Coastal resorts come in a variety of styles. While some emphasize nightlife and glamour at their exclusive bars and restaurants, others cater to families with young children whose top priorities are to swim, collect shells, and find the best ice cream in town. Such low-key destinations have plenty of kid-friendly options for dining, shopping, and local adventures. Filled with charming stores and the sorts of restaurants where no one minds if a little sand gets tracked in from the beach, these summer getaways know how to make families feel at home. Here are a dozen favorites from around the world.
The island of Nantucket is synonymous with getting away from it all. In fact, its name was adapted from the native Wampanoag word for “faraway land.” Situated just south of Cape Cod, Nantucket keeps a relatively low profile. Arriving there is like arriving back in time as the island still maintains elements of its past as a 19th-century whaling community. Many of its streets are lined with beautifully preserved examples of early New England architecture, and an array of family-owned small businesses contribute to the old-fashioned yet lively ambience of the downtown area. Nantucket is also home to numerous family-friendly beaches such as Jetties Beach, Brant Point, and the aptly named Children’s Beach.
Sydney’s coastal perch is dotted with beaches for surfers, sunbathers, and swimmers to enjoy. Families will find much to love at the city’s most famous beach, Bondi. Located just six miles from the city center, Bondi Beach has designated areas for surfing and swimming, plenty of golden sand for sunbathing, and a wide paved path for walking or jogging. Gelato stands add to the appeal, and there’s even an impressive skate park. Australia’s largest city also offers a bit of nature to explore via the Royal Botanic Garden and the Chinese Garden of Friendship, both delightful places to seek shade and greenery.
Although San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States, its unhurried pace gives it an atmosphere more akin to a coastal resort. This unique destination also has a world-class contemporary art museum, the spectacular Balboa Park botanical gardens, and the famed San Diego Zoo, among other attractions. Its 70 miles of coastline and nearly perfect weather make San Diego a favorite city among those who love to swim, surf, and stroll along the shore. West Bonita Cove is great for families with young children due to its big playground, and La Jolla Shores is known for its gentle waves.
It’s easy to see why Corfu is one of Greece’s most popular islands. Its olive groves, white sandy beaches, and charming, walkable Old Town (the oldest section of which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO) all make this island a favorite with families. Horse trekking is a popular way to explore the countryside, and glass-bottom boat tours reveal the flora and fauna of the sea. While Agios Gordios beach is home to a number of friendly restaurants and a playground, many of the beaches in Paleokastritsa offer boat rentals as well as caves to explore.
The name Pawleys Island refers to both a town in South Carolina’s Georgetown County and the barrier island on which the town sits. With a low year-round population, it is a true getaway—even during high season. One of the oldest resort areas on the East Coast, the island is named after George Pawley, who owned the land in the middle of the 18th century and gradually sold parcels to fellow planters. Today, the island may have a few more inns and restaurants, but overall it retains its relaxed pace. Young visitors will appreciate that most of the action here happens at the beach.
With its brightly colored buildings and seaside location, Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan is a dynamic city that provides a tropical breath of fresh air to residents and visitors alike. Families enjoy visiting the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century Spanish fort on the water that is full of cannons and passageways. San Juan’s beaches include many options for those seeking a quiet respite from the crowds. At peaceful Ocean Park Beach, palm trees provide shade and beachfront restaurants allow families to stay near the water all day and even into the evening.
Kailua-Kona is a vibrant resort town on the western side of the island of Hawaii. Once a retreat for the Hawaiian royal family, it has much to entice kids as well as their parents, from snorkeling in beautiful Kahaluʻu Bay to the annual Kona Coffee Festival. There are so many extraordinary birds and tropical plants here that an ordinary hike could turn into the highlight of a budding naturalist’s summer vacation. The Royal Footsteps Along the Kona Coast Hawaii Scenic Byway (an official designation) also offers some fascinating archaeological treasures for the historically inclined. While the water at Kikau Beach is generally serene, bigger kids can have fun on their boogie boards at Kua Bay Beach Park.
Biarritz overlooks the Bay of Biscay in southwestern France, just over 20 miles north of Spain. Known for its grand hotels and casinos, some of which date back to the 19th century, Biarritz was one of the first places in Europe to embrace surfing in the late 1950s. Local architectural treasures include Empress Eugenie’s palace, known today as the Hôtel du Palais. Among the multiple beaches of Biarritz, many families prefer Port Beach, which is set into a rocky cove that keeps its winds low and waters calm.
Home to some of the most opulent Gilded Age mansions in America, Newport also claims the famed Vanderbilt estate, The Breakers. The city is surrounded on three sides by water, so it’s no surprise that there are many spectacular beaches here. The largest, Easton’s Beach, has an impressive list of extras including a store, snack bar, shaded pavilion, skate park, playground, and even a refurbished carousel from the 1950s. Gooseberry Beach is also a favorite among families for its calm waters and café.
The U.S. Virgin Islands east of Puerto Rico enjoy a similar combination of sun, tropical climes, and local color. The main islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John, and Saint Croix boast a rich blend of history and culture as well as natural beauty, white sand beaches, lush tropical foliage, and exotic creatures. Each of the main islands offers activities for families as well. On Saint John, the Virgin Islands National Park covers much of the island and offers hiking trails, reefs, snorkeling spots, petroglyph sites, and iguanas galore.
New Jersey may be famous for its beach arcades and amusement parks, but it’s also home to one of the nation’s oldest seaside resorts, Cape May, where well-heeled Philadelphians vacationed as early as the 18th century. The nearby town of Ocean Grove is known for its concentration of Victorian buildings as well as its beaches, boardwalks, and parks. The Jersey Shore hosts several seaside villages that are ideal for families, particularly Red Bank, Belmar, and Long Beach Island, which is famous for its nature preserve and relaxed, kid-friendly beaches.
The history of Cascais is not unlike that of Biarritz. Ever since Portuguese King Luís I began frequenting the quiet fishing village as a summer resort in the 1870s, it has been a favorite destination for those who love to relax by the sea. Located on the western edge of Lisbon and featuring a spectacular coastline, Cascais also has a historic downtown with restaurants, shopping, and small museums. Picturesque Conceicao Beach is a favorite spot for families due to its calm, clean waters and cafés.