The Best Family Beach Vacations in the USA

These 10 destinations boast pristine shorelines and opportunities for well-rounded family fun.

By Erin Shields, Staff WriterApril 19, 2016
By Erin Shields, Staff WriterApril 19, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
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Kids build a sandcastle on a beach.
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(Getty Images)

Enjoy some quality family time in these kid- and parent-approved locales.

Once school lets out for summer, vacation is often on the minds of parents and children alike. And chances are, your family is looking to get to the beach to enjoy the salty air, soft sand, sunny days and refreshing sea. To help you decide where to take a family beach vacation, U.S. News considered factors like affordability, activities, calm swimming waters, accommodation options and accessibility, plus expert opinions and reader votes. Read on to see what spots across the U.S. make for wonderful family getaways and learn more about why these destinations charm travelers time and again.
Coronado Island, San Diego, California.
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(Getty Images)

10. San Diego

Mission Beach and Coronado Beach are two of San Diego's more popular stretches of sand. While Mission Beach appeals to teens looking to surf the waves or skate along the boardwalk, Coronado Beach beckons to families with younger travelers thanks to its calm waters and laid-back atmosphere. Plus, if the kiddos get bored of the beach, the whole gang can enjoy the city's other family-friendly attractions such as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and SeaWorld.
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Enjoy some quality family time in these kid- and parent-approved locales.

Once school lets out for summer, vacation is often on the minds of parents and children alike. And chances are, your family is looking to get to the beach to enjoy the salty air, soft sand, sunny days and refreshing sea. To help you decide where to take a family beach vacation, U.S. News considered factors like affordability, activities, calm swimming waters, accommodation options and accessibility, plus expert opinions and reader votes. Read on to see what spots across the U.S. make for wonderful family getaways and learn more about why these destinations charm travelers time and again.

10. San Diego

Mission Beach and Coronado Beach are two of San Diego's more popular stretches of sand. While Mission Beach appeals to teens looking to surf the waves or skate along the boardwalk, Coronado Beach beckons to families with younger travelers thanks to its calm waters and laid-back atmosphere. Plus, if the kiddos get bored of the beach, the whole gang can enjoy the city's other family-friendly attractions such as the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and SeaWorld.

9. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod's shoreline is so impressive it was deemed a national park in 1961. The Cape Cod National Seashore comprises 40 miles of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and its beaches draw throngs of families each summer. That's because outdoor activities abound on this eastern Massachusetts peninsula. Kids can hit the waves for bodyboarding or boogie boarding, rent kayaks or bike along the Cape Cod Rail Trail. And afterward, the entire family can spend some quality time together at the Wellfleet Drive-In movie theater, which screens double feature films at affordable rates.

8. Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City is home to miles of soft khaki-colored sands that are perfect for sandcastle-building and Atlantic Ocean waves that are ideal for boogie boarding. Lifeguards are on duty from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the summer months, so parents can relax knowing trained professionals are also keeping an eye on the kids. Come nighttime, families can head to the boardwalk for games and rides or hit one of the mini-golf courses on Coastal Highway. What's more, Ocean City offers a mix of condo rentals, hotels and vacation homes at varying price points so families can select the best accommodations to suit their budgets.

7. Destin, Florida

This city on the Florida Panhandle caters to families that love the water and – of course – the beach. Destin is known as a hot spot for fishing and boating, with pirate-themed cruises, dolphin-spotting excursions and deep-sea fishing charters that are particularly popular with families. Henderson Beach State Park stands out with its white sands and emerald-tinted waters. Plus, the area offers ample space to spread out, nature trails to explore and areas to picnic.

6. Hilton Head, South Carolina

One of the best parts about Hilton Head is that travelers can visit several different beaches in a single trip. Several public beaches dot the eastern shore of Hilton Head Island, with Folly Field, Alder Lane and Coligny beaches winning the most praise from travelers. Folly Field and Alder Lane will be less crowded, but Coligny Beach is where families will find a livelier atmosphere and facilities such as restrooms and restaurants within easy reach. Be mindful that many of the hotels in Hilton Head charge resort fees, so if you're on a budget, you may want to consider a vacation rental.

5. Maui, Hawaii

Maui's picturesque beaches beckon to travelers of all ages. The island's notable family-friendly shorelines include Wailea Beach – for swimming and sunbathing – and Napili Beach – for paddleboarding, boogie boarding and snorkeling. Parents will really impress kids that have only seen traditional white or camel-colored beaches by taking them to see the red sands at Kaihalulu Beach or the ebony-hued shoreline at Waianapanapa State Park.

4. Honolulu – Oahu

Oahu is the most-visited Hawaiian island, and it offers multiple beaches worth exploring. Active families can enjoy Waikiki Beach's soft sands and excellent surfing and swimming conditions. Meanwhile, Kailua Beach Park is the perfect spot for families with young children: swimming conditions are safe, the beach has picnic tables and bathrooms available for use and tropical trees provide plenty of shade for those who need to get out of the sun.

3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Travelers flock to this beach locale each summer thanks to its mild Atlantic Ocean waves, expansive sands and jam-packed calendar of events and festivals. And while the beach is the main attraction in this South Carolina vacation destination, there are many other activities families can check out, making Myrtle Beach a well-rounded vacation spot. Favorite family attractions include mini-golf courses, the Myrtle Waves Water Park (the largest in South Carolina) and the 13-acre Family Kingdom Amusement Park.

2. Sanibel Island, Florida

Located off the southwestern coast of Florida, this island sees pleasant weather, with 80-degree Fahrenheit daytime temperatures come summertime. Sanibel Island is popular with families because its beaches have plenty of beautiful – sometimes unusual – seashells, which little ones love to collect. In fact, shelling is so popular here, the bent-at-the-waist stance used to spot shells even has a catchy name, the "Sanibel Stoop." Families with kids who aren't interested in shelling can grab bikes and hit the island's 22 miles of paved bike paths or explore J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to tropical mangroves with alligators and various birds.

1. Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks stretches across nearly 100 miles of North Carolina shoreline, from northernmost Corolla all the way south to Ocracoke Island. With several North Carolina towns to choose from, including Duck, Kitty Hawk and Avon, the Outer Banks has welcomed families for years. The Outer Banks is home to ample vacation rental options, offering families the chance to share to shave down lodging costs. And the Outer Banks' beaches are known for their cleanliness and flat terrain – perfect for sprawling out on with beach blankets, umbrellas, chairs and toys. Keep in mind, the Outer Banks is an exceptionally popular family summer vacation spot, so you should book your accommodations four to six months in advance and expect to share the sand with plenty of other travelers.
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Erin Shields, Staff Writer

Erin Shields is the Assistant Managing Editor of Travel at U.S. News, where she oversees a ...  Read more

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