There’s nothing quite like that perfect beach day, sunny, with a little bit of a breeze to keep you from melting. The magic of summer is worth waiting months for and keeps us going during the long winter months.
Believe it or not — it’s that other most wonderful time of the year when your family’s most pressing decisions include debating whether to buy new swimwear, upgrade your chaise longue, buy new beach toys or if this is the year you finally learn to snorkel. Ahh, the good life. But this season, while you may be craving sea and sand, you may not be in the mood for crowds. No worries, there are plenty of beaches big on beauty and little traveled compared with the hot spots everyone flocks to. Bonus? They are super family-friendly. Here are a few to put on your must-go list.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Daufuskie Island, S.C., you might have it all to yourself.
Make your way to Daufuskie Island in South Carolina for that perfect beach escape without the masses. You can only get there by boat, and only about 400 people live there full time. So you’ll have much of the 3½ miles of beach to yourself. Up the fun meter by having the entire family hop on horses for a ride on the beach. Much of Daufuskie is undeveloped conservancy land. You’ll tool around in your electric golf cart, and the kids will love exploring the island by bike on their own. Expect to see wildlife like bottlenose dolphins or, in spring, the loggerhead turtles. The experience is enhanced further with a stay in a lighthouse that dates back to the 1800s. Finally, be sure to stop at the Old Daufuskie Crab Company to enjoy delicious food and sweeping sunset views across the Lowcountry.
Lincoln City, Oregon
The Oregon coastline near Lincoln City.
When it comes to beaches in Oregon, the buzz is typically about Cannon and Seaside Beaches. There’s plenty more to the surf story, though. The 7-mile stretch of beach in Lincoln City, about a two-hour drive south of Portland, awaits you. This is a prime summer spot for families who love to hang ten and seek adventure.
First up? Nearly half a mile from the shore is the Nelscott Reef, a highly sought-after spot for surfers, and waves can crest as high as 40 to 50 feet during the winter. Summer is a bit more laid back for visitors. Then, enjoy Oregon’s central coast, evergreen forests, kayaking in Devils Lake, or paddleboarding in Siletz Bay. A little time on the water is sure to provide fodder for a family giggle around the dinner table.
If you’re feeling adventurous, hike Cascade Head or Drift Creek Falls with its 240-foot suspension bridge. Your kids will undoubtedly think the Lincoln City Surf Shop and Northwest Surf Museum, with its collection of surfboards and surfing memorabilia, are incredible. As for where to stay, keep the ocean vibe going and check into the Inn at Spanish Head, the only resort hotel on the beach. The oceanfront rooms keep you close to the sea with their floor-to-ceiling windows.
Cayucos, California. The central California region is known for its scenic coast, great surfing and whale-watching.
About half an hour from San Luis Obispo is Cayucos, home to just 3,000 people. Cayucos State Beach is 6 miles of white sand. The Cayucos Pier, built in 1872 and then rebuilt in 2015, is a sweet spot for fishing, catching the sunset and maybe even a glimpse of a whale, which will likely get oohs and ahhs from your children. They’ll get thrills too at the Cayucos Skate Park, where they can watch the action or show off if they have their gear. Be sure to add Hardie Park to your itinerary and enjoy its tennis courts, swimming pool and children’s play area.
When you’ve had your fill of the water for the day, there are antique and surf shops and fabulous finds. And though the town might be small, they aren’t lacking in delicious dining options. Fortunately for visitors, most dining options are within walking distance of the Pier, making it easy to grab a quick slice from Ocean Front Pizza or some classic chowder at Duckie’s Chowder House. Then, at night, rest your head at The Shoreline Inn, which is newly renovated and the only hotel with direct access to the beach.
Also see: The 5 best —and affordable —places to live in California
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Oceanview Beach Park, Jekyll Island.
Located along the northern shores of Jekyll Island, Driftwood Beach is a secluded spot to spend your summer vacation. Eerily beautiful and decorated with ancient driftwood scattered along the beach, as well as entire trees, including their roots, this spot lives up to its name. It’s surreal, serene and wildly romantic. While you will want a spontaneous photo shoot, the beach is not just for gazing; you can swim in it too.
Chill out after your time on the beach at The Wharf, a restaurant and bar on the pier and enjoy Southern delicacies like fried okra and shrimp and grits. While on the island, stop at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where kids can learn about the lives of sea turtles and experience them up close and personal. The Summer Waves Water Park is a must-do, and the kids will likely add a dolphin tour to the list. Finally, stay at the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort, which was once the summer getaway for the Vanderbilts, Pulitzers and Rockefellers.
Read: The best affordable places to live in the U.S.
Park Point, Duluth, Minn.
When you think of beaches, you likely think of East and West Coasts, but there’s good stuff in the middle too. The Midwestern port city of Duluth, two hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul is the gateway to the North Shore of Lake Superior. Duluth’s Park Point is 7 miles of sandy beaches. The sand dunes, hardwood-pine, red and white pine forests make the area ideal for birding. Enjoy the beach house concessions, picnic pavilions, playgrounds and more. This beach town also has more than 6,000 acres of parkland, 178 miles of wooded trails, 16 trout streams, the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. Keep the water vibe going with a stop in the Great Lakes Aquarium. The kids will also enjoy the Duluth Children’s Museum, with its hands-on activities and artifacts. Take your pick of accommodations, be it a boutique hotel or hostel.
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The Manistee Lighthouse.
The Victorian port city of Manistee, Mich., is home to 5th Avenue Beach. Tiny Manistee is off the radar; it’s 40 minutes north of “bigger” Ludington and its 8,000+ residents. But the Michigan coast is nothing to turn your nose at. 5th Avenue Beach has soft, sugary sand, a gourmet food vendor, a playground, tennis courts and sheltered picnic tables. Walk the North Pier and take in the sight of the historic Manistee North Pierhead Lighthouse. In addition to the beach, there are four rivers ideal for fishing, paddling and kayaking.
See: Six towns worth visiting for their historic downtowns
If your family is game, there are 80 miles of hiking trails. Or walk as little or as much as you like along the Manistee Riverwalk. Read the markers that tell the city’s story along the way. Give your kids an Insta-worthy moment as you all board a 4-seater plane for a view of Manistee from on high. If that’s too daring, consider Inn Fun Cruises. The boat leaves from downtown Manistee for a 2-hour narrated ride along Manistee’s waterways. Keep the water theme going with a stay at the S.S. City of Milwaukee Boatel, another good option for your home away from is a historic B&B like The Dempsey Manor Inn & House Museum.
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