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The region is spoiled by these dazzling shorelines.
Family memories seem to shine a little brighter when they’re made in the presence of sandy shores and cerulean seas. That’s why when it comes to planning family vacations, beaches are a tried-and-true favorite. Kiddos love building sandcastles and splashing around in the shallow surf. Parents can relax with a good book and their feet in the sand, and even the iciest of teens begin to thaw once they have a little sun on their skin. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly vacation destination that adults will adore just as much, check out our list of the top 15 Southern beaches where you can bring the whole family. P.S. If grandparents are joining, they’ll be thrilled with these options, too!
Crowds won’t get in the way of your precious family moments on this barrier island just 25 miles southwest of Charleston. When you’re not setting up camp on the 10 miles of pristine shoreline, take the kids to the Heron Park Nature Center, where they can learn all about the different species of birds, turtles, and even alligators that call the island home. If a date night is in order, Kiawah Island Golf Resort’s beloved Kamp Kiawah will ensure that everyone is having the time of their life.
For a lowkey Florida beach vacation, Sanibel Island (just off the coast of Fort Myers) could be the ticket. Known as the Shelling Capital of the World, take an early morning walk with your little collector and see how many of the ocean’s treasures you can uncover along the gently lapping waves. One of the best things about Sanibel is how easy it is to get around without a car. Instead, rent bikes and ride along the 25 miles of paved trails that crisscross the island.
OK, so we know that the hit TV show wasn’t actually filmed here, but chances are your Outer Banks-obsessed teen will still jump at the opportunity to visit the real-life land of the Pogues. Family members from 2 to 92 will be astounded by chance to spot majestic Corolla Wild Horses while riding in an open-air vehicle along the oceanfront. Another one-of-a-kind experience to treat the family to is a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the largest active sand dune system in the eastern United States. It’s basically like one giant sandbox where kids can tire themselves running up hills, then rolling down them.
Hilton Head has long been one of the South’s most visited beach destinations, and for good reason. The sheer number of oceanfront cottages and family-friendly rentals that will sleep a crowd make it a no-brainer for multifamily and multigenerational trips. After a long day of fun in the sun, take the crew over to Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina where you can grab dinner, go shopping, and even embark on a private boat or dolphin tour.
You’ve probably seen stunning photos of Jekyll’s iconic Driftwood Beach, but you may not have considered what a delight this unique natural attraction would be for children. It’s essentially one giant shoreside playground where the jungle gym spans the entirety of the beach and kids will never run out of “equipment” to play on. Another of Jekyll’s biggest draws is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility where you can learn all about the majestic sea critters.
For the beach vacation purists, there’s no better destination than this Gulf Coast town. Enjoy the white sand beaches and emerald waves, but also play a round of putt-putt, go go-kart racing, fish off a pier, eat a basket of fried shrimp, and have as many ice cream cones as you like. Some things you won’t find everywhere else? The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, where kids can get up close and personal with seals, sea lions, and dolphins.
South Carolina’s 60-mile Grand Strand has been the backdrop for many a Southern home video over the years, and its crowned jewel is Myrtle Beach. Barefoot Landing is a popular spot for shopping, dining, and a giant kid-approved playground in Dockside Village. Enjoy the breeze off Barefoot Lake while you dine al fresco at Lucy Buffett’s LuLu’s, where a soundtrack of her brother’s biggest hits will put you on island time faster than you can say “pina colada, please”. If dinner and a show are of interest, let the Queen of Country, Dolly Parton, delight the family with her signature Pirate’s Voyage interactive dinner show.
Carolina Beach & Kure Beach, North Carolina
The laidback surf culture of these east coast beach towns is infectious. You’ll start to unwind the minute you see the emerald Atlantic. Once you’ve properly decompressed, join the kids for carnival games, popcorn, and maybe even a Ferris wheel ride at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk. Make it a point to stand in line for the melt-in-your-mouth, just-fried donuts at Britts Donut Shop, which has been in business since 1939. Don’t leave area without hanging ten with a surf lesson. Olympic gold medal surfer Tony Silvagni is happy to teach you, or have one of his many skilled instructors take you out. If you prefer to stay in the sand, he also rents chairs and umbrellas, as well as kayaks, paddle boards, and other beach necessities.
These twin towns are summer vacation central in Alabama. Condos, beach houses, shops, and restaurant run for 32 miles along Gulf Shores’ and Orange Beach’s expansive coastline—and there’s always something new and exciting to do. Some things you can’t miss include Gulf State Park, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, and The Hangout, a kid-friendly restaurant and entertainment venue that offers all-in-one fun by way of ping-pong, foosball, giant beach chairs, live music, foam parties, and delicious food and drinks.
Vero Beach, Florida
The Treasure Coast is known for its abundance of beautiful beach towns, so it can be hard to choose just one when you’re planning a trip. If the entire family will be making the voyage, we recommend Vero Beach for its uncrowded beaches, commitment to nature preservation, and lively downtown. While you’re in town, take a short detour to McKee Botanical Garden, where little ones will love playing and learning in a special kid-focused garden that includes a water lily fountain and pirate shipwreck.
Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina
Let imaginations run wild on a magical island nestled in the mouth of Charleston Harbor. This tiny beach community offers big adventure, from kayaking and sailing to fishing, paddleboarding, and even kiteboarding. Rent a beach house right on the water and let the kids entertain themselves with the entire 3.3-mile beach as their own personal playground. All trips should include several visits to Beardcat’s, the island’s resident gelato and sweets shop.
Nothing says family-friendly like Orlando, but Cocoa Beach, located just an hour down the road, is making a case for itself as a equally worthy destination. Walk the Cocoa Beach Pier for a rush of nostalgia in the form of cool sea breezes, sandy-floored beach shops, and Old Florida-style tiki bars. If your kids are anywhere near their dinosaur-obsessed era, you must visit The Dinosaur Store, a three-in-one attraction that includes a museum dedicated to dinosaurs and ancient cultures; a retail store; and an adventure zone complete with science stations, live animals, and arcade games.
Texas’s most popular beach also happens to be a wonderful place to bring the family. Stewart Beach is outfitted with on-duty lifeguards, so you can rest easy knowing there’s an extra set of eyes on your little one. There are also volleyball nets, cornhole, giant Jenga, and a playground to keep everyone occupied. If you’re looking for inland attractions, take your pick from aquariums, waterparks, museums, and even an old-school candy shop where you can see taffy being pulled and then sample the saltwater treat.
Coastal Mississippi is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered, and of its three beach towns, Gulfport is best for families. Everyone can enjoy the shallow waters and long expanses of sand. For a special treat, take a ferry ride to Ship Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and a great place to spot sea critters of all shapes and sizes. To learn more about the animals you’ll see, visit the Mississippi Aquarium, Institute for Marine Mammal Studies and its accompanying Ocean Adventures Marine Park.
Don’t forget about the Virginia coast! Start your day at Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground, where kids can slide and swing to their hearts content, while parents relax in the sand. With a three-mile oceanfront boardwalk speckled with restaurants and shops, you’re never far from air-conditioning and a snack if anyone, young or older, starts to get a little fussy from the heat. For a change of pace, head to Pungo, an agricultural community just down the road from the ocean. There, you can visit 16 pick-your-own farms set on 8,000 acres of farmland.
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