A beach vacation is the quintessential summer trip for individuals, couples, and families. When we think of summer, many of us picture various beach destinations. What could be better than sitting in the sand, soaking up rays, and enjoying a good book, a frisbee toss, or hunting for seashells?
Or maybe you’re more adventurous and enjoy surfing, surf fishing, and other sports. Whatever your lifestyle, a trip to the beach can be just the thing to break the monotony of every day life.
If you have young children or teenagers, or if you’re vacationing as part of an extended family that has multiple interests, you may be wondering where the best beach destinations are. We’ve compiled a list of beach destinations that are perfect for families, no matter what your ages or preferences may be.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
If you’re a fan of this website, you probably know that Cocoa Beach is almost like home for us. But that makes it no less special. Cocoa Beach is special because the beach itself is beautiful and easy to access, but there are also plenty of non-beach activities for families as well.
If you’re looking for a beach with flat, hard-packed white sand, Cocoa Beach is perfect. It’s very common to see people jogging or bicycling on the packed sand. It is also known for its surfing, having been the hometown for world champion Kelly Slater. If you venture out onto the Cocoa Beach Pier, you can get a great look at the surfers from a higher viewpoint. Or sign up for a surf lesson yourself!
We have an entire post on Cocoa Beach, so click below for more information.
Sanibel Island, Florida
Sanibel Island is a beautiful beach destination off the southwest coast of Florida. To get there, you drive across a toll causeway bridge from Fort Myers. Sanibel is known as the #1 destination in the United States to find seashells. In fact, the posture of people walking along the beach, bent over and looking for shells, is commonly known as the “Sanibel stoop”.
If you like finding lots of shells, or a wide variety of species, then the beaches of Sanibel Island are perfect for your vacation. Bowman’s Beach is probably the best known spot for shelling.
The Bailey-Matthews National Seashell Museum is really interesting, even for older children. You may also enjoy seeing the lighthouse and driving through the Ding Darling nature preserve (be sure to wear bug spray). There are some delicious local eateries for when you get hungry, and a variety of accommodations for groups of different sizes.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
I grew up in South Carolina and Myrtle Beach was the place to go every summer. In more recent years, it’s become a go-to beach destination for people from across the country and around the world.
Myrtle Beach has so much to do. Golf is one of the biggest pastimes enjoyed by both locals and tourists. If you like to golf, you’ll find a ton of golf courses to enjoy. Family members of many ages will enjoy the theme parks and water parks, and there are many other attractions as well, such as WonderWorks and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. If you like concerts, then the Carolina Opry is a must-do. Nature loves and gardeners will appreciate Brookgreen Gardens.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks is a series of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. Historically it’s been best known for the various lighthouses, many of which are open to visitors. At the north end of the chain is Corolla, which is a bit less commercial than other spots. You’ll still find plenty to do, but it’s unique because of the wild horses that live there and actually roam on the beach.
If you’re a history buff, check out the Lost Colony play on Roanoke Island between the mainland and the Outer Banks islands. Also check out the Elizabethan Gardens while you’re there.
Within the Outer Banks themselves, nature lovers will enjoy the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. You can also book a fishing charter, take a dolphin cruise, play a round of golf, or go horseback riding. The beaches offer plenty of opportunities to fish, surf, tan, or just hang out. Be sure to take some time to visit or view the lighthouses and the Wright Brothers monument, as this is the location of the first human flights ever!
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is in the southern portion of the state, right at the location where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Historically, it’s the place where the Jamestown colonists landed, and you can visit the First Landing State Park which commemorates the event. Visitors also love the three-mile boardwalk that makes strolling easy and allows for beautiful views of the ocean.
Foodies will love the variety of restaurants as well as the fresh seafood market. If you’re a fan of lighthouses, you’ll enjoy visiting the Cape Henry Lighthouse and (maybe!) climbing the 191 steps to the top. Kids will love attractions such as the Aviation Museum, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center with its zip line, boat trips, and animal exhibits. Or just spend time in the beautiful outdoors, on the beach or bicycling around to check out the sights.
Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City, Maryland, has a long history of being a resort town and beach destination for families and tourists of all ages. It’s separated from the mainland by the Isle of Wight Bay. The land on which it is located is known as the Delmarva peninsula – “Delmarva” being made up of parts of the state names Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.
Ocean City has a long boardwalk with lots of dining options and nightlife as well. There are plenty of hotels along the boardwalk that offer a great stay if you like to be right in the middle of it all.
One of the most famous non-beach attractions is Trimper’s Rides, located at the south end of the beach. Trimper’s dates all the way back to 1893 and is known for its vintage amusement park rides. It also has two roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, and a huge carousel built in 1912. There’s also a second amusement park called Jolly Roger’s, so if your family is one for rides, this beach town is definitely the one for you!
Assateague Island is a short boat-ride away. Famous for its wild horses, it also has beautiful beaches and the Assateague Lighthouse. Parts of the island are a wildlife refuge, and it’s a great place to see birds and other animals, in addition to the horses of course.
If you like to camp, definitely check out Frontier Town. It has unique camping options as well as a water park, treetop ropes course, and a Western theme park.
Cape May, New Jersey
Cape May is the quintessential seaside resort town on the Jersey shore. It’s located on the southern end of the state on a peninsula between the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Many activities center around the water, whether you want to rent a boat or have a more relaxing boat tour where someone else does the work. Fishing is a big attraction here.
If land is more your style, rent a bicycle and explore the town. Kid-friendly spots include the Fireman’s Museum, the Zoo, and the Cape May Lighthouse. Teens may enjoy parasailing or spending the day on a wave runner. If adventure is your style. take a ride in a plane to see the area from a birds’ eye view!
The beach is very popular of course, and the Promenade runs along it for about two miles. You’ll find family-friendly businesses along the promenade, including a candy shop for when you’ve been out in the sun and need a pick me up.
For a unique souvenir visit Sunset Beach and look for your own “Cape May diamond”. These are small quartz pebbles that have been smoothed over time by the local waters.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon, has been listed by National Geographic as one of the world’s 100 most beautiful places. In case that’s not enough of a reason, Cannon Beach also has great accommodations, dining, and activities. So whether you plan to spend more time on the miles of beaches overlooking unique rock formations, or in town doing non-beach related activities, then there’s plenty of options!
For natural sights, you can’t beat Haystack Rock, just off the main beach. You might recognize it from the movie The Goonies. At low tide, you can actually walk to it. During the summer months, you can see tufted puffins (a unique bird sometimes mistaken for a penguin) – they use Haystack Rock for nesting. If large mammals are more your type, make sure to look out for Elk around town or at Ecola State Park!
Arcadia Beach and Ecola State Park are great recreation areas, but you really want to check out Hug Point. It’s just a few miles south and, at low tide, you can explore areas you can’t see otherwise. These include small caves and waterfalls, as well as tide pools. You can even walk along the old stagecoach road, which was how settlers traveled along the beach in the old days. (This activity might not be the best for families with very young children, however.)
In the town you’ll find the Cannon Beach museum, a toy store, the Chocolate Cafe, and other retailers that appeal to children and adults alike. There’s plenty more places to shop, too, so if you’re children are patient you’ll find more for your own enjoyment than just these! There are also wineries and breweries for adult enjoyment as well.
Monterey, California, has so much to offer that it’s hard to know where to start. The weather is beautiful and the locals are friendly, and just a walk around town is something to enjoy. But there are plenty of other things to see and do! The Monterey Bay Aquarium is incredibly popular, with beautiful and educational exhibits highlighting marine life on the US west coast. My favorite is the kelp forest display, where you can truly imagine yourself as a living organism among the giant kelp that grow off the California coast.
The Point Sur lighthouse is a fun place to visit, and they sometimes host ghost tours in the evenings. During the winter and spring, you may even spot migrating whales! If you want to be more certain, however, book a whale-watching tour and see them from a boat.
Small children may enjoy the Dennis the Menace park playground and the nearby children’s museum called My Museum. Cannery Row is the shopping and entertainment area, where you’ll find delicious seafood, and kid-friendly activities like putt-putt and a wax museum. The beach itself is a short walk from Cannery Row, and when the weather is right, it’s gorgeous. Make sure to also take a drive down 17-Mile Drive and see the famous Lone Cypress tree.
Want to see a beach with the prettiest sand in the world? Check out Coronado Beach in California, near San Diego. It has beautiful sparkling sand, thanks to small pieces of mica within the sand itself. The beach is one of the prettiest around, and with its mild waves, makes for a perfect place for even young children to splash around when the weather is warm enough. At low tide, your family can explore the tide pools and discover the unique sea life that calls these pools home.
Beside the beach is the historic Hotel del Coronado. If you choose to stay there, you’ll have access to their cabanas and lounge chairs on the beach. If you stay elsewhere, the hotel is still worth a visit, and you might even consider one of their walking tours. Or take a quarter-mile walk south along the beach at low tide until you can see the sunken ship, the SS Monte Carlo, that floundered way back in 1937.
Downtown Coronado features lots of eateries and shops. Favorites for families include Moo Time Creamery for ice cream and the Coronado Cupcakery for cupcakes. Not hungry? Try Geppetto’s Toys. Bring or rent bikes if you really want to explore more of the downtown area.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Corpus Christi is an excellent choice for a family vacation if you’re looking for a wide variety of activities to do. There are pristine beaches, including the Padre Island National Seashore. Because the area is protected by barrier islands, the surf is gentle enough for even small children (supervised of course!) You can also take advantage of watersports like windsurfing when conditions are right.
Outside of the beach, if you have smaller children, be sure to check out the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History, with exhibits on history and science. You and your tots will have a great time and learn a lot about local history and ecology. Water park fans will love the Hurricane Alley Waterpark, with water slides, a lazy river, and a surf simulator. There’s also the Kids’ Cove for younger guests, and the Riptide Hideaway Bar if mom or dad wants adult refreshment.
Almost everyone will have fun at the Texas State Aquarium, with exhibits showing marine life as well as special encounters such as a sloth meet-and-greet or a fish feeding. (Extra charges apply; check the website for more details.) If military history is more your style, be sure to visit USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, a World War II aircraft carrier that is now a museum.
Maui, Hawaii sure would be a special vacation for families, right? Not to mention just getting to say you’ve been to Hawaii! There are lots of fun activities for families, such as snorkeling, surfing lessons, or parasailing. Of course, while in Hawaii, you must try a luau and experience the music, dance, and food of Hawaii.
Other unique activities include touring the Atlantis Submarine, and yes it’s actually underwater!
Or you can be a mermaid (or merman) for a day with Hawaii Mermaid Adventures. In addition to learning to swim with a tail, they’ll also share with you information on being ecologically responsible with our planet’s oceans.
We hope this article has given you some ideas for your next vacation. Did we miss your favorite beach? If so, drop a note in the comments. Maybe you’ll interest us in trying some place new, too!