The United States boasts beaches on 3 coasts and various islands meaning choosing where to go for a beach vacation can be overwhelming. There are the beaches of Florida, California and Hawaii that are sunny and accessible for most of the year, and also beaches further north in Oregon, New Jersey and Maine that are mostly summer destinations. We’ve compiled 10 of the best beaches in the US for a vacation full of sun and fun, but also natural beauty. Let’s go!
1. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
This picture-perfect white sand beach is located in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu, Hawaii. Even though there are many resorts and hotels nearby, the beach isn’t usually very crowded. There are also several things to see and do nearby – nearly all family-friendly – making this a great vacation option for a week or more.
2. Hilton Head, S.C.
Hilton Head Island on the coast of South Carolina has several public beaches where you can indulge in water sports or simply relax. Burkes Beach, Driessen Beach Park and Coligny Beach Park all have wide stretches of sand and amenities like food and playgrounds. Or head to Fish Haul Beach Park where you and the kids can look for hermit crabs in the sand.
3. Gulf Shores, Alabama
Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores is a popular family vacation spot in Alabama known for its white-sand beaches and warm water. There are beaches accessible both from Gulf Shores and its neighbor, Orange Beach. If you need a break from the sun and fun, there is also golfing, ziplining and amusement parks nearby. You can also take a dolphin-watching cruise or go to nearby Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to see sea turtles and other wildlife.
4. Ogunquit Beach, Maine
If you happen to be in Maine during the peak summer months, head to Ogunquit, situated between Portland and Boston, Massachusetts. The beach is 3 miles long and is a favorite for families due to its lack of sharp drop-offs when going into the water to swim. There is also a sandcastle contest every July and kite festival every September.
5. Cape May, New Jersey
The charming town of Cape May, with its wide beach and iconic lighthouse, sits on the southernmost tip of New Jersey. There are several beaches to choose from when on the island that Cape May sits on, but we will keep it simple and suggest you pitch your umbrella on the beach at The Cove. In addition to sunbathing and swimming, you can also go surfing here. When you aren’t on the beach, drive around and look at the Victorian houses in Cape May.
Note: Those 12 and over have to buy a beach tag to use the beaches in Cape May. As of June 2020, the price is $6 per day or there are 3-day, weekly and seasonal tags available.
6. Outer Banks, N.C.
Sitting on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and mainland of North Carolina, the Outer Banks make for a memorable beach vacation. You will find more than 100 miles of beaches in the Outer Banks, so you will never be far from the sand and water. Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are great for surfing activities, while Nags Head has the longest pier in North Carolina. All of these beaches also have amenities like food and bathrooms, making them great for family trips.
7. Miami Beach, FL
If you want to escape the heat of Miami, Miami Beach is where to go. Known for its beaches full of beautiful people and its art deco buildings, the island city of Miami Beach is a vibrant destination. You can choose from several beaches, from North Beach all the way down to the iconic South Beach. If you want to feel some glamor and perhaps spot celebrities, go to South Beach where you can also check out the architecture.
8. Cannon Beach, Oregon
There are many beaches to choose from on the Oregon Coast, but we were looking for one suited to the more typical beach vacation. Cannon Beach sits along the coast in northern Oregon, surrounded by nature. Most recognizable for Haystack Rock, a large formation sticking out of the ocean, there is also a beautiful stretch of sand to relax on in between dips in the ocean. Look out for the tufted puffins who make Haystack Rock home during certain seasons!
9. Santa Monica Beach, CA
If you haven’t been to Santa Monica, you have almost certainly seen pictures of its pier or Ferris wheel. Santa Monica State Beach is yet another reason to visit, with 3.5 miles of sand and opportunities for surfing, swimming and other water activities. Plus, there are plenty of places to eat, shop and be entertained just steps from the beach. Note that while beach access is free, you do have to pay for parking.
10. Coronado Beach, CA
San Diego is a beach paradise with sun year-round. The iconic Coronado Beach is known for the distinctive Hotel del Coronado and being family-friendly. It sits on a small island across the San Diego Bay from the city and you can reach the beach by car via a bridge, or take a ferry.