Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
Taking the family to the beach can create lifelong memories, as long as every member of the family is satisfied. To help you choose a beach destination for your next family getaway, U.S. News considered factors like safe waters, kid-friendly attractions, dining options, spacious accommodations and multigenerational appeal to determine the best family beach vacations in the U.S. Weigh in by voting below, then use this list to plan your upcoming travels. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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Outer Banks beaches are lauded for their consistent yet manageable waves and verdant landscapes. And you can count on North Carolina's OBX to deliver great summer weather (think: highs in the 70s and 80s). Plan on renting a cottage or condo for more space without being too far from the beach. For lots of sand to stretch out on and build sandcastles on, visit the wide shores in Nags Head. Or, head to Kitty Hawk or Kill Devils Hills to surf the choppy waters. Duck is the beach to go to if you brought your four-legged family member with you.
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This Florida town's family-friendly vibe and impressive beaches entice multigenerational groups year after year. The stark white sand and calm jade water at Henderson Beach State Park and the Shores at Crystal Beach Park are picture-perfect. Plus, many Destin resorts cater to kids, so parents can relax while the little ones play. Boat tours are also a great way to spend some quality time with the family; all ages will have fun looking for jumping dolphins, and the kids will have a blast on the pirate-themed cruises.
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Florida's Sanibel Island is a hit with kids for two reasons: The area's beaches offer calm waters that are perfect for play, and the "Sanibel Stoop" will keep little ones occupied for hours as they search for shells and sand dollars on popular shelling beaches like Bowman's and Blind Pass. Families can also look for wildlife along the 4-mile-long Wildlife Drive in the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. If you're not yet convinced, remember that hotel deals are pretty easy to find here.
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While cost is a barrier for any family getaway, it's an especially large barrier for many when it comes to traveling to Hawaii. Still, Maui has some of the United States' most abundant and exotic family-friendly beaches. Wailea Beach and Hana Bay Beach Park are the go-to options, with sun-drenched sands and calm waters ideal for swimming. And all ages will want to head to Haleakala National Park for an educational yet unforgettable visit to the world's largest dormant volcano.
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Hilton Head, South Carolina, is perfect for families looking to slow down. You'll find two notable beaches here: Alder Lane Beach and the ever-popular Coligny Beach Park. For a break from the sands, take a stroll (or bike ride) through Harbour Town and climb to the top of the lighthouse. Golf courses and tennis courts abound as well, giving your family plenty of options for staying active while on vacation.
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Myrtle Beach has no trouble luring East Coasters to its expansive sands. After you've had time on the beach (this area boasts more than 60 miles of sandy South Carolina shores), check out Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach or catch a game at Pelicans Ballpark. Myrtle Beach State Park is another must for families, as you'll find fewer crowds, a nature center, campgrounds, trails and a beach pier here. Just make sure you wear plenty of sunblock – the South Carolina sun can be unforgiving.
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Oahu is expensive but is home to some of Hawaii's most inviting beaches. Head to Waikiki Beach or Ala Moana Regional Park, two beaches where the water remains relatively calm and lifeguards are always present. When you need a break from the beach, trek the kid-friendly Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail or explore some of the island's historical sites, such as the Battleship Missouri Memorial. If your family happens to be visiting in late November or early December, make sure you go watch the Vans World Cup of Surfing competition on Oahu's North Shore.
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Cape May#8 in Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
Cape May's nearly 3 miles of family-friendly sands fill with New Jersey locals during school breaks and out-of-towners in summer. You and your little ones can bond while surfing, kayaking or strolling along the promenade. Sunset Beach is a popular spot for families, and The Cove, while often crowded, is fun for surfing. Just remember to buy beach tags for visits between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and reserve accommodations a few months in advance.
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Founded by the Spaniards in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida, boasts a rich history that will appeal to families with varying ages and interests. Youngsters will likely love the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum and the wildlife at the St. Augustine Wild Reserve. Plus, the area's beaches – including St. Augustine Beach and Anastasia State Park – offer more than 40 miles of sandy shores and are extremely popular with families thanks to features like splash pads, small waves, volleyball courts and outdoor showers.
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Cannon Beach#10 in Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
The wide shoreline and towering Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach make for a unique family beach vacation. In this Oregon beach spot, you and the kids can fly kites, build sandcastles and jump over waves at the town's main stretch of sand (keep in mind, the water is too cold to swim in). Other fun family activities include checking out the tide pools at Indian Beach in Ecola State Park and visiting Bruce's Candy Kitchen to see sweets like saltwater taffy being made. Consider taking some home as a tasty souvenir.
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Jekyll Island#11 in Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
Families keen on relaxing will love this Georgia island's sands. You'll have seven beaches to choose from, including St. Andrews Beach Park (where you may see dolphins swimming) and South Dunes Beach Park (with screened-in picnic pavilions). For more action, play volleyball or bocce at Great Dunes Beach Park. Keep in mind that you'll need to purchase a pass (available in daily and annual selections) to access Jekyll Island and many of its offerings.
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Soft sand, lifeguard-patrolled shores, a fun-filled boardwalk and plenty of lodging options are just a few reasons why Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, stands out as a top family-friendly beach spot. Families can spend the day playing on the sand or swimming and boogie boarding in the Atlantic Ocean before chowing down on some fresh seafood, Thrasher's french fries and homemade ice cream. No visit would be complete without enjoying a game of mini-golf and the rides at the beachfront Funland amusement park.
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A few beaches sit within Santa Barbara, California's city limits: East, West, Arroyo Burro and Leadbetter. Of the four, East and Arroyo Burro are best suited for families. East Beach offers lifeguards, a playground, picnic areas and volleyball courts. Meanwhile, Arroyo Burro Beach features calm water, coastal trails, a play area and the Watershed Resource Center, where kids can learn more about California's beaches. Following time spent in the sun, children can eat ice cream or pick out candy on Stearns Wharf, or search for their favorite animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
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Sandy Neck Beach#14 in Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
Of Cape Cod's beaches, few are as impressive or as family-friendly as Sandy Neck. Occupying 6 miles of coastline in Barnstable, Massachusetts, this beach boasts more than 4,700 acres of dunes, forests and marshes to explore. Families will also likely enjoy checking out the Sandy Neck Lighthouse, one of Cape Cod's most well-known lighthouses. Remember, though, that drivers need to purchase a vehicle day pass to park at this beach.
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Six beaches are available in Monterey, California, but families are most drawn to Window on the Bay Beach for its playground and skate park, and Municipal Beach for its calm water and pier packed with eateries. Meanwhile, families with older kids who are into water sports should head to McAbee Beach to scuba dive and kayak. For even more fun, go whale watching or touch bat rays at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
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