This year, Provincetown, Massachusetts earned the distinction of being the country’s favorite beach town in our annual America’s Favorite Places survey. But Provincetown’s charm is hardly news—the colorful hamlet at the tip of the Cape has a long tradition of being a beachy summer getaway.
People have been flocking to sandy stretches of coast for much longer than we have been capturing our holidays on film. It’s as if we are all instantly lulled into vacation mode by the sound of the waves lapping against the shore. Black-and-white, vintage photographs of summers at the beach may transport us just a bit farther back in time, but these vibrant images certainly encapsulate the spirit of a summer weekend whiled away on a candy-striped towel.
We’ve sifted through the TIME/LIFE archives to extract some of our favorite vintage photographs of beach scenes from as far back as the 1940s. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it may be difficult to tell the difference between a shot from yesterday and one from yesteryear (especially now that chic one-pieces are back in style). Except for the photograph of the woman with toy pistols posing with an ox. That, almost certainly, would never happen on a public beach in the 21st century.
From the famed beaches of Brazil, where competition is fierce for prime waterfront real estate, to quiet, hidden lengths of foam-covered sand, these vivid photographs can ferry you to a balmy, summer afternoon long after Labor Day weekend ends.