Saturday, January 3, 2015

The 10 Best Beach Towns for Families in the US

1. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Oceanfront Fun You can't really go wrong with any of Hilton Head's 12-plus miles of white-sand beaches. Driessen Beach and Islanders Beach parks are particularly good choices for families because they also have playgrounds and picnic shelters. While you'll probably spot tiny ocean critters, sea-turtle nests, or even dolphins at any of the beaches, Driessen Beach's wooden boardwalk actually takes you over a tidal marsh and sand dunes, so it's home to the most creatures. On the other side of the island, don't miss the candy-striped lighthouse in the Harbour Town area.
Inland Hot Spots With few streetlights and rules prohibiting neon signs and buildings over five stories tall, Hilton Head has retained its Southern charm. Check out The Sandbox, a children's museum with a pretend plane, bank, and supermarket café; it appeals most to kids 6 and under. School-age kids will have a blast at the Coastal Discovery Museum, which offers scavenger hunts, costumes, and a butterfly exhibit. 

2. Coronado, California

Oceanfront Fun Just over the bridge from San Diego, Coronado's 7 miles of coastline encompass five main beaches. All beaches have lifeguards and, except for South Beach, restrooms. The most popular choice: Central Beach in the heart of town, just a short stroll to restaurants and ice-cream shops. For something more serene, head to the 41/2-mile Silver Strand State Beach. The ocean side of the strand is strewn with shells, while the bay side has warmer water, gentler waves, and a nature preserve. Kids ages 7 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger badge at Silver Strand on Saturdays.
Inland Hot Spots Grab an ice cream at MooTime Creamery; it's made fresh daily and walk to the Coronado Children's Library, where there's a whimsical Wizard of Oz exhibit. You can also catch a flick at the old-timey Coronado Village Theatre and, then take your kids to Delux Gourmet Hot Dogs Restaurant. The town also has tons of great shopping -- Seaside Papery is a must-stop for any Etsy fan.

3. St. Pete Beach, Florida

Oceanfront Fun St. Pete Beach is the closest town to Fort de Soto Park -- home to miles of lifeguard-patrolled white-sand beaches along with nature trails, fishing piers, a fort, and playgrounds, as well as kayak and bike rentals. The gentle gulf water and gradual slope makes it perfect for little kids. 
Inland Hot Spots The Dali Museum's treasure hunts, stories, and craft projects occupy the kids so you can appreciate the nearly 100 paintings by the famed artist. The outdoor waterfront garden adds to the kid appeal. For a sure hit with preschoolers, consider Great Explorations Houghton-Wagman Children's Museum or drive ten minutes to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter, who was featured in the movie Dolphin Tale. 

4. Falmouth, Massachusetts

Oceanfront Fun Located in southern Cape Cod, Falmouth's nine beaches cover 12 miles of shoreline. During low tide, Wood Neck Beach has shallow warm wading areas and a marshy sandbar area with crabs and other little creatures.
Inland Hot Spots Hit the trails at the Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary. You'll see 65 varieties of holly trees, frogs and birds, and, if you come in late summer or early fall, rare wildflowers. Or explore the shops and galleries in downtown. Grab dinner at the Silver Lounge, where you can eat in a railroad car. If you're staying over on a Friday night, head to Coonamesset Farm for a buffet under a pavilion overlooking the fields.

5. Cape May, New Jersey

Oceanfront Fun Spared from Hurricane Sandy, the five main beaches in this historic town have 24 access points. You can't go wrong with any of the picks, but Sunset Beach, on the western side of the town, is a resident fave for its "Cape May diamonds," pretty pebbles that kids (and adults!) collect. Don't miss one of the town's best-kept secrets, the Nature Center of Cape May, which offers drop-off and family programs that take kids to the beach across the street to explore.
Inland Hot Spots Full of Victorian houses and charming shops, Cape May isn't Snooki's Jersey Shore. Hop on the trolley to get the lay of the land as guides point out cultural attractions, historic areas, and beaches. You might hear about the family tours of the Victorian museum Emlen Physick Estate, the 1859 lighthouse at Cape May Point State Park, the free Cape May County Zoo, and the shopping and restaurants at Washington Street Mall. 

6. Amelia Island, Florida

Oceanfront Fun On the island's 13 miles of coastline, Main Beach Park is a gem because it has a playground, restrooms, picnic areas, and volleyball courts. It's also an excellent place for kids to try to find shark teeth.
Inland Hot Spots Take a 30-minute horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic district as a guide tells you about the island's past -- your kids will perk up when they hear about the pirates. Then catch dinner at Timoti's Seafood Shak, which serves up local fare. Eat outside and after dinner your kids can let off steam at the on-site pirate ship playground.

7. Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

Oceanfront Fun Part of the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk boasts 3 miles of uncrowded beaches. Use the Kitty Hawk Bath House and Byrd Street beach entrances because they're nearest the restrooms and lifeguards.
Inland Hot Spots Spend a morning at the Outer Banks Children at Play Museum; kids can explore the teddy-bear hospital and lighthouse. Then check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial in nearby Kill Devil Hills. There are kite-flying demos and Junior Ranger programs.

8. Kamuela, Hawaii, The Big Island

Oceanfront Fun The 3 miles of shoreline at Hapuna Beach State Park are everything you envision when you think of Hawaii: turquoise water, clean white sand, and stunning views. Plus, the waves are generally calmer here than nearby. Go the southern end of the beach; there's a cove made from black volcanic rock where kids will have no trouble spotting little fish.
Inland Hot Spots Catch a free Polynesian Hula on Monday and Thursday nights at The Shops at Mauna Lani. From 5 to 6 P.M. daily, the shops also offer free 4-D movies for families staying at nearby hotels. Don't leave without going to a luau. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has a great one for families, where kids can sit in front of the stage and even participate at the end of the show.

9. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Oceanfront Fun On Gulf State Park's guarded coastline, families can join in beanbag tosses or hula-hoop contests. The beaches are clean and the sand is sugar-white.
Inland Hot Spots The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is the perfect size for kids -- you can get a good view of its 300-plus creatures and drop in for its summertime animal shows during a three-hour visit. Drop by Fort Morgan, where kids can see real cannons and learn about Civil War history. End a great day with dinner at LuLu's at Homeport Marina, which has a food-allergy menu and a beach-sand area to occupy kids.

10. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Oceanfront Fun Replenished with sand and beach grass, the 1½-mile stretch of guarded beach attracts a sea of families. But there's plenty of space to build sand castles and fly kites.
Inland Hot Spots On the boardwalk, kids can ride on the carousel, the Ferris wheel, and antique wooden boats. Just a couple of blocks away, in this 1-square-mile town, there are more than 200 boutique shops.

1 comment:

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