What makes someplace a great family beach destination? It starts with kid-friendly lodging close to all the action. Land-based attractions for when you simply need a break from the sand and sun are another must. And, like all good family vacation ideas, the best family beach vacations are safe and affordable, too.
From coast to coast, the U.S. is home to some phenomenal beach destinations that offer loads of activities to keep all ages happy in and out of the water. Here are the top spots to consider for your next family beach vacation.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Known for its bustling boardwalk, amusement parks, arcade games and live entertainment, Myrtle Beach is a classic family beach spot that can keep everyone in your group occupied for days.
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But there’s also plenty to experience outside of the action-packed center, where it can get crowded in the summer months. Myrtle Beach’s resort area stretches along a full 60 miles of coastline and includes quieter spots like Surfside Beach, which is popular for its multiple beach access points and autism-friendly. At Surfside, the different beach areas are cleaned daily and supervised by lifeguards.
San Diego, California
With its oodles of great beaches, San Diego is always one of the best family beach vacations in the U.S. Ranking high for family-friendliness is Coronado Beach, where little ones can wade in tide pools and older kids can go boogie boarding or surfing.
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There’s also the La Jolla coastline, which includes La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines State Beach, staffed by lifeguards year-round. And with its options for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing and water skiing – plus, sandy beaches and a boardwalk – Mission Bay Park is a great spot for active families.
Grand Haven, Michigan
Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, Grand Haven offers multiple beach options for families, including a state park and a city beach. Then there’s dog-friendly Kirk Park, which has not only a sandy lakefront but also many trails to explore. For a quieter spot, check out West Olive.
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Other things to do in the area include strolling a historic boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants and making your way out to the pier to snap photos of a scenic lighthouse. There’s also a musical fountain where you can watch a 20-minute water and light show nightly in the summer months.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Families flock to this hook-shaped peninsula for mini-golfing, sand dunes, ice cream stands, lobster rolls, whale watching and simply admiring the gray cedar shake houses adorned with colorful buoys.
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Cape Cod is composed of 15 different towns and many more picturesque villages. Just one option for your home base is Barnstable, the area’s largest town that’s also home to the villages of Hyannis (a travel hub with an airport and ferry terminal) and Hyannisport (the summer home of former President John F. Kennedy and his family). Barnstable’s Sandy Neck Beach is eight miles long and a great spot for riding fat-tire bikes.
Maine may be known for its rocky coastline, but in Ogunquit, you’ll find long expanses of sandy beach teeming with families in the summer months. Ogunquit Beach is a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River. Adjacent Footbridge Beach is typically less crowded. Both beaches are staffed by lifeguards during summer. Marginal Way is a paved cliff walk offering fabulous views of the ocean and there are several benches along the way if the kids’ legs get tired.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Even if you’ve never been interested in shelling before you arrive at Sanibel, you’ll likely become a fan of the activity by the time you leave, as shells are constantly washed up on shore on the island’s many beaches. Other popular activities here include spotting wildlife at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, biking along 25 miles of mostly flat recreation trails, kayaking in Tarpon Bay and fishing – from the shore, in the bay or on a chartered boat.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks are heavenly for families who want to get away from it all. There are no big cities here, rather a series of small towns and long stretches of unspoiled beaches.
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Things to do include running and rolling down the East Coast’s largest sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, walking to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America; and kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding in the shallower water on each barrier island’s east side.
For a nice balance of relaxing beaches and family-friendly activities, you can’t go wrong with Coastal Mississippi and centrally located Gulfport. Spend your mornings kicking back on Biloxi Beach or Long Beach, perhaps flying a kite and enjoying a picnic lunch. The afternoon can be all about playing at Gulf Islands Waterpark, going on a shrimp boat tour, exploring the Mississippi Aquarium or zip lining at an adventure park.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach fronts both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, providing a variety of experiences for family beach vacations. Spend the day at the lifeguarded beach and stroll the three-mile boardwalk along the oceanfront for loads of action and don’t forget to snap a family photo in front of the massive King Neptune statue.
For quieter adventures, go kayaking along the Back Bay in the laid-back community of Sandbridge or spend the day enjoying the calm waters and the local vibe of Chesapeake Bay. Off the water, Virginia Beach is home to an aquarium, amusement park, laser tag, indoor skydiving, mini golf and many more attractions.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Eighty miles west of Portland, Cannon Beach is all about nature. If you have a budding naturalist, bird watcher or marine biologist, this is one of the best beach destinations in the entire country.
This Oregon town’s four-mile stretch of beach is known for its sea stack rock formations, the most famous of which is Haystack Rock, a nesting area for puffins. Many other birds make their home here, including bald eagles and cormorants. The tide pools around Haystack and elsewhere along Cannon Beach are extraordinary, with colorful sea stars, anemones, crabs, snails, coral, sponge and sea slugs.
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