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14 Best Family Beach Vacations

Written by Lura Seavey
May 29, 2020

Families planning their next beach holiday have a wide variety of destinations to choose from, whether looking for an inexpensive family vacation spot or the ultimate tropical vacation. There are many great options in the US, from the Outer Banks on the continent's East Coast to the shores of Hawaii.

Those looking for a truly exotic beach vacation can venture to the distant islands of Thailand or Fiji, or enjoy an unforgettable time on the Greek island of Corfu.

The best family beach destinations are those with plenty of things to do beyond the shoreline, from amusements for younger kids to activities for teens.

For the top places to visit, read our list of best family beach vacations.

1. San Diego, California

Beach and palm trees in San Diego, CA

There are so many things that make San Diego one of the best places to visit with kids, and its 70 miles of beautiful beaches have a lot to do with that. The most popular family beach is Pacific Beach, also known as The Strand. Visitors can find everything they need on this two-mile stretch of beach, from equipment rental shops to restaurants, as well as restrooms, lifeguards, and showers.

Belmont Park is a great option for those looking for a seaside amusement park, with rides ranging from kiddie-friendly to thrilling.

La Jolla Shores is another beach that's popular with both tourists and local families, and it's especially well-known as a great place to learn how to surf and SCUBA dive. Families can learn more about life beyond the beaches at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, home to a variety of species native to the Pacific Ocean, including a large coral reef aquarium.

San Diego's Sea World has a variety of ocean life, including dolphins, sea lions, and orcas, as well as a range of rides and other aquatic-themed amusements.

Even the most dedicated beach lovers will want to take a day to meet the animals at the San Diego Zoo, one of the city's top family attractions, which is home to more than 3,700 animals. Animal lovers can also visit Safari Park, located nearby in Escondido, which features giraffes, lions, and other African mammals within an authentic habitat.

Families looking for something to do on a rainy day can head to Lego Land amusement park in nearby Carlsbad.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in San Diego

2. Phuket Island, Thailand

Patong Beach, Phuket Island, Thailand

For the ultimate tropical family vacation, head to Phuket Island, located off the western coast of southern Thailand. This is where you will find some of Thailand's best beaches, from tourist-packed resort areas to smaller coves that can only be reached by boat.

The island's biggest beach is Patong Beach, a lively place with many hotels to choose from and plenty of restaurants and shopping. Another hot spot is Nai Harn Beach, popular with families because of the good range of amenities within walking distance of the beach.

For a more peaceful place to spend the day snorkeling, take a short boat ride from Patong to Freedom Beach, one of the island's rarer unspoiled beaches.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in Thailand

3. Waikiki, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Monument in Honolulu, Hawaii

One of the most famous beach resorts in the world and one of Hawaii's top-rated beaches, Waikiki is a perfect family holiday beach destination located in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Waikiki consists of several beaches that sit along the southern shore of the island of O'ahu in the heart of Honolulu, home to major tourist attractions like Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri Battleship, as well as natural attractions like Diamond Head State Monument.

Nearly all the beaches in Waikiki are great for families, and many of them are considered an excellent spot to learn how to surf thanks to gentle waves. There are plenty of rental shops where you can find boards and other water sports equipment.

For an unforgettable experience, plan a visit to Hanauma Bay, where the family can learn about the fragile reef ecosystem and then snorkel in the shallow, protected waters of the unique volcanic bay.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Honolulu

4. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Kites flying at the Outer Banks, North Carolina

The barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina are known collectively as the Outer Banks, and they are home to an abundance of beaches, small coastal towns, and many natural and historic attractions.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the area's best-known tourist destination, popular with families for its variety of things to see and do, including 70 miles of public beaches.

In addition to sightseeing cruises and the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Hatteras Island is home to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. This museum will interest all ages, featuring artifacts from over 2,000 shipwrecks, as well as exhibits on real-life pirates and legendary ghost ships.

Another popular tourist destination is Roanoke Island, famous for its long-lost colony. Roanoke Island attractions include the Outer Banks History Center, and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Those who want to explore more of the islands by car can cruise the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, which includes two ferry rides and 138 miles of road.

Accommodation: Best Beach Resorts in North Carolina

5. Nassau, Bahamas

Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Nassau

Nassau is one of the best-known islands in The Bahamas, both a popular cruise ship port and resort destination. Nassau's Paradise Island is home to the biggest resorts, as well as a great shopping and dining complex, Marina Village. No matter where you stay, tourists can visit many of the attractions on the grounds of the bigger hotels, like the Versailles Gardens and French Cloister.

The Royal at Atlantis is the ideal place to stay in Nassau with kids, serving not only as a full-service resort but also as a theme park. Designed to capture the magic and grandeur of the lost city of Atlantis, this huge resort has on-site family entertainment; a water park; and an impressive marine habitat, which includes dolphins and other favorites.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in The Bahamas

6. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Virginia Beach is a family favorite among East Coast beach vacation destinations thanks to its variety of things to see and do with kids, both on the beach and off.

The majority of hotels line the stretch of oceanfront unofficially known as "Resort Beach," and the three-mile Boardwalk sits between them and the water. Just on the other side of the hotels is Atlantic Avenue, home to a variety of beach shops, restaurants, and other amenities.

A great rainy-day option for families is the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, home to sea turtles, sharks, otters, and a variety of marine life, as well as a walk-through aquarium tunnel. There is also a dinosaur exhibit and a movie theater.

Other area attractions include the Adventure Park (located next to the aquarium), Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and the Military Aviation Museum.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Virginia Beach, VA

7. South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island

The only tropical island in Texas, South Padre Island is the perfect place to visit for a low-key family beach vacation in the Gulf of Mexico. One of the top activities here is sandcastle building, and there are several places right on the beach that offer lessons for all ages, so you can go home an expert.

Although you won't find packed crowds on the beach, there are plenty of things to do here with the kids when they tire of swimming, paddleboarding, and surfing. The beachfront area is full of restaurants with live music that everyone can enjoy, and visitors will find a variety of unique activities, like art classes among the shops and weekly markets.

Nature-lovers will enjoy the expanse of the Padre Island National Seashore, home to beautiful beaches and dunes; sea turtles; and, seasonally, over 350 species of migratory birds. Families can learn more about the local wildlife and ecosystem at the Malaquite Visitor Center.

8. Ocean City, Maryland

Crowded beach at Ocean City, MD

Ocean City is a smaller beach town on the East Coast, perfect for a laid-back family beach vacation with younger kids. All the beaches here, 10 miles total, are free and open to the public, and families on a budget will appreciate the relatively low prices at most of the area hotels and resorts.

Getting around with little ones is extra easy here thanks to an inexpensive tram system that traverses the beach area, allowing visitors to explore easily.

One of the best aspects of Ocean City is its three-mile wooden Boardwalk, an area that will make any adult feel nostalgic. Along the lively boardwalk area is a classic Ferris wheel that overlooks the ocean, a seaside roller coaster, and a beautiful vintage carousel built in 1902.

9. Corfu, Greece

Beach on Corfu Island, Greece

The beautiful Mediterranean island of Corfu is one of the most popular Greek islands, known for its soft-sand beaches and historic Greek sites. Many of these can be found in Corfu Town, a UNESCO-listed seaside town that is home to two 16th-century fortresses, the expansive Esplanade, and several historic churches.

The beach in Glyfada is a favorite for tourists, home to several resorts and plenty of activities, from shopping and dining to water sports and boat tours. The beaches of Paleokastritsa, six in all, are some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Greece and also the best for families, each located in a protected cove. La Grotta Beach is one of these, and although it is not a place for sunbathing it's a top choice for swimmers.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in Greece

10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

SkyWheel at Myrtle Beach

Myrtle beach is well known as a popular East Coast spring break destination, but it's also one of the best vacation spots for kids, teenagers, and families thanks to its wide variety of entertainment options and activities. There are plenty of beachfront hotels to choose from, many of which are close to the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, home to the Skywheel and other fun amusements.

Even if there's a rainy day, there is plenty do at Broadway at the Beach, an entertainment complex that houses Ripley's Aquarium, WonderWorks, and Dolly Parton's Pirates Voyage dinner show.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Myrtle Beach for Families

11. Mamanuca Islands, Fiji

Castaway Island in the Mamanuca Islands, Fiji

The South Pacific islands of Fiji offer such a wide variety of family beach destinations, it's hard to pick just one. But the Mamanuca Islands are where it's at for those who want near-perfect weather and seemingly endless white-sand beaches. These islands are particularly well-known for their coral reefs and idyllic tropical beauty, and have plenty of resorts to choose from.

Families who want to be a little closer to more options might want to stay on Viti Levu, the largest of Fiji's islands. The capital city of Suva sits on the eastern side of the island, while the town of Nadi on the west coast is smaller but full of shops and authentic restaurants.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in Fiji

12. Cocoa Beach, Florida

Surfers at Cocoa Beach, Florida

Sitting on the Atlantic coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach is an excellent option for families with kids of all ages. Younger kids can swim safely thanks to its shallow waters, and families can easily find lessons and rentals for boogie boarding, surfing, and even jet skiing for older kids and teens.

Nature lovers will want to spend some time with the manatees, easily spotted on coastal kayaking tours, as well as other wildlife, including dolphins and birds.

Local Cocoa Beach attractions include the Eastern Florida State College Planetarium, which hosts a spectacular laser show that is a perfect rainy-day diversion, and plentiful shopping and dining in downtown's Historic Cocoa Village.

Cocoa Beach is also well-positioned for day trips to several top Florida attractions; it's only an hour's drive from Walt Disney World and close to the Kennedy Space Center.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Cocoa Beach

13. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Beach resort in Punta Cana

Bávaro Beach is the family-favorite in Punta Cana, a beautiful resort town that sits on the easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic. Families love the warm Caribbean water, which is calm enough for even the little ones to go swimming, and there are a good range of all-inclusive family resorts that sit right on the beach. Most of these offer kids' programs that give parents a chance to relax or take the older kids out parasailing or boating.

Water sports equipment rentals can be found all along the beach, a lively place that is often packed with vacationers.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Family Resorts in Punta Cana

14. Destin, Florida

Aerial view of the beach at Destin, Florida

Once a relatively calm fishing town, Destin has become known for its excellent variety of family resorts. Destin's Gulf coast beaches sit on the Florida panhandle, close to several conservation areas that are home to birds and other wildlife. There is plenty to do right on the shore, from sandcastle building lessons for the little ones to jet skiing and more exciting water sports for teenagers and parents.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Destin

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