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School’s Out! Top Family-Friendly Beach Towns

Family & Pet Travel
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best beach towns

Now that it’s officially summer and the kids are out of school, many Americans are packing up their bags and heading to the beach. However, for many families, it’s finding that one special little town on the water with the white beaches and family-friendly activities can be tough. TravelNerd has put together the top 10 small beach towns across the U.S. for all families to find their slice of heaven.

Wildwoods, New Jersey

Head to Wildwoods, located on the Jersey shoreline. With a 2.5-mile-long boardwalk lined with carnival games, little shops and, of course, lots of food, families won’t have to look hard for kid—and parent—friendly activities. There are free concerts throughout the week and a firework show every Friday night.

Best of all, there’s plenty of amusement park fun available with a light-up Ferris wheel. Stop by for Family Fun Nights on Thursday for clowns, parades and stilt walkers, sure to delight the kids. Take the little ones to see interactive displays on military and aviation history at the Wildwoods Aviation Museum.

Treasure Island, Florida

Located in the Gulf Coast, Treasure Island has 3 miles of beaches where visitors can watch the spectacular sunset, when the sun dips below the water. On the first and third Saturdays of June through August, the town puts on a sunset festival with live music, performances and artisans. Bring the kids to watch magicians and fire eaters, and dance to steel drums.

Santa Cruz, California

Sunny Santa Cruz is a throwback to the traditional beach boardwalk and a gateway to California’s other family-friendly attractions. Start on the Beach Boardwalk for old-fashioned amusement park rides. Be sure to spot the seals – you’ll hear the barking across the entire beach.

It’s no wonder why Santa Cruz has been designated a World Surfing Reserve. Swing into the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, then learn to surf at Cowell’s Beach from Cowell’s Beach Surf Shop. Then head inland on the Roaring Camp Railroads Train for a daytrip to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head has 12-miles of perfect white sand, so families can take their pick of where to go. Driessen Beach and Islanders Beach Parks are popular with families for their playgrounds and picnic spots. The boardwalk is close to the sand dunes and tidal marsh, so stop and spot ocean creatures and sea turtle nests or collect seashells at any of the beaches. Coligny Beach Park is also popular for its shallow, clear water, perfect for kids to splash around in.

Then trek into the Harbour Town area to climb the picturesque candy-striped lighthouse and climb to the top for great views. Then go to The Sandbox, a children’s museum with a play plane, bank and supermarket – perfect play areas for young children. Older kids will like the Coastal Discovery Museum, which has a butterfly exhibit and scavenger hunts.

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Rehoboth Beach, a small town situated on the Delaware coast, is popular spot for families looking for a cozy environment on their beach vacation. There’s only 1.5 miles of beach complete with lifeguards. Walk into town for the weekly farmer’s market on Tuesday for some delicious healthy food to eat on the beach.

Kids love the boardwalk, with its carousel, Ferris wheel and wooden boats. There’s even a haunted mansion dating back to the 1940s. Parents enjoy strolling into the 1- square mile town filled with little boutique shops selling local favorites saltwater taffy and ice cream. To hide from the sun, stop in the Biggs Museum of American Art and join their free family-friendly events on the first Friday of each month.

Chincoteague, Virginia

Chincoteague found its fame in the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague about Misty, a wild Chincoteague pony raised by the Beebe family. Misty was actually based on a real horse reared on the Beebe Ranch, and her hoof prints can be found outside the Roxy Movie Theatre in Chincoteague.

Families should head to Assateague National Seashore for beach strolls to spot herons, bald eagles and the famous wild ponies. In July, the Pony Penning takes over the island. Salt Water Cowboys round up ponies from Assateague Island for ride into the Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Island and Chincoteague Carnival grounds. Colts are then auctioned off to keep the herd manageable.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Nestled on the shores of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island provides old-fashioned thrills for kids with horse-and-carriage rides around the island, kite flying exhibitions, butterfly displays and a theatre. Be sure to stop by Mackinac Island State Park, which constitutes 80% of the land on the island, for a day hike and picnicking.

Motor vehicles are banned on the island, so your kids will have the chance to walk and bike around the island with no worries. Treat them with a stop in any of the fudge shops on the island, a famous snack still made in the traditional method. For those stopping by in late August, there’s a Fudge Festival complete with fudge sampling, beer tasting and a bicycle race.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Alabama doesn’t usually bring to mind beach life, but the state hides beautifully preserved beaches chock full of Southern charm. Gulf Shores is a mainstay for seafood lovers. The National Shrimp Festival is held here every fall, so head down for some of the best seafood in the South and a san sculpture contest.

The beaches are famous for “jubilees” on random nights where all manner of seafood flop up on the beach, making great pickings for seafood lovers to pick up some crabs, fish and shrimp.

Friday Harbor, Washington

Stop at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island for a relaxing, cool summer vacation. Surrounded by tall pine trees, San Juan Island provides plenty of ways to get away from city life. Scoot around downtown on a rented moped to see all the art galleries. The San Juan Historical Museum gives kids a glimpse of 1880s life with a farm, pioneer log cabin and even an old county jail.

The outdoorsy families should rent kayaks to paddle around the harbor. Kids are too young? Get close to the ocean by taking a whale-watching cruise to spot the orcas. Then stop by The Whale Museum to learn more and perhaps adopt an orca!

Tybee Island, Georgia

Ahoy mateys! Tybee Island’s Pirate Fest will be the most fun your kids will have this summer. Put on your pirate regalia and head to Thieves Market to hunt for souvenirs, then watch the Pirate’s Parade. Kids will have fun on the pirate-themed bouncy houses, puppet shows and a model pirate ship. Get the full kitsch experience by staying in the Mermaid Cottages, colorful bungalows with covered porches and direct access to the beach.

There’s plenty of white sand to play in on the beach, and kids will be thrilled on dolphin-viewing tours. Sneak in some education with tours of Fort Pulaski, famous from the Civil War. Kids can join along on a tour to explore the entire fort and walk along the nature trails.

Photo credit: Simoluu