Days at the beach are memories that last a lifetime, and there are few family moments that are more memorable. Think back: the soft ocean breezes, the rolling surf, sand castles, sea anemones in the tide pools nearby, a father slowly being buried up to his neck in sand. The United States has over 12,000 miles of coastline, and that’s a lot of sand to sift through. Trust us.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best beaches for the whole family to enjoy. Whether you’re looking for lighthouses, surfers, fine sand, or sea stars, there’s something here for you and your loved ones to make a memory.
- La Push, Second Beach is impossible to ignore. With some of the best tide pools on Washington’s Pacific Coast, sand, and the sea, there’s enough here to enthrall the whole family for days.
- The North Beach of Port Townsend is a great family excursion, especially on clear days when Whidbey Island and Mount Baker are in view, but perhaps its best feature is a short 1.75-mile hike to the Point Wilson Lighthouse. Dogs are quite welcome.
- The Dungeness Spit, like something out of a child’s dream, is the longest natural sand spit in the country. Past the 0.4-mile access hike is a skein of sand- and sea-washed timber, many varieties of bird life, and views of the Cascades. Dogs are prohibited.
- Cannon Beach on the northern Oregon coast is a standard for weekend excursions out of Portland. The iconic Haystack Rock sea stack and the tide pools are enough to entertain the whole family, as is the town proper, which boasts restaurants and quaint coast-town shops to enjoy.
- Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area is the place to go in Oregon for tide pools and ocean wildlife. Its tide pools are among the most vibrant and alive in the state, and there is abundant birdwatching and seals. If wildlife isn’t what you’re looking for, Yaquina Head is home to Oregon’s tallest lighthouse.
- Because of a relatively long 1-mile walk into Roads End State Recreation Site, the beach weeds out most of the visitors who would prefer easy access. If you can bring the family, the payoff is worth the walk: abundant sea stacks, tide pools, and a hidden cove.
- No, it isn’t remote, but the Santa Cruz Main Beach is a literal wonderland for families—it has an amusement park. When the children get tired of the rides and the beach volleyball, roll out a beach towel and look for migrating gray whales.
- San Gregorio swings onto the other side of the spectrum, abutted by towering 200-foot cliffs and long, wide sandy stretches north and south. Best of all: driftwood sculptures, which visitors sometimes construct from the wood that washes ashore.
- Muir Beach, central to San Francisco south of Muir Woods, offers tide pools, a hidden cove, and ocean views from the hills of the Marin Headlands.
- Baker Beach offers a stretch of sand with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, barnacle-ridden boulders to explore at low tide, and protection from the colder winds that blow over more exposed beaches in the Bay Area.
- More secluded, Natural Bridges State Beach offers a more scenic option somewhat separated from the crowds. It has 65 acres of tide pools, natural bridge formations, and a eucalyptus grove that is frequented by monarch butterflies during their migration between October and February.
- Malibu Lagoon State Beach showcases the shorebird wildlife of the Southern California coast, and also features a historical museum with tours that focus on the plant and animal life of the area and its Native American history.
- The water at Topanga State Beach is best for surfers, and that’s the main attraction for the family. Come to watch them ride the sets, take advantage of the well-developed amenities, and enjoy the Southern California sun.
- Trestles Beach is world-famous for its surf break, and the best time to come is when the surf is up. You’ll have to deal with crowds, but your little surfers will find all the inspiration they need here at what’s called the epicenter of North American surfing.
- One of the most popular beaches in California, San Clemente State Beach offers a campground for overnight excursions, dramatic views atop the oceanside cliffs, and easy access to the city of San Clemente. Great for birdwatching, the beach beckons flocks of feral green Amazon parrots that have scattered across the Southern California coast.