Frolicking in waves, building sand castles, flying kites on the beach—the best family beach vacations offer plenty of opportunities for enjoying healthy outdoor fun and creating lifelong memories with your whole crew.
What makes someplace a great family beach destination? It starts with kid-friendly lodging close to all the action. Land-based attractions for when you simply need a break from the sand and sun are another must. And, like all good family vacation ideas, the best family beach vacations are safe and affordable, too.
Best Family Beach Vacations in the United States
From coast to coast, the U.S. is home to some phenomenal beach destinations that offer loads of activities to keep all ages happy in and out of the water. Here are the top spots to consider for your next family beach vacation.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Known for its bustling boardwalk, amusement parks, old-fashioned arcade games, live entertainment, and other attractions, Myrtle Beach is a classic family beach vacation spot that can keep everyone in your group occupied for days. (Maybe weeks!)
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But there’s also plenty to experience outside of the action-packed center, where it can get crowded in the summer months. Myrtle Beach’s resort area stretches along a full 60 miles of coastline and includes quieter spots like Surfside Beach, which is popular among families for its multiple beach access points and plenty of space to spread out. At Surfside, the different beach areas are cleaned daily and supervised by lifeguards.
Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach
If you’d like a little privacy on your Myrtle Beach family vacation, as well as a way to prep and store easy breakfasts, picnic lunches, and midnight snacks, check out Marriott’s Ocean Watch Villas at Grande Dunes, where each villa has two bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.
San Diego, California
With its oodles of great beaches, San Diego is always one of the best family beach vacations in the U.S. Ranking high for family-friendliness is Coronado Beach, where little ones can wade in tide pools and older kids can go boogie boarding or surfing. There’s also the La Jolla coastline, which includes La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines State Beach, staffed by lifeguards year-round. And with its options for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, and water skiing—plus a boardwalk for strolling and sandy beaches for relaxing—Mission Bay Park is a great spot for active families.
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More great family-friendly beach destinations in California include nearby Carlsbad, as well as Newport Beach and Santa Barbara. And for an entirely different kind of coastal vacation, consider the beaches of Monterey.
Where to Stay in San Diego
The grand dame of beachfront accommodations in San Diego is the historic Hotel del Coronado, which dates back to 1888. “The Del” is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, so you may enjoy special perks with a Hilton Honors loyalty program membership.
It’s hard to go wrong with just about any beach vacation in Hawaii, but Maui is a top choice for families because it offers several different resort areas to choose from.
Upscale Wailea is home to high-end resorts that front crescent-shaped beaches with calm waters ideal for little kids. There’s even a paved oceanfront walking path that makes it easy to check out the different beach areas. Just south of Wailea is Makena Beach State Park, home to one of the largest undeveloped beaches on Maui. There are lifeguards, restrooms, and picnic areas at this state park.
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To the north, Kaanapali Beach is where you’ll find not only white sand and crystal clear water, but also plenty of shopping and dining options at open-air Whalers Village. This family beach vacation spot is popular for whale watching in the winter months, and there’s a nightly cliff diving ceremony that all ages will enjoy.
Where to Stay on Maui
If you’re splurging, consider staying at the Fairmont Kea Lani, which is Hawaii’s only all-suite and all-villa property on Wailea’s Polo Beach. Here, younger children might like to feed the koi or make new friends at the Keiki Lani day camp (currently closed due to COVID-19 safety protocols), while teens can go sea kayaking, learn to hula, or make leis.
Grand Haven, Michigan
You don’t need an ocean to have one of the best family beach vacations in the U.S. The Great Lakes boast some of America’s niftiest beach areas—and yes, there are actually waves lapping the shore. Because the swimming here is in freshwater, you won’t have to worry about salt in the eyes (or sharks!), either.
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Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, Grand Haven offers multiple beach options for families, including a state park and a city beach. Then there’s dog-friendly Kirk Park, which has not only a sandy lakefront but also many trails to explore. For a quieter spot, check out West Olive.
Other things to do in the area include strolling a historic boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants, and making your way out to the pier to snap photos of a scenic lighthouse. There’s also a musical fountain where you can watch a 20-minute water and light show nightly in the summer months.
Where to Stay in Grand Haven
With its pool and included breakfast, the moderately priced Best Western Beacon Inn is a solid choice for family accommodations in Grand Haven.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
For a quintessential family beach vacation in New England, head to Cape Cod, the hook-shaped peninsula on Massachusetts’ coast. Yes, it’s bustling with tourists in the summer months—for good reason. Families flock to the Cape for mini-golfing, traipsing around sand dunes, comparing ice cream stands, gobbling up lobster rolls, spotting whales, and simply admiring the gray cedar shake houses adorned with colorful buoys.
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Cape Cod is composed of 15 different towns and many more picturesque villages. Just one option for your home base is Barnstable, the area’s largest town that’s also home to the villages of Hyannis (a travel hub with an airport and ferry terminal) and Hyannis Port (the summer home of former President John F. Kennedy and his family). Barnstable’s Sandy Neck Beach is eight miles long and a great spot for riding fat tire bikes.
Where to Stay on Cape Cod
The Cape Codder Resort and Spa in Hyannis has family packages and an indoor water park—ideal for rainy-day fun in case the weather doesn’t cooperate with your family beach vacation.
Maine may be known for its rocky coastline, but in Ogunquit you’ll find long, wide expanses of sandy beach that are teeming with families in the summer months. Ogunquit Beach is a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River. Adjacent Footbridge Beach, easily accessed by—you guessed it—a footbridge across the river, is typically less crowded. Both beaches are staffed by lifeguards.
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Marginal Way is a paved cliff walk offering fabulous views of the ocean, and there are several benches along the way if the kids’ legs get tired. The local trolley can be a fun adventure—and useful, too. In the summer, parking for shopping and dining can be hard to come by, so it’s often more convenient to take public transportation.
Where to Stay in Ogunquit
For scenic accommodations, consider The Beachmere Inn with its sprawling green lawn along Marginal Way. From its cliffside location, you can walk right down to the beach. This area is rocky, but has some tide pools for kids to explore (safely, in low tide).
Sanibel Island, Florida
No need for a ferry or plane ride to get to Sanibel Island. You can motor over the scenic Sanibel Causeway bridge from Fort Myers to arrive at this small laid-back island community where nature takes center stage.
Even if you’ve never been interested in shelling before you arrive at Sanibel, you’ll likely become a fan of the activity by the time you leave, as shells are constantly washed up on shore on the island’s many beaches. Other popular family beach vacation activities here include spotting wildlife at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, biking along 25 miles of mostly flat recreation trail, kayaking in Tarpon Bay, and fishing—from the shore, in the bay, or on a chartered boat.
Florida is home to so many other great beach destinations for families, too. Some more top picks include Cocoa Beach on the Atlantic Space Coast, Destin in the Florida Panhandle, and Clearwater on the Gulf Coast.
Where to Stay on Sanibel Island
Many of the family-owned cottage rentals and small inns on Sanibel Island make perfect accommodations for family beach vacations. If you’re looking for a resort with a few bells and whistles—including a swimming pool—check out the beachfront West Wind Island Resort.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks (OBX to those in the know) are heavenly for families who want to get away from it all. There are no big cities here, rather a series of small towns and long stretches of unspoiled beaches.
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Things to do on family beach vacations in the Outer Banks include running and rolling down the East Coast’s largest sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park (people also launch themselves off the top in hang gliders!). Visitors can walk to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. For water sports, the shallower water on each barrier island’s east side is calmer than the Atlantic surf, so head there for mellow activities like kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.
Where to Stay in the Outer Banks
From small cottages to sprawling, multi-bedroom beachfront houses, vacation rental properties abound in the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks Beach Club is a timeshare resort that rents one-, two-, or three-bedroom condos just steps from the ocean. It features two outdoor pools and one indoor pool, hot tubs, shuffleboard, and tennis courts.
For a nice balance of relaxing white sand beaches and action-packed family-friendly activities, you can’t go wrong with Coastal Mississippi and centrally located Gulfport as your home base. Spend your mornings kicking back on Biloxi Beach or Long Beach, perhaps flying a kite and enjoying a picnic lunch. Then the afternoon can be all about playing at Gulf Islands Waterpark, going on a shrimp boat tour, exploring the Mississippi Aquarium, or zip lining at an adventure park.
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Of course, it wouldn’t be one of the best family beach vacations without opportunities for playing on the water, too. The beaches here are great for everything from kayaking to jet skiing.
Note that you won’t find crystal-clear water right off the mainland coast, however, because six Mississippi barrier islands hold in silt and brackish water in the Mississippi Sound. For clear water, you’ll want to head to one of the unspoiled barrier islands (currently accessible by charter boat). Ship Island, typically reached via commercial ferry service, is closed due to 2020 hurricane damage; check the Ship Island Excursions website for current Ship Island visitor information.
Another popular Gulf Coast destination, often described as one of the best cheap family vacations in the U.S., is Alabama’s Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area.
Where to Stay in Gulfport
Kids Suites at Gulfport’s Oasis Resort come with a set of bunk beds and a king bed. Guests have access to a water playground with a zero-entry pool, lazy river, and two giant water slides—and the beach is just steps away.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach fronts both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, providing a variety of experiences for family beach vacations. Spend the day at the lifeguarded beach and stroll the three-mile boardwalk along the oceanfront for loads of action, from street entertainers and live music to bike rentals and ice cream shops. And don’t forget to snap a family photo in front of the massive King Neptune statue.
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For quieter adventures, you can go kayaking along the Back Bay in the laid-back community of Sandbridge. Or spend the day enjoying the calm waters and the local vibe of Chesapeake Bay. Off the water, Virginia Beach is home to an aquarium, amusement park, laser tag, indoor skydiving, mini golf, and many more attractions for the entire family to enjoy.
Where to Stay in Virginia Beach
There are plenty of budget-friendly Virginia Beach hotels near the oceanfront, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, get pampered at The Historic Cavalier Hotel and Beach Club. The elegant accommodations may not impress your toddler, but you’ll likely appreciate access to the exclusive Cavalier Beach Club, the Seahill Spa, and the Tarnished Truth Distilling Company.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Eighty miles west of Portland, Cannon Beach is all about nature. If you have a budding naturalist, bird watcher, or marine biologist, this is one of the best family beach destinations in the entire country.
This Oregon town’s four-mile stretch of beach is known for its sea stack rock formations, the most famous of which is Haystack Rock, a nesting area for puffins. Many other birds make their home here, including bald eagles and cormorants. The tide pools around Haystack and elsewhere along Cannon Beach are extraordinary, with colorful sea stars, anemones, crabs, snails, coral, sponge, and sea slugs.
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A trip to Cannon Beach is more about viewing nature and wildlife, taking long walks on the beach, and playing in the sand than actually jumping in ocean waves. The cool maritime climate means that summer temperatures average in the upper 60s. Pack layers, a light raincoat, and a sense of adventure!
Where to Stay in Cannon Beach
Families appreciate the spectacular views, included continental breakfast, fresh homemade cookies all day, and library of games, books, and DVDs at The Ocean Lodge. Plus, there’s an evening wine reception nightly—score!