10 Best Family-Friendly Beaches in the U.S.

There’s nothing quite as memorable as a family vacation at the beach; sun, sand, and surf are the recipe for fun-filled days. Whether you want to kick back and relax with your book, play a game of soccer or join Aqua Surf School, there is something for everyone to do on a beach. With so many beaches to choose from across the U.S., it can be hard to narrow it down to the perfect vacation spot.

10 Best Family-Friendly Beaches in the U.S.

These ten beaches are all great family destinations, with options for a quieter getaway as well as bustling boardwalks for a more active stay. You’ll find options on both coasts as well as a top pick for lake lovers.

#1 – Coronado Central Beach, San Diego, CA

Your kids probably don’t care that this beach is famous – the impressive Hotel Del Coronado was the setting of the 1959 comedy classic Some Like it Hot, among others. But they’ll love the expanse of sandy beach and the winter tide pools, and the hotel’s Moo Time Creamery is a popular ice cream stop.

The Del itself is very kid-friendly, but if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, there are plenty on this peaceful island located across a sweeping bridge from busy San Diego. Not only will you not have to deal with cigarette butts on the beach, but Coronado itself is also entirely smoke-free.

There’s a Naval Air Base on the island, so your kids have a chance of being treated to a fly-by from some of the coolest helicopters and jets on earth. Back on the ground, there’s glittering sand (due to the presence of mica), sand dollars to hunt for, and bicycles available to rent.

And of course, all the water fun your family could want including boogie boarding, kayaking, and since it’s California after all, surfing. Rent your gear at Emerald City Surf and take a lesson from Coronado Surfing Academy.

#2 – Cannon Beach, OR

Another beach that’s famous for being featured in a movie? Indeed, Cannon Beach’s famous Haystack Rock can’t be missed in the 1980s classic The Goonies.

The beach itself is broad and flat, with plenty of room to spread out and explore. Sand bars create gentle pools perfect for younger kids, while waves crash further down to welcome the older set.

The classic beach town is bustling on hot days; Portlanders pour out of the city and over the mountains to enjoy the cooler coast. Get there early to find a parking spot, or better yet, book one of the many hotels and vacation rentals within walking distance of the beach.

You can rent any equipment you might need in the town, including wet suits from Cannon Beach Surf to help kids brave the Northwest’s chilly Pacific waters. You can also get fresh salt water taffy or an ice cream treat at Schwietert’s Cones & Candy.

#3 – Siesta Beach, Sarasota, FL

There are a lot of beaches in Florida, which makes it particularly impressive that Siesta Beach continually lands on best-of lists, including this one. There are a lot of reasons why.

First, the sand is incredibly fine and soft, and the water at the shore is shallow, gentle, clean, and warm. Oh, and it’s the blue-green color of your Caribbean dreams. Parking is free and plentiful, and lifeguards are on duty.

Food is easy with two concession stands located right on the sand, but you can also walk into the Village, where you’ll find lots of kid-friendly dining options. Another Broken Egg Café is a win for breakfast, and there’s no shortage of fun places for sweet treats. It’s well worth standing in line for Meaney’s Mini Donuts, and if you’re hot when you get to the front, they have ice cream, too.

Get around on bike and scooter rentals from Ride & Paddle, where you can also rent strollers, kayaks, and beach gear.

#4 – Lifeguard Beach, Ocracoke Island, NC

Located in North Carolina’s Outer Banks and accessible only by boat, Ocracoke Island is a peaceful getaway from the rest of the world. It’s tiny, but there’s really a lot of family-friendly fun to be had.

Ocracoke’s wide beaches are renowned for their shelling; get the kids a bucket and head out early to beat the other beachcombers. On the historical (and more exciting) side, Ocracoke’s Blackbeard museum is a fun place to learn all about the pirates that once frequented the island. The small town is home to plenty of great family dining. Grab a pizza at Jason’s or sit down to some fresh seafood at Gaffer’s.

In the evening, get a National Park permit so you can build a bonfire on the beach. S’mores around the fire with the ocean in the background is the perfect way to end the day at one of America’s best beaches.

#5 – Ocean City Beach, Ocean City, MD

Ocean City is the place to go if you’re looking for excitement with your beach vacation. With a bustling boardwalk complete with an amusement park (Trimper’s has been there since the late 1800s), this beach is great for kids of all ages.

Family events take place throughout the summer, including weekly (free) movies on the beach. The sand itself is soft and spans many miles, so you can find a quieter spot if you prefer to escape the crowds. Lifeguards are on duty, and the Beach Patrol keeps an eye on things as well as giving safety demonstrations.

This is a beach town with a ton of dining options, so even the picky eaters will be satisfied. Dead Freddies is a beachfront option with playground equipment on the sand to keep kids busy while you enjoy your meal. Several other restaurants have beach play areas for kids too. Check out Ropewalk, where they serve kids meals on a frisbee.

#6 – Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, MI

If you’re more of a freshwater person, the Great Lakes is your place, and Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore is their jewel. The lakefront area on Lake Michigan was named “The Most Beautiful Place in America” in a 2011 survey.

The dunes themselves are a big attraction, and after the sandy climb, the lake is a great place to cool off. And although it’s a lake, its size allows waves big enough to take a surfing lesson. The dark and wide-open skies at night offer incredible star-gazing opportunities. In fact, you can attend a star party.

Kids will love the shipwreck rescue reenactment at the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Maritime Museum.

Unless you’re camping, you’ll have to lodge and eat just outside the park, but don’t worry – there’s plenty of selection. Try the fried pickles at Empire Village Inn, or get a sweet treat at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate.

#7 – Kaanapali, Maui, HI

Kaanapali is the most popular beach in Maui for good reason. The three-mile stretch features soft sand, shallow waters excellent for snorkeling, and a family atmosphere.

The Kaanapali Beach Hotel is a great pick for families. It’s right on the beach and offers fun activities such as lei making, hula lessons, and a passport scavenger hunt. Rent stand-up paddleboards and paddle over the famed black rocks; keep an eye out for turtles in the water!

In the evening book a table at the Cliff Dive Grill, from which you can view the nightly torch lighting ceremony and cliff dive off the Black Rock Cliffs. During the day, take a walk down the esplanade for shopping and dining at Whaler’s Village.

A can’t miss sight for the whole family is the Nakalele Blowhole, just a short drive from the beach, where water shoots 100 feet into the air.

#8 – Cooper’s Beach, Southampton, NY

You may not be able to live in one of Southampton’s beachfront mansions, but you can enjoy the famed beaches nonetheless. Family-friendly Cooper’s Beach ranks among the best beaches in the nation.

This white sand beach is near Southampton Village and has a hefty $50 parking fee, but it’s also one of the few in the area that allows non-residents to buy day passes. The beach is one of the only Southampton beaches with lifeguards on duty, so parents can relax.

Events take place throughout the summer, including Monday night drive-in movies and a series of free concerts. The pavilion features a snack stand as well as water and sand toys for purchase. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas.

Hungry families will want to pop into Cooper’s Beach Café for a serving of their popular fries.

#9 – Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island, FL

Bowman’s Beach is the most popular beach on Sanibel Island but still manages to offer a pristine and peaceful family getaway. The long expanse of sand offers some of the best shelling in the area making it a beachcomber’s heaven.

The beach itself is a little removed from the busier areas, which means you’ll have to travel a bit for dining options, but there are barbecues available and you can bring a picnic. Not far away, you’ll find the quirky Lazy Flamingo serving up burgers and seafood.

The best option for a stay near Bowman’s Beach is a vacation rental, although there are a few nearby hotels and resorts, the closest being the West Wind Inn. There you can rent any gear you need for your day on one of the best beaches in Florida.

#10 – Santa Cruz Beach, Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz Beach is one of the last of the classic beach towns in California, with a vibe that will have everyone in the family humming Beach Boys tunes. If you’re coming from north or south, road trip it up the Pacific Coast highway for incredible views.

There is no place quite like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, with its amusement park including roller coasters, arcade, mini golf and a selection of dining choices. Pick up wristbands for unlimited all-day rides – the best deal on the boardwalk.

Down on the beach, you’ll find a large span of soft sand with lifeguards on duty. Rent surfboards, boogie boards, and more at Cowell’s to hit the waves like a California native. Being California, you will want to make sure to catch a glorious Pacific sunset. Have dinner at The Crow’s Nest where you can enjoy the view and also a meal at one of Santa Cruz’s classic dining spots.

No matter which of the top beaches you choose, all of these places are the stuff childhood memories are made of. Book your stay and let the beauty of nature do the rest.

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a B.A. in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg, and is a Staff Writer at ExpertInsuranceReviews.com. Her ten-year freelance writing career has covered topics from insurance to entertainment reporting. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons.

1 comment

  1. I've been to the Hotel Del Coronado (but not, alas, as a guest). It was neat to take a look at such a cool old building!


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