Family walking to the beach on summer vacation; Courtesy of margaret.wiktor/Shutterstock
All Ages

14 Best East Coast Beaches for Families

See recent posts by Beth Luberecki

Dreaming of a beach vacation on the East Coast? From Maine to Florida, there are plenty of beautiful beaches and classic East Coast beach resorts. We’ve rounded up 14 great spots along the U.S. East Coast for splashing in the surf, digging in the sand, and relaxing in the sun. Head to any of them for an idyllic family beach vacation.

The Atlantic Ocean and pier in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.; Courtesy of Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

1. Old Orchard Beach, Maine

You won’t ever hear your kids complain about being bored in Old Orchard Beach, where there’s seven miles of sand they can run and play on. Then take them to Palace Playland, New England’s only beachfront amusement park where the rides range from mild (like a carousel and spinning teacups) to totally wild (with names like the Adrenaline and Power Surge). It’s just one of the spots you’ll find along the Old Orchard Beach Boardwalk, which also offers all kinds of all-American eats and shopping opportunities. During the summer catch a game at the Ballpark, where the Old Orchard Beach Surge play as part of the Empire Professional Baseball League.

Recommended Hotel: Echo Motel & Oceanfront Cottages

Beachfront homes in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.; Courtesy of Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

2. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

 

New Hampshire might be better known for its mountains than its beaches. But along its less than 20 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline you’ll find Hampton Beach. This throwback destination will draw in the kids with spots like the historic Hampton Beach Casino complex, home to perennial kid faves like an arcade and indoor mini-golf course, plus the largest waterslide in Hampton Beach. During the summer, catch a concert at the Sea Shell Stage, set up a chair for Movie Night Mondays on the Beach, or admire the fireworks displays that take place every Wednesday night. Little ocean lovers will also want to visit the touch tanks and exhibits at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center and Explore the Ocean World Oceanarium.

Recommended Hotel: Mainsail Motel & Cottages

West Dennis, Massachusetts; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Dana M

3. West Dennis, Massachusetts

Base yourself here for a classic Cape Cod family vacation. West Dennis Beach on Nantucket Sound is a long expanse that’s great for kite flying, body surfing, and digging in the sand. If you don’t want to drive and park there, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards and travel down the Bass River to the shoreline. There are multiple mini-golf and go-karting options in the area (always a favorite of the kids who vacation here) and must-visit local institutions like Sundae School, which operates out of a historic barn and was named one of the “Best Ice Cream Spots in the U.S.” by Food & Wine magazine. And this Mid-Cape location makes it easy to explore other nearby towns from Hyannis (the unofficial “capital of the Cape”) to charming Chatham.

Recommended Hotel: The Corsair and Cross Rip Oceanfront

Westerly, Rhode Island; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Dave W

4. Westerly, Rhode Island

What’s to love about this spot on the shores of the U.S.’s smallest state? Beach options like Misquamicut State Beach and Napatree Point Beach, for starters. Taylor Swift fans might want to spend time on the sands of Watch Hill Beach; the pop star owns a beach home in that area. Old-timey attractions like the Flying Horse Carousel and Atlantic Beach Park will recall beach vacations from simpler times, while Water Wizz water park offers more than 1,000 feet of wet and wild fun. Catch a movie on the beach during the summer or visit the Watch Hill Lighthouse Museum to see how keepers lived and worked.

Recommended Hotel: Weekapaug Inn

Madison, Connecticut Meigs Point Nature Center; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Jemlnlx

5. Madison, Connecticut

Beaches in this Connecticut town on Long Island Sound named for President James Madison include the popular Surf Club Park, which also offers a playground, basketball and sand volleyball courts, and concession stand, and the more than two miles of sand at Hammonasset Beach State Park, also home to Meigs Point Nature Center, which offers nature walks, turtle presentations and other programs during the summer. Explore the many trails that are part of the Madison Land Conservation Trust or tour town historic sites run by the Madison Historical Society. The whole family can browse for beach reads at R.J. Julia Booksellers or catch a flick at the century-old Madison Art Cinemas.

Recommended Hotel: Madison Beach Hotel

Southampton, New York Coopers Beach; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/-Isabella-J-K-

6. Southampton, New York

Part of the celeb-loved getaway spot the Hamptons, this town on the South Fork of the eastern end of Long Island is home to Cooper’s Beach, which has appeared multiple times on “Dr. Beach’s” list of best beaches in America (including in the top spot in 2010). Part of a longer strand of white-sand beaches, Coopers Beach has calm waters, showers, chair and umbrella rentals, and lifeguards on duty daily during the summer. Agawam Park has a fun playground for kids and is the site of summertime concerts put on by the Southampton Cultural Center. Southampton Village is home to kid-friendly dining spots like Sip ’n Soda, where every Friday night is Sundae Night and the toppings are unlimited. The original retail store for Tate’s Bake Shop is also in the area.

Recommended Hotel: Southampton Village Motel

View of a boat with a Cape May sign on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey, USA.; Courtesy of EQRoy/Shutterstock

7. Cape May, New Jersey

Parents will love the historic charm and Victorian architecture of this coastal city that’s been dubbed “America’s oldest seaside resort.” Kids will love all the beach options, from the City of Cape May’s classic Jersey Shore beaches to the more wild sands at spots like Cape May Point State Park. Families can tour the area by horse-drawn carriage or trolley, search for whales and dolphins on a boat excursion, or scan the skies for winged creatures at the Cape May Bird Observatory. Let the kids travel back to the past (and get ice cream) at Historic Cold Spring Village or check out all the cool aircraft on view at the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum.

Recommended Hotel: Congress Hall

Bethany Beach, Delaware; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/DelawareVisitor

8. Bethany Beach, Delaware

Families looking for a quieter beach vacation might want to consider this spot along Delaware’s coast. Bethany does have a boardwalk, but it’s just a half-mile long and on the low-key side, with no amusement rides. But don’t fear: You can still get your fix of French fries, saltwater taffy, and frozen custard here. In the summer there are weekly bonfires and movies on the beach and concerts at the town’s bandstand. You’ll find all the family beach vacation must-haves in Bethany, from mini-golf and bike rentals to restaurants serving up local seafood. And if you need more action, it’s just a short drive to the more bustling boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Recommended Hotel: Bethany Beach Ocean Suites Residence Inn by Marriott

Ocean City, Maryland; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/TravelingFromOhio

9. Ocean City, Maryland

This much-loved family vacation destination is home to 10 miles of free public beaches that are watched over by lifeguards every day throughout the summer. The kids can learn more about that important job with a visit to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, which includes an interactive children’s exhibit area where they can scan the seas by telescope and “rescue” Teddy the bear. Free family events during the summer include Family Beach Olympics that feature sandcastle contests, relay races, and other events. Head to the three-mile boardwalk—which has been named one of the best beach boardwalks for families—for good eats like Maryland crab cakes and saltwater taffy and classic beach amusements at spots like Trimper’s Rides and Jolly Roger at the Pier.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Ocean City

King Neptune Statue at Virginia Beach Before Sunset.; Courtesy of Jay Yuan/Shutterstock

10. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Situated at the point where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach is home to wide beaches ideal for sandcastle building, surfing, and everything in between. Families can stroll or pedal the three-mile Virginia Beach Boardwalk or watch street performers on Atlantic Avenue during the summer months. Enjoy views of the Atlantic from the top of the 100-foot-tall Ferris wheel at Atlantic Fun Park or make a splash on the Sea Serpent and Vortex slides at Ocean Breeze Waterpark. When it’s time to take a break from the beach, visit the sea turtles, sharks, seals, and other aquatic creatures at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center or explore First Landing State Park, where English colonists landed in 1607 and where the pirate Blackbeard is said to have hidden out.

Recommended Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront

Bald Head Island, North Carolina; Courtesy of VisitNC.com

11. Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Get away from it all on this car-free island that’s only accessible by ferry. Located at the spot where the Cape Fear River and Atlantic Ocean meet, Bald Head Island is home to 14 miles of beaches. Choose East Beach for good surfing or South Beach for calmer water perfect for the little ones. Families can climb the 108 steps to the top of Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, or ride along on a turtle patrol with the Bald Head Island Conservancy. The Conservancy also leads an after-dark tour to check out what island animals might be doing at night. Kids will love traveling around by bike or golf cart; you can also kayak or standup paddleboard through the island’s creeks and marshes. Vacation rentals are the most popular lodging options here.

Beach at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort; TripAdvisor Expert Photo

12. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

This Lowcountry island offers 12 miles of beaches. Watch the sun set at South Beach or enjoy the often-uncrowded sands at Folly Field and Driessen Beaches, both of which also have mats for wheelchair accessibility. Miles of bike trails lined with live oaks await exploration, or families can check out the area by boat, helicopter, kayak, or horseback. There are lots of golfing options on Hilton Head Island, whether you prefer a regulation course or one of the miniature variety. Kids can also play pirate during a voyage on the Black Dagger or pretend to fly a plane or grocery shop at the Sandbox interactive children’s museum.

Recommended Hotel: Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort

Back River Beach in Tybee Island; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveller/Carolinawallace

13. Tybee Island, Georgia

Located about 20 minutes from Savannah, this barrier island features more than three miles of beaches that range from centrally situated Mid Beach to the quieter Back River Beach, a great spot for sunsets and dolphin spotting. It’s home to Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse and Civil War–era Fort Pulaski, where the family can hike, bike, bird watch, and catch regular cannon firing demonstrations. Get out on the water on a boat, kayak, or fossil hunting tour, then head to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center to learn more about the aquatic creatures that call the island home. A bike ride around the island will help work up an appetite for good seafood and a few scoops of ice cream at the Sugar Shack.

Recommended Hotel: Hotel Tybee

Coconut Creek Family Fun Park in Panama City Beach, Florida; Courtesy of Coconut Creek Family Fun Park

14. Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach offers a whopping 27 miles of white, sugar-sand quartz beaches that can be reached by almost 100 access points. Options include the sands at St. Andrews State Park and undeveloped Shell Island, accessible only by boat and ideal for collecting its namesake feature. Other choices for family fun include mini-golf, go-carts, and the Gran Maze at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, a human labyrinth that’s the size of a football field. Little animal lovers will want to take advantage of the chance to pet a slot or snuggle with a lemur at Zoo World, while thrill seekers can brave the slides at Shipwreck Island Waterpark. Rent bikes or book a boat tour to further explore the area.

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort Panama City Beach

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.com or find her on Instagram.

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