Aside from costumed characters, fun and castles, the best family vacations have one more thing in common: the beach. Between the sand, surf and sun, it's the perfect backdrop for relaxing, making memories and keeping the kids occupied for hours on end.
If you're able to escape over spring break, great. If you have to wait until Memorial Day Weekend to finally wear your new summer sandals, even better. There are so many exciting events taking place this summer on shorelines near and far, saltwater and freshwater, that would make for truly great family trips.
So, here are 19 noteworthy family-friendly beaches making a big splash in 2019:
The best family-friendly beaches to visit in 2019
1. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Blockade Runner Beach Resort, $165/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Be the first to experience the post-Hurricane Florence renovations in North Carolina. Local businesses, including beachfront resorts and restaurants, spent a significant amount of time (and money), upgrading and modernizing their facilities over the last year.
Do this: Enroll in WB Surf Camp or rent paddleboards and paddle along the Intracoastal Waterway. If you think "X" really does mark the spot, join Captain Kidd on his Pirate Island Treasure Hunt offered by Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours. Digging is required.
Stay here: Every room at Blockade Runner Beach Resort has a water view. But it's the resort's adventure-based children's program, Sandcampers, that the kids will rave about most.
More info: WilmingtonandBeaches.com
2. Jekyll Island, Georgia
Days Inn and Suites, $210/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? The Mosaic, a new museum boasting "edu-tainment," opens this spring. Another exciting addition is the new $1.2 million Corsair Beach Park which is pet-friendly, year round, so Fido can come too.
Do this: Grab the camera and hike along Driftwood Beach, an Instagram-worthy graveyard of ancient driftwood. Visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and sign up for an evening turtle walk where ideally, you'll see a nesting mother sea turtle, and if you're really lucky, her babies.
Stay here: Book a suite at the Days Inn & Suites where you can reserve bikes on-site. Enjoy free breakfast in the morning and at night, roast marshmallows in the backyard fire pit.
More info: JekyllIsland.com
3. Medano Beach, Colorado
Best Western Movie Manor, $110/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Since this beach fronts one of Colorado's disappearing rivers, it might not be around much longer. Visit in late May or early June to take advantage of the highest flow when it's possible to float along the beach in inner tubes and inflatables.
Do this: After a relaxing float or a competitive sand castle building contest, climb the surrounding sand dunes."Medano" means sand dune in Spanish, and Medano Beach is located in Great Sand Dunes National Park. It's home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. Sled rentals are even available at the visitor center. Yes, you can sled without snow!
Stay here: It may be 45 miles from Medano Beach, but the pet-friendlyBest Western Movie Manor is a must. Why? It has a drive-in theater! Most rooms face the giant, historic screen, so guests can watch for free, from the comfort of their own beds. Movie season runs from mid-May through mid-September.
More info: NPS.gov
4. Bahia Gardner, Ecuador
Semilla Verde Boutique Hotel, $195/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Galapagos National Park is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2019, and the Darwin Foundation is hosting special events for the public throughout the year.
Do this: Embark on a wildlife watching tour, or two. Home to hundreds of endemic species, the Galapagos Islands' most fascinating residents include fur seals, swimming lizards, 100-year-old tortoises and the only penguins found north of the equator.
Stay here: Consider joining one of Quasar Expeditions's family cruises featuring activities for all ages, child-friendly naturalists and a kids' menu. If you want to be based on land for your island adventure, book a room at Semilla Verde Boutique Hotel. It's the No. 1 Galapagos-area hotel on TripAdvisor. Kids are big fans of its resident turtles and picking fresh fruit from its trees.
More info: DarwinFoundation.org
5. Porto Santo, Portugal
Vila Baleira Resort Porto Santo, $137/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? This summer, TAP Portugal is adding three more direct flights from the U.S. (San Francisco, Chicago and Washington/Dulles) and Delta is adding a direct flight from Boston. Also,Porto Santo, once home to Christopher Columbus, is continuing to celebrate its 600th anniversary of being discovered by Portuguese explorers in 1418.
Do this: Nicknamed the "Golden Island" for its five-mile-long stretch of soft, golden sand, Porto Santo is the ideal beach for a digital detox. After swimming in the quiet, turquoise waters, tour Christopher Columbus' former home for a hands-on history lesson. Then, sample the local delicacies (including bread baked on tiles) and let the kids feed the Koi fish and friendly parrots in the gardens at Quinta das Palmeiras.
Stay here: Vila Baleira Resort Porto Santo has an impressive 4.5-star rating based on almost 3,000 TripAdvisor reviews. There's a kids' club, kids' pool, game room and even an "ecological boardwalk" providing direct access to the beach.
More info: VIsitPortugal.com
6. Jones Beach State Park, New York
Best Western Bar Harbour, $136/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? The2019 KIDZ BOP world tour takes the stage at Jones Beach Theater in July. And after a 14-year absence, the new ($20 million) Jones Beach Boardwalk Cafe is back in business. There's also a new interactive splash pad along the boardwalk.
Do this: Spend an educational afternoon at the kid-friendly Jones Beach Nature Center, home to marine life, a shipwreck, a whale boneyard and a butterfly garden. Play miniature golf, cornhole or shuffleboard by the boardwalk. If the waves are too big, swim in one of the two public pools including a children's pool.
Stay here: Since Jones Beach is a state park, there are no beachfront hotels. Still, one of the closest family-friendly options, Best Western Bar Harbour, is only a 10-minute drive away. Breakfast is included and there's an indoor pool.
More info: Parks.NY.gov
7. Devil's Lake State Park, Wisconsin
Baker's Sunset Bay Resort, $93/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? While this beach is in a beautiful state park, it's also located in the water park capital of the world — just down the road from America's largest water park. In fact, Noah's Ark is turning 40 years old this summer. To celebrate, the park added mini golf and will be hosting a huge anniversary party over Memorial Day Weekend.
Do this: Don't be fooled by its name. Devil's Lake State Park receives 3 million visitors annually. Camp out on the north beach if you're after sun and don't mind sharing the sand. The south beach has the same amenities — bathhouse, picnic areas, shelters and concessions — but it's quieter and has more natural shade. Or rent a boat and explore both beaches.
Stay here: The family-owned and operated pet-friendly Baker's Sunset Bay Resort on the shores of nearby Lake Delton has a sandy beach with free kayaks and row boats for guests. There's also an indoor pool (with water slides for little kids) and nightly bonfires.
More info: DevilsLakeWisconsin.com
8. The Big Island, Hawaii
The Fairmont Orchid, $400/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? After nearly 40 years of activity, the Kilauea volcano seems to be taking a break from spewing ash. This means you'll experience the clearest skies in decades. Hawaii is also one of two U.S. destinations on Scott's Cheap Flights' list of best places to get cheap flights in 2019.
Do this: After visiting Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, beach hop around the island — home to the most diverse beaches in the archipelago. Choose from white sand, black sand and even green sand. Thanks to olivine mineral deposits, Papakolea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world.
Stay here: For a great selection of free cultural activities designed for kids, stay at the Fairmont Orchid. Between the complimentary Keiki Aloha Program and the 10,000-square-foot pool (open 24 hours a day), you'll never hear these two words: "I'm bored."
More info: GoHawaii.com
9. Redondo Beach, California
The Portofino Hotel and Marina, $239/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? If you don't live by the beach, you can get a taste of the lifestyle at the inaugural BeachLife Festival in May. Kids ages 5 and under get in free to this "first-of-its-kind coastal event" including food, surfing and 40 bands performing on three stages.
Do this: Take a stroll, dine and shop on the landmark Redondo Beach Pier. If you're visiting in March, pick out a kite at Sunshine Kite and fly it in the 45th annual kite festival. Any time of the year, rent paddleboards or kayaks from Rocky Point in the marina and go paddling in search of a whale or sea lion.
Stay here: Every room at The Portofino Hotel & Marina has a water view and patio or balcony. This Noble House property also offers free beach cruisers (there's a bike path all the way up to Malibu). But perhaps the neatest amenity is the adopt-its-mascot program which includes a plush sea lion, an adoption certificate and a donation to the Marine Mammal Care Center.
More info: Redondo.org
10. Tenerife, Spain
Iberostar Anthelia, $478/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? It's never been as affordable as it is now to reach the "Island of Eternal Spring." For example, fares from LAX to Tenerife on Norwegian Air start at $181 each way.
Do this: Cannonball into the natural pools at Garachico, catch a sunset on the black sand beach of Benijo and of course, have a castle-building competition at Las Teresitas Beach. It's built from white sand imported from the Sahara! (Leave time to check out Loro Parque and Siam Park, the No. 1 zoo and waterpark in the world, respectively, according to TripAdvisor.)
Stay here: With its pirate ship pool, beach access and array of restaurants, Iberostar Anthelia has taken home the title of Spain's best all-inclusive resort (according to TripAdvisor) for six years and counting. Kids even receive a welcome gift upon arrival.
More info: WebTenerife.com
11. Magic Island Lagoon, Oahu
Ala Moana Hotel, $209/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? In honor of its 60th anniversary, Ala Moana Center (Hawaii's largest open-air mall) is hosting 60 days worth of specials and events. On July 4, it will also present one of the biggest fireworks shows in the country.
Do this: Snorkel and play in Magic Island's protected, man-made lagoon. It's less crowded than Waikiki Beach, and the water is more suitable for young children. If your trip falls over Memorial Day, join thousands of locals and visitors for Lantern Floating Hawaii. After the blowing of a conch shell and blessings, thousands of candle-lit lanterns are released in the ocean to commemorate loves ones.
Stay here: Ala Moana Hotel may not have all the fancy amenities of the luxury resorts, but it has a pool and is as close as you can get to Magic Island. Plus, its price tag is lower. (Spend the money you save shopping at the adjacent Ala Moana Center.)
More info: GoHawaii.com
12. Clearwater Beach, Florida
Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, $468/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Clearwater Beach was named TripAdvisor's "Best Beach in America" based on traveler reviews. If you want to visit a sugary-soft white sand beach without needing your passport, this beach will do.
Do this: If you visit in April, check out Pier 60's Sugar Sand Festival showcasing sand sculptures from the world's best sand artists. Sign up for a sculpting class or let the kids compete in the YMCA's Kids Fishing Rodeo. Regardless of when you visit, make time for Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It's the home of Winter, the beloved rescue dolphin who stars in "Dolphin Tale."
Stay here: Recently,Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach partnered with the aquarium to create aquatic-themed guest rooms inspired by Winter. There's even a "Visit Winter" package including accommodations, aquarium admission, and Winter souvenirs.
More info: VisitClearwaterFlorida.com
13. Paradise Island, The Bahamas
Comfort Suites Paradise Island, $278/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? In 2018, the CDC removed The Bahamas from its list of areas at risk of Zika. In 2019, the Atlantis will debut its newly renovated apartment-style accommodations — perfect for families who want the comforts of home in a resort setting.
Do this: Explore all four beaches on Paradise Island. While they all boast the same white, sugar-soft sand and turquoise waters, they all have different vibes. If you're feeling really adventurous, snorkel the ruins of a shipwreck, swim with stingrays or take a chartered fishing trip.
Stay here: Comfort Suites Paradise Island may not have the name-recognition of Atlantis, but it's TripAdvisor's "best value" for accommodations (and still offers free access to the waterpark). Every room is a suite, so there's more space than a normal guest room, and the hot buffet breakfast is free.
More info: NassauParadiseIsland.com
14. Sand Harbor (Reno Tahoe), Nevada
Hyatt Lake Tahoe, $274/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? For the first time in its history, the Lake Tahoe Park Shakespeare Festival is bringing the classic, family-friendly comedy, the "Taming of the Shrew," to Sand Harbor Beach. There's even a Young Shakespeare program designed specifically for kids.
Do this: Since Lake Tahoe is the continent's largest alpine lake, there's plenty of shoreline (more than 70 miles) to explore. Sand Harbor State Park alone offers swimming, fishing, boating and even scuba diving. The water here is among the clearest in the world.
Stay here: Book a lakeside cottage at Hyatt Lake Tahoe to wake up to an unforgettable water view. Drop the kids off at Camp Hyatt's kids' club while you enjoy a massage in the spa. End the day around the fire pit, making s'mores, of course.
More info: Parks.NV.gov
15. Pismo Beach, California
The Inn at the Cove, $231/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? In May, Pismo Beach will be a host city for the most prestigious professional cycling event in the US. If your family likes riding bikes, or wants to see former and future Olympians in action, you won't want to miss the Amgen Tour of California.
Do this: Run around on the dinosaur-themed playground at the oceanfront Dinosaur Caves Park. If your visit falls between October and February, walk through the Monarch Butterfly Grove. In the last five years, it's been the winter home of more than 25,000 butterflies.
Stay here: Out of the 36 Pismo Beach hotels on TripAdvisor, The Inn at the Cove is voted best value. It's within walking distance of Dinosaur Caves Park. Plus, you'll get complimentary wine at check-in and the kids will get free cookies.
More info: VisitCalifornia.com
16. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Cavalier Hotel, $307/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Live! On Atlantic (formerly known as BeachStreetUSA) will take place mid-May through Labor Day. Expect 20 oceanfront blocks filled with free nightly entertainment. The Fun Zone, designed with kids in mind, will feature face painters, balloon artists, caricature artists and more.
Do this: Rent bikes, or surreys, and cruise the bike path along the three-mile-long boardwalk. Spend an afternoon at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center where you can experience a whale watching tour or take to the aerial adventure park and soar on a zip-line. If time allows, ride all 30 slides at nearby Ocean Breeze Waterpark.
Stay here: The 91-year-old landmark Cavalier Hotel reopened in 2018 after undergoing an $85 million renovation. Kids might not fully appreciate the historical significance (seven U.S. presidents have slept here), but they'll love the indoor pool and beach club.
More info: VisitVirginiaBeach.com
17. Miami Beach, Florida
Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach, $339/night, TripAdvisor
Loews Miami Beach Hotel, $319/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? The popular, traveling Pirate Island exhibit (complete with live pirates and treasure) is at Miami Children's Museum through May. In February, the long-awaited Lincoln Eatery Food Hall finally opened.
Do this: Pack your beach bags and camp out on South Beach for the day. It's Miami's best people-watching scene and home to some of the softest sand in the states. If the kids are well-behaved, treat them to an unforgettable meal at The Sugar Factory. It's one of very few restaurants where it's socially acceptable to eat dessert for dinner.
Stay here: Book a suite with a kitchenette at the beachfront Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach to prepare meals using produce from the Saturday farmer's market. If having a dedicated kids area is more important to your family, Loews Miami Beach Hotel completed a $50 million renovation in 2018 and now boasts "kid-sized beach cabanas."
More info: MiamiandBeaches.com
18. Palm Beach, Aruba
Hyatt Regency Aruba, $404/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? After a December 2018 launch, American Airlines is now offering two new non-stop flights from Dallas and Chicago to Aruba’s Queen Beatrix International Airport. In June, it will be adding a weekly direct flight from New York's LaGuardia airport. And the headliner for this spring's Soul Beach Music Festival is a can't miss: John Legend.
Do this: Drop your bags at the hotel and dive straight into the calm, turquoise waters of Palm Beach. Rent tubes, bikes or paddleboards from Aruba Watersports Center or embark on an entertaining catamaran sail (with picnic lunch and snorkeling stops).
Stay here: Book a family suite, complete with bunk beds, at Hyatt Regency Aruba.This Palm Beach resort offers complimentary palapas (like thatched cabanas), beach chairs and floats. There's also a Camp Hyatt Watapana for the kids.
More info: VisitAruba.com
19. Playa Blanca, Panama
The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort, $212/night, TripAdvisor
Why 2019? Even Vogue is covering Panama City turning 500 years old this upcoming August. To celebrate, there will be dozens of special events including street parties, concerts and exhibitions throughout the year.
Do this: After experiencing Panama City, take a relaxing swim at Playa Blanca where the waters of the Gulf of Panama are as gentle as they are pristine. Go for a horseback ride on the beach, take a sailing lesson or rent a car and take a day trip to El Valle de Anton. This small traditional town established in the crater of an extinct volcano has quite the selection of Panamanian handicrafts.
Stay here: Fronting Playa Blanca, The Buenaventura Golf & Beach Resort boasts some of the best real estate in the country. In addition to its own mini zoo, it also features five oceanfront pools, free bike rentals and a supervised kids club.
More info: EnjoyPanama.com
For more travel picks, check out:
- 40 great places to take your kids before they're grown
- Where to find some of the best travel deals of 2019
- 14 spring break travel deals