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Best Beach Vacations in the United States

This summer will see a lot of people escape from their homes and head somewhere, anywhere else. Between the usual need to go someplace when the weather gets warm, and the COVID ripple effect that’s making travelers antsier, this summer will be a busy travel season.

If you’re like most people, you’re probably going to want to head to the beach. So, here are some suggestions for every kind of beach lover.

(Note: If Hawaii is your final destination, be sure to check out this previous post first. It has everything you need to know about planning your Hawaiian getaway.)


Surfing USA

Surf’s up! When it comes to hitting the waves, not just any beach will do. The waves have to break just right. I scoured some of the top surfing websites to develop this list of some of the best surf spots in America. I scattered them up and down both coasts to make sure you don’t have to go to the other side of the country to catch some excellent waves.


Cocoa Beach, FL

If you want to know how good the surf is at Cocoa Beach, just look at its history. The shores helped train 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater, arguably one of the best surfers in the sport’s history. That alone puts Cocoa Beach on the list of best surf spots in the United States.


Huntington Beach, CA

According to the Travel Channel, “If you’re looking for a surf destination, you can’t go wrong with Surf City, USA. With 4 different-facing beaches, there’s a break for everyone — longboarders should head to the northwest beaches, while shortboards are best in the south, by Huntington Beach Pier.”


Montauk, NY

When it comes to surfing on the East Coast, Montauk may be your best bet. According to 57 Hours, most of the East Coast is made up of sandy beaches, but that changes at the eastern tip of Long Island, where it becomes rocky. That makes surf on the east end of Long Island (i.e., Montauk) ideal. 

“Montauk is known for many things, but surfing is definitely one of the greatest attractions. You can surf big waves at Ditch Plains or tiny waves somewhere else,” writes Newsday.


North Shore, HI

There were plenty of spots in Hawaii to choose from, but I’m going with the most iconic, North Shore. 

Located on the North Shore of Oahu, 57 Hours writes, “Oahu’s North Shore surfing is the stuff of legend. It is the home of the Triple Crown of Surfing competitions and the birthplace of many world-famous surfers. Alternately known as the ‘Seven Mile Miracle,’ it has some of the most consistent surf due to its deep-water position at the western end of one of the most remote archipelagos in the world. There is every kind of surf break here, from reefs to points to beach break and everything in between.”


Outer Banks, NC

“Thanks to temperate weather and a booming tourist economy, even in the off-season, surfing can be enjoyed nearly year-round on the Outer Banks. Plus, the islands literally sit right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, further East than any other beach in North Carolina,” writes Outer Banks Vacations

The Outer Banks was named one of the top 10 Best Surf Towns in America by Surfer Magazine in 2017.


Southern California

While I highlighted Huntington Beach earlier in this article, the truth is there are dozens of spots along the Southern California coast that you can hit and get great waves. Whether you like San Diego or San Clemente, or Malibu, there are plenty of beach options for you. Each location has something to offer surfers.


Kid-Friendly Beach Vacations

Anyone with kids knows that a trip to the beach is a lot more than just thinking about your towel and sunscreen. If you’re looking for some of the most kid-friendly beach stops in America, look no further than the beaches below.


Destin, FL

“This Florida town’s family-friendly vibe and impressive beaches entice multigenerational groups year after year,” writes U.S. News. “The stark white sand and calm jade water at Henderson Beach State Park and the Shores at Crystal Beach Park are picture-perfect. Plus, many Destin resorts cater to kids, so parents can relax while the little ones play. Boat tours are also a great way to spend some quality time with the family; all ages will have fun looking for jumping dolphins, and the kids will have a blast on the pirate-themed cruises.”


Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head comes in at number five on U.S. News’ Best Family Beach Vacations. 

“Hilton Head, South Carolina, is perfect for families looking to slow down. You’ll find two notable beaches here: Alder Lane Beach and the ever-popular Coligny Beach Park,” writes U.S. News. “For a break from the sands, take a stroll (or bike ride) through Harbour Town and climb to the top of the lighthouse. Golf courses and tennis courts abound as well, giving your family plenty of options for staying active while on vacation.”


La Jolla, CA

 

There were many locations in Southern California to choose from, but I decided to go with La Jolla because it has several protected beaches ideal for kids. Between La Jolla Shores, La Jolla Cove, or the Children’s Pool, your kids are bound to have a good time. There’s also a playground just off of the beach, the Birch Aquarium, and a walkable downtown to enjoy.

(Note: Avoid Black’s Beach if you’re bringing the kids. It’s locally known as a nude beach for surfers and sunbathers.)


Maui, HI

Filled with family-friendly beach resorts, Kihei and Wailea are two of the best places to visit in Hawaii with kids. 

The Hawaiian Vacation Guide says Baby Beach on Lahaina is the best location to visit if you have toddlers. 

“It’s shallow for a very, very long time. The sand is soft. The water is crystal clear, and there are no waves thanks to a reef holding back the waves,” writes Erica.

She also suggests Kapalua Bay and Napili Bay.


Monterey, CA

Not only is Monterey home to beautiful beaches, but it also has plenty for families to do on dry land. From the Monterey Bay Aquarium to a round of golf at Pebble Beach, there’s a lot more than just beaches. 

For a deeper look at Monterey and the other stops along the Pacific Coast Highway, check out this previous post.


Oval Beach, Saugatuck, MI

With gorgeous white sand dunes and calm waters, Oval Beach on Lake Michigan is one of the best in the United States, and Saugatuck is one of the best beach towns for families. 

According to Conde Nast Traveler, “This tiny hamlet of less than 1,000 residents is nestled among the sand dunes on the east coast of Lake Michigan. It’s a favorite among Chicagoans for its close proximity (about a two-hour drive) and impressive arts scene, which blossomed during the late 19th century’s arts and crafts movement and hasn’t waned since. Oval Beach is where it’s at during the warmer months, and neighboring Douglas and nearby Holland, Michigan, add to the options for lodging, dining and nightlife.”


Dog-Friendly Beach Vacations

Sometimes when you travel, you want to take your best buddy with you. If it’s not just two-legged companions that you’re traveling with but four-legged ones as well, be sure to stop by these dog-friendly beach locations.


Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Carmel Beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea in California is the ultimate destination for dog lovers, according to U.S. News.  

“This iconic stretch of beach located along California’s central coast is known as one of the most dog-friendly beaches in the U.S,” writes U.S. News. “Your canine friend can run off-leash and play with other dogs on the beach and in the surf, but he must be under voice command. He’ll need to be on a leash when you hit the Scenic Road, which meanders along the beach and affords spectacular views of the coastline, the town’s famous Cypress trees, and Pebble Beach Golf Links. Many restaurants offer ‘yappy hours’ and come complete with pup-approved cuisine. What’s more, hotels like the Cypress Inn feature VIP treatment with amenities like pet blankets and bowls, doggie pick-up bags, and an area to wash off after playing on the beach.”


Haulover Beach Park, FL

Bring Fido calls Haulover Beach Park in Florida the best dog-friendly beach on the East Coast.

“You and Fido can join the droves of beach-loving pups for off-leash fun between towers #2 and #3 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day of the week,” writes Bring Fido. “Surprisingly, sandy paws aren’t for every dog. If your pooch prefers the zoomies on grass instead, he can visit the dog park adjacent to the shore.”


Jekyll Island Beaches, GA

Embark Vet says Jekyll Island is a great place to take your four-legged buddies. 

“The rambling beaches of Jekyll Island offers visitors a little piece of quiet serenity. Surrounded by the Atlantic, this island is one of the Golden Isles of Georgia Barrier Islands, and it sounds just as lovely as it is,” writes Embark Vet. “Bring your dog to see how much there is to explore in the area. A daily park pass is $6 per day. According to their rules, leashed dogs are allowed on beaches year-round.”


Jenness Beach, NH

According to Embark Vet, “With sandy, off-leash spaces and plenty of other pups for your dog to make friends with, this beach offers a nice summer escape for you and Fido. There are places for picnicking, a bathhouse, and designated swimming areas. There are no fees for beach admittance. Dog-friendly hours begin in the early evening and end in the morning on the Saturday before Memorial Day through the Saturday after Labor Day. Dogs can use the beach at any time during the remainder of the year.”


Magnuson Park, Seattle, WA

According to Tripping.com, “Magnuson Park, located in the Sand Point neighborhood in northeast Seattle along the shore of Lake Washington, has the largest off-leash area in the city. Almost nine acres of fully fenced land includes walking trails, a spacious flat play area, a water station, and a special section for small and shy dogs. The beach has special gates to provide access to the water where your dog can wade or swim. Other park facilities include dispensers with plastic bags to clean up after your pet and a hose to rinse off your dog. Be sure to bring a leash because leashes are required until you get to the off-leash area.”

All that space to run free!


South Beach State Park, OR

According to Oregon State Parks, if you’re taking your four-legged best friend on a beach trip with you, South Beach State Park is your best choice. 

“It’s like dog-city at this campground just south of Newport, which features 14 pet-friendly yurts, more than any other state campground,” writes the website. “We also like it for its proximity to pet-friendly Gleneden Beach nearby. Because what dog doesn’t love to run free on the beach? (Just make sure she’s reliable at recall).”


Sandcastle Friendly Beach Vacations

When it comes to building a sandcastle, it’s more than just tossing sand and water together. As Scientific American reported, there’s science behind the perfect sandcastle. 

You also need to take into account ideal conditions, including the weather. 

With that in mind, here are some of the best beaches in America to build a sandcastle. Many of them play host to some of the top sand art competitions in the world.


Cannon Beach, OR

Cannon Beach in Oregon is home to the oldest sandcastle building competition in the Pacific Northwest. Named one of the world’s most beautiful places by National Geographic, not only do you have great sand to work with, but you have a fantastic view to boot.


Hampton Beach, NH

For nearly two decades, sand sculptors have traveled to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, to show off their skills with sand. There’s a Masters Group Carve and a solo competition so teams and individuals can take part.


Key West, FL

You have to figure if they can have an international sandcastle building competition at the beach, then the sand is ideal for sandcastle building. Home to the International Sand Art Competition every Thanksgiving Weekend, the Casa Marina Resort offers the perfect sand for your work of art.


Port Huron, MI

The beach at Fort Gratiot Light Station County Park plays host to the annual Blue Water Sandfest. Located along the coast of Port Huron, the gentle waters help keep you and your sandcastles protected.


San Diego, CA

Whether you’re on the sand building a castle or in the water enjoying the Pacific Ocean, the beaches in San Diego are some of the best in the United States. 

The beach near Broadway Pier is home to an annual sandcastle building competition, so if you’re looking for an excellent sandcastle building location, start there.


Written by Erika Towne

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