Photo: Pier and bay at sunset

Stand-up paddle surfers head away from the pier at Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore.

Photograph by Julie Lovell, My Shot

By Katherine Ozment

  1. Coast Guard Beach - Eastham, Massachusetts

    For the classic Cape Cod vacation, head to Coast Guard Beach, boundless miles of sand and surf on the Cape Cod National Seashore. Stop at the Salt Pond Visitor Center to learn about free programs, such as family campfire nights, ranger-guided nature walks, beach yoga, and surf casting lessons. Rent kayaks, surfboards, and bikes from Castaways Marine. Take a ride along the 24-mile (39-kilometer) bike path or paddle through unspoiled marsh. The beach itself, reached by a quick shuttle ride from a main lot, has lifeguards, showers, and changing rooms. In town, Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar serves kids’ meals on Frisbees and has an 18-hole miniature golf course.

  2. Coopers Beach - Southampton, New York

    Rub elbows with the rich and famous along this wide, white-sand beach, a true Hamptons treasure. A stroll along Coopers Beach offers the unique view of a seemingly endless Atlantic on one side and historic mansions on the other. Ideal for families, the gently sloping beach has lifeguards, a snack bar, chair and umbrella rentals, and a summer concert series. Allow time for shopping in town on quaint, tree-lined streets like Jobs Lane. Parking is pricey and can be tight, so arrive early.

  3. Hanalei Bay Beach - Kauai, Hawaii

    The slow pace of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s north shore makes this two-mile (three-kilometer) long, half-moon beach at the foot of emerald mountains and glittering waterfalls the perfect place to stop and soak up the sun. Beachgoers can swim, bodyboard, and learn to surf in summer’s calmer waters. In the town of Hanalei, a five-minute walk from the beach and a throwback to old Hawaii, you’ll find surf stores, gift shops, casual eateries, and kids selling fresh leis on the street corner.

  4. Kiawah Beachwalker Park - Kiawah Island, South Carolina

    Nature lovers will appreciate the pristine condition of this barrier island, just 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Charleston. Beachwalker Park is the only public beach on Kiawah Island; the rest is a golf resort. The gentle surf, wildlife sightings, and amenities, including a snack bar and umbrella and chair rentals, draw day-trippers and resort guests alike. Visit the Heron Park Nature Center to learn how to explore the surrounding flora and fauna. Kayak through preserved mangrove forests and lagoons. Don’t miss the weekly oyster roast and BBQ on Mingo Point, where you can savor the sunset and listen to music.

  5. Santa Cruz Beach - Santa Cruz, California

    Home to the last of the great seaside amusement parks on the West Coast, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is family-friendly and features rides for kids of all ages and live music events during the summer. Cowell’s Beach, just north of the main beach, provides some of the best conditions for learning to surf on the West Coast. For a day away from sun and sand, climb aboard a Roaring Camp Railroads train, which picks up passengers on the boardwalk and takes them into the majestic forest of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

  1. Siesta Beach - Siesta Key, Florida

    Known for sand that looks and feels like powdered sugar—scientifically confirmed to be 99 percent quartz—Siesta Beach claims to have the “whitest and finest sand in the world.” Kid-friendly amenities include a snack bar, tennis courts, shaded picnic area, and playground. On-the-beach entertainment ranges from kite flying to beach volleyball. Wildlife sightings—dolphins, manatees, egrets, and pelicans—are common. Siesta Key Village is brimming with family-friendly restaurants, including the Broken Egg for breakfast, the Old Salty Dog for crispy fish and chips, and ice cream and floats at Big Olaf’s Creamery.

  2. Coronado Central Beach - Coronado, California

    The historic Hotel Del Coronado provides a striking backdrop to experience this perfect beach for families. The gentle slope and warm surf make activities like Boogie boarding, surfing, and swimming easy. Younger kids will enjoy sandcastle building and kite flying, while tweens can sample beach volleyball, biking, and rollerblading along 15 miles (24 kilometers) of designated pathways. Amenities include restrooms, free parking, showers, and year-round lifeguards. Keep an eye out for the most famous locals, the Navy SEALS, who often train on the beach.

  3. Crane Beach - Ipswich, Massachusetts

    Soft sand and gorgeous ocean views lay just north of Boston, on Massachusetts’ “other cape.” Calm waters, warm tidal pools, and on-site amenities such as a snack bar featuring homemade sandwiches and fresh salads make this an ideal destination for families. Enjoy hiking trails through sand dunes and salt marsh, bird watching, and shell collecting. Off-beach attractions include the Castle Hill mansion for a tour of the gardens; Russell Orchards for locally grown produce and famous cider donuts; and the Clam Box, serving delectable fried clams for sixty years and counting.

  4. Stinson Beach - Stinson Beach, California

    A winding drive along Highway One north of San Francisco descends into paradise— three and a half miles (5.6 kilometers) of stunning California coastline. Try kayaking, surfing, hang gliding, or plain old swimming. Amenities include a 51-acre (21-hectare) grassy park with picnic tables and grills, an on-the-beach snack bar, restrooms, and lifeguards. Nearby Muir Woods offers trails through a redwood forest with trees up to 700 years old. Back at Stinson, don’t miss inventive ice cream flavors at the Flying Pig Ranch.

  5. Lifeguard Beach - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

    Take the ferry from Hatteras Island to idyllic Ocracoke Island and let time stop. Clear, calm waters along 16 miles (26 kilometers) of unspoiled beaches are perfect for kayaking, kiteboarding, parasailing, and windsurfing. Rent a bike and explore charming Ocracoke Village, set around the crescent-shaped Silver Lake Harbor. History buffs will enjoy the 1823 lighthouse, and pirate enthusiasts shouldn’t miss Teach’s Hole for an exhibit about Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, who hid out on the island before being killed by British troops.

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