There’s no better family vacation than one spent at the beach, where everyone in your brood can do as much as — or as little as — they like. From the action of water sports (like kayaking and parasailing) to the serene feeling that comes with a leisurely beach stroll, beach vacations are popular for a slew of reasons. Read on to discover three of the best and most family-friendly beach towns for vacationers of all ages.
1. Stately Santa Barbara, California
Best California Beach Town: Santa Barbara is nicknamed the American Riviera for a reason. Oprah, Drew Barrymore, and of course, Prince Harry and Meghan, live nearby. Needless to say, Santa Barbara is gorgeous, a playground of Spanish-Colonial architecture, posh shopping, and sidewalk dining, not to mention beautiful beaches set against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
Best Beaches In Santa Barbara: Perfect-for-kids East Beach is next to iconic Stearns Wharf, the launch point for sightseeing tours where there’s also a playground and casual waterside eats. If catching waves is your thing, Leadbetter Beach is packed with surfers and boogie boarding enthusiasts.
Best Family-Friendly Attractions: Take the family for a stroll on the pedestrian promenade known as State Street, where low-slung buildings with red-tile clay roofs shade boutiques, cafes, and courtyards perfect for people-watching. Pick up an e-bike from the city’s BCycle sharing program and pedal along the beach or into the hills for a visit to the Old Mission, a spirit-soothing masterpiece built-in 1789. Kids will love immersing themselves in the new Australian Walkabout exhibit at the Santa Barbara Zoo, while parents will want to sneak away for date night at Loquita and La Paloma.
2. Quaint & Quirky Siesta Key, Florida
Best Florida Beach Town: Named after the Spanish word for a nap, this 8-mile-long island off the coast of Sarasota is consistently ranked among America’s most beautiful — so don’t nap too long. Nestled on the calm, clear shores of the Gulf of Mexico, Siesta Key’s shallow, turquoise water is perfect for families with young kids. Take in the air show of kite surfers and parasailers while the little ones wade in the tidal pools and build towering sandcastles on the wide expanse of the beach.
Best Beaches In Siesta Key: Siesta Key Beach is the island’s most popular, but Crescent Beach is home to Point of Rocks, limestone outcroppings surrounding tidal pools, and coral reefs. Slightly farther south, Turtle Beach is the least crowded with plenty of picnic areas and ramps for paddle boarding and kayaking.
Best Family-Friendly Attractions: Siesta Key’s tranquil waters are also perfect for kayaking and paddle boarding. Pick up your gear at Ride & Paddle by Siesta Sports Rentals or have them delivered to you. When you need a break from the beach, Siesta Key Village is the laid-back heart of the island. From ice cream and fudge shops to seafood shacks and casual shops, you’ll find everything you need here, even a small grocery store. Take the kiddos to local favorite Old Salty Dog for pub fare and Meany’s for mini donuts, or step it up with dinner at Summer House or The Cottage. If you’re on the key on a Sunday, feel the beat at local-favorite Siesta Key Drum Circle, where the rhythm of drums lures beachgoers of all ages to dance and gawk collectively at the famous Gulf of Mexico sunsets.
3. Charming Charleston, South Carolina
Best South Carolina Beach Town: Preppy Charleston is a maze of brick and cobblestone streets flanked by Greek Revival and Lowcountry homes and other historic buildings dating as far back as the 16th century. It’s also a city that takes great pride in its Southern roots. Wherever you go, expect a hearty helping of hospitality and plenty of classic Lowcountry cuisine, including menu favorites like she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and Planter’s punch.
Best Beaches In Charleston: Casual and laid-back is the vibe at Folly Beach, where the fishing pier is the perfect spot for a sunset stroll. Uncrowded and pristine, Sullivan’s Island is ideal for leisurely swims and waterside picnics. Both are mere minutes from downtown Charleston.
Best Family-Friendly Attractions: Kick off a visit at the Battery, a park-like promenade nestled on the Charleston Harbor. A few streets over, snap a selfie in front of the pastel-colored homes of historic Rainbow Row. Check out the dozens of open-air stalls at Charleston City Market, where the line for Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit is testament to its popularity. Spend an afternoon window shopping on tony King Street with its stylish boutiques and trendy cafes, and indulge in dinner at Halls Chophouse, a quintessential Southern steakhouse and local landmark where the cast members of Bravo TV’s “Southern Charm” TV show often dine.
For a view of this waterfront city from the actual water, hop a short ferry ride to the Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Along the way you’ll have amazing views of the city ‘s famous Ravenel Bridge, the family friendly South Carolina Aquarium, and the USS Yorktown, World War II's famous “Fighting Lady.”