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10 Family-Friendly Beach Destinations You Never Considered
Take the kids to these under-the-radar seaside escapes.
These shores offer calm waters and ample opportunities to relax and unwind together.
Corrected on June 29, 2016: A previous version of this story misstated the location of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is located in northern lower Michigan along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan.
Delaware's "quiet resort" between the bustling Atlantic beaches at Rehoboth, Delaware, and Ocean City, Maryland, has welcomed generations of dealmakers from Washington D.C. Surf fishing, kite flying, surfing and more activities are available from dawn to dusk, while the boogie boarders, body surfers and sandcastle builders tend to show up during lifeguard hours. Rent an umbrella and relax or stroll the shore. What's more, the half-mile-long boardwalk boasts ice cream stands and the occasional live concert.
Creole Nature Trail
This 26-mile designated heritage road south of Lake Charles shows off the best of the bayou. First, make your way to Adventure Point on Ruth Street in Sulphur, Louisiana, which offers a free interactive exhibit showcasing birding and marsh habitats, as well as southwest Louisiana's Cajun culture, Creole cuisine and zydeco music. Bring binoculars and stroll the elevated wooden nature trails or stop at the pristine Gulf of Mexico shore. Here, you'll find beautiful sandy beaches for swimming and shelling, especially at low tide, when the muddy river of the Mississippi Delta sweeps in driftwood, whelks, coquinas and hundreds of other shells.
First Encounter Beach
Located on Cape Cod Bay along the Cape Cod National Seashore, this beach, officially called Coast Guard Beach, is the site where, in 1620, the Mayflower mistakenly made landfall and pilgrims first encountered Native Americans. The bay keeps the water calmer and warmer – temperatures range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer – making it popular with families who love its tidal pools, grass picnic lawn and bathhouse.
Flying Point Beach
Accessible only to residents with beach permits or those who arrive via Long Island Rail Road, this remote paradise sits in the Southampton Township beach system. Beachgoers who continue to the end of Flying Point Road will find the Hamptons' famous golden-sand beach and Atlantic surf on one side and the calm, warm Mecox Bay on the other. Twice annually, the township cuts a channel connecting the two bodies of water to create a sandbar between them that allows parents to sunbathe while watching little ones chase sand crabs and wade in big ponds. Adding to the scenic landscape are low sand dunes and shorebird nests.
Dana Point Harbor Beach
Families traveling with infants and toddlers should not miss Dana Point Harbor Beach (also known as Baby Beach) in Southern California. In a very upscale enclave off the Pacific Coast Highway, swimmers will find warm shallow surf protected from roaring waves by a jetty that surrounds the area. The soft sands are tucked between a grassy picnic area with barbecue grills and parking, eliminating the need to haul a cooler. A lifeguard and well-kept bathrooms with showers are added perks. For an air-conditioned break, walk into the Ocean Institute's hands-on and educational marine life exhibits.
Honeymoon Island State Park
They say the best destinations are the hardest to reach, which is perhaps why Honeymoon Island State Park off the coast of Tampa appeals to those looking to get off the beaten track. The fine white sand and calm Gulf of Mexico water attracts ospreys to build their nests, beachcombers tired of shelling on Florida's Sanibel Island and snorkelers, fishermen and nature lovers. You'll discover beach chairs, umbrellas and kayaks available to rent; a covered wood pavilion and café; a few shops and a ferry heading farther offshore, to the even more pristine Caladesi Island.
Huntington Beach State Park
South of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and near the inspiring plant and sculpture park at Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach is considered the best-preserved beach on the Grand Strand. The Atlantic surf is gentle, the golden sands are clean, and there are lots of seashells. Instead of a busy boardwalk, there's an Interpretive Trail for exploring the lagoon and marshland, a jetty for fishing and a boat ramp. Scheduled kayak and hiking tours are open to the public, as are alligator viewing, crabbing, birding and tours of Atalaya Castle, a National Historic Landmark and the winter home of American sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, who donated the park land.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Midwesterners love this small town answer to the daytrippers and summer crowds around Traverse City, Michigan. Lake Michigan is so calm that locals describe it as "wavy" when it's rough and shallow enough to be relatively warm – perfect to introduce tots to splashing around and building sandcastles. Head to the Hart Visitor Center for information on the Great Dunes, some more than 100 feet tall, and learn where to climb them safely. What's more, beginner sailing, surfing and fly-fishing lessons are given in and around the park all summer.
From the skyscrapers of downtown San Diego, it's hard to imagine 19 miles of sandy beaches sitting just minutes away. Vacation Isle is one of the designated swimming locations in the 4,600-acre, man-made Mission Bay Park whose inlets and islets are safely shielded from the Pacific Ocean. Model boat sailing, kayaking, fishing and wake boarding surround Vacation Isle, making it ideal for sunbathing and swimming. Throw a blanket on the shaded lawn, set your feast on picnic tables or in the gazebo and light up a fire ring for s'mores while enjoying a memorable sunset.
The Beaches of South Walton stretching out along the Florida Panhandle are a mystery to anyone who has not driven Scenic 30A, the meandering route along the Gulf of Mexico. Grayton Beach is one of 16 distinct communities with its own style and beach cottages, a microbrewery and even barefoot cafes. The protected Grayton Beach State Park surrounds Western Lake, a rare freshwater dune lake that draws wildlife into a salt marsh as it feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Swim or paddleboard on one side of the road, then cross the dunes to bird watch, sketch the gnarled pines or kayak in the dune lake.
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