A beach vacation might conjure up images of white sand, blue ocean, and swaying palm trees as you sip a cocktail in your lounge chair. Or maybe you’re looking for a family-friendly beach town where your kids can perfect their sandcastle-building skills, play arcade games, and hop on classic amusement park rides. Or maybe you want to try zip lining or parasailing, so you want to scope out nature’s playground. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, family traveler, or simply craving some much-needed relaxation, let these three beach destinations inspire your next vacation
1. Lake Chelan, WA: A Haven For Outdoor Activities
An easy drive from Seattle, Lake Chelan sits in north-central Washington, offering up a picturesque lakeside town brimming with activities on land and sea. With plenty of small-town charm, Lake Chelan provides the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts. This narrow, 50-mile-long, glacier-fed lake draws on-the-water adventure seekers. What can you do here? Try waterskiing, wakeboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, fishing, parasailing, or jet skiing.
Beyond the waters, head for the hills and enjoy miles of hiking and biking trails, ranging from the 25-mile, family-friendly Echo Ridge trail system to the 13-mile Devil’s Backbone for the more ambitious. Grab your binoculars at the lake to spot loons and buffleheads, then head to Lake Cheland State Park (on the Audubon Society’s Washington State Birding Trail) to glimpse nuthatches and woodpeckers.
Bonus: With 30 vineyards hugging the shores of Lake Chelan, tours and wine tasting opportunities lure in wine enthusiasts from near and far.
2. Ocean City, NJ: Buzzing With Energy
Nicknamed “America's Greatest Family Resort,” Ocean City marks the ideal spot for family-friendly fun. With eight miles of oceanfront beaches (with lifeguards to ensure safety), this seaside town famously boasts a boardwalk buzzing with activity day and night. Here, you’ll find cafes, pizza joints, ice cream parlors, souvenir spots, saltwater taffy shops (of course!), and surf stores, mixed in with live music, amusement centers, water parks, and spectacular special events.
A Jersey shore staple for more than 90 years, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier offers classic rides like the carousel, log flume, and tilt-a-whirl. Playland’s Castaway Cove — a boardwalk favorite for 60 years — features several roller coasters, themed mini-golf, shops, eateries, and a kid-pleasing amusement park.
Travel Tip: If you visit Ocean City beaches during peak summer season (June through Labor Day), you’ll need to buy a beach tag to gain access.
3. Sanibel Island, FL: Low-Key & Casual
When you crave warm weather and turquoise waters — with no agenda other than relaxation — head to Sanibel Island along Florida’s southwest coast. With a low-key, casual vibe, this barrier island stretches along the Gulf of Mexico, offering a tropical, dog-friendly retreat when you just want toes-in-the-sand relaxation.
With average high temps ranging from 76-86° F in springtime, you can escape cooler northern weather and (temporarily) live the island life. Don’t be fooled by Sanibel’s chill vibe — you’ll find plenty to do. Known for its fantastic shelling, Sanibel Island stretches for 12 miles, with abundant seashells washing ashore on its sugar-white sand.
On the island’s northern section, meander through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge for a glimpse of ospreys, alligators, and dolphins. Bring or rent a bike to explore the island’s 25 miles of paved trails. Another must-see? The towering 1880s lighthouse. Although not open for tours, it makes a picturesque backdrop to capture those Insta-worthy memories.