the term "puckish" meaning "childishly mischievous," was published from 1871 to 1918.

Washington Bathing Beach, 1919
Wikimedia Commons

Washington Bathing Beach

The annual beauty show at Washington Bathing Beach, which operated in Washington D.C. as a "whites only" beach from 1918-1925, included a parade led by uniformed officers.

Washington Bathing Beach, 1922
Wikimedia Commons

Washington Bathing Beach

These were the type of outfits that won awards at the 1922 annual beauty show at Washington Bathing Beach in Washington, D.C. The human-made strip of sand near the Jefferson Memorial was also known as the Tidal Basin Bathing Beach.

Atlantic City, 1922
Library of Congress

Atlantic City

This was fashionable swimwear 100 years ago, as displayed by four women in this Library of Congress image from an Atlantic City carnival. The modern bikini would not be widely adopted until after World War II debut; it debuted in 1946 at a swimming pool in Paris.

Writing Tide, 1925
General Photographic Agency/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Writing Tide

Think hyperactive children and other work-from-home distractions are an impediment to getting some writing done? Try it on a table on the beach with your feet submerged in water, something these two apparently have no trouble with.

Lincoln Memorial, 1926
Library of Congress

Lincoln Memorial

This image of boys playing with a toy sailboat in the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was apparently in response to Congress' failure at the time to appropriate money for public pools in the area. Consider this a form of protest.

Related: Vintage Photos of Patriotic Places Across America

Yorkshire, England, 1930
Fox Photos/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Yorkshire, England

Summer days at the beach don't always call for T-shirts and sandals — these three children at the beach at the seaside town of Whitby in Yorkshire, England, had winter coats and berets. But not even the chill of a northern English summer seems ready to stop them from playing in the sand with their buckets and spades.

Delray Beach, 1933
Wikimedia Commons

Delray Beach

South Florida's Delray Beach, on the Atlantic Coast between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, was a popular retreat for artists and writers in the 1930s and 1940s. This photo depicts a mansion home on Ocean Boulevard in Delray Beach, otherwise known as the action-packed A1A Highway.

Beach Baseball, 1935
Fox Photos/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Beach Baseball

Beach volleyball and Frisbee aren't the only sports to play on the beach. How about beach baseball? It's the sport of choice in this photo taken on a beach in Miami depicting three women engaging in America's pastime complete with a catcher and umpire. (In case you were wondering, the Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series that year.)

Fort Story, Virginia, 1939
Library of Congress

Fort Story, Virginia

Not everyone on the beach is there to splash around in the sand. This World War II-era image from the Library of Congress depicts men measuring the splash angle during sea target practice at Fort Story, Virginia. Located north of Virginia Beach, Fort Story is an Army training facility for troops operating amphibious equipment.

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, 1945
Adrian Ace Williams/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Framed by lush mountains and towering high-rise resorts, Hawaii's legendary Waikiki Beach has been one of the most well-known beach destinations for decades. This photo captures a slice of life during a golden age of tourism for the iconic Oahu resort area. Some things haven't changed much; pineapple drinks remain a must.

Swimming in Lake Washington at Colman Park, Seattle, Washington, U.S. in 1950.
Swimming in Lake Washington at Colman Park, Seattle, Washington, U.S. in 1950. by Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY)

Colman Park, Seattle

This image of a lifeguard tower in Lake Washington at Seattle's Colman Park is part of the Seattle Municipal Archives, which contains more than 1.5 million photographic images.

Bathing Suit, 1955
Vagn Hansen/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bathing Suit

Who needs a bathing suit if you can pull off this look? Simply roll up the pant legs on your suit and boom. According to Getty Images, this man "paddles into the water to turn his back on the world and stare out to sea." We've all been there.

Couples on the Beach, 1960
Tom Kelley Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Couples on the Beach

Many beaches in America do not allow the open drinking of alcohol, but that is apparently not the case here, where two of the three couples display cans of Pearl beer proudly. Pearl Brewing was established in 1883 in San Antonio, closed its doors in 2001, and has recently been relaunched by Pabst Brewing.

Related: 21 Summer Beers to Cool You Off On a Hot Day

Pablo Picasso, 1960s
Hulton Archive/Staff/Getty Images

Pablo Picasso

Not sure if you can pull off the striped-sleeveless-T-shirt-on-the-beach look? You must not be legendary Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, seen here chatting with a young woman on the beach in the 1960s at the seaside resort town of Golfe-Juan between Cannes and Antibes on the French Riviera.

Elvis Presley, 1961
Paramount Pictures/Handout/Getty Images

Elvis Presley

The beach has served as a location throughout cinematic history, as displayed in this still from the musical comedy "Blue Hawaii" starring Elvis Presley. The King, seen here exchanging a kiss with actress Joan Blackman on a beach in Hawaii, made 31 films.

Surfboards, 1963
Tom Kelley Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images


While surfing traces its roots back to 17th century Hawaii, the sport wasn't largely popularized in the United States until after World War II and reached its "golden age" in the 1960s, when this photo depicting a man standing in front of two now-vintage surfboards was taken. The Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari" was released a year before this photo was shot.

Related: Secluded Beach Paradises Around the World

Marlon Brando, 1964
Michael Ochs Archives/Handout/Moviepix/Getty Images

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando shot on the beach too, in this case for "Bedtime Story." The movie, a critical and commercial flop at the time, served as the basis for two remakes, including 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" starring Steve Martin and Michael Caine.

Morris Mini, 1965
Fox Photos/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Morris Mini

If you're going to park a car on the beach, it might as well be a Morris Mini. This classic car from the British Motor Corp. was an iconic part of British culture and popularized in numerous movies. This photo depicts a Morris Mini Traveller, of which around 100,000 were built between 1960 and 1969.

California, 1966
Tom Kelley Archive/Stringer/Archive Photos/Getty Images


Could you handle this group of "guys and gals" serenading you on a California beach? In addition to displaying ear-to-ear smiles, the very enthusiastic group are showing off the latest fashions in Jantzen bathing suits. The car was one of several beach-combing models of the era built by George Barris, who also designed the 1966 Batmobile.

Related: 50 of the Most Beautiful Beaches in America

Pointer Sisters, 1970
Keystone/Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pointer Sisters

Few beachgoers have ever been more stylish than Oakland soul pop group The Pointer Sisters, shown here on a beach in Cannes, France, while in town for the MIDEM music trade show. The three-time Grammy winners and Vocal Group Hall of Fame members recorded 31 top 20 hit songs from 1973-1985.

Big Sur, 1972
Wikimedia Commons

Big Sur

Anyone who has been to Big Sur, California, could understand why someone would want to make this joyous pose on this stunning beautiful section of beach along the iconic Highway 1. Many writers and artists have lived in the area over the years, including Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson, Ansel Adams, and Trent Reznor.

Related: The Best of California For Budget Vacations

Foster Avenue Beach, Chicago, 1973
Wikimedia Commons

Foster Avenue Beach, Chicago

Reading a book on the beach has long been a popular activity, as seen in this photo by the Environmental Protection Agency. The setting is Foster Beach, one of the most beautiful of the two dozen beaches lining Chicago's shore along Lake Michigan.

South Beach, Miami, 1973
Wikimedia Commons

South Beach, Miami

No, that's not a pair of tighty whities, but that man is combing his hair on Miami's world-famous South Beach. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration declares in its caption from decades ago that already "thousands of retired persons have settled here."

Related: Free or Cheap Things to Do in Miami

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1977
Michael Ochs Archives/Stringer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Long before he became California's governor in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger was just another bodybuilder working out at iconic Muscle Beach in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This photo was taken at the start of Schwarzenegger's acting career; his bodybuilding film "Pumping Iron" had been released earlier that year.

Cottage Volleyball 1979
Cottage Volleyball 1979 by Benjamin Kern (CC BY-SA)

Beach Volleyball

Beach volleyball has long been a popular summer pastime, as seen here in this 1979 shot from Grand Haven, Michigan. It is believed that the game — which has been an Olympic sport since 1996 — was first played at the Outrigger Canoe Club in Waikiki, Hawaii, in 1915.

Florence Griffith-Joyner, 1988
Tony Duffy/Staff/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Florence Griffith-Joyner

Some people go for long walks on the beach. Florence Griffith-Joyner runs them. One of the fastest female athletes of all time is seen here on the beach in Malibu just months before setting two world records and winning three gold medals at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Related: Ways to Shape Up for Summer Without the Gym