ARE YOU HANKERING for fresh, salty air after hunkering down all winter? Here are eight family beaches where you and your family can stretch out and breathe easy again.
After spending a chunk of early 2020 not going anywhere except the grocery store, the prospect of salty air and endless space seems like a dream. Consider the beach. After being isolated indoors for months, that’s where families can finally spread out and reconnect with nature.
You have plenty of options — hundreds in fact, along America’s Atlantic Coast. So, where do you go? Naturally, you want to avoid big crowds, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy basics such as restrooms, changing rooms, lifeguards and maybe a few interesting places to eat nearby.
Here are eight family beaches that are off the beaten track but offer enough amenities and attractions to fill up a relaxing, long-overdue vacation.
Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Martha’s Vineyard has always been a world unto itself — quaint, picturesque and tucked away. For beach lovers, “The Vineyard” is an especially rich locale, with more than a dozen beaches strung around the island’s perimeter. But not all beaches are open to the public. To avoid permit and parking hassles, head for Menemsha on the west end of Martha’s Vineyard. You’ll discover the island’s last working fishing village, with a public beach that’s easily accessible by bike, car or bus. The beach is on the sound, which means safe swimming and warm water, and lifeguards are on duty from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily during the season. The seasonal favorite, Home Port restaurant, offers amazing sunsets and the freshest seafood available.
Where to Dock: Vineyard Haven Marina
Block Island, RI
Like Martha’s Vineyard, its more famous neighbor roughly 30 miles to the east, Block Island is a popular summer destination to get away from it all. A wilder, less populated destination, Block Island boasts several beaches, but the seaside that most people gravitate toward is Crescent Beach on the island’s eastern side, just north of the town of New Shoreham. Family Vacation Critic says Crescent Beach is “easily one of the best beaches in the Northeast,” and it has lifeguards, showers and bathrooms. The Benson Pavilion at Crescent Beach has a concession stand where you can rent chairs, cabanas, umbrellas and boogie boards. At the north end of the beach, grab a quick bite at Pots & Kettles, a food truck that serves “honestly good grub made with care using wholesome ingredients.”
Where to Dock: Champlin’s Marina & Resort
Long Island, NY
Located on the North Fork at the eastern end of Long Island, Orient Beach State Park is billed as “a natural wonderland of waterfront” with 45,000 feet of frontage on Gardiner’s Bay. Largely catering to locals, it’s the perfect place to enjoy an unspoiled encounter with sand and surf while avoiding the Hamptons crowds that inundate the South Fork. Visitors find pavilions, restrooms, a bathhouse, a small concession stand and Eagle’s Neck Paddling Company, where you can rent kayaks and paddleboards. The park is an Audubon Important Bird Area, which means you may see unique wildlife on your visit — great blue herons, egrets, black crowned night herons and osprey. Head over to nearby Greenport after a day at the beach and select from more than a dozen eateries serving everything from local oysters and seafood to sushi, steaks, burgers, Mexican and Italian.
Where to Dock: Orient by the Sea Marina
Cape May, NJ
Just west of Cape May at New Jersey’s southern tip, you find the aptly named Sunset Beach, known for spectacular sunsets and World War connections. Only about a half-mile long, what Sunset Beach lacks in size it more than makes up for in natural beauty and historic significance. Just offshore you can view part of the hull of the USS Atlantis, one of 12 concrete ships built as part of the World War I Emergency Fleet, which ran aground during a storm in 1926 and has remained there ever since, drawing curious crowds and history buffs. Right off Sunset Boulevard and east of the beach, awaits another relic of the World Wars — a WWII lookout tower built in 1942, one of 15 constructed along the East Coast to help with coastal artillery defense. Pick up souvenirs and grab a sandwich or ice cream before putting a few rounds at Sunset Beach Gift Shop, Mini-Golf & Grille, at the foot of Sunset Boulevard.
Where to Dock: South Jersey Marina
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Hatteras Village, NC
Down toward Hatteras Island’s southern end, you find one of the most unspoiled of all the Hatteras beaches. The boardwalk off the parking lot at the fork of Pole Road and Museum Drive (past the end of North Carolina Highway 12 and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum) leads you through the dunes to a stretch of pristine sand that feels like the end of the world. The beaches all face south at this point on the cape, and you’re a good 50 miles from the causeway that takes you across Roanoke Island and back to the mainland up north. There’s not much around here … and that’s the way people like it. Restaurant options include Breakwater, Sonny’s Waterfront, the Harbor Deli, Hatteras Sol Waterside Grill and Rocco’s Pizza. Toss in a couple of seafood markets and a general store, and that’s about all there is to Hatteras Village — along with some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever visit.
Where to Dock: Hatteras Harbor Marina
Folly Beach County Park
Folly Island, SC
Located on Folly Island’s west end, which bills itself as “the Edge of America,” Folly Beach County Park offers a half mile of secluded beachfront that wraps around the end of the island. It’s about a half mile down Ashley Avenue from the charming, laid-back beach town of Folly Beach, with waterfront cafes, restaurants and motels. Park visitors find a picnic area, showers and restrooms, lifeguards, a snack bar, and beach chair, boogie board, and umbrella rentals in-season. Skimmer Flats, a major Eastern Brown Pelican rookery, is located at the park’s west end. Check out the Lost Dog Cafe for breakfast (served all day), or the Wooden Spoon, a 24-hour deli offering panini, subs and juices cold-pressed from organic ingredients.
Where to Dock: Sunset Cay Marina
Back River Beach
Tybee Island, GA
About 20 miles east of Savannah, Tybee Island’s native history dates back thousands of years. In 1520, the Spanish laid claim to the area, and in 1704 the English took control of the island when they established the colony of Georgia. Today the town of Tybee Island occupies the southern tip, offering visitors a laid-back atmosphere that includes two fishing piers, shops, restaurants, inns and Tybee Island Marine Science Center, featuring hands-on exhibits on coastal ecology. The island is also ringed with picturesque beaches, one of the best being Back River Beach, a relatively uncrowded stretch of sand on the island’s west side. Being relatively secluded, no lifeguards are on duty here, and parking is limited, but there are public restrooms. After a day at the beach, stroll into town and check out RAW Ingredients for sushi and other Asian fare, or head up the beach to A-J’s Dockside, where you can enjoy the sunset while sampling the daily catch.
Where to Dock: Tybee Island Marina
Amelia Island, FL
Most people crowd Main Beach Park and the surrounding area at the north end of Amelia Island’s popular 13-mile-long Fernandina Beach. But savvy sand-seekers head south to Beach Access points 20-40, located south of Sadler Road between Seaside Park and Peters Point. Things are a lot quieter and laid-back here, with places nearby to picnic, rent beach gear and grab a bite. Both Seaside Park and Peters Point Beachfront Park offer parking, pavilions and restrooms. Sliders Seaside Grill, which bills itself as “Fernandina Beach’s only oceanfront tiki bar,” is steps from Seaside Park, offering fresh seafood, burgers and more. For longer stays, the Hampton Inn and Residence Inn are a couple of blocks west of the beach, and the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island is right on the beach, south of Peters Point.
Where to Dock: Amelia Island Marina