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Family Beaches in the U.S. and Nearby

When it comes to family beach time, the key is that the beach can’t be the only draw. Lets face it, sometimes kids get bored. Sometimes they get antsy. Sometimes one child wants to hang on a beach chair all day while another wants nothing more than to be in the surf. You can argue if you want, or you can look for a family spot that has plenty to do, and if you’re lucky, even some kid –specific programming. A good family beach can mean a great family vacation. From resort playgrounds to beachside rentals here are some of my favorites.

1. Balboa Peninsula Beaches – Newport Beach, Calif. Balboa Pier tends to be the main draw on the peninsula, and, because the beaches surrounding the pier aren’t officially named, the locals refer to this area simply as “the beach at Balboa.” A great spot for families of all ages, you can rent boogie boards, bikes, skates, blades, towels and chairs at the pier, or experience the quieter spots along the harbor as well as a calm beach along Bay Avenue. You’ll also find a playground with swings and a jungle gym on the south side of the pier. There are plenty of places to get food and drinks, cookout areas, and lifeguards on duty. Take a short walk from the Balboa Pier on the ocean side of the peninsula to The Fun Zone on the harbor side, where you can check out the Ferris wheel and bumper cars or rent jet skies to rough-up the calm waters of the bay.

2. Bethany Beach – Bethany Beach, Del. The great thing about “The Quiet Resorts”, a.k.a. Bethany Beach, is that it’s much better suited for a family’s stay than the rowdy Rehoboth just 12-miles away. The Bethany boardwalk is nearly one-mile long and is lined with shops, ice cream stands and restaurants. Families come here to create memories of relaxing on the beach, building sandcastles and strolling the boardwalk. Another plus is that, as East Coast beach communities go, Bethany remains affordable. Bethany becomes the perfect base for a shore vacation. On a rainy day, shop at nearby outlets and stores, or for a change of scenery, go a few miles north to Rehoboth to explore everything from the bumper cars and video games to volleyball and bicycling. Afterwards, return to Bethany for some peace and quiet.
3. Cannon Beach – Cannon Beach, Ore. This natural paradise hosts a flowing seasonal array of bird populations year-round, along with periodic Gray Whale sightings as they migrate past the Oregon Coast. Protected by the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, the majestic Haystack Rock is the focal point of the beach. This massive rock hosts thousands of birds throughout the year. (Look for our national bird, the Bald Eagle.) While the water is too cold for most swimmers, the beach is a great spot for a picnic, bonfires and kite flying. Whether you’re a family of naturalists or just enjoy a walk along a rugged beach, this spot is a treat. The ocean spread, massive rocks and mountainous backdrop all offer incredible views. Be sure to bring a pair of binoculars or maybe a few.
4. Chatham Bars Inn Beach – Cape Cod, Mass. Chatham is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and a ritual summer home to many a New England family. It’s no wonder this picturesque town has charm galore and a regal heritage. Here at the Chatham Bars Inn, there are 25 acres with a quarter mile of beachfront to enjoy. You can also bike, play bocce, build sandcastles, swim or play volleyball. Recline at the inn by the pool, get a nibble at the grill overlooking the ocean, or take advantage of the activities center – parents of youngsters will be especially interested in their range of age-appropriate programming. Another plus is that if it’s not sunny here on the Atlantic side, you can explore a beach on the bay side which is often sunny in contrast or go into town for shopping, world-class New England seafood and entertainment.
5. Hilton Head – Hilton Head, S.C. Hilton Head is the most famous (and most visited) part of the Carolina Lowcountry. Boasting well-manicured resorts offering championship golf, tennis galore and dozens of miles of well-maintained leisure trails on top of miles and miles of golden sands, is there any wonder why? Come to rest, relax, and rejuvenate or to bike, walk, jog, roller blade, or sail. Try horseback riding, a tennis clinic, mini-golf, or kayaking. Take a ride on a catamaran, don water skis, windsurf or parasail. You can ride down a waterslide. Watch dolphins in this natural habitat. Go crabbing, or take a guided nature walk. The first eco-planned destination in the U.S. means no neon and no lights at night, so take advantage and stargaze from the beach. Hilton Head offers southern charm, fine fare and activities for all.
6. James Lee Park at Crystal Beach – Destin, Fla. Along what’s known as the Emerald Coast of Florida, with miles of sugary white sand, is Destin, a great launching point for beachside fun and exploration. The sand is made of Appalachian quartz, which is said to reflect the sun rather than heating it up, making a beach walks more enjoyable. The calm waters are inviting, and families come from all over to enjoy this charming resort town with ample amenities. At Crystal Beach, you can dine seaside at the Crab Trap, eat ice cream along the boardwalk or rent an umbrella and chair just to lounge. The emerald waters are also perfect for swimming and surfing, all done under the watchful eye of lifeguards during the summer months. Visitors can find great food, shopping, and of course, plenty of seaside activities year round, such as swimming, sailing, sunbathing, volleyball, picnicking and numerous water sports. Destin is also a fishing hot spot, so grab your gear and try to snag a Blue-White Marlin, Red Snapper or Grouper. Or, if golf is more your speed, take advantage of the numerous courses…
7. Jetties Beach – Nantucket, Mass. Although harder to get to than many other domestic beaches, Jetties Beach and the other Nantucket spots are very accessible once you’re on the island. If you stay relatively central, most everything is within a short walk or a bike ride away, or you can pay a small fee to take a shuttle during the summer months. Nantucket is an old whaling community that has managed to preserve some of the look and feel from the old days. Meandering the streets in bright colored flip-flops and Lilly Pulitzer outfits, it feels like a throw back in time. Perhaps it’s because Nantucket lacks the same-old souvenir shops that dominate so many tourist sites these days. Part hideaway, part family town, part beachside resort, this community comes together in a wonderfully quaint and hospitable way. Jetties beach has very gentle waters, an especially big draw for the younger kids, a food pavilion, umbrella and chair rentals, lifeguards, volleyball, changing rooms, showers and a playground. The season stretches from May through to October when it’s prime time for a festival, a picnic, or simply a relaxing getaway.
8. Wildwood-by-the-Sea – Wildwood, N.J. Wildwood, near the charming (but less kid-friendly) Cape May, offers great summer family beaches. The two-mile boardwalk from 16th Ave. to Cresse has a long history of family-fun. Stroll the boardwalk to find three amusement piers, games, movie theaters, souvenir shops, restaurants, and candy shops . Some say that the best way to view this beach is in the early morning on a bicycle as the sun rises. The stunning view is well worth the early wake-up call. Throughout the summer there are festivals, concerts and everything from wrestling matches to beauty pageants. Of course some families come for the hobie cat regatta (Aug. 21-22), to charter a boat, or even venture on a whale watching expedition. At Wildwood-by-the Sea, the choice is all yours.
9. Cavendish Beach West – Prince Edward Island, Canada. Preserved by Prince Edward Island National Park since the 1930s, this site has long been a favorite spot with white sand beaches and all the amenities needed. It’s an educational opportunity for a family interested in beach programs such as ecology, geology, history, evolution, wildlife, and archaeology. But it’s also a fun spot on the Gulf of St. Lawrence with temperate waters that reach 70 degrees during the summer, perfect for frolicking in the surf or for boating. Canoeing and kayaking are also available, and if that isn’t enough, try deep sea fishing or parasailing. Oh, and if you’re bored of the beach, take the Dune Land Trail system from Cavendish Beach West to Cavendish Beach East. Explore the wetlands along the trail, stop at one of the playgrounds along the way or hike to the Green Gables House.
10. Paradise Lagoon – Paradise Island, Bahamas. A family paradise is found just over the bridge from Nassau at the massive (and recently renovated) Atlantis, Paradise Island resort. Here, the soft white sand and aqua waters of the Bahamas please, and at Atlantis, the seven-acre Paradise Lagoon will become your base camp for fun. Lifeguards watch over guests enjoying the many water-sports and swimming activities. Try a paddleboat, take out a kayak, or go snorkeling. Dine surfside at Shark Bites. Test slide all five waterslides. Daredevils will especially want to try the “Leap of Faith.” The 60-foot almost-vertical drop sends riders through a clear tunnel that winds through a shark-filled lagoon. When you decide to try your luck in the casino, send the kids to Discovery Channel Camp for the day so they, too, can hunt for hidden treasure.


My name: Amy is my name, but I'll answer to Ame, Ames or Aimee.

How I earn my keep: My beat is travel, but my passion is collecting stories from people I meet on the road.

Hotel I could move into: Must I pick only one?! The Palacio Duhau a Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires tops my list. For the stunning restoration of the palace and tasteful new tower that create a thoughtful intersection of old and new. Every public and private space captivates. I'd move for the grand Alvear entry as much as for the manicured garden. For the wine and cheese tastings, the dulce de leche, the art gallery, the flower shop and for all the careful attention to detail that went into creating a hotel that is transcendent. If I were to pick a hotel that most felt like me, it would be The Inn at the Manor in the Cotswolds. Oh, I could definitely live there curled up with a book in a leather chair in the bar or outside among the English wildflowers. If I wanted to live in a land far away, the Ngoro Ngoro Crater Lodge would make a unique home with a view of the crater floor from every room (including the loo!), sumptuous beds, endless roses and the most unusual neighbors - massive water buffalo who won't bother you if you stay close to your Maori guide.

If I won the lottery, I'd live in: A historic farmhouse with an enormous barn and hundreds of acres tucked into a small town in New England or a Malibu beach house with stunning views and the surf just steps away. On second thought, winning the lottery means I could jet from coast to coast and enjoy them both.

Favorite way to get around: By foot. Whether in the city or country, I find the best way to get to know someplace is ambling around to discover and sample the distinct sights, sounds, smells, and tastes a place has to offer.

View that took my breath away: Looking toward the sky in Arusha and watching black and white Colobus monkeys scramble among the treetops, jumping from one tree to the next, floating through the sky like a primate version of Superman. Monkeys know how to have a good time!

My most beloved place in the whole world is: The place I visited last. What can I say? I'm fickle.

Follow me on twitter @amyziff

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