What makes a beach family-friendly? We asked, and you told. Nearly half of all families consider the cleanliness of a beach to be the most significant quality, according to our survey. Other important factors include safe waters with a lifeguard on duty, and nearby restaurants, accommodations and entertainment.
These beaches, ranked in no particular order, meet our criteria and are well worth your next family trip.
Beach Haven – Beach Haven, N.J.
Yes, Hurricane Sandy devastated Beach Haven and several other New Jersey towns in October, 2012. Yes, the state is encouraging families to return via its Stronger Than the Storm Campaign. No, that’s not why Beach Haven made our list.
Beach Haven is a borough on Long Beach Island, which stretches about 18 miles, and has long been a favorite amongst East Coasters. Families enjoy calm waters and crowds, monitored by lifeguards, and easy accessibility to several bathroom facilities, some of which include showers and street or lot parking nearby.
When it comes to attractions, eateries and hotels, Beach Haven outshines other beach towns. The beach is home to Fantasy Island Amusement Park, Thundering Surf Water Park and Schooner’s Wharf, which features shops and places to eat. More restaurants can be found along the main drag, and you must go to Showplace Ice Cream Parlour, where the folks from Surflight Theatre will entertain you – and include you – in live shows as you enjoy frozen treats. Inexpensively priced motels, such as Sea Spray Motel and Hurley’s at Holgate Inn, can be found throughout town.
Bethany Beach – Bethany Beach, Del.
Located near Rehoboth Beach, a consistent name on many “Best Beaches” lists, Bethany Beach is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.
On a hot, sunny day, Bethany Beach can get just as crowded as Rehoboth, but it’s not unusual for the beach to appear somewhat vacant either. You’ll find mostly metered parking, and if you have to park far from the beach, hop on one of the trolleys that run through town. Families find the beach to be safe; several lifeguards patrol the area, and the waves are generally calm and free of debris.
When it’s time for a beach break, get the kids cleaned up at a foot washing station, located at every street along the boardwalk (more on that in a second). You can also go to the Comfort Station, which provides restrooms and a changing station for families with babies.
Many families rave about Bethany’s non-commercialized boardwalk and town. It’s quaint and charming, with restaurants, shops and galleries. Other attractions include the walking trails near Bethany Beach Nature Center, and Captain Jack’s Pirate Golf.
There’s also a few hotels in the area, including a Holiday Inn Express.
Coquina Beach – Nags Head, N.C.
You won’t find a flashy boardwalk with games and rides at this Outer Banks beach, located along Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Instead, you’ll find seemingly endless miles of shoreline with calm waves and even calmer crowds (if you can even call them that).
While Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers several uncongested beaches that are arguably the “best,” Coquina made our list because it’s patrolled by lifeguards and located near a bathhouse with restrooms. Parking is free, and is close to the beach. And The Dunes Restaurant, which serves casual, kid-friendly fare, is just a short drive away.
When you need a break from sandcastle building, check out the Laura A. Barnes shipwreck, located right on the beach. Dense fog caused the ship to float ashore on June 21, 1921. The Wright Brothers Memorial is also a short drive (about 20 minutes) away.
Coronado Central Beach – Coronado, Calif.
Coronado Central Beach (and really anybeach in this area) never disappoints. There’s plenty of parking lots (which are often free) and shower and bathroom facilities available. Lifeguards are on duty, and the clear-blue waves are picturesque as they calmly sweep ashore. It’s a great spot for boogie boarding and body surfing, and the tide pools during low tide are a hit with kids.
Beyond the beach, there’s Spreckels Park, perfect for a picnic lunch, and ferry and gondola rides (who said you had to go to Italy?). There’s also dozens of family-friendly restaurants and hotels nearby, including the grand Hotel del Coronado. And when you’ve had enough of Coronado, head to downtown San Diego, just a few miles away.
Fort De Soto Park – St. Petersburg, Fla.
The largest park within the Pinellas County Park System, Fort De Soto Beach isn’t just a beach; it’s an all-inclusive package for family fun. There’s more than enough powdery sand and fresh water to sink your toes in, but you can also hike nature trails, go fishing, ride bicycles and visit a historic fort. At the top of the fort, you’ll see Sunshine Skyway Bridge, the world’s longest cable-stayed concrete bridge. Additionally, Fort de Soto Park has a playground, concession stand, ferry service and grills for cooking. Restrooms, showers and parking are aplenty. An added bonus: Fort de Soto Beach is dog-friendly! Dogs are allowed in a designated area on the beach.
If you’re planning to stay a few days, consider camping; the park is popular for its clean campgrounds with modern facilities. If you prefer a hotel, plenty of accommodations are available in nearby St. Pete Beach.
Poipu Beach Park – Koloa, Hawaii
We love the Big Island and Maui, but when it comes to family friendliness, Kauai does it best. Poipu Beach‘s white sand and periwinkle blue waters beckon families to swim, boogie board, scuba dive or simply relax. Lifeguards patrol the area, and restrooms are easily accessible. Plus, Poipu Beach is located just west of Baby Beach, a protected cove with calm, shallow waters just for tiny tikes.
When you get hungry, head to one of the area’s restaurants or farmers markets, which offer a wide range of options, from prices to fare. Brennecke’s Beach Boiler is a good choice.
Sand Harbor Beach – Incline Village, Nev.
Lake Tahoe has some of the most crystal-clear water in America, and combined with its other natural wonders, is well worth a stop. We’re not talking about Lake Tahoe’s California side though; we’re talking about a little town in Nevada.
Sand Harbor features 55 acres of beautiful beach amidst wooded areas and rocky coves. Families enjoy swimming, scuba diving, and hiking the area’s nature trails. There are plenty of restroom and shower facilities, and lifeguards are stationed throughout the area. If you have a boat, bring it – there’s a boat launch with adjacent parking. Parking is available in other areas as well. When you get hungry, head to the Char-Pit for burgers, milkshakes and more.
You’ll find a couple of hotels nearby; we recommend the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino.
Siesta Beach – Siesta Key, Fla.
Siesta Beach returns to our list with good reason. First, the beach is absolutely breathtaking. Its sand is 99 percent quartz and feels like confectioners sugar; this in itself is worth a visit! Then there’s the pale, translucent blue-green water, similar to that of the Caribbean. Add the gentle water’s shallow depth near shore, lifeguards and restrooms and showers, and you’ve got it made.
You’ll also find free parking (get there early) and a nearby playground for the kids. At the concession stand, you’ll enjoy food and live music.
Explore Siesta Key with Siesta Key Bike and Kayak or Sun Ride Pedicab and Historic Tours, and stop at Captain Curt’s Crab & Oyster Bar, where you’ll enjoy everything from crab legs to burgers. The atmosphere is casual, and kids are welcome.
Staying a while? Siesta Key has a nice selection of hotels, including Sea Spray Resort on Siesta Key.
Skaket Beach – Orleans, Mass.
Located in the town of Orleans on Cape Cod, Skaket Beach is quintessential New England at its best. The beach is flat, making it perfect for families with small children. Because of its bayside location, it’s also noticeably warmer than other beaches. Kids love the tide pools during low tide.
There’s plenty of parking, though we recommend you arrive early in the day to claim a spot. There’s also a snack stand, restrooms with showers and lifeguards on duty. Perhaps the best part about Skaket Beach, however, is its sunsets. Many people head to Skaket just to relax as the sun gracefully descends over the water.
Stewart Beach – Galveston Island, Texas
You’ll pay to park at this Galveston Island beach, but the price is worth a day (or more) at Stewart. You’ll find clean restrooms with changing tables and showers. A small shop sells cold beverages, snacks, beach toys and other necessities, and you can also find refreshments at a small snack bar. Chairs and umbrellas are available to rent as well. Lifeguards are on duty, and park patrols regularly frequent the area.
The beach hosts several family-friendly events each summer, including volleyball competitions, sandcastle building contests and concerts. For more fun, visit Schlitterbahn Waterpark, about a 20-minute car ride from Stewart Beach.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, we recommend Hotel Galvez & Spa – A Wyndham Resort. The historic hotel has a tropically landscaped pool and regularly offers promotions and discounts.
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