K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Building sandcastles, kite-flying, splashing in the waves, a family beach vacation is something that’s sure to create memories that will last a lifetime. Of course, you’ll want to choose the right destination in order to ensure everyone from the kids to the adults have a good time. From quintessential west coast spots to New England islands, there’s sure to be the perfect spot on this list for your next beach getaway.
Destin is a family-friendly destination with impressive beaches that include striking white sands made up of pure Appalachian quartz at Henderson Beach State Park. It not only remains cool in the summer sun, but it gives the pristine water an emerald hue. Boat tours are offered here too, including pirate-themed cruises and dolphin watching tours. From the boardwalk, you can embark on a number of different adventures, including parasailing and jet-skiing excursions, or rent paddleboards and kayaks. The boardwalk stretches about a quarter-mile along the waterfront and offers enough entertainment of its own to keep you entertained for hours, including bars and restaurants that host live entertainment.
Hilton Head is a great destination for slowing down, reconnecting, and enjoying plenty of activities on and off the sand. Coligny Beach is the most popular, equipped with plenty of facilities, including beachside bars, umbrella and chair rentals, with a lifeguard on duty during the summer. Enjoy scenic hikes and wildlife watching in the 4,000-acre Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, home to red fox, white-tailed deer, alligators, and more than 250 species of birds. There’s a lighthouse to climb, outstanding golf courses, and opportunities for bike riding on the sand, with rentals available if you don’t want to bring your own.
A top family-friendly beach getaway, Myrtle Beach not only offers sands for sunbathing and spectacular blue waters to splash around in, but a boardwalk and promenade that spans over a mile. It has a carnival-like atmosphere, with rides like the SkyWheel, arcades, souvenir shops, and eateries. On a summer night, you can enjoy live entertainment, including jugglers and stilt walkers, along with a big firework display. You’ll find mini-golf for the whole family, such as Jungle Lagoon, Treasure Island, and Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf, along with outstanding 18-hole courses for the more experienced too.
Just over an hour’s drive from Portland on the northern Oregon coast, Seaside is a family-friendly beach town with a three-mile-long stretch of beach offering practically endless activities from sandcastle building to surfing. There’s a 1.5-mile-long promenade that runs alongside it, ideal for strolling and cycling, while numerous outfitters offer rentals with everything from electric bikes to double and triple Surreys. You can also visit the aquarium, located just off the “Prom,” housing harbor seals that perform tricks on their own in hopes of convincing visitors to toss a fish their way. There’s a touch tank for feeling prickly sea urchins, starfish, anemones, and more, too. In the downtown area, you’ll find an arcade and a wide range of souvenir shops and eateries.
Maui is one of the most popular of the Hawaiian islands, not as small as Lanai or as large as the Big Island, nor as quiet as Kauai or as busy as Oahu, providing the ideal balance for many visitors. It also happens to boast some of the most beautiful beaches, from Wailea and Makena in the south to the sands of Kaanapali in the west. There are opportunities for snorkeling alongside sea turtles, enjoying professional hula dancing performances, discovering the incredibly lush Iao Valley State Park with its cascading waterfalls, ziplining, flightseeing tours, and so much more. Whatever you do, don’t miss one of the world’s most scenic drives, the Road to Hana.
Located on Washington State’s southwest coast, Long Beach is renowned for its 28 miles of sand as the self-proclaimed “World’s Longest Beach.” One of the most visited oceanfront towns in the Pacific Northwest, there are all types of activities that can be enjoyed here but kiteflying is the most popular. Long Beach hosts the internationally-renowned Washington State International Kite Festival annually in August, drawing visitors from across the globe. It also hosts a World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame. along with carnival rides, games, bumper cars, and a carousel. There are bicycles built for two and three-wheelers that can be rented to cruise the beach too.
Glen Arbor may be a surprisingly outstanding place to enjoy your family beach vacation, located in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by “Good Morning America,” it features lush forests, giant sand dunes, and idyllic beaches. The dunes tower over sparkling blue waters, some of which are more than 450 feet high. By climbing to the top of the sand mountains, you’ll enjoy a jaw-dropping view of the lake and islands. The town of Glen Arbor itself is home to many local, regional, and nationally acclaimed artists, with work is displayed in various venues throughout.
San Diego is a popular family vacation destination with beautiful beaches and a wealth of attractions. Head over to Coronado Central on Coronado Island to enjoy soft sands that sparkle like gold dust thanks to the mineral mica that’s mixed in. When you’re not playing on the beach, you might head to Balboa Park, a large urban park that features 16 museums, the San Diego Zoo, gardens, restaurants, and more. LEGOLAND is always popular too.
There are three miles of action-packed family-friendly beaches at Cape May, the oldest seaside resort town in the country and a National Historic Landmark. Enjoy kayaking, surfing, swimming, and sunbathing at many popular spots like The Cove and Sunset Beach. No matter what the season, visitors can enjoy plenty of local entertainment, art shows, visits to the zoo, and sampling tasty craft brews. Festivals like the Cape May Music Festival offer reasons to plan a trip here alone.
St. Augustine offers something for all ages and interests. It’s a must for history buffs as America’s oldest continuously inhabited city, founded in 1565, but it’s also home to many beautiful beaches located along the eastern coast of Florida. In fact, there are 43 miles of sand to choose from, including popular Vilano Beach where 4x4s are allowed. Pirate enthusiasts will want to visit the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum while nature lovers will enjoy the St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve with over 50 large mammals that include everything from lions, tigers, and leopards to bears, ligers, hyenas, and wolves. Little ones can cuddle up with barnyard animals too.
Virginia Beach offers the quintessential beach vacation complete with a vibrant oceanfront boardwalk with live music, street performers, and food vendors. If you want to give your feet a rest you can rent a surrey or bike to explore it. The sandy beach stretches for what seems like forever, providing all the usual activities. For a more tranquil spot on the sands, head to secluded Sandbridge Beach with its pristine dunes and calm waters. Of course, you’ll find plenty of fresh seafood and places for refreshing cocktails too.
Located along the Central California Coast, Monterey is about midway between Big Sur and Santa Cruz, providing the perfect base for day trips while offering plenty of its own, including a world-class aquarium often named among the best in the country with over 600 plant and animal species. The Open Sea gallery is one of the most popular as the largest exhibit with everything from jellyfish and stingrays to sea otters. Cannery Row, featuring former cannery buildings that were once part of a thriving sardine canning industry, now serves as a top spot for shopping and dining as well as featuring a number of historical attractions. There are beautiful beaches to stroll and whales to watch, with multiple outfitters offering excursions that depart from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Located 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Nantucket can easily be reached with a scenic ferry ride. It offers many great beaches, including Children’s Beach which happens to be ideal for families with its calm water for splashing around on a hot summer’s day. There are picnic areas, a playground, and free evening concerts hosted in the summer too. The island is also home to pretty lighthouses, bike paths, a whale museum with a sperm whale skeleton, and the Maria Mitchell Aquarium which includes touch tanks the younger ones are sure to love.
Often referred to as the “perfect Outer Banks town,” Corolla offers wide-open beaches and the chance to spot the famous wild horses that roam the dunes. The herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs is even more popular than the Currituck Beach Lighthouse or Whalehead, with guided tours available in specialized 4X4 vehicles. At the Center for Wildlife Education in Historic Corolla Park, visitors of all ages will enjoy exploring the history and vast diversity of North Carolina’s wildlife. It includes a massive living aquatic ephemera of fish that are native to the region. There are plenty of activities that can be enjoyed in the water, including ocean kayaking, surfing, and SUPing. Or for a relaxing outdoor excursion, take in a guided kayak tour of Currituck Sound enjoying the sunset followed by an evening surrounded by blue herons and egrets.
The San Juan Islands lie off the northern coast of Washington State, with San Juan Island offering the most in terms of facilities for families wanting plenty to do. The most activity is in and around the small town of Friday Harbor, which is jam-packed with shops, restaurants, and outfitters that will bring you whale watching or kayaking among other tours. There are beautiful coastal parks with beaches to explore and tide pools to peak into. From Lime Kiln State Park on the western shore, orcas frequently pass by, especially in the summer. Learn more about them at the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor which is dedicated to whales in the wild.