By Lisa Armstrong
Nothing says summer like a swim in the surf and your toes in the sand. So where should you and the family savor the sunny days of summer? We rounded up our top 8 beaches on the East Coast for families, whether you've got older kids, little ones, or are looking for a little calm.
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
Old Orchard Beach is a 7 mile stretch of sand where families can fly a kite or play catch, and the waves are gentle rollers that won't scare small children. Tide pooling around the legs of the pier is a popular pastime and the beach has an annual Family Sand Sculpture Contest in July and a Beach Olympics weekend in August.
Insider Tip: If children get bored with the beach they can visit Palace Playland, New England's only beachfront amusement park with rides for all ages, games, and a 24,000 square foot arcade.
Where to Eat: Find yummy breakfasts at Becky's Diner—think eggs-any-way-you-like, pancakes, and fresh fruit. Then find spinach artichoke dip, crab cakes, clam chowder, and other New England favorites at the waterfront Porthole Restaurant for lunch or dinner.
Where to Stay: Portland, Maine, is less than a half hour away by car, so book a room at the classic Pomegranate Inn. It's walking distance to the Western Promenade, the food is fantastic (the innkeeper published a cookbook), and its filled with contemporary art.
Old Silver Beach, North Falmouth, Massachusetts
Great for small children, Old Silver Beach has warm waters, soft sand, and a sandbar at low tide that creates shadow pools for little ones to explore. It also has lifeguards, restrooms, showers, and a snack bar not far from where you'd put your towels down. It's a smaller beach, so it can get crowded on nice days, but it's worth the trip anyway.
Insider Tip: There's a $20 parking fee for visitors, but if you plan to park, go early—the beach is so popular that during the summer, the lot fills up fast.
Where to Eat: Treat yourselves, and the kids, to a jazz brunch on Sundays at Bleu in nearby Mashpee, which is conveniently located at the Mashpee Commons Mall. Or spring for Mediterranean dishes (think calamari, sweet Italian sausages, bruschetta) at La Cucina sul Mare in Falmouth.
Where to Stay: For a quiet beachfront getaway, book at the classic, New England-styled Inn on the Sound in Falmouth. Or stay at the beautiful Capt. Farris House, which is close to tons of restaurants and is in an ideal spot for exploring Cape Cod.
Joseph Sylvia State Beach, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
While the entire island of Martha's Vineyard is packed with wonderful beaches for families, Joseph Sylvia State Beach is particularly well suited. It's a 6 mile-stretch between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown with small waves, lots of seashells, and views of Cape Cod. It really makes you want to stay all day, particularly since the parking is free, but also because the sand is generally soft and the water is only cold to start—swim out a bit further and it warms up.
Insider Tip: On a busy day, escape the crowds by going kayaking or canoeing on nearby Sengekontacket Pond.
Where to Eat: If you've left the kids at home (or are with older ones), definitely book at the Sweet Life Cafe, where oysters and gazpacho leads to sautéed halibut and broccoli ravioli. Littler ones will adore the charming Morning Glory Farm, which is packed with gourmet items grown right there on the farm.
Where to Stay: You'll be in good company with other families at Oak Bluff's Dockside Inn, which has big, beautiful porches to hang out on. It sits right on the dock just steps from all the fun stuff in town.
Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
With warm waters and 7 miles of dune-backed sands, it is no wonder why Coopers Beach in Southampton earned the top spot on Dr. Beach's annual list in 2010. It offers an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean and historic mansions that line the shore, white sand and clear blue water, and fantastic photo opportunities. Keep in mind that parking is pricey ($40/day) and the small lot can fill up quick, so try getting to the beach before noon.
Insider Tip: For even more fun, join in the family "Build a Sandcastle to the Stars" event over Labor Day Weekend. The contest is for all ages, but with kid-focused prizes donated by businesses.
Where to Eat: Step back in time at the classic diner-inspired Sip 'n Soda for burgers, fries, and a shake at lunch, or mix with the locals who love this place for breakfast.
Where to Stay: The best place to stay in the Hamptons (especially with the whole family) is at a beach house—whether it's your own, a friend's, or a summer rental from a service like HomeAway.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
With lots of on-the-water and nearby activities, Virginia Beach is great for the whole family. It offers 28 miles of public beach, a popular three-mile boardwalk, and there are events almost every weekend on the boardwalk and surrounding areas, including the Boardwalk Art Show, East Coast Surfing Championship, and Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon.
Insider Tip: Nearby First Landing State Park features trails for hiking and biking, camp sites, swimming and sports rental equipment.
Where to Eat: With an open grill in the center of the dining room and live music, the Five 01 City Grill is fun place to spend an evening with the kids. Try the wood-fired pizzas.
Where to Stay: The Turtle Cay Resort is a small Key West-inspired hotel with great pools and a casual cool vibe that sits just across the street from the boardwalk.
Corolla Beach, North Carolina's Outer Banks
The draws for families to Corolla Beach are many. Think of smooth sand beaches, nearby lighthouses, water sports (like jet skis and kayak tours), and the chance to spot beautiful, wild horses that sometimes take trips along the beach. It's considered one of the Outer Bank's best undiscovered beaches.
Insider Tip: Take the family on an adventure with Beach Jeeps of Corolla. They offer Wild Horse Sightseeing tours, as well as both guided and self-driven tours in Jeeps, 4x4s, and Escalades.
Where to Eat: Stop by the Northern Lights Bakery to check out cleverly decorated cakes and snap up sweet treats for yourself. For dinner, find fresh seafood in dishes like crab ravioli, grilled shrimp, and the day's freshest catch at The Fin and Claw.
Where to Stay: Renting a house is the way to go on Corolla Beach. Twiddy specializes in Outer Banks rentals, so look for a family-friendly rental from them along the water.
Seabrook Island, South Carolina
Seabrook Island is an unspoiled island edged by wide, un-crowded beaches and pristine dunes along the South Carolina coast. Pelican Beach is where romantics flock to watch the sunset, and where families with young kids will find some peach and quiet. Then, North Beach is perfect for laying out and spending the first half of the day, though it sits along a more wild coastline.
Insider Tip: There are two kids' camps, Camp Seabrook and Camp St. Christopher that offer culinary classes, pony rides, crab fishing, and a number of other activities.
Where to Eat: Find fresh, local ingredients on offer at the long-loved Rosebank Farms Cafe, where fried oysters and seafood ceviche make way for desserts like a Krispy Kreme donut bread pudding.
Where to Stay: Beach rentals are the name of the game here, as well, with Pam Harrington leading the pack on the best properties. Or stay in nearby Charleston at the luxe Charleston Place, which boasts a huge pool to lounge by and bike rentals to explore the town with.
Tybee Island, Georgia
Just 5 miles long by 3 miles wide, Tybee Island offers a laid-back family-friendly beach just 15 minutes east of historic Savannah. The main draw is soft sand and tide pools to explore, but Tybee Island is also home to forts, museums, a historic lighthouse complex, and the Marine Science Center.
Insider Tip: Kids can ride bikes to a local ice cream parlor, and families will enjoy North Beach, which is less crowded than the popular South Beach.
Where to Eat: On the drive out to Tybee, make a pit stop at Wileys Championship BBQ for pulled pork and brisket. Back in Savannah's historic district, line up with the locals for traditional Southern fare done best at Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.
Where to Stay: Your best bet is to stay in Savannah and drive out to Tybee. Open since 2008, the AVIA Savannah is a modern space in the charming, old World city of Savannah. Its pool and contemporary décor are inviting and it is walking distance from plenty of shops, restaurants, and sights.
Photo Credits: Old Orchard Beach: Courtesy of Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce; Old Silver Beach: Children playing on a beach via Shutterstock.com; Joseph Sylvia State Beach: Little girl collects shells via Shutterstock.com; Coopers Beach: Family walking via Shutterstock.com; Virginia Beach: Kim Reinick / Shutterstock.com; Corolla Beach: Family making sand castles via Shutterstock.com; Seabrook Island: Little boy playing in the water via Shutterstock.com; Tybee Island: 100B6340 by Attribution-ShareAlike License