The smell of burned spun sugar from the candy-floss stand; a neck whipping ride on a fairground Waltzer; the pleasure of dropping pennies into slots in the arcade. This summer, more than any other, it may feel like a real treat to relive care-free memories of British seaside fun.
Of all Kent’s seaside towns, Margate is the epitome of retro, however, Deal, Broadstairs and Whitstable also evoke a nostalgic seaside experience with ice-cream parlours, seafood stands, vintage shops and architecture.
In the lovely town of Deal, shoppers armed with wicker baskets flit from the Saturday Market, which offers a mix of vintage attire, bric-a-brac and local produce such as Kent’s finest seasonal fruit and veg, artisan bakers and locally brewed beers, to stalwarts on the High Street such as Rooks, Kent butchers trading for 55 years.
The Zetland Arms in Kingsdown is the perfect spot for a pint and a paddle, writes The Mail on Sunday’s Kate Wickers
Staying with the retro-theme, head to Mileage for salvaged reconditioned treasures, The Hoxton Store for homeware and fashion with an extravagant vintage feel, Taylor-Jones & Son, where you’ll find Leigh Mulley’s hyper-realistic paintings with classic British seaside themes, and Smugglers Records for old and new vinyl.
Former pub, The Rose, has been transformed into a cocktail bar, restaurant and eight-bedroom boutique hotel, styled with cool antique finds. B&B from £100 per night (therosedeal.com).
Flying saucer-shaped 1930s shelters line a prom, where you’ll find simple seaside pleasures such as penny slots in the Deal Arcade, or a knickerbocker glory at The Beach Parlour – a wonderful throwback to the 1960s. Buy a pot of winkles at the Deal Shellfish Stall on the prom and eat while taking in the views to France and Goodwin Sands – a ten-mile-long sandbank that lies six miles off the coast – from the 1,025ft long (312m) recently renovated concrete brutalist pier that was built in 1957.
If you want to head out of town, rent a bike from beach hut cafe Hut 55 (hut55.co.uk) and cycle the coastal path through Walmer to Kingsdown then back to The Zetland Arms, a Victorian pub on a shingle beach – the perfect spot for a pint and a paddle.
Head along the coast past Sandwich and Ramsgate, to Broadstairs for a peek into glamorous Morelli’s Gelato, founded in 1932 and still family-owned, which perches above Viking Bay. You can’t miss the place, as there’s always a queue under the iconic 1950s ‘flying carpet’ silvery steel canopy.
Inside, there’s an original soda fountain, Lloyd Loom chairs, bubble-gum pink leatherette booths and a jukebox, with its ‘click and drop’ sound as each record is dispatched wonderfully evocative. Older visitors are transported back to their teenage years, while youngsters marvel at how the immaculate 1950s decor has come full circle back to cool (morellisgelato.com).
Seaside fun: Pictured is Stone Bay in Broadstairs, with its sandy beach, colourful beach huts and white cliffs
The Bay Tree Hotel has style and seaside charm in spades (and buckets). B&B from £99 a night (baytreebroadstairs.co.uk).
Edge further along the coast to Margate where Dreamland evokes the golden era of the 1950s funfair (dreamland.co.uk). The park opened in 1920, with its star attraction the Scenic Railway, the UK’s first wooden rollercoaster, now Grade II listed and meticulously rebuilt during the park renovation in 2015.
There are chair-o-planes from 1935, dodgems from 1946 and the speedway, a merry-go-round of motorbikes, made in 1934. There’s also a Roller Room for skating with a 1950s-themed diner serving hotdogs and shakes, plus a collection of original pinball machines.
Ice cool: A sundae and a knickerbocker glory at Morelli’s Gelato in Broadstairs, which was founded in 1932
For an original 1970s swimsuit or a 1960s twinset to go with your pearls, head to Margate’s Old Town. Can’t decide if you’re a mod or a rocker? Pop into Breuer & Dawson to try on an original mod parka or fringed leather biker jacket from its vast collection of vintage fashion spanning the early 1900s to the 1980s. Or at Ramsay & Williams hunt for pre-war leather suitcases, velvet cinema seats and salvaged shop signs, among off-beat antiques.
The Dalby Cafe opened just after the Second World War, and the immaculate formica tables date from that time, with chairs formed from the seats of old Margate trams. From the breakfast butties to Sunday roasts, all food is locally sourced (dalbycafe.com). B&B at Sands Hotel, a boutique hotel with sea views, starts at £120 a night (sandshotelmargate.co.uk). To spot examples of modernist architecture that’s surely more Miami than Margate, take a drive along Palm Avenue.
On the north Kent coast, in Whitstable, the world may not be your oyster – but here the oyster is your world.
Fifties frills: Two friends enjoying a ride at Margate’s retro funfair Dreamland, which is home to the UK’s first wooden rollercoaster
The Whitstable Oyster Company can trace its origins to the 1400s, and in the 1850s it was sending 80 million oysters to Billingsgate market a year. You’ll find these salty crustaceans, farmed just offshore, on menus everywhere.
Stroll the pretty front, lined with wooden fisherman huts dating from the 1800s now turned into holiday cottages (from £85 per night, whitstablefishermanshuts.com), then order a dozen oysters to take-away from The Oyster Shed. Douse in lemon or leave au naturel for their pure salty taste and eat them on the pebble beach.
Here, kids dangle crabbing lines over weathered wooden beach breakwaters, and out in the Channel, oystermen in boats tend to their nurseries –perhaps the most timeless and enduring of all Kent’s seaside scenes.