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11 Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.

Beach vacations remain one of the most popular for family getaways.

The sand, sun, and surf rejuvenate the body and spirit, and kids can build sand castles, dig holes, or ride amusements on the nearby boardwalks.

The United States has thousands of Instagrammable beaches, but which are at the top of the heap?

I’ve selected 11 of my personal family favorites throughout the country that offer kid-friendly attractions and nearby family lodging options. 

1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

I’m sure your kids will be thrilled when you announce a vacation to Myrtle Beach. This South Carolina resort city has everything you need in one convenient location.

The area boasts 60 miles of beaches, including Litchfield, Garden City, Surfside, and Atlantic Beach.

Each offers a unique experience, so you can hop from one to another depending on whether you’re in the mood for surfing, fishing, or relaxing and listening to the crashing waves.

Are you on a budget? Myrtle Beach has many activities that cost $25 and under a head, from mini golfing to helicopter rides. A day at the Family Kingdom Amusement Park is inexpensive if you can find printable coupons.

» MORE: Hilton Head vs. Myrtle Beach: Which One Is Better for a Vacation?

Long Bay is the home of the Grand Strand, the extensive boardwalk with everything you could ever want to entertain the family on your vacation.

You can do some shopping, with Broadway at the Beach a must-visit spot. Besides its impeccable selection of shops, it also boasts theaters, bars and restaurants, and endless entertainment options for children.

Strategize as a family in an escape room or mirror maze, see replicas at the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center, compete at TopGolf, witness the majesty of sea creatures at Ripley’s Aquarium, or enjoy amusement rides and arcade games.

Are you still searching for things to do? Broadway Grand Prix is a family race park. When you finish competing for the gold trophy, play at the arcade or a round or two of mini golf.

Myrtle Beach has lodging options no matter your budget, from inexpensive motels with rooms starting at under $100 a night to ritzy hotels on the Grand Strand and resorts, such as the Crown Reef Beach Resort & Waterpark

2. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Another must-visit east-coast beach vacation spot is the Outer Banks. This is a family favorite and a place we return to quite frequently. I love how it has activities for toddlers and kids so you can entertain the whole family.

» MORE: Top Toddler-Friendly Activities in the Outer Banks

Even better is that most of these activities don’t cost an arm and a leg! You can easily plan a week here and stick to a budget by planning days spent flying a kite, cycling, visiting playgrounds, taking a dolphin tour or art class, hunting for ghost crabs, or kayaking.

Cape Hatteras Island is especially great for kayaking. Read more about my experience with the family renting and using kayaks.

Between walking trails, lighthouses, and phenomenal native wildlife, the Outer Banks is a slice of nature’s paradise. Of course, I recognize that these activities won’t be as engaging to kids, but fortunately, there’s plenty more awaiting you here.

How about parasailing as a family? You can also spend a sunny afternoon at Corolla Raceway, a kid-friendly track with go-karts, bumper cars, and an arcade room.

» MORE: Outer Banks with Kids (Top Activities and Places to Visit)

You can take a dolphin or horse tour or even a ghost tour if your family is brave enough. The H2OBX Waterpark is open daily in the summer and has watery thrill slides and kiddie rides. Paradise Fun Park is an outdoor amusement park if you’d rather stay dry.

Outer Banks has lodging options at many price points, from motels to hotels, cottage courts, inns, bed and breakfasts, townhouses or condos, vacation homes, and RV parks.

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach is at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. It’s steeped in history, as Jamestown colonists landed here in 1607. It also has a three-mile boardwalk, with oceans and the bay inviting you to take a dip.

You can find so many low-cost or no-cost activities around Virginia Beach that I had to recommend it. Oceanfront Resort, Sandbridge, and Chesapeake Bay Beaches are free to enter, and you can also experience the Cape Henry Lighthouse, First Landing State Park, and the Virginia Legends Walk.

Don’t miss Mount Trashmore Park, as you can visit without paying a cent. This 165-acre park features paths, a skate park, and two playgrounds for the kids. 

Do you need a backup plan in case of rain? The Children’s Museum of Virginia has great exhibits to keep your kids entertained even if it drizzles.

The Ocean Breeze Waterpark is the home of Operation Splashdown, a twirling, swirling family raft ride, and plenty more heart-pounding drops and stops await you with tube slides throughout the park. The Tropi-Cool Activity Pool is a great spot to chill.

How about a day at the top amusement park in Virginia Beach, Atlantic Fun Park? It has enough family, kiddie, and thrill rides to entertain your family no matter their ages.

As the sun goes down, sleep soundly in an oceanfront hotel, a cozy motel room, or a city resort.

4. Hilton Head, South Carolina

Harbour Town Lighthouse, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

They don’t call Hilton Head America’s favorite island for no reason! This beauteous island offers the best of everything, from beaches to golfing, arts and culture, and so much more. The Atlantic Ocean beaches stretch on for over 12 miles.

Driessen, Forest, Folly Field, and South Beaches offer gorgeous shoreline views, soft sand, rolling ocean, and sunny days for playing, exploring, and relaxing. I recommend renting a bike and cycling on the beach. It’s good exercise and fun sightseeing.

» MORE: Fun Activities for Kids in Hilton Head

You can also explore the Forest Preserve of the Sea Pines, specifically Lawton Stables for a rousting afternoon horseback ride. If you’re eager for even greater vantage points of Hilton Head, go ziplining as a family.

Hilton Head has no shortage of parks, including the historic and lovely Mitchelville Freedom Park. The park has been a beloved part of Hilton Head since 1862. You can take a guided tour through the park to unlock all its enchanting secrets or participate in a rotating calendar of events.

I also recommend an afternoon at Adventure Cove, an entertainment center with mini golf and an arcade. You can choose from two mini golf courses, each with 18 holes, so they should take you a while to get through.

Boating is a popular activity on Hilton Head, and with boat tours aplenty, you can easily work a day out on sea into your itinerary. The kids can catch their first fish on the boat or simply enjoy the sea breeze and rocking, lulling motions.

Where will you stay in Hilton Head? My family has been here tons, so I know the best spots. Click here for a list of resorts and hotels for resting your weary head.

5. Point Pleasant, New Jersey

On the boardwalk in Pt Pleasant along the Jersey shore.

Point Pleasant is a New Jersey borough and one of several beach towns scattered about the central part of the state. As the name makes you think, this is a wonderful place for a family vacation. You can experience the wonders of the Jersey Shore firsthand.

The borough has one beach, Point Pleasant Beach, which is nearly two square miles of plush white sand, cool blue ocean, green palms, and clear blue skies punctuated by white, fluffy clouds.

» MORE: Family-Friendly Beaches in New Jersey

You could spend day in and day out on the beach, keeping your vacation easy, breezy, and inexpensive. However, it won’t be long before the allure of the boardwalk calls to your kids.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is a mile-long boardwalk with carnival games, arcades, food, and sweet shops. Kids can eat ice cream on the boardwalk, large slices of New Jersey pizza, or buy authentic saltwater taffy.

The arcades are enclosed and air-conditioned, so they’re a great way to escape the heat if it’s a particularly sweltering day.

The boardwalk also features Jenkinson’s Aquarium, where kids can witness penguins, turtles, sharks, seahorses, rays, and gators.

You’re also 30 minutes away from Seaside Heights, another famed Jersey beach with Casino Pier, a boardwalk. You and the kids can ride classic carnival attractions, play games, eat your way through the boardwalk, and play at Breakwater Beach Waterpark.

Stay after dark, as Jersey boardwalks light off fireworks most nights during the summer.

Rent a beach house for your Point Pleasant stay (or try an Airbnb), or stay in a hotel or resort.

The White Sands Ocean Front Resort & Spa is a luxe option with gorgeous rooms, pools (including a kiddie pool), and private beach access.

6. Ocean City, Maryland

On the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland

Fun family experiences await you at Ocean City. This Maryland resort town has a 10-mile expanse of beaches. Bathe in the beauteous Atlantic Ocean, ride on its surf, and sit along its shoreline, allowing the foam-crested waves to tickle your toes.

Besides swimming and sunning, Ocean City beaches are famed for kayaking, fishing on the lengthy pier, and surfing. Bring plenty of plastic molds, as the kids will want to make sandcastles in the white, packed sand.

The boardwalk has been a city staple for over 100 years and continues to be any child’s favorite part of visiting the beach here. However, you can’t blame them!

Trimper’s Rides provide a classic breed of family fun. The Herschell-Spillman Carousel is more than 100 years old, with hand-carved creatures beyond horses but characters and figures. Other rides include the Fun Slide, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, Magic Maze, and Himalaya.

Satiate your sweet tooth with ice cream and sweets on the boardwalk. The boardwalk and surrounding resort area offer an assortment of dining options, from fast-casual like Burger King to seafood restaurants with freshly-caught fare.

After a fun day and evening on the boardwalk, explore any of the nearby parks, including Robin Park, Gorman Park, Fiesta Park, North Surf Park, or Inlet Park.

You can have a unique experience at each one depending on what you’re in the mood for, such as drinking in coastal views or exploring local playgrounds. 

The Dorchester Beach Volleyball Court is a great spot for your tweens and teens with extra energy to burn off. They can get competitive in the warm Maryland sun and see who comes out on top.

Sleep near the boardwalk or the Bayside Inlet, with B&Bs, campgrounds, RV parks, motels, hotels, and vacation rentals scattered throughout.

7. Panama City Beach, Florida

Panama City Beach, Florida

Summer never has to end at Panama City Beach, a majestic spot in Florida with nearly 30 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Unsurprisingly, TripAdvisor has called this one of its top three US beaches.

Shell Island is my favorite beach of the bunch. It has a more natural, untouched appearance but still boasts white sands and clear ocean, just as many Florida beaches do.

This is a hotspot for snorkeling, boating, swimming, and kayaking, with equipment rentals available.

FYI, Shell Island has no bathrooms, so it’s not for spending all day. However, I would suggest a visit if only for the dolphin tours.

» MORE: How Long Is Summer Break in Florida?

Panama City Beach offers so much more than perfect shorelines. Shipwreck Island Waterpark is a ginormous park on 15 acres. Ride on the larger-than-life lazy river, experience the sea without being near the beach at the wave pool, or take a daring drop on Pirate’s Plunge.

Goofy Golf has been around since 1959, entertaining families for more than 50 years. The 18-hole golf course costs under $15 a head, so it’s a cost-effective way to spend time as a family and make great memories.

Swampy Jack’s Wongo Adventure is a must for the kids. This family amusement park offers electric go-karts, tower swings, dark rides, mini golf, games, and a spin coaster.

Keep your family vacation inexpensive by staying at nearby St. Andrews State Park, where you can slumber under the stars and wake up to the sound of the ocean every morning. The park has a boat launch, beaches, and hiking trails.

You can also splurge on a resort, motel, or hotel during your Panama City Beach adventure.   

8. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

The beauty of the Atlantic Coast is around every corner at Rehoboth Beach. This coastal boardwalk town features the public Rehoboth Beach (the town’s namesake), Deauville Beach, and Delaware Seashore State Park.

The boardwalk is a mile long and features amusement rides, restaurants and snacks, and shops for picking up souvenirs.

Experience another side of Delaware at Gordons Pond Trail, a 5.2-mile mixed trail that’s easy to traverse. Your route will take you across a sizable saltwater lagoon (it’s 900 acres!) and Gordons Pond.

The gravel trail has scenic overlooks and a boardwalk (no, not that kind of boardwalk) for crossing. Take a break at the scenic overlook and snap some photos of your memorable vacation moment.

Funland Rehoboth is a can’t-miss attraction near the beach that any kid will flip for. This storied piece of Delaware history began as a park and is today known as the premier family fun attraction on Rehoboth Beach.

Select from 20 rides for thrills at all levels, from the kiddie-friendly carousel to the bumper cars, spinning motorcycle cars, and small swings. Older kids will love riding the Sea Dragon, spinning on the Gravitron, or dropping from the Free Spin.

The 10+ Midway games at Funland are charmingly old-school, with several that offer a prize every time you play, so no kid has to go home empty-handed.

Stay at a chic B&B like the Rehoboth Guest House or explore hotels, Airbnbs, resorts, or motels in the area.

9. Bald Head Island, North Carolina

Wooden boardwalk over a marsh at Bald Head Island, North Carolina.

The beaches across Bald Head Island are 14 miles. Cape Fear Point has glimmering sand that connects South Beach and West Beach. You can find treasures aplenty here, including gorgeous seashells.

Surfers make a beeline for East Beach, but families will want to spend time on South Beach. It’s a calmer beach with plenty of sand, so young kids will feel safe and comfortable wading into the water.

The beaches have rentals for making your vacation exemplary, including bean bag toss, croquet, bocce, beach chairs, and umbrellas.

When the sun sets on another perfect day in paradise, spend some time exploring the mainland. Old Baldy is the historic lighthouse and the oldest of its kind in the state. Take it all the way to the top and glimpse the ocean from your unique view.

You can also take nature tours or view the wildlife independently. Bald Head Island has its fair share of raccoons, foxes, and deer.

The Kent Mitchell Nature Trail has many trails to explore with varying degrees of difficulty for hikers of all experience levels.  You can also cycle across the 15 miles of paths across the island.

10. Clearwater Beach, Florida

White sand at Clearwater Beach, Florida, USA

How about an award-winning beach for your next family getaway? USA Today declared Clearwater Beach the top southern beach, and it’s even been called the top beach in America several times over.

The powdery white sand, translucent waves, and perfect temperatures undoubtedly have a lot to do with that.

Clearwater Beach features the Beach Walk, a promenade where tourists, families, and cyclists congregate. The Beach Walk has games, restaurants, and stunning views of the beach. It’s a great spot to spend some time in.

The only downside of Clearwater Beach is that it’s so popular that if you don’t arrive early, you might find the beach too crowded.

Fortunately, you’re not far from Honeymoon Island. Despite the name, it’s a fantastic family getaway, as you can explore Honeymoon Island State Park while you’re there. The park is close to Tampa and is ideal for cycling, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and paddling.

You can also take a boat cruise or schedule a dolphin adventure. Perhaps you rent a jet ski and learn to ride together, which is great for the older kids.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a rescue and rehab center for animals, so kids can enjoy their favorite aquatic creatures while also learning about the admirable rescue efforts underway for these creatures.

Don’t miss the Clearwater Beach Escape Room, which will challenge the whole family to seek clues and find a way out.

Your proximity to Tampa means a day at Busch Gardens Tampa isn’t out of the question, which will certainly delight the children to no end!

Resorts and suites across the beach give you plenty of lodging options, and some have private beach access for getting away from the crowds.

11. Maui, Hawaii

Maui is among the best Hawaiian islands, with staggeringly beautiful sunrises and sunsets, humpback whale viewings, and beaches, beaches, and more beaches.

Conde Nast Traveler called Maui the Best Island in the US, and it’s hard to argue that.

The island has 120 miles of beaches, so it blows all the other beach locations on this list out of the water. The beaches offer something for everyone, including sunbathers, windsurfers, snorkelers, swimmers, surfers, and families.

Wailea Beach is one of the better-known spots with rentable equipment and oceans ready for swimming. Kihei Beach has tide pools, a tantalizing alternative to the ocean. Kama’ole Beach features three parks with volleyball courts, amazing oceans, and lifeguards.

» MORE: Maui vs. Cancun: Which Is a Better Family Vacation?

You could spend your entire vacation exploring as many beaches as you can, or you can experience some of the parks in the area, including Haleakala National Park or Wai’anapanapa State Park.

These park experiences are excellent for camping and tasting a different side of the Hawaiian islands.

A day trip to the Maui Ocean Center and Aquarium of Hawaii will foster a big appreciation for the wildlife that calls the Hawaiian coast home.

Take your pick among resorts, B&Bs, hotels, condos, and private inns, all of which are magnificent.