7 Beach Towns That Are Just as Much Fun in the Fall

Smaller crowds and still-pleasant temperatures make fall a great time to plan a trip to these beach vacation destinations in the U.S.
Michigan fall color
(Photo: Nick Perez via Unsplash)

When the leaves change color and the weather turns cold, you might be tempted to set aside any thoughts of family beach vacations. But if you choose the right family vacation spot, fall beach vacations are arguably the most enjoyable time to head to many beach destinations.

Best Fall Beach Vacations in the U.S. for Families

In the fall, most kids are back in school, which means fewer crowds. The temperatures have begun to drop, making afternoons on the beach even more pleasant. And many fall beach vacation destinations host seasonal events and festivals that beg for a trip of their own. The best hotel booking sites typically show lower prices this time of year too. So, pack your bags and grab a pumpkin spice latte: Here are the best fall beach vacations in the U.S. for families.

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1. Carlsbad, California

Carlsbad Beach
Carlsbad is a refreshingly uncrowded fall beach vacation destination (Photo: Samantha Jean via Unsplash)

Carlsbad is a surprisingly uncrowded fall beach vacation spot despite the fact that it’s close to San Diego and also home to a major family-friendly attraction: LEGOLAND California Resort. Take advantage of the smaller crowds at one of the country’s best amusement parks for kids on Brick-or-Treat weekends in October, when children are invited to wear their costumes and visit treat stations.

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You can also frolic in the pumpkin patch and corn maze at Carlsbad Strawberry Company or, better yet, go to a pumpkin patch in a pool: The Alga Norte Aquatic Center transforms its giant swimming pool for the City of Carlsbad Pumpkin Plunge, an interactive floating pumpkin patch where kids can “catch” a pumpkin by throwing a hula hoop into the water.

And don’t forget to enjoy some time by the water on your fall beach vacation, too. Many beachfront hotels such as The Beach Terrace Inn offer discounts on nightly rates this time of year.

2. Newport, Rhode Island

Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island (Photo: Rhode Island Commerce Corporation)
A visit to Newport in fall promises seaside walks, gilded mansions, and fall festivals (Photo: Rhode Island Commerce Corporation)

New England’s coastal towns and seaside villages are at their most charming this time of year, which is why an autumn visit to the gilded mansions of Newport is a must-do for beach-loving families who never want the summer to end.

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Visit for the fall festivals, including the annual Bowen’s Wharf Seafood Festival, you-pick orchards, and ghost tours. And don’t miss out on the spectacular fall foliage, which is usually on full display by mid-October along the scenic 3.5-mile Cliff Walk, with its crashing waves and historic mansions around every bend.

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

First Landing State Park (Photo: Virginia State Parks)
The changing foliage is top-notch in fall at First Landing State Park (Photo: Virginia State Parks)

The city of Virginia Beach continues to reinvent itself with new reasons to visit any time of the year, but especially for fall beach vacations. When you’re not strolling the beach or three-mile boardwalk, take the kids to Roll with It, Virginia Beach’s first board game cafe featuring more than 500 different board games, or pose for photos at the Lost Planet Selfie Museum.

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Ogle at the changing foliage at First Landing State Park, the most-visited state park in Virginia, where 1.5 miles of sandy beach and 20 miles of walking trails await. As for seasonal events, this classic American beach town lures fall vacationers with Neptune Festival’s International SandSculpting Championship; the annual Mural Festival; and the yearly Boardwalk Art Show

4. South Padre Island, Texas

Aerial view of the Texas Gulf Coast (Photo: Shutterstock)
In fall, South Padre Island has comfortable temperatures and a sand castle festival (Photo: Shutterstock)

Best known as a popular spring break destination thanks to its wide-open beaches and many vacation rental homes, South Padre Island is even more welcoming to families in the fall. Why? Think pleasant weather (with agreeable ocean temps to match), splashing around at Beach Park at Isla Blanca (previously called Schlitterbahn South Padre Island), and attending the annual Sand Castle Days, a two-day sand sculpture festival featuring artists from all over the world. 

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Little ones and nature lovers of all ages will enjoy a visit to Sea Turtle, Inc., a sweet educational rehabilitation center for turtles. Even better, South Padre Island is home to Isla Grand Beach Resort, one of the best family resorts in Texas situated right on the beach.

5. Traverse City, Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful outdoors destination in fall (Photo: Nicole Geri via Unsplash)

You might not know that Traverse City is the self-proclaimed “Cherry Capital of the World,” but you may have heard that it is known for its wide selection of breweries, wineries, cideries, and farm-to-table restaurants.

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Put those together and you can expect to find unique cherry-infused food and drink during your visit. Where’s the beach, you ask? It’s at nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, one of the very best natural recreation areas in the country.

6. Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May Coastal Town
Migrating monarchs pass through Cape May in fall (Photo: Dan Mall via Unsplash)

With cute B&Bs and historic downtown buildings, Cape May is charming all year long. It also has powdery beaches, a county zoo, an aviation museum, and a historic lighthouse (which you can climb) that makes it especially fun for families.

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But visiting Cape May for a fall beach vacation provides a unique opportunity you can’t get any other time of year: Experiencing the annual Monarch Butterfly migration. Visit the Cape May Bird Observatory to watch these beautiful creatures as they make their journey to Mexico. And who knows, it may even inspire you to plan your own family vacation to Mexico someday.

7. Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach is popular in summer but is just as great in fall (Photo: Ryan Stone via Unsplash)

Just a 90-minute drive from Portland, this iconic Oregon beach is a popular spot for summer vacations but arguably even better for fall beach vacations when the big crowds have gone home. You can expect warm temperatures, reaching up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in October, as well as the occasional dramatic storm that’s fun to watch from a safe and cozy spot.

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Named one of America’s Top 100 Art Towns, Cannon Beach offers a lot to see and do in town, while the beach provides stunning views of Haystack Rock, as well as a possible whale sighting in September and October.

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Amanda Norcross
Amanda Norcross is a family travel expert who's previously written for FamilyVacationist. Her expertise has also been featured in major media outlets including Bloomberg, Cheddar, Family Vacation Critic, NBC News, Red Tricycle, SmarterTravel, The New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, and The Weather Channel. Amanda enjoys traveling with her curious toddler and seeing the world through his eyes.