8 Awesome Family-Friendly Small Beach Towns In The USA
For families, there’s something special about a small beach town. The kids get to run around, explore, and be free. And everyone gets to avoid the crowds. At times, we’ve had an entire beach to ourselves. Our go-to is Lewes. Delaware, the first town in the first state, and a quaint beach town. Located on the bay, with zero-to-no waves and a sandbar that pops up during low tide, it is an ideal family location.
The small town, full of history and historical sites gives families a chance to take a walk down maritime history lane while also spending time together making sandcastles, beach-combing, and lazing in the water. You can walk from the beach, sand between toes, and eat hand-dipped ice cream.
With the USA having so much coastline, we asked some of our fellow bloggers to recommend their favorite family-friendly small beach towns in the USA. Here’s the compiled list.
South Haven Michigan
The west side of Michigan is full of adorable little beach towns lined with gorgeous beaches up and down the shoes of Lake Michigan. One of our favorite beach towns in the southern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is South Haven. South Haven is about a 3 hour drive due west of Detroit, Michigan and only about 2.5 hours from Chicago, Illinois.
When we make a beach trip to South Haven, our very favorite meal is at a local café just a few minutes away in the next town over (Benton Harbor, MI) called the Mason Jar Café. They make a gluten-free zucchini waffle that is simply to die for so we always start our day here for breakfast. Next we head to Degrandchamp Farms to pick fresh blueberries to take to the beach with us! There are a number of public beaches in South Haven, but our family’s favorite is Van Buren State Park because not only is the beach gorgeous, but there are giant sand dunes just off the water that are great fun for climbing and running down!
In addition to the beach, South Haven has an adorable downtown area with a laid back, local vibe. Here you’ll find lots of cute little shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and numerous places to get fresh fudge- because no trip to a Lake Michigan beach town is complete without fudge! Walking the main street shops in the evening after a long day at the beach is just perfect- especially when you end the day with an ice cream cone!
Sanibel Island, Florida
My family recently spent a lovely weekend in Sanibel Island. Sanibel is a barrier island off the coast of Fort Myers in the Gulf of Mexico. Sanibel is easy to reach via the Sanibel Causeway and a short drive from the Southwest Florida Airport.
Sanibel is world renowned as one of the best shelling beaches in the world, and shelling was definitely a big draw or us. We woke up at sunrise both mornings of our trip to watch the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico and also to take advantage of a prime shelling opportunity. The beach was covered with thousands of shells, and we found lightning lightning whelks, horse conchs and many other unusual shells.
Sanibel is a quaint family-friendly, small beach town and allowed us to slow down and enjoy the delightfully warm weather. Many people use bike trails to explore Sanibel, and there are large bike parking areas at all the restaurants and shops. The beaches are really a sheller’s dream, and the calm Gulf waters are perfect for younger children.
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Sanibel that cater to vacation travelers. Some of our favorites include the Island Cow, Mudbugs and the Blue Giraffe. Even though we traveled during Spring Break season, there were no college revelers, and we were able to enjoy a quiet weekend relaxing at the beach and pool. It’s no surprise that many tourists return to Sanibel for a beach vacation every year.
Seal Beach, California
Amongst the hustle and bustle of Southern California lies the quaint town of Seal Beach. Named one of the friendliest towns in the U.S. by Forbes, Seal Beach has a welcoming and relaxing small-town vibe. For lodging, there are several beach bungalows through Airbnb in the beachside neighborhood, as well as The Pacific Inn just a few blocks away.
If you are looking for days spent with the family hanging by the ocean, Seal Beach is the perfect retreat. When visiting, our family enjoys breakfast across from the water at The Hangout or the nearby Old Town Cafe. Days are spent on the north side of the pier where the waves are docile and the wind is plenty for kite flying. Our older kids prefer the south side where the waves get bigger for bodyboarding. Next to the pier there is an enclosed playground and a nearby grassy area where during the summer nights you can watch the sun set and local bands perform.
In addition to beach fun, we love visiting locals eat, perusing the many shops, and taking day trips to nearby attractions. Main street is filled with several shops to discover. Particularly, the kids love searching for souvenirs at the Sea Shell Co, Knock, Knock Toys, and Up Up & Away kite store. Of course, you will want to stop off for treats at Sweet Jill’s and Paradise Ice Cream. Of the many places to eat, we enjoy casual dining at Beachwood BBQ, Taco Beach, and A Slice of New York. To complete our trip, we usually visit some well-known Southland attractions like The Aquarium of the Pacific, Queen Mary, or Disneyland for the day. With so much to experience, we absolutely recommend Seal Beach as an ideal vacation spot for families.
Siesta Key, Florida
If you’re looking for the best family-friendly small beach town, you have to check out Siesta Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The silica sands beaches are so white they almost look like snow. They are a little fluffy too and squeak under your feet as you walk. Kids will love playing in the warm, calm water of the Gulf of Mexico as it laps lazily on the shore. After a day in the sun, shops selling yummy eats and cool treats line the streets of this idyllic little town. If it sounds like paradise, you’re not far off.
Siesta Key is a 2 1/2 mile island near Sarasota that connected by bridge to the mainland. There you’ll find not one but three outstanding beaches. Siesta Key Beach is adjacent to the village. It’s the widest and whitest of the bunch. The far southern end of Siesta Key Beach is known as Crescent Beach where you can snorkel at Point of Rocks. The road ends at Turtle Beach, where you’ll find oat grass dunes and access to the paddle trail out Blind Pass to the Jim Neville Marine Preserve. A free public trolley runs the length of the island, so all you have to do is enjoy the sun and sand.
I suggest staying at the BeachPoint Cottages. You’ll love the colorful wooden cottages surrounded by semi-tropical gardens, and the beach is just across the street. A five-minute walk takes you to Ocean Blvd
lined with restaurants and souvenir shopping. You have to check out Made In Rome Organic Gelato and the Billionaire Burger at The Cottage. Siesta Key is the perfect kid-friendly getaway for fun in the sun and
Fairfield, Connecticut gets my vote for the best family-friendly small town beach. Located right off of I-95, Fairfield is an easy drive on the East Coast. It’s a little town full of New England charm and it has two public beaches with playgrounds for kids. In addition to the beach, the main library in downtown has an adorable kids section that is perfect for toddlers. The town has many public parks to enjoy and nearby is the Beardsley Zoo.
Strolling the downtown area is where the best restaurants are located. The whole family will love Colony Grill, which serves up thin crust pizzas in an Irish bar setting. Plan B burgers has an extensive menu that will have something for everyone, and if you walk across the street you will run into Milkcraft, a decadent nitrogen ice cream shop. If your family prefers to stay closer to the water, I’d recommend the Inn at Fairfield Beach; however, if closer to downtown is where you’d like to be, then the Circle Hotel is perfect. Fairfield may be a small town, but it is filled with plenty of big-time fun.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Spending a week on Block Island during the summer has been a tradition in my family for generations. You have to take a ferry from Point Judith, RI to get there. The island is less than 10 square miles in size and has plenty of family-friendly activities for everyone, including history tours, shopping, excellent restaurants, stunning natural landscapes, and beaches.
Everything is accessible by bike and incredibly safe. Families with older kids will love exploring Mohegan Bluffs, while younger kids will enjoy petting the critters at Abrams Animal Farm and navigating the Sacred Labyrinth at the North End. For food, check out Kimberley’s, The Oar, and Ben & Jerry’s!
Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara is a beautiful beachside city along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Despite it being a part of the Californian coastline, it is far removed from the tourist hotspots of San Francisco and LA. During my three-day venture around the city, I experienced a relaxing haven perfect for a family-friendly retreat.
Without a doubt, California has some of the best beaches in the world. Santa Barbara’s waters are clear blue, and its sand is just a tad off-white. Despite my visit on a hot summer weekend, there were barely any people around. A few families were building sand castles with their children while a small group of teens played beach volleyball near the shoreline.
Aside from beach-hopping, there are lots of things to do in Santa Barbara. A day spent at the Santa Barbara Zoo or the Wolf Museum of Exploration will surely satisfy any child’s curiosity. For those that like nature-escapes, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden or the Alameda Park are also great getaways.
Like other cities in California, there are many lodging and dining options in this vibrant city. A night at the Hyatt or the Hilton Beachfront Resort will offer spectacular views of the oceanfront. Lure Fish House and Santa Barbara FisHouse are also great options for some of the best seafood in the city!
Westerly, Rhode Island
Westerly, Rhode Island, is one of the best family-friendly, small beach towns in the United States. If you’re looking for the perfect family beach vacation in New England forego the crowds on The Cape and visit Westerly instead.
There are two beach areas in town connected by a five-mile stretch of pristine sandy beach facing the Atlantic Ocean. In Misquamicut you’ll find a beach protected by lifeguards with families building sand castles, riding boogie-boards, and throwing footballs. The pavilion has showers, toilets, changing rooms and a snack stand with your favorite beach food. There are also many family-friendly activities within walking distance from the beach. If your children prefer water slides to ocean waves, head for the Water Wizz Water Park. Next to the water park are the Atlantic Beach Park with carnival-like rides and the Bayview Fun Park with mini-golf and go-karts.
Down the road from Misquamicut is the quieter Watch Hill area. Families with small children looking for protected waters can rent a cabin at the official Watch Hill beach. Other beach-goers walk down the path between Taylor Swift’s house and The Ocean House to access the public beach that connects with Misquamicut. In the center of town it the Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest operating carousel in the United States with horses suspended from chains. Down the street from the carousel are boutique shops and an ice cream parlor.
There are a few local inns and hotels in Misquamicut and Watch Hill that are a short walk from the water. If you want to splurge consider the five-star Ocean House hotel in Watch Hill. A few miles away in downtown Westerly there are a couple of chain hotels like La Quinta for budget travelers to stay in. Otherwise, your best bet will probably be to book an AirBNB!