A summer trip to the beach is a classic way to spend a vacation for a reason. But when you’re traveling with kids, you need more than just sand and surf to make your time at the beach fun for the whole family. That’s why each year, we choose the best beaches for families specifically, making sure that each U.S. beach on our list provides the important amenities families need and want—easy access to restrooms and showers, lifeguards on duty, and nearby attractions, restaurants, and hotels good for the kids and the grownups (because you can’t spend every second of your trip in the water).
1. Silver Beach – St. Joseph, MI
Best Family Beach For: Preschoolers
Insider Tip: Paid parking lots by the beach can fill up quickly during the summer, so get there on the early side. There are free parking options closer to downtown that require a longer walk to get to the sand.
This wide Lake Michigan beach at Silver Beach County Park offers 1,600 feet of shoreline dedicated for public swimming during the summer. Families with little ones will love the calm waters and easy access to the restrooms, showers, and concession stand, and lifeguards patrol the beach during the summer months. There’s a good-sized playground with slides and swings by the beach, and if you take a short stroll into downtown St. Joseph, you’ll find the wet-and-wild Whirlpool Compass Fountain (Michigan’s largest splash pad) and the Silver Beach Carousel, where kids can ride a tiger, giraffe, or of course, a horse. St. Joseph is part of an area that’s been dubbed the “Riviera of the Midwest,” and it’s also home to fun spots for the younger set, like the interactive Curious Kids’ Museum and Discovery Zone and Nye’s Apple Barn, where visitors can pick fruits like raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and peaches at various points during the summer.
Recommended Hotel: Boulevard Inn
2. Siesta Beach – Sarasota, FL
Best Family Beach For: Multigenerational Vacations
Insider Tip: Head out to the beach on Sunday evenings about an hour before sunset to witness—or take part in—the Siesta Key Drum Circle. This much-loved and all-ages weekly happening brings drummers, dancers, and other free spirits together to move and groove as the sun goes down.
This stretch of powder-soft sand that’s been named the best beach in America by both TripAdvisor and Dr. Beach offers fun for the whole family. The kiddos can build sandcastles and splash in the not-too-rough surf, then head to the playground or beach volleyball nets when they need a break from the water. A major overhaul done at the main beach entrance over the past few years means updated restrooms and concession stands, plus more parking than before. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas onsite and borrow beach wheelchairs. There’s also a mobility mat at the beach that makes it easy for beachgoers of all ages and abilities to get out on the famous cool-to-the-touch sand. It’s located on Sarasota’s Siesta Key, where families will find all kinds of seafood spots and ice cream shops and can easily drive to Sarasota’s many kid-friendly museums, parks, and attractions such as the Mote Aquarium and Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
Recommended Hotel: Sarasota Surf and Racquet Club
3. Main Beach – Santa Cruz, CA
Best Family Beach For: Boardwalk Amusements
Insider Tip: In addition to visiting the boardwalk, make sure to stroll the Santa Cruz Wharf as well. You might spot dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, or whales from the pier, or you can rent kayaks for a closer encounter.
Head to this beach that sits between the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and the Santa Cruz Wharf for easy access to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. One of the best beach boardwalks in the U.S., this longtime favorite is home to rides like the 96-year-old Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster and newer additions like the Twirlin’ Teacups, plus other attractions including mini-golf, laser tag, and arcade games. The boardwalk also has a bowling alley that recently opened the “World’s Smallest Bowling Museum” exhibit. When you’re hungry you can find all kinds of kid-friendly eats at the boardwalk and on the wharf. Local attractions include the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, which offers family tours and Sunday Seaside Crafts to help kids learn about life beneath the ocean, and the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which traces more than 100 years of surfing history.
Recommended Hotel: Beach Street Inn and Suites
4. Waikiki Beach – Honolulu, HI
Best Family Beach For: Surfing
Insider Tip: There are lots of free activities to take advantage of along this stretch of sand. Find a spot on the beach where you can watch the fireworks displays set off every Friday night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Torch-lighting and hula shows take place several nights a week at the Kūhiō Beach Hula Mound.
The whole family can ride the waves here no matter their abilities. Beginners have lots of options for lessons in this Honolulu spot where legend Duke Kahanamoku used to hang ten. (Look for his statue on the beach for a post-surfing selfie.) It’s got a small but long-lasting wave break that’s fun for both novices and more experienced surfers. Offering world-famous views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach is part of a two-mile span of interconnecting beaches on Oahu and is also a good spot for canoeing, boogie boarding, and people-watching. Explore the Waikiki Historic Trail to learn more about the area’s surfing history, then head to the Waikiki Aquarium to visit with its Hawaiian monk seals and giant clams.
Recommended Hotel: Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
5. Crandon Park Beach – Key Biscayne, FL
Best Family Beach For: Special Needs
Insider Tip: Families can look for the sensory-friendly access symbol from Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs to find events and performances suited for individuals with sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders. Events include family-friendly plays and special sensory-friendly activities at the Miami Children’s Museum and Frost Science Museum.
The water is typically calm at this two-mile beach located within Crandon Park on Miami’s Key Biscayne, thanks to an offshore sandbar that keeps the surf from crashing. There are special beach wheelchairs available for use as well as picnic areas with tables and grills, concession stands, and cabana and water sports rentals. The park is also home to a nature center, tennis courts, a golf course, and Crandon Park Amusement Center, where you’ll find a historic carousel and outdoor roller rink. When you’re ready to get off the beach and explore Miami, head to spots like Zoo Miami, which holds the Certified Autism Center designation, and Miami Children’s Museum, where its Multi-Sensory/Snoezelen Room was created specifically for children with special needs. Miami’s New World Symphony also offers a Sensory-Friendly Environment where families with children with special needs can enjoy a concert with lighting and volume modifications.
Recommended Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne
6. Crane Beach – Ipswich, MA
Best Family Beach For: Nature Lovers
Insider Tip: Admission/parking fees aren’t cheap here: $25 to $30 per car during the summer season. But admission fees are reduced after 4 p.m., and your fee includes admission to Castle Hill.
On protected land owned by Massachusetts conservation group the Trustees of Reservations, Crane Beach offers miles of shoreline watched over by seasonal lifeguards. It’s an important nesting site for the threatened piping plover bird, which families might see as they walk the beach or traverse the more than five miles of trails that wander through the site’s coastal dunes and Castle Neck peninsula, home to the largest pitch pine forest on Massachusetts’s North Shore. Your admission fee also provides access to Castle Hill, a onetime summer estate whose grounds are home to wildlife like deer, foxes, turkeys, and great-horned owls. Off the beach, the family can learn about the resident grey wolves at Ipswich’s Wolf Hollow sanctuary, learn about the area’s agricultural past at Appleton Farms, or grab a cider donut after picking strawberries, blueberries, or cherries at Russell Orchards.
Recommended Hotel: Shea’s Riverside Inn & Motel
Related: The Best Swim Floaties for Kids
7. Fred Benson Town Beach – Block Island, RI
Best Family Beach For: Cool Beach Town Atmosphere
Insider Tip: Don’t pay to take your car on the ferry; you can get around the island easily by bike (or taxi if necessary). Rent from spots like Beach Rose Bicycles, which offers kid-sized wheels, plus trailers and child seats.
Block Island‘s Fred Benson Town Beach provides pretty much everything families might need for the day, from showers and changing rooms to umbrella rentals and concessions selling beach-day necessities like ice cream. It’s also close to everything else there is to do on this 3-by-7-mile, totally charming New England island accessible by ferry. It’s easy to explore by bicycle, taking in sights like the dramatic Mohegan Bluffs or the island’s two lighthouses. You’ll find all kinds of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants with a view here. Hit up spots like the Old Post Office Bagel Shop or Payne’s Donuts for a kid-friendly start to the day, then head to the beach or island attractions like Abrams Animal Farm near the Hotel Manisses.
Recommended Hotel: The National Hotel
8. South Beach – Huntington Beach State Park, SC
Best Family Beach For: Camping
Insider Tip: Dogs are allowed at Huntington Beach State Park year-round. They’re allowed on the south end of the beach but not in park buildings or on the north end of the beach, and must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times.
The three miles of beaches at this South Carolina state park include South Beach, which is patrolled by lifeguards during the summer months. The shoreline is popular for surf fishing and birdwatching, and there are several trails families can head out on to explore the park. South Beach is also close to the park’s Atalaya, a Moorish-style historic mansion that can be toured along with the adjacent Brookgreen Gardens sculpture garden. The park offers 173 campsites that include 107 standard campsites with water and electric, and 66 full-hookup sites with water, sewer, and electric. Some sites can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet, and all sites have complimentary Wi-Fi access. Both the North and South Campgrounds offer easy access to South Beach.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn Murrells Inlet/Myrtle Beach Area
Related: 11 Best Packable Sun Hats for Travel
9. Huntington City Beach – Huntington Beach, CA
Best Family Beach For: Sunsets and Scenery
Insider Tip: You don’t need a license to fish from the pier, and you can also rent fishing gear there if you need it. If fishing’s not your thing, visit Kite Connection on the pier, which provides kite rentals or sales and even tips to help you get airborne.
Offering views of Catalina Island and Newport Beach, the 1,850-foot Huntington Beach Pier has been the star of many a sunset photo at this beach in what’s known as Surf City USA. The Southern California spot got its nickname after legendary Hawaiian wave riders George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku helped turn the city onto surfing, but you don’t have to know how to balance on a board to enjoy this picturesque Pacific Ocean beach. Open until 10 p.m., the more-than-three-mile stretch of white sand also offers volleyball courts and bonfire pits (perfect for post-sunset hangouts) along with concession stands and beach rentals. There are all kinds of food options in walking distance of the beach serving everything from tacos to Hawaiian seafood. On Tuesday nights, head just off the beach to Main Street for Surf City Nights, where you’ll find a farmers market, children’s entertainment, and live music.
Recommended Hotel: The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel
10. Gulf State Park Pavilion Beach – Gulf Shores, AL
Best Family Beach For: Few Crowds
Insider Tip: Parking is $10 for the day at the Beach Pavilion ($13 for passenger vans). Pay stations are located throughout the lot and accept credit cards or cash (but don’t issue change). Display your parking receipt on your dashboard before heading out onto the sand.
Relax surrounded by sand dunes and sea oats at this usually uncrowded, natural white-sand beach within Gulf State Park on Alabama’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline. A new beach pavilion offers air-conditioned restrooms, showers, picnic tables, a seasonal snack bar, and beach equipment rentals. It’s a good spot for surf fishing or for scanning the skies in search of bald eagles, ospreys, woodpeckers, and other birds. Within the park families will also find a pier for fishing, kayak and bike rentals, miles of trails to explore, and a nature center where the kids can learn about plants and animals native to the Gulf Coast. When you’re ready for a break from the beach, head to nearby spots like the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, which is opening at its new location in spring 2020, or the Fort Morgan historic site.
Recommended Hotel: The Lodge at Gulf State Park
Related: The Best Life Jackets for Kids
Beth Luberecki is a Florida-based freelance writer who writes about travel, business, and lifestyle topics for a variety of publications and websites. She enjoys exploring destinations close to home and farther afield with her husband and teenage daughter. Visit her website at bethluberecki.comor find her on Instagram at @bethluberecki.