TPG’s picks: The best places for a family beach vacation

Mar 31, 2022

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We’ve yet to meet a beach we didn’t like. From underrated U.S. beaches to bucket list spots like the Maldives (catch us in these underwater villas at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), the options are as endless as the waves in the sea.

If you are traveling with kids, though, there are certain destinations that provide top-notch accommodations and activities for families, in addition to all the sun and fun you’ve been daydreaming of.

So, slather on some SPF (don’t forget to reapply every few hours!) and start planning your trip to one of the 10 best spots for family beach vacations.

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In This Post

Garden City Beach, South Carolina

Garden City Beach is just one of the many beaches located along South Carolina’s 60-mile stretch of sand and shore known as the Grand Strand. At nearly five times the size of Garden City Beach, Myrtle Beach is probably the most famous of the Grand Strand beaches, but think of Garden City Beach as its quieter, more laid-back cousin. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the marshy waters of Murrells Inlet on the other, there are opportunities to enjoy the beach and the inlet, and many accommodations offer spectacular views of both.

Even if you aren’t staying right on the beach, there are plenty of public access beach entrances and parking at all county beaches is free. Aside from the obvious activities like swimming in the waves and lounging on the sand, the Pier at Garden City is a popular destination for fishing and arcade games during the day and live entertainment at night.

Aspiring surfers can schedule lessons through the Village Surf Shoppe. The waves are well sized for beginners at an average of 4 or 5 feet. Lifeguards are on duty from mid-May through mid-September. If you prefer no waves at all, you can try your hand at paddleboarding on nearby Murrells Inlet.

Row of beach houses
Colorful beach homes at Garden City Beach. (Photo courtesy of Nauset Beach Tourism)

Where to stay

The condo-style Sea Mystique Murrells Inlet, a Ramada by Wyndham is located just steps from the beach. Each guest room has two bedrooms (one with a double bed and one with two twin beds), a full kitchen, washer and dryer and balcony. Room rates start as low as $107 per night (plus taxes and fees) or 30,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night (regardless of the cash price). Based on TPG’s current valuation of Wyndham Rewards at 1.1 cents per point, this redemption would be best used when rates are higher during the spring and summer months.

What Garden City lacks in hotels and resorts, it makes up for in beachfront vacation rentals. There are plenty to choose from, including quite a few through Homes & Villas by Marriott, which can be booked using cash or Marriott Bonvoy points. Marriott doesn’t own or manage these properties, but you can earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points when you book one. This brightly colored five-bedroom oceanfront home, for example, can be booked for around $650 per night or about 500,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per stay (based on the home’s three-night minimum).

Related: How I triple stacked and earned 210,000 points and miles on an epic Marriott Homes & Villas booking

Where to eat

Murrells Inlet is known as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina” and good seafood spots are not hard to come by. Sara J’s overlooks the inlet and Conch Cafe has a large deck right on the beach. If you need a break from seafood, Sam’s Corner is a popular hot dog spot near the pier.

Hanalei Bay, Hawaii

There’s no shortage of beautiful beaches in Hawaii, but mountain vistas and tropical rainforests give Kauai’s beaches the type of view you won’t find anywhere else.

Hanalei Bay is a crescent-shaped beach surrounded by mountains on the northern shore of Kauai. The gentle summertime waves are ideal for kids and those just getting comfortable on a surfboard, paddleboard, boogie board or kayak. The larger winter swells are best left to experienced surfers (though you can stay in the shallow water and watch the action).

Once you find your spot in the sand, you may not want to leave the beach. There are multiple beach access areas with parking, bathroom and shower facilities, picnic tables and watersport rentals. The historic Hanalei Pier, built in 1892, is a great spot to take in the sunrise or sunset and the Hanalei Valley Lookout is a must-visit for its panoramic views.

Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay, Kauai. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Where to stay

Located on an oceanfront cliff in Princeville, The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas is only a 10-minute drive to Hanalei Bay (the hotel does not provide a shuttle service) and can be booked using Marriott Bonvoy points. Cash prices average around $400 per night. Villas range in size from studios to two-bedroom villas with a full kitchen (or kitchenette if you book a studio), washer and dryer and furnished lanai.

The Hanalei Bay Resort directly overlooks Hanalei Bay and the surrounding tree-covered mountains. One- and two-bedroom condo units are available, as well as privately owned rental units that range in size from hotel rooms to three-bedroom condos. Prices start from $350 per night. The Hanalei Bay Resort also has Kauai’s only swim-up bar. This resort can be booked directly or through the American Express Travel portal if you are looking to earn or use points.

Where to eat

Wishing Well Shave Ice has some of the best shave ice, acai bowls, smoothies and coffees on Kauai’s north shore, including a selection of organic, house-made shave ice flavors. Hanalei Bread Company is a popular coffee shop and cafe serving a variety of baked goods, organic breakfast and lunch options, coffee and juices. Once the sun sets, head to Luau Night at Tahiti Nui. The luau is held every Wednesday and the $125 cost ($105 for seniors and teens, $85 for children under 12) includes dinner.

Rosemary Beach, Florida

Located on the Gulf Coast along Florida’s scenic Highway 30A, Rosemary Beach is a planned beach community that’s designed to be explored on foot or by bike. All paths lead to Rosemary Beach’s town square, whose cobblestone streets, red-brick sidewalks and architecture were inspired by New Orleans’ French Quarter. Beach access is limited to residents and guests of Rosemary Beach, ensuring it never gets too crowded. Entrances are gated and you’ll be given an access code to enter.

If you are looking for a beginner-friendly way to explore the ocean, ReefBoards – a sort of boogie board with an underwater viewing window – are available to rent.

Aerial View Of Beach
Rosemary Beach, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Where to stay

The Pearl is a 55-room boutique hotel located just steps from the beach. Rooms and suites come with access to complimentary chairs and umbrellas on The Pearl’s private beach and complimentary bicycles for exploring the surrounding area. Rooms at The Pearl are designed for up to four guests and begin at around $500 per night, so larger families will need to look elsewhere or book multiple rooms. This resort can be booked directly or through the Amex Travel portal if you are looking to earn or redeem points.

Aerial view of The Pearl hotel in Santa Rosa Beach, FL
The Pearl. (Photo courtesy of St. Joe Hospitality)

There are a large selection of carriage homes available on Vrbo, many of which are right on the beach, like this two-bedroom home that sleeps up to six for around $500 per night. If you are looking to boost your points, there are certain cards that will help you maximize points and miles earnings through Vrbo.

Where to eat

Start your day with a pick-me-up from Amavida Coffee Roasters then head to the Sugar Shak later in the day when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth with ice cream and candy. For dinner, Cowgirl Kitchen serves everything from tacos to pizza, along with a selection of vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island is another of TPG’s favorite Gulf Coast beaches. Sanibel is a sheller’s paradise and feels more calm and secluded than its neighbors like Fort Myers (though the abundance of shells means fewer soft sandy spots to lie out). 

Aside from Bowman’s Beach, which can get bigger waves and rougher currents, most beaches on Sanibel Island are calm enough for young swimmers.

Shelling is so popular here that the bent-over stance people assume when looking for shells has been dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.” The best time of day to look for shells is about an hour before or after low tide. Kids can learn about the shells they find (and the animals who once inhabited the shells) at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

At Lighthouse Beach, you can hike, fish and see the island’s historic lighthouse. Little adventurers (and their parents) should also plan a swashbuckling evening on Salty Sam’s Pirate Cruise.

Sanibel Lighthouse
Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Fort Myers – Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods)

Where to stay

The Sanibel Inn has rooms, suites and condos with either full or partial gulf views that sleep up to six guests. The two-bedroom condos begin at around $550 per night and are perfect for families, with fully equipped kitchens, two bathrooms and a screened-in balcony. Between the on-site restaurant and Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza nearby, you don’t have to venture far from your beach chair to grab a bite to eat.

If you are looking for a bit more space and privacy, the one-, two- and three-bedroom Beachview Cottages might be a better fit. Prices begin at around $350 and increase based on cottage size. None of the colorful cottages are more than 142 steps from the beach and there is also a pool and sun deck on the grounds.

Where to eat

The Island Cow has “udderly great food,” live music and outdoor games in a family-friendly atmosphere. The nearby Sanibel Fish House has similar tropical vibes and has been a seafood staple in the area since 2012.

Nauset Beach, Massachusetts

Nauset Beach is a public beach that spans about 10 miles on the east coast of outer Cape Cod in Orleans. During the summer months, lifeguards, restrooms with changing rooms, outdoor showers, picnic tables, food trucks and rental gear like chairs and umbrellas are available for beachgoers.

You can get farther out in the water and search for seals and whales on a private (up to six guests) boat tour with Nauset Boat Tours or put away the swimsuits and pick up some clubs at Cape Escape Adventure Golf, a nautical-themed 18-hole miniature golf course.

Kids running on beach
Nauset Beach, Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Nauset Beach Tourism)

Where to stay

Nauset Beach Inn is a beachfront resort and the only lodging inside the well-protected Cape Cod National Seashore. Standard rooms average $250 per night and sleep up to four guests; cottages sleep up to six. Guests can also take advantage of complimentary kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals (available seasonally).

Nauset Rental offers dozens of homes of various sizes. Some are within walking distance of the beach, while others are a bit farther from the shore near Mill Pond and Nauset Harbor.

Related: How points and miles saved me over $2,000 on a trip to Nantucket and Cape Cod

Nauset Beach, Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Chris Seufert/Nauset Beach Tourism)

Where to eat

The Barley Neck is an upscale spot for dinner, drinks or Sunday brunch and it often has live music on the lawn. For something a little more laid-back, The Alley Bowling + BBQ has bowling lanes, arcade games, house-smoked barbecue and a full bar.

Nags Head, North Carolina

Each of the 10 small towns that make up North Carolina’s Outer Banks has something special to offer families, but Nags Head is one of our favorites. Kids will marvel at the massive sand dunes in Jockey’s Ridge State Park. A fun activity is climbing on the dunes and looking for animal tracks in the sand, especially if you visit early in the morning. You can get a family workout by climbing to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse, built in 1872. Nags Head is also only about 10 miles from the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

Dune fence in Nags Head, SC
Nags Head, North Carolina. (Photo by James Jordan Photography/Getty Images)

Where to stay

Rooms at the Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront have either one king bed or two queens and sleep up to four guests. Breakfast is included with your stay and there is a heated indoor pool if you need to get out of the sun. Room rates start as low as about $100 per night or 18,000 IHG Rewards Club points in the offseason. Based on TPG’s current valuation of 0.5 cents per IHG point, you are getting basically a break-even redemption.

Also located on the beachfront, the Comfort Inn South Oceanfront has standard rooms that sleep up to four guests and one-bedroom suites that sleep up to six. It’s not the Four Seasons, but you can’t beat the location at this price. Rates start at just over $200 per night or 16,000 Choice Privilege points per night.

Children playing on sand dunes
Sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau)

Where to eat

North Carolina has its own style of barbecue and there are plenty of spots to give it a try. Sooey’s BBQ is located just across from Jockey’s Ridge State Park and the views are as delicious as the food. Sugar Creek Restaurant serves up seafood overlooking the sound and Booty Treats has a treasure trove of sweets, including 32 flavors of shave ice and ice cream.

Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands

Seven Mile Beach is situated along the western edge of Grand Cayman Island and most of the island’s resorts are located along its sandy shores. The sand is soft, the water is crystal clear and the sunsets are worth writing home about.

The entire length of the beach is open to the public, making it perfect for sunrise or sunset walks in the sand. If you leave your beachfront resort long enough to explore the island, Stingray City is a must-do. You don’t have to be a snorkeling expert to visit, and there is a large sandbar where visitors of all ages can interact with the rays.

Cayman Islands aerial view
The Cayman Islands. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Where to stay

The Westin Grand Cayman sits directly on the beach and is perfectly designed for families. Parents will appreciate the cocktails from the swim-up pool bar. Rooms accommodate up to four guests, with rates starting at around $520 per night or 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Neither of these prices includes the resort fee of $65 per night, which covers things like beach yoga, paddleboarding, family time in the kids club, movie nights and more.

Pool and chairs near beach
The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort. (Photo courtesy of Westin)

Related: Best points hotels in the Caribbean

The Holiday Inn Resort Grand Cayman is one of the more budget-friendly resorts on the island, but it has everything you need for a beach getaway. Located on the North Sound bay side of the island, the resort is only a five-minute drive from Seven Mile Beach and the hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service. Standard rooms are available for as little as 45,000 IHG points per night (or 25,000 points per night plus cash), which isn’t bad for a room with a view of the Caribbean Sea.

Where to eat

Island Naturals is a prime spot for fresh food and locally roasted coffee. Eats Cafe, Legendz Bar & Grille and Yoshi Sushi are a trio of family-friendly restaurants with the same owner that are all located in the Cayman Falls Centre near the Westin Grand Cayman.

Palm Beach, Aruba

If calm, gin-clear waters are what you’re after, look no further than Palm Beach on Aruba’s western coast. The tranquil water makes it a perfect spot for families with young children who are timid around big waves. There’s plenty of shallow water for them to splash around in. The weather is practically perfect no matter when you visit, the beach is wide and long and TPG has found Aruba to be more friendly toward LGBTQ families than other Caribbean islands.

There is a popular community playground at Neptali Henriquez Park if your kids need to release some energy. There’s lots of sand to play in, as well as a large climbing structure and slides. Palm Beach is also home to the Aruba Surf & Paddle School, which offers rentals and lessons.

Related: 6 family-friendly hotels in Aruba where you can redeem points

Aerial view of Palm Beach, Aruba
Palm Beach, Aruba. (Photo courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority)

Where to stay

The Hyatt Regency Aruba is located right on Palm Beach and is within walking distance of many area shops and restaurants. On-site, you’ll find a casino, spa, multiple pools and a kid-friendly waterslide. Rooms sleep up to four (more than that requires connecting rooms). The Hyatt Regency Aruba is a World of Hyatt Category 6 property and standard rooms start at 21,000 points per night for off-peak dates.

Related: These are the best times to visit Aruba

Aerial view of Hyatt Regency Aruba
The Hyatt Regency Aruba. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Aruba)

The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is a step up from the Hyatt Regency in the luxury department, but that also means higher prices. The resort boasts six restaurants, a spa, casino and rooms and suites that sleep up to four guests. Room rates start around $600 or 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. This property was luckily left unscathed by Marriott’s switch to dynamic pricing, so you can still get a decent redemption value by using points.

Ritz Carlton Aruba
The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba. (Photo courtesy of Ritz-Carlton)

Where to eat

Bars and restaurants line Palm Beach so you are never too far from your next meal. Eduardo’s Beach Shack is a beachfront spot for smoothies, acai bowls, poke and vegan dishes, and the lively Lola Taqueria serves fresh tacos. Both are inviting for families (even ones with picky eaters).

Santa Cruz, California

Some of the beaches on this list let you get away from it all, but Santa Cruz puts you right in the middle of the action. The bustling boardwalk (complete with historic roller coaster and carousel) is packed with vacationers looking for seaside thrills.

Aside from the beach, the main draw here is the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Two of the park’s attractions – the Giant Dipper wooden coaster and the Looff Carousel – are designated as National Historic Landmarks (don’t worry, they’ve been refurbished over the years). There are lots of other games, an arcade, mini golf, dining and shopping, as well as beach access. Entry to the boardwalk and beach are free, but you will have to pay for an attraction wristband and for parking.

Related: Summer in Santa Cruz: The perfect beach town for families

Aerial view of roller coaster at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. (Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk)

Where to stay

The Hyatt Place Santa Cruz is located only 1 mile from the boardwalk and has an outdoor pool and spacious rooms where families can stretch out. Rooms have either one king bed or two queens and a living area with a sofa-sleeper. Room rates start at around $250 or 17,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

Related: Book soon to save up to 25% and get free breakfast on select Hyatt stays

The Carousel Beach Inn is just about as close to the Santa Cruz beach and boardwalk as you can get and it brings the charm of the boardwalk inside with bright colors and large photos of the boardwalk behind guest room beds. A continental breakfast is served daily and included in the price of the rooms, which start at around $120 per night.

Hotel bedroom with large beach photos behind the bed
The Carousel Beach Inn. (Photo courtesy of Visit Santa Cruz County and Santa Cruz Seaside Company)

Where to eat

Sticking close to the boardwalk, Hot Dog on A Stick serves, what else, corn dogs and ice-cold fresh lemonade and pineapple Dole Whip (it’s not just at Disney!) is available at the Tiki Hut. The Picnic Basket serves dishes with locally sourced ingredients. You can dine in or get a fully stocked picnic basket to go.

Nassau Paradise Island, Bahamas

Paradise Island is a small island off Nassau (there are bridges that connect the two islands) dominated by large resorts. If your family is into water parks, aquariums and maybe the occasional casino for the adults in your party, Paradise Island may be the best beach spot for you.

The small island is relatively flat and where there isn’t sand, there are towering palm trees and lush green foliage. The tranquil turquoise waters and soft white sand are also ideal for families. With so much to do, it’s likely you won’t need to leave your resort during your stay on Paradise Island.

Aerial view of Bahamas
Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by Pola Damonte/Getty Images)

Where to stay

Atlantis isn’t so much one resort as a collection of five resorts built around a central activity area that includes a 141-acre water park called Aquaventure. There are also opportunities to swim with dolphins, charter a boat and swim in one of 11 pools. With multiple resorts to choose from (and rooms as low as about $300 per night), there’s a room type for any size family — and as part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, you can redeem Marriott Bonvoy points if you choose The Coral, The Cove or The Royal towers.

Related: Here’s why your whole family will love Atlantis

Baha Mar is similar to Atlantis in that there are multiple hotel towers to choose from and a massive water park. The three hotels — Rosewood Baha Mar, SLS Baha Mar and the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar — are Hyatt properties and available to book using World of Hyatt points. Rooms are available for as little as around $280 or 17,000 points per night during off-peak times.

If you don’t happen to be staying at Atlantis or Baha Mar, both offer day passes that allow access to their respective water parks.

Children playing in water park
Baha Bay Water Park, Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo courtesy of Baha Mar Resort)

Where to eat

Sun & Ice is a gelateria at Atlantis that serves, in addition to gelato, ice cream and sorbet in unique flavors like Allspice Potato Bread and Coconut Candy. At the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar, you’ll find a series of beachfront food trucks serving everything from Mexican fare to Afro Caribbean-inspired dishes. Of course, you could always cross the bridge to Nassau and visit The Poop Deck for fresh seafood and probably a giggle from the kids.

Bottom line

We probably could have added a dozen more beaches to the list (and maybe someday we will), but this should give you a decent jumping-off point to find the next beach where you can “hang 10” with your family.

Featured photo by M Swiet Productions/Getty Images.

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