The Whole Family Will Love These Beach Vacation Spots

best family beach vacations
16 Best Family Beach Vacation Spots in the U.S.getty

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There's something so relaxing about a family beach vacation. It's probably the soothing feeling of the sun on our skin as we lounge on a super soft beach towel. Or maybe it's the smell of sunscreen in the air, or the sound of the waves crashing on the coast. Or it could be the sweet sight of our littles, shovels and buckets in hands, building sandcastles on the shore. Whatever it is, we're here for it! The best family beach vacations are a stress-free opportunity for moms and dads to wear cute beach outfits and get lost in a good summer book, all while the kids play fun beach games.

To help you plan your dream getaway, we've searched high and low to uncover the 16 hottest (sorry, we couldn't resist) beach getaways right here in the U.S. Whether you want to head north, south, east or really far west (we're looking at you, Hawaii), we've got the perfect vacation for the fam. Looking for classic sand and surf? You'll find some iconic Florida and California destinations on this list. And because we know there are trailblazers among you, we've also included a few less well-known spots.

Find places with sprawling boardwalks and classic carnival rides to keep the kiddos active or more secluded spots where you can set up your beach umbrellas and beach chairs, then let nature simply take your breath away. (Did we mention you can find wild horses on one of these beaches?) Whatever you're looking for, you'll find it here. Just make sure to plan and book ahead, so there's less stress come vacation time. Then, be sure to share all of your delightful photos with the best beach Instagram captions!

For more vacation ideas:

Destin, Florida

Situated in the Sunshine State's panhandle, Destin is one of the country's favorite towns for family-friendly beach getaways. The white sands and pretty green seas at Henderson Beach State Park and James Lee Park—which both also offer playgrounds, picnic areas and bathrooms—are just one enticement. Also, grandparents, parents, and the kiddos alike will adore the fun attractions like dolphin cruises, golfing, tours, a zoo, a massive water park, and water activities like parasailing, kayaking, and snorkeling.

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blue beach chairs and umbrella on white sand facing surf
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Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

For Southern hospitality with a down-home vibe, few locales beat Gulf Shores and its sister city, Orange Beach. The sugar-like sand spans 32 miles, and there are plenty of activities available for adults (championship golf) and kids (amusement parks) alike. Families can also partake in the 6,000-acre Gulf State Park, with public beach access, fishing, hiking, biking and even Segway tours all available. You might also check out attractions like The Wharf which offers shopping, dining, and one-of-a-kind entertainment thanks to its amphitheater, Ferris wheel, and arcades.

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three siblings at beach running into low surf with blue sky in background
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Outer Banks, North Carolina

From watching wild horses play along the shoreline in Corolla, to hang gliding off the East Coast's tallest sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park, there is no shortage of unique adventures to try in the Outer Banks. We're talking museums, lighthouses, fishing, water tours, and even mini golf! But also keep in mind that this 100 mile-plus stretch of barrier islands dishes out a wealth of unspoiled, serene sand you definitely won't want to miss. And speaking of dishes, don't miss out on the local cuisine. You can't go wrong ordering the fresh catch of the day!

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wild horses graze in front of cape lookout lighthouse
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Maui, Hawaii

If you're going to fly the fam to Hawaii, make sure you double your fun and schedule a stop in Maui. Known as the "Valley Isle," the second-largest island in the 50th state is blessed with more than 30 miles of white, black, and even red sand beaches. Take the little ones to Baldwin State Park, which includes a "baby beach" on a lagoon. Launiupoko Beach Park, with a pool formed by a natural rock wall, is also good for younger children, while older ones will want to snorkel at Kaanapali Beach. Of course, along with stunning beaches and water activities, you can enjoy aquariums, a scenic drive on Road to Hana, hikes, and other cultural experiences.

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chairs and umbrella on beach with mountains in the background
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Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City is another big hit on the East Coast with family vacationers come summer, thanks to 10 miles of well-maintained beaches great for fishing, surfing, kayaking and more. The area also hosts free events in the warm weather months, ranging from fireworks to movie showings. In particular, teens will want to stroll the three-mile boardwalk, lined with arcades, ride and shops.

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young girl smiles with her feet in the surf as dad beside her laughs
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Cape May, New Jersey

With less than three miles of beaches, historic Cape May makes for a small but mighty destination for families. Popular activities on the sand and in the sea include not only swimming but also surfing, skimboarding and sand sculpting, as well as kayaking and volleyball (nets are located at both Steger and 2nd Avenue beaches). The cozy size of this island, said to be the country's oldest seaside resort, keeps it all friendly and familiar, but remember to purchase beach tags in the summer months.

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cape may at sunset with wooden walk lined by a fence over white sand
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Amelia Island, Florida

More laid back than some other locations in Florida, Amelia Island is situated only 30 minutes from the Jacksonville Airport, but feels a world away. You get 13 miles of uncrowded and unspoiled beaches where you can explore nature and abundant native wildlife. And yet, there are still plenty of top-notch restaurants and even music festivals to enjoy in the island's historic downtown center. Enjoy the beach and Fort Clinch State Park on a horseback tour and then head to town for dinner.

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girl in floral print swimsuit listening to seashell at beach
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Laguna Beach, California

You might be surprised to learn it, since surfing is pretty much the official pastime in Southern California, but Laguna Beach has a few sections in its seven miles of coastline that actually feature calm-ish water. Take the whole family to see-and-be-seen Main Beach, where there are restrooms, lifeguards, a playground and volleyball courts known to be frequented by Olympians. Or, bring teens who dream of learning to "shoot the curl" to Thalia Street Beach, a great spot for beginner surfers.

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father and teen son with surfboards under arms looking at sea
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Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Located just over 20 miles south of Charleston, Kiawah Island is home to ten miles of sandy beaches, over 100 acres of parks, and 30 miles of trails to hike and bike. Oh, and there are five championship golf courses! Hit nine holes one day and then go on a nature walk in Marsh Island Park to look for birds, butterflies, and even alligators. There's plenty to do for kids and adults of all ages.

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baby boy in blue and white plaid on the beach with people in the background
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach boasts a beaut that runs through more than a mile of the city's downtown. Kids will get a kick out of SkyWheel, an observation ride that rises nearly 200 feet high, but parents will also want to schedule plenty of time to explore the surrounding 60 miles of uninterrupted beaches. With lifeguards, a daily cleaning crew and access points that provide restrooms and showers, Surfside Beach is the best bet for families.

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skywheel in motion reflected in ocean along the beach at night
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Virginia Beach, Virginia

Home to a popular aquarium, indoor skydiving, mini golf and a three-mile boardwalk, Virginia Beach provides plenty of family attractions to go with its sandy shores. But be sure not to overlook the fabulous beaches, whether you opt for an Atlantic-fronted view or prefer to dip your toes in the Chesapeake (the city is the only one located on both bodies of water). The bay's beaches, like Chic's Beach, are great for younger kids, thanks to comfortably calm waters.

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high angle view of footprints on sand at beach in front of surf
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Kennebunkport, Maine

When you think of Maine, you probably picture a rocky coastline battered by wild waves smashing against the shore, but sweet little Kennebunkport is home to some wonderful family beaches. In particular, three-mile-long Goose Rocks Beach, which gets its name from the barrier reef that shelters it, is gifted with tranquil waters. After splashing in the surf, the whole family can head off to a hands-on lobster boat experience aboard the Rugosa and get a true taste of the life of a fisherman. The area also offers whale watching cruises and sailing excursions.

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elementary age girl in blue dress walking on a beach and digging feet into the sand
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San Diego, California

As if that nearly perfect climate year-round isn't enough to draw vacationers, San Diego entices with 70 miles of coastline. Kids love La Jolla Shores, with its gentle waves at water's edge, while Coronado Beach's wide white sands will please the kite flyers and volleyball players in the family. For a look at sea lions and seals romping, check out Shell Beach, or gather everyone up for a visit to Sea World or the San Diego's world-famous zoo.

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silhouette of mom, dad and child on beach with car and bikes, sunset
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Nantucket, Massachusetts

Perched south of Cape Cod, postcard-perfect Nantucket Island is a relaxed, classic getaway for families. Leave your car behind (just about everyone bikes on the island) take the ferry over, then hit the appropriately-named Children's Beach, where kids can safely play in the soft surf. Or, hop aboard an Ice Cream or Critter cruise—the former serves the cold treat, while the latter gives the littles a chance to handle sea life like lobsters and crabs.

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woman on walkway over beach leading to lighthouse with figures in the background
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Jekyll Island, Georgia

A 5,500-acre barrier island located off of the Georgia coast, Jekyll Island is home to 10 miles of shoreline, including the stunning Driftwood Beach. It's beloved for the photogenic pieces of weathered trees and branches that litter its sand, a result of natural erosion. After beach time, families can partake in dolphin cruises, a water park, horseback riding tours and biking on 20 miles of paved trails.

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driftwood from fallen trees at beach
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Grand Haven, Michigan

Not all great beaches have to be located on the sea, and Grand Haven's wealth of stellar sand along Lake Michigan proves it. Grand Haven State Park is popular not only for its lovely beach, but also it's connection to a lively boardwalk that buzzes with people enjoying the businesses lining it. It also accesses Grand Haven's historic red lighthouses, always good for a photo op. North Beach Park, in Ferrysburg, just to the north of Grand Haven, is a bit quieter and a great swimming beach for families.

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shovel in the sand with shoreline in the background
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