Chris Polk / AP
Sunset Beach in Cape May, N.J., has gentle waves and excellent views of a day's end.
The sun, the surf, the sand ... there is joy in any family vacation on the beach. And wouldn't you know it, we've got our 10 favorite places for families to play in the sand and surf!
1. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
Ask any local on Oahu what the best beach is, and they will tell you Waimanalo Bay is not only their best beach, but the best beach in the entire state. Also ranked as one of the cleanest beaches in the country, Waimanalo is tricky to get to, and far removed from the crowded beaches of Waikiki, but worth the jaw-dropping scenic drive. The sand is sugar soft, the cove offers calm waters for tiny swimmers, and the waves down the beach are more manageable for new surfers.
Recommended nearby hotel: Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
2. Outer Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
John F. Kennedy loved this stretch of sand dunes, salt ponds and soft-sand beaches so much he turned it into a national treasure: the Cape Cod National Seashore. He's not the only one who waxed on about the beauty of these shores: Henry David Thoreau devoted time and pen to the Outer Beach. While summering on Cape Cod, I've found no beaches as beautiful as those on the "forearm" facing the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. Marshes, ponds and 40 miles of untouched beaches beckon to be explored.
Recommended nearby hotel: Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
3. Deerfield Beach, Near Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
I'm not surprised Deerfield Beach remains on the Clean Beaches Coalition's best beaches list. I grew up in South Florida and my favorite beach by far was Deerfield Beach -- I'd drive the extra half hour from my Fort Lauderdale beach to visit it. This surfer's haunt features more waves than other nearby beaches, and the stretches of sand are dotted with oversized boulders, creating private pockets for beachgoers. Great restaurants and shops line the beach's boardwalk.
Recommended nearby hotel: Hilton Ft Lauderdale Beach Resort
4. Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia is known for its breathtaking and unspoiled beauty, and its beaches are also some of the cleanest in the country. Sand Beach appears on Clean Beaches Coalition's cleanest beaches, but we also like this beach because coastal Maine is filled with charming New England villages and old-fashioned charm. Acadia National Park also provides plenty to do when sand between the toes becomes a bore (does it ever?).
Recommended nearby hotel: Bar Harbor Inn
5. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks, N.C.
The barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina provide 70 miles of dune-laced beaches running from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Island. The wide and uncluttered beaches line warm waters and plenty of places for families stake out a private day in the sun. As a preserved area, wildlife refuges, lighthouses and camping areas are also located along these beaches, providing more fun under the sun.
Recommended nearby hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks
6. Shell Beaches, Corpus Christi, Texas
Be it Big Shell Beach or Little Shell Beach on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, your family is sure to love these expansive beaches on the island's national seashore. The hard-packed beaches make driving on the beach easy, so families often drive up with picnics and a day's worth of activities in tow. Both beaches, like their names indicate, are shell littered for shell-seeking walks, and both are found on the Clean Beaches list.
Recommended nearby hotel: Omni Corpus Christi Hotel Marina Tower
7. Coronado Beach, San Diego, Calif.
While Coronado may be more famous for its red-roofed grand dame hotel where Marilyn Monroe walked, ate and slept while filming the classic "Some Like It Hot," it's the stretch of beach on this island just opposite San Diego that truly is memorable. With a long sandbar and fantastic waves to stoke any one of your little surfers, the large expanse of beach is family friendly and even has a nearby bike trail that runs to Imperial Beach. If you visit January through March, you may even see the migrating whales en route to Baja.
Recommended nearby hotel: Hotel del Coronado
8. Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota, Fla.
Dr. Beach named Siesta Key Beach the nation's best beach last year, and it's easy to see why: not only is it super clean, but it features sugar-soft sand and perfect shell-seeking stretches to excite the kids. Located near Sarasota, the Gulf's calm waters won't intimate young children, and may even provide a glimpse at playful dolphins swimming just off the coast. Not only is the sand super soft, it borders the most gorgeous emerald-green water you've ever seen.
Recommended nearby hotel: Longboat Key Club & Resort
9. Rehoboth Beach, Del.
This sand-duned beach stretches the expanse of the quaint, small town of Rehoboth, and offers a quieter alternative to the more crowded beaches across the bay that make up the Jersey Shore. The beach's boardwalk is filled with family fun, and kids will enjoy playing at the family-run Funland amusement center, as well as riding in the Jolly Trolley. Nestled nearby is Dewey Beach, a growing small town with its own charm. Both beaches are featured on Delaware's "Gold Coast" and rank as some of the cleanest beaches in the nation.
Recommended nearby hotel: Henlopen Hotel
10. Sunset Beach, Cape May, N.J.
Forget the bad images that just popped into your head when you thought "Jersey Shore." Cape May's Sunset Beach, located at the southern tip of the Jersey Shore, is a gorgeous area of Victorian mansions and cute shopping and dining. White-sand beaches feature gentle waves and in Cape May Point, kids can check out the remains of the U.S.S. Atlantus, which sank offshore during a storm in the 1920s.
Recommended nearby hotel: Congress Hall
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