If you could create the ultimate beach for your family, what would it look like? Would it have calm, clean waters and powdery, soft sand? Would it be situated near other attractions, such as a playground and boardwalk? Would there be casual places to eat nearby, along with spacious, yet affordable places to stay? These beaches, listed in no particular order and located across the U.S., have all of those qualities and then some.
Virginia Beach – Virginia Beach, Va.
You won’t find flashy arcades and amusement rides along the boardwalk in Virginia Beach. Instead, the 3-mile stretch lines hotels, motels and restaurants. In the summertime, families can enjoy live music along the boardwalk, with even more entertainment at popular Neptune Park. Of course, the other side of the boardwalk faces the famous beach, where typically tame waters invite families to swim, kayak and enjoy chartered cruises. Lifeguards are stationed throughout the beach during the summer months, and several restrooms are available.
Insider Tip: Don’t leave Virginia Beach without a family photo in front of iconic King Neptune, a 34-foot-tall cast bronze statue of the mythological sea god.
Recommended Hotel: Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront Virginia Beach
Lincoln City Beach – Lincoln City, Ore.
Bring your kite to Lincoln City, known as Kite Capital of the World. The area’s coastal winds provide prime conditions for kite flying and kite festivals, along with surfing and windsurfing. When the tide recedes, beach goers search shallow pools for colorful sea life — starfish, sea urchins and more are easily spotted. Other activities include crabbing, clamming and beachcombing for agates — semi-transparent stones. When it’s time for a break, play a round of mini-golf or nosh on fresh seafood at a restaurant in town. Accommodations include home rentals, hotels, motels and the popular Chinook Winds Casino Resort, which offers a play facility just for kids.
Insider Tip: Search the sand for glass floats — they’re part of a program called Finders Keepers, in which “Float Fairies” disperse beautiful ornaments on the beach for vacationers to find and take home.
Recommended Hotel: Ester Lee Motel
Ogunquit Beach – Ogunquit, Maine
Ogunquit is a prize vacation choice in New England — the town’s tagline is “Beautiful Place by the Sea,” after all. The beach is easily accessible to restrooms and restaurants, including Splash, where outdoor seating is offered. Opposite the beach, the Ogunquit River provides more opportunities to play. It’s especially fun to search the sand for crabs. The area’s resorts are just as charming as Ogunquit Beach, and many are within walking distance to the sand and surf. Consider The Sparhawk Oceanfront Resort — the views alone are worth a visit.
Insider Tip: Use the Ogunquit Trolley to get to the beach and around town — fare is just $2 per adult and $1.50 per child (ages 10 and under).
Recommended Hotel: Sparhawk Oceanfront Resort
Manatee County Beach – Holmes Beach, Fla.
Situated on Anna Maria Island, Manatee County Beach is a classic vacation destination in South Florida and on the Gulf of Mexico. Grills, picnic tables, beach gear rentals and water sports complement a beautiful stretch of sand, bordered by mellow, refreshing waters. Restrooms and showers are located onsite, as are changing cabanas, especially convenient for families with babies. When the kids finish their sandcastle showpiece, take a break and grab a bite at Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, famous for all-you-can-eat pancakes. Area accommodations cover everything from motels to home rentals.
Insider Tip: Reserve a Nesting Beach Tour at the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch to observe “turtle nesting season.” You’ll join federally permitted volunteers as they analyze nests and hatched and unhatched shells. Tours take place June through August, by reservation only.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites – Historic Downtown Bradenton
Carlsbad State Beach – Carlsbad, Calif.
Just one glance at Carlsbad State Beach and it’s obvious this place is for families. The views are everything you’d expect for a beach in Southern California, but better — don’t be surprised to spot dolphins or whales against the beautiful backdrop. The water is calm and particularly ideal for bodysurfing, and lifeguards are on duty during the summer months. Restrooms are also available. Pack a picnic lunch — tables are available — or grab tacos and fresh guacamole at nearby Roberto’s. When you need a break from the beach, LEGOLAND California and San Diego, plus a myriad of hotels in both areas, are at your disposal.
Insider Tip: Historic Highway 101 (Carlsbad Boulevard) has free parking — get there early to snag a spot. The City of Carlsbad also offers family events, classes and camps throughout the year, including surf school, S’mores parties and more.
Recommended Hotel: West Inn & Suites
Fort De Soto Park – St. Petersburg, Fla.
Fort De Soto Park offers amazing opportunities to snorkel, kayak, hike, bike and fish, though the shallow tide pools are among the park’s best features. The park, which features seven miles of shoreline, also offers restrooms, playgrounds, concession stands and picnic pavilions. Lifeguards are stationed along the beach in the spring and summer months. Many families opt to camp at Fort De Soto Park, though downtown St. Pete, about 20 minutes away, offers a wealth of hotels and resorts, with many new options available in 2015.
Insider Tip: Head to North Beach to enjoy a shallow, calm lagoon — perfect for new swimmers.
Recommended Hotel: Loews Don CeSar Hotel
Rehoboth Beach – Rehoboth Beach, Del.
When families in the Mid-Atlantic think of Delaware, it’s usually Rehoboth Beach that comes to mind. The beloved beach offers relatively calm waters, along with lifeguards and restrooms. The town itself is just as popular, with a traditional boardwalk that offers amusements, an iconic resort (Boardwalk Plaza Hotel) and restaurants — don’t miss The Ice Cream Store, which offers hundreds of ice cream flavors! More hotels can be found nearby, along with street parking, though many families get around town via the Jolly Trolley.
Insider Tip: Bring or rent bikes to take advantage of the scenic trails that connect Rehoboth Beach with Lewes, Delaware.
Recommended Hotel: Boardwalk Plaza Hotel
Crescent Beach – Block Island, R.I.
Crescent Beach features clean, shallow waves and soft sand — it’s nicknamed “Baby Beach” for that reason. Some hotels and cottages are located right on the sand, where families also find restrooms with showers, chair and umbrella rentals, boogie board rentals and a snack bar. Parking is plentiful (and free), and a few lifeguards are stationed onsite during the summer months. The beach spans 2.5 miles, with views of the Mohegan Cliffs in the distance. Be sure to visit the North and Southeast Lighthouses, or take a ferry to nearby Montauk in the Hamptons.
Insider Tip: Take the Mobile Bike Tour of Block Island. At the island’s most popular sites, families can use their smartphones to scan QR codes and hear a little bit about the featured attraction.
Recommended Hotel: The Darius Inn
Cape May Beach – Cape May, N.J.
No matter the beach, the Jersey Shore is a great destination for families. Still, Cape May wins our vote with a combination of historic charm and modern fun. Build sandcastles and visit an old lighthouse during the day, then stroll down Washington Street and play a round of mini-golf at night. You can rent cabanas and boogie boards at the beach, and restrooms and lifeguards are stationed throughout the area. While Cape May is well known for fairytale B&Bs, it’s just as popular for Congress Hall, which welcomes families with kids’ perks and seasonal events. Motels are also an option for accommodations.
Insider Tip: Enjoy free “Movies on the Beach” on Thursday evenings, mid-July through late-August. Showings are presented near Convention Hall (or inside Convention Hall when it rains).
Recommended Hotel: Congress Hall
Kings Beach – Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Nevada or California? We like both sides of Lake Tahoe, but Kings Beach, California stands out with prime views of the calm, turquoise waters, sports rentals, a playground, inexpensive parking and free concerts on the beach each Friday. Families have the option to bring packed lunches or visit a nearby eatery — there are plenty of options, from sit-down restaurants to ice cream stands. There are just as many vacation rentals and hotels available, too.
Insider Tip: Visit the Tahoe Central Market for picnic food to enjoy on the beach. The market features local, organic products, plus delicious smoothies and sandwiches.
Recommended Hotel: Ferrari’s Crown Resort
More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best All-Inclusive Caribbean Family Resorts for 2015
10 Best All-Inclusive Family Resorts in the U.S. for 2015
Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.