As summer fizzles to an end and children trade beach balls for backpacks, beachgoers pay their final visits to the shore. But the beach today doesn’t look quite like it did in 1948—and not just because sea levels are rising.
When LIFE chronicled how Americans were enjoying their beaches in the late 1940s, its photographers found revelers from Cape Cod to California engaging in activities not often seen today. They were belly-sliding, trampoline flipping, tossing one another in the air on blankets and shooting grape juice from water guns.
Still, if one thing has remained constant over the years, it’s captured in LIFE’s homage to the freedom of the seaside. As the editors wrote:
But perhaps its greatest appeal lies in the fact that people on a beach can feel just about as free and equal as they were created. Poor clothes and poor surroundings are forgotten. Anyone with the price of a bathing suit can suddenly become a sandy, sunburned monarch in a kingdom of salt spray, hot dogs and growling surf.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.