Best Beaches in the US for Families

Private Island in Fajardo PR

Beaches are the perfect places for kids to be kids, where just the right amount of sun, surf, and sand create memories that will last a lifetime.

Why go to just a beach when you can go to the best beaches in the United States for families? A perfect beach for kids will have soft sand and warm and gentle water. It will also have amenities like lifeguards, bathrooms, abundant snacks, water, and maybe just a little shade or even a playground.

When you leave the beach, you’ll want to be in a beach city with fun hotels, kid-friendly food, and activities that are equal parts entertainment and education.

We’ve combined those criteria with our experience gleaned from firsthand beach trips to create our list of beaches your kids are sure to love.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

What makes Gulf Shores our top beach choice for families? First, Alabama beaches are incredible, with 32 miles of white, powdery sand and calm, warm water.

Next is the incomparable Gulf State Park, which is half a learning center, half a playground, and 100% fun. They even have a learning campus, an interpretive walk on the pier, a parkour playground, and 26 miles of bike paths.

The town of Gulf Shores is also welcoming to families, with waterside restaurants and family fun centers. The inland waterways are perfect for kids to explore, from taking a guided kayak trip on the Back Bay Blueway to a sunset dolphin cruise in Wolf Bay. You’re close enough to Pensacola to watch the Blue Angels practice their aerial acrobatics and take the ferry across Mobile Bay to the Alabama Aquarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab.

St. Petersburg, Florida

Central Florida welcomes over 80 million annual visitors, with over 60 million coming to Disney World alone. Luckily, there are beautiful beaches near Orlando when you’re looking for a break from the parks. The Atlantic Coast beaches have some waves and are home to Kelly Slater and the original Ron Jon Surf Shop. The Gulf Coast beaches have warm Gulf water and soft, white sand, perfect for kids to splash and play.

St. Petersburg is our Gulf Coast beach town choice for kids. It has an excellent blend of amenities and accommodations balanced with wide, uncrowded beaches. You’re right in Tampa, with its world-class museums, and close enough to the Adventure Coast to head up for a day of kayaking on crystal-blue springs or watching the one-of-a-kind Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Gulf Stream defines East Coast beaches. South Florida is known for the warm, clear water that pumps up from the Caribbean. However, the Gulf Stream leaves the coast for nearly a thousand miles until it rejoins land at the Outer Banks. It brings the Banks that blue Caribbean water without the drive and debauchery of Miami Beach.

The Outer Banks is a vacation in the slow lane. Scenic drives and ferries connect North Carolina’s barrier islands, and vacation rentals welcome families to come and stay for a while. Kids can play under the watchful eyes of lifeguards at the beaches of Kitty Hawk or Kill Devil Hills, and grownups can enjoy the scenic beauty of the Nags Head dunes or historic lighthouses.

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island is the westernmost point on the Eastern Seaboard. The Gulf Stream is many miles offshore, but that won’t stop the kids from playing on the beaches. The combination of history and nature makes Jekyll Island truly unique.

Jekyll Island was the most exclusive club in the world at the turn of the 19th century. Florida was still very Spanish and wild, so the East Coast industrial elites, like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and Marshall Field, built “cottages” and spent their winters on the island.

Today, you can stay in the cottages or tour for the day and take the Jekyll Island bike trails to the beach, just as they did over a century ago.

Mission Beach, California

The beaches in California are colder and rougher than on the East Coast, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t have a good time. Mission Beach is a two-mile sand spit separating Mission Bay from the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, California. Having both beach and bay activities made it the place to beach in San Diego for over a century.

The beach has surfing and bodyboarding, while the bay has sailing, kayaking, and kiteboarding. In between is a vacation paradise with SeaWorld, classic amusement parks, rental shops, restaurants, and resort hotels. The beach boardwalk joins the bayside trail for miles and miles of biking that can take you from the Mexican border to Orange County.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

If you’re looking for a great family vacation, consider heading south of the border to Myrtle Beach. South of the border is more than a kitsch tourist trap. It’s a philosophy of limitless fun for exploring the Low Countries 60 miles of beaches. Myrtle Beach has its famous boardwalk with arcades, souvenir stands, restaurants, the Family Kingdom amusement park, and the SkyWheel. But beyond the boardwalk is a natural paradise waiting to be explored.

Kids will love that it’s the Mini Golf Capital of the World, while the grownups might slip away to one of the area’s 90 full-sized golf courses. Of course, everyone will love staying at the resort accommodations, many of which have their own water park and lazy river right on the property.

Begin your days watching the sunrise over the ocean and end your evening with fresh seafood at one of Myrtle Beach’s 2,000 full-service restaurants.

The Big Island, Hawaii

Hawaii’s magical surf and sand are why it’s called paradise. However, high prices and over-tourism can derail a family vacation. That’s why we love the Big Island for family travel. It’s less traveled and slightly cheaper. It also has some of Hawaii’s best beaches for kids, from surfing at La’aloa to exploring the lagoons of Carlsmith Beach Park to exploring the black sand beaches of the Ka’u coast.

You’ll enjoy hiking through jungles or driving through Volcanoes National Park when you’re off the beach. You might even see a turtle or two while snorkeling at Waialea Bay. The Big Island is a beach paradise and jungle adventure wrapped together in a big bundle of fun.

Fajardo, Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, Spanish is in the air and tapas are on the table. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that you’re still in a part of America. It’s the most exotic destination you can visit without a passport, which makes it perfect for families. San Juan is a port city, and the west coast gets the waves, so we recommend the beaches of Fajardo on the east coast when traveling with children.

The El Conquistador Hotel is a great place for everyone in your group. It has an attached water park and ferry service to pristine beaches on the hotel’s private island. It’s such a beautiful property that you might never want to leave, but that would be a mistake. El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the National Park system, is just a short drive away, and paddling trips to the bioluminescent waters of Laguna Grande are right next door.

St. Augustine, Florida

With its location in northeast Florida, St. Augustine has some of the Sunshine State’s most accessible beaches. Much like Jekyll Island, they’re absolutely decent, and kids will love them. However, since St. Augustine is the oldest European city in the continental United States, its history sets this destination apart.

The Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565, 42 years before the English colonized Jamestown and 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. The Ponce de Leon Fountain of Youth and El Castillo de San Marcos Fort are evidence of this early occupation, and Flagler College is a testament to the revival of Spanish Florida.

The compact historic district is very walkable and well-serviced by the hop-on, hop-off trolleys. Your kids will love learning about all pirates, zip-lining over alligators, and sailing St. Augustine Bay on a pirate ship adventure.

Kennebunkport, Maine

Instead of heading south for the summer, buck the trend and head north to Kennebunkport. It’s a laid-back destination where you can park your car and continue on foot or by bike.

For a laid-back East Coast retreat that families can easily traverse by foot or bicycle, consider Kennebunkport, Maine. Mother’s Beach is protected from the waves by big rock formations, which makes it perfect for kids and an excellent place for tidepooling. Goose Rock Beach is another favorite, with three miles of sand and gentle waves.

America’s Best Beaches for Kids

There are many lists of the best beaches for kids, but this one is ours. We have lived in California and Florida and traveled to Hawaii and Puerto Rico, which has tempered our geographic bias. That said, the final choice of which beach to explore next should be based on your budget and your kid’s interests.

Co-Founder / Journalist at Coleman Concierge | Website | + posts

Ed and his partner Jenn, are the creative force behind the website Coleman Concierge. Ed is a nationally syndicated travel writer who has garnered numerous awards for his travel writing and featured in Business Insider, HuffPost UK, and numerous state tourism boards. Ed deeply believes in the transformational power of travel, and their website encourages everyone to step outside their comfort zone and seek adventure, even if it’s in their own backyard.

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