By Beth Blair
The Vacation Gals
School will be back in session shortly, so if you haven’t gotten your beach fix with the kids this year, now’s your chance. Here are the best family-friendly beaches scattered along the West Coast.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
AKA Surf City USA, Huntington Beach will give you the epitome of an action-filled summer experience. It’s a mishmash of surfers, people parasailing in the distance, kite-flying and kids’ sandcastles. Away from the beach, the strand is lined with rental shops offering everything you need for a day at the beach (surrey cycle anyone?). Be sure to stop and watch the fishermen (and “fisherkids”) on your way to lunch at the 1940’s style Ruby’s Diner, which sits at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier. Orange County online guide »
If a beach can be elegant, award-winning Coronado Beach is it. Reached by a short ferry ride or a quick drive over the San Diego Bay Bridge to Coronado Island (actually a peninsula), this beach is best known for its famous 120-year-old red-shingled roof landmark, Hotel Del Coronado. Shell-seeking is great fun along this stretch (I’ve scored some fantastic finds) and families can enjoy a typical day on the beach between splashing in the waves, body surfing, and hermit crab hunting. San Diego online guide »
The beaches found along the Mendocino Coast, which includes Fort Bragg, are the opposite of their Southern Cal counterparts. This quiet northern coast offers a tranquil environment with breathtaking views and is perfect for young explorers. Along the rocky coast, tide pools capture numerous species of ocean life and wonderful coastal trails wind along the coastline. The most famous of the area’s beaches is Glass Beach, a treasure hunter’s delight. Glass Beach is named for the smooth, dull glass pebbles scattered along the shore which are actually leftovers from the time it was a town waste site (closed and cleaned in the 1960’s). Other family-friendly area activities include Skunk Train (keep an eye out for deer and other wildlife), Mendocino Botanical Gardens, thirteen Giant Redwood parks and the ultimate summer treat locale, Cowlick’s Ice Cream.
Cannon Beach possesses one of the most memorable coastal scenes I can think of. This four-mile coastal stretch displays numerous giant rock monoliths jetting up from the water, the most famous being the colossal 235-foot Haystack Rock. Cannon Beach earned its name from the cannon that made its way ashore in 1846 after a US Navy shipwreck. Today this artist village is considered a lovely resort getaway with plenty of family-friendly restaurants and inns. Cannon Beach online guide »
Olympic National park
Olympic National Park and its 922,000 acres are the epitome of nature in all its glory.
And if you’re looking for a beach in the area and a place to pitch a tent for the night, but still desire access to amenities (showers and bathrooms) as well as family-friendly things to do, Salt Creek Recreation Area is the perfect choice. The first thing you’ll notice is the panoramic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Crescent Bay, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, but then you’ll realize how much there is to do and explore. Between the playground for the tots, horseshoe courts and volleyball court to the tide pools, kayaking and history of the WWII-era Camp Hayden, this 196-acre park appeals to all ages. To learn more about Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, my friend and fellow Traveling Mama, Jen Miner, recently wrote about several of the area’s family-friendly stops.
About the Writer
Beth Blair is a former flight attendant who traded her wings for a laptop and now works as a freelance travel writer. She is also co-founder of TheVacationGals.com. You may learn more about her at
Photo credit: ©Istockphoto/RichVintage