Add to your family-friendly beach list with this round-up of favorite beaches from TravelMuse.
Summer is here, and for many families that means it’s beach time. A beach vacation can mean different things to different people. For one staff member, it meant heading up to Wisconsin or Minnesota as a child each summer to spend a week in a cabin on a lakefront beach surrounded by other families from the Midwest. As an adult, it’s all about finding a remote, exotic island to chill out in a hammock to watch stunning sunsets and feast on freshly caught fish. Cape Cod beaches, with warm sand yet chilly water and cool evenings, could be your ideal beach getaway. Then there are all those traditional sandy destinations: from Florida to California, the Caribbean and Mexico to Hawaii, each with its own appeal.
Rather than try to come up with a list of the best or most popular beaches, we’ve decided to share our favorite beaches, especially those that are good for families. Here are our picks, as recommended by TravelMuse staffers and regular contributors.
There’s nothing quite like Cape Cod in the summertime. Ice cream, sandy beaches and all the fresh seafood you can eat make it the perfect American vacation spot.
Situated on the Lower Cape, Indian Neck Beach is ideal for families. Dogs are also welcome at Indian Neck. A bayside beach, its waters are warmer than you’ll find on the ocean side of Cape Cod. While there is no lifeguard, this also allows families to bring as many water toys and floaties—forbidden at National Seashore Oceanside beaches—as they can carry.
Come at low tide to walk the sand flats and discover hermit crabs, clams and guppies galore. Come at high tide and swim in the gentle waves for hours of waterlogged fun. Just remember to wear your water shoes—Wellfleet is famous for its clams, the shells of which can be dangerous to feet big and small.
Indian Neck does have port-a-potties for bathroom breaks, and parking is plentiful and located close to the shore. The beach is owned and maintained by the town of Wellfleet, and a parking sticker is required from the third weekend in June through Labor Day. Stickers can be purchased at the beach sticker booth at the Wellfleet Town Pier.
Bald Head Island, located on southern tip of North Carolina, isn’t technically an island as it’s connected to the mainland with the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. It does, however, boast 14 miles of white sandy beaches, with calm surf along the southern beaches. Visitors can go out on the beach at the Shoals Club, one of the local resorts, and rent chairs and umbrellas (saves you from carrying lots of stuff when you're also trying to hold babies or kids). The beach is so large that you never feel crowded, including over the July 4 holiday. You can also walk back to the club and enjoy the pool, restaurants and bathrooms. That's a huge benefit with kids. Many house rentals for the island include temporary membership to the Shoals, but always check first.
The beaches on these barrier islands are shallow, sandy and calm, for the most part, so they’re great for kids. A series of popular and famous beach towns dot the Outer Banks east of the continental coast: Cape Hatteras, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and more. The town of Duck can be popular, but our writer has yet to see a big crowd in nearby Corolla, where there’s enough surf for a 5-year-old to use a board and ride the waves in, while still being calm enough so a 3-year-old can sit in the water at the shoreline comfortably. The area has plenty of historic sites as well, dating as far back as Sir Walter Raleigh’s settlement attempts in 1585.
Located south of Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island offers miles and miles of wide, clean beach. Beach houses and condo rentals in private resort communities are popular. One such place that is great for families is Litchfield by the Sea: several swimming pools, an onsite water park, Starbucks café, health club and spa.
Walk or bike to a nearby beach and swim next to dolphins, go crabbing on the sandy shores, ride a kayak into the waters to spot alligators and herons in the estuary, and more dolphins further out. Loggerhead sea turtles are a protected species on the island, with educational turtle walks along the beaches offered during the summer. Hilton Head Island’s 12 miles of sandy beaches have shallow, calm waters, so they’re especially good for families. There are several hotels and resorts on the island. A staff member stayed at the Sea Pines Resort, which is great for anyone who appreciates golf (three courses, including the renown Harbour Town Golf Links) and tennis (23 courts)—there are kids programs for each.
Sugar sand, some of the best shelling in the world and as close to a tropical paradise as you’ll find in the contiguous 48 states. Okay, maybe that last sentiment is a tad presumptuous, but the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva are unquestionably special. Located on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, near the southern tip of the state west of Fort Myers, the islands’ Gulf side beaches are a natural repository for shells scooped up from the Caribbean Sea by Gulf currents. In addition to terrific shelling, there is great birding on the islands. Sanibel is the larger of the two islands and offers the most accommodations options, however during a visit last year, a TravelMuse staff member stayed at the South Seas Island Resort, which had recently reopened after being severely damaged by Hurricane Charley in 2004. The resort looks like new, with pristine, manicured beaches, new swimming pools, revamped restaurants and a variety of accommodation options. The villas or cottages, for the kitchens amenities, washers and dryers, and screened in porches are great for families.
Great beach with towering dunes. If you go early in the summer, late May through mid-June, the water will be chilly, but the 2-1/2 miles of shoreline won’t be crowded. Rent a rustic campsite for the weekend ($12 per night, plus $8 reservation fee). The 36 sites go quickly, though, so make reservations early. In addition to lounging on the beach and playing in the sand with the kids, there are six miles of hiking trails available. And then there are the dunes. Comprised mostly of quartz, one dune reaches 260 feet above the lake. Climbing them is a workout, but the view from the top, looking out across the lake, is worth it. A state park motor vehicle pass is required; a daily pass is $6 for Michigan residents, $8 for nonresidents. www.michigandnr.com
Coronado Beach, on a peninsula just south of bustling downtown San Diego, evokes another era. The gracious, historic Hotel del Coronado dominates the skyline, and small-town charm is evident in the warmth of genuinely friendly locals. The waves are gentle—perfect for swimmers or novice surfers—and the long expanse of sand is among the widest beaches in Southern California.
There are plenty of things to do for all ages in Laguna Beach—food, art galleries, a Sawdust Festival and an old-fashioned boardwalk. Plus it has one of the best hotels/spas around: Montage—which is family friendly and offers full amenities, including babysitting. Food in town ranges from casual flip flop restaurants to upscale. Favorite chocolate shop, Rocky Mountain, is right on the main street.The beach itself it great for tidepooling and the local lifeguards provide information on tidepools and ocean ecology. Resort pools provide safer swimming options, but the beach can be enjoyed for games and walks on the beautiful sand.
Stinson Beach is a small, laid-back town on California's scenic coast, 40 minutes north of San Francisco. The beach has plenty of parking, and never gets too crowded. The sand is perfect for building castles and there are lifeguards in the summer. The Stinson Beach Market is a great place to pick up picnic supplies and deli sandwiches, and you can have a nice dinner after a day at the beach at the Sand Dollar Restaurant. There are several bed and breakfasts in the area, and even a sandcastle-style house available for vacation rentals. Clean sand, friendly people, great sunsets—what’s not to love?
This stretch of clean white sand in Carmel-by-the-Sea is fun for the entire family—including Fido! Great, rolling dunes at the entrance allow fantastic sliding, but there are plenty of flat areas for picnics, strolling, playing and kite-flying. The family dog can even romp along with you as this beach allows dogs off their leashes—if under voice control—something to keep in mind if you have kids that are skittish around animals. The beach’s waves allow for both surfing and boogie boarding. Walk just a few blocks into town and you’ll find a wealth of shops, galleries, restaurants and hotels—many of which welcome dogs. Take your best friend to the Fountain of Woof for a long drink of clear water at the end of the day while the kids enjoy treats from any of the town’s bakeries.
This wide beach is a perfect spot for walking, playing and kite-flying. Offshore seastacks spice up the seascape, and at low tide you can wander the tidepools and even get near Haystack Rock—claimed to be the third largest coastal monolith in the world. Just a short walk away, shops, restaurants and hotels line up with the beach. Come for the Earth Wind and Sea Celebration in April, the Sand Castle Contest in early June, or summer concerts in the park—any time is the right time to be at Cannon Beach.
Located on the south side of Kauai, Poipu has three sections of beach, each with its own flavor. One has larger waves perfect for teens that want to try boogie boarding or surfing. Another has some wave action, but suitable for grade school kids. Then there’s a protective cove with virtually no waves, perfect for toddlers and young children. In the protected cove, there are small fish that can be seen in the shallow water. The older kids can snorkel off the beach. There are excellent facilities at the beach and a terrific playground. The kids can run in the grass, swing on the swings and then dive in the Pacific Ocean to cool off. Across the street are several casual restaurants where you can grab a sandwich or burger and then enjoy your lunch gazing out over the ocean.
On the East Shore of Kauai, near Kapa’a, there’s a protected swim area with wading pools, which makes this a safe place to take young kids swimming. There are also public bathrooms and showers. Nearby is the Kamalani Playground, an extensive wooden play area with slides, climbing frames and mazes. A variety of mosaic art created by local children surrounds the playground. It also has a great picnic area.
This beach on Grand Cayman is very shallow, calm and sandy. Swim a little further out and it's still rather shallow but also has terrific snorkeling, so it’s good for all ages. Stand with the water barely past your knees and you’ll see fish swim by. It’s not so great for those with an irrational fear of fish (like one staff member) but kids love it.
One of the most pristine beaches in the world, Trunk Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands has aquamarine water, sugar-white sand, and a lush, exotic backdrop of palm trees and green islands in the distance. The calm, crystalline sea is ideal for snorkeling; look for the self-guided snorkeling trail that begins just off shore, which highlights unusual coral formations that are home to myriad colorful fish and other marine life. Access to the beach costs $4, which includes the price of a nice shower and restroom facilities. Avoid days when the cruise lines dock!
Hawaii beaches It's not included here, but Napili Bay in Maui is a great beach for families. While several of the island beaches are off limits in the winter due to ferocious waves and strong rip currents, Napili provides great snorkeling and swimming with just a little bit of wave action that the whole family can handle.
More St. John Beaches Trunk Bay is great but can get crowded. You often get cruise passengers who will do an excursion when their ship stops in St. Thomas. Other excellent beaches include Cinnamon Bay and Maho Bay -- both are within a 5 minute jitney ride from Trunk Bay. What's a jitney you ask? It's an open-air bus (I guess you'd call it) fashioned to the bed of a pick-up truck. For a couple bucks they'll take you anywhere on the island. Another more remote but outstanding snorkeling beach is Salt Pond Bay.