By Rachel Hoeing
Hooray for long days and warm weather! Many of you may be in the midst of planning summer vacations. Why not try something different this year? Take the advice of other local moms and give their favorite destinations a shot. We asked our readers for their favorite beaches along the east coast and came up with the list below.
We hope these tips & suggestions from other local moms will help you choose a spot that fits your family’s needs and wants. Whether you are looking to hit the town & stay busy, or relax and soak up the sun … you are sure to find a perfect destination on our list. If you have a beach to add to our “favorites” list, email Katie@triadmomsonmain.com.
Rehoboth Beach, DE
Compiled by: Allison Tobey
Distance from Triad: 8-8.5 hours
Favorite place to stay: Home rentals (there are plenty of great homes and condos for rent)
Favorite Dining Spots: Dogfish Head Brewpub, Summer House, Dos Locos Stonegrill, Nicola Pizza, Arena’s Deli (voted Best of DE for sandwiches and lunch spot 2012)
Favorite Attractions: Funland on the boardwalk (www.funlandrehoboth.com), Tanger Outlets (NO sales tax in DE!), Rehoboth Avenue Shops. Dolle’s Candyland. Take a side trip to Lewes, DE (pronounced “Lewis”) and visit the historic, quaint downtown where there are plenty of shops (including an old-fashioned candy and toy store), restaurants, beautiful homes, and a harbor on the intercoastal waterway. You can also catch the ferry to Cape May, NJ, from Lewes.
What you like best about this beach: This is the most family-friendly beach I have ever been to. You can walk or ride you bikes to over 100 restaurants, shops, ice cream places, bars, etc. $1 trolley rides around Rehoboth Beach and to Dewey Beach (neighboring beach with fun music scene)
Downfalls of staying in this area: Can be expensive. The water is much cooler than NC beaches.
Tips for staying in this area: Bring your bikes or rent them. Plan an “eating out” budget – there are so many fantastic restaurants within in walking distance. AVOID July 4th week! Though, Rehoboth Beach has the best firework show I have ever seen. My family loves Rehoboth Beach during the off season. We like to spend Thanksgiving up there when the town is quiet. Eating out with zero wait, Christmas shopping at the outlets and spending time walking around downtown is so much fun.
Clearwater, FL (Clearwater Beach)
Compiled by: Amy Milburn
Distance from Triad: 11-12 hour drive, or a flight into Tampa (TPA) or St.Pete/Clearwater Airport (PIE). Allegiant flies direct from Greensboro.
Favorite place to stay: With my parents! I know nothing about hotels on Clearwater Beach, other than friends have loved Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach and Opal Sands Resort. The Marriott is another good option. It’s not on the beach but it’s on the intercoastal.
Favorite Dining Spots: Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill (one of 6 Frenchy’s locations), Crabby’s Bar & Grill (a perfect spot for sunset)
Favorite Attractions: Clearwater Marine Aquarium (Winter the Dolphin), Sunsets at Pier 60, Deep Sea Fishing, Sunset Cruises, water sports of all kinds, and <1 hour drive to Tampa’s Busch Gardens. The best part of Clearwater is its amazing white sand beaches and your ability to see a sunset over water, without traveling to California!
Downfalls of staying in this area: Traffic can be heavy at times and parking may be difficult.
Tips for staying in this area: Staying on or near the beach (where SO much can be reached on foot) will save you a lot of time and headache. Just a 2 mile drive from Pier 60 (the heart of Clearwater Beach is Sand Key. If you prefer a quieter spot, away from the crowd, Sand Key Park and the Sheraton Sand Key Resort may be right for you.
Fort Matanzas area, FL
Compiled by: Katie Moosbrugger
Distance from Triad: 8 hours
Favorite place to stay: This area has zero commercialization or hotels. The best place to stay is in St. Augustine, just 15 miles north. St. Augustine makes for an amazing vacation in itself. Click HERE to see my blog about this vacation idea.
Favorite Dining Spots: Unfortunately there are not many restaurants nearby, and my favorite dining spot that was right by these beaches on Highway A1A was wiped away by Hurricane Matthew. JT’s Seafood Shack is a great, casual place for lunch and is about 8 miles south on Highway A1A. For a fancy dinner out, Salt Water Cowboys (closer north to St. Augustine) is always a good choice. Other suggestions can be found on this link.
Favorite Attractions: Marineland (like a mini Sea World – no rides!) is just 5 miles south, the Fort Matanzas National Monument, sea turtles that visit the beach occasionally, a visit to the bayside at low tide (lots of sandbars to explore – see picture!)
What you like best about this beach: The beauty is unmatched, and the beaches are endless! On the ocean side you can drive your 4-wheel-drive vehicle right onto the beach making it easy to transport beach chairs, umbrellas and toys. On the bay side, dolphins and manatees are known to make a presence. At low tide the bay area is a great location to search for sand crabs, snails and other sea creatures.
Downfalls of staying in this area: It’s not close to many dining spots so you should probably plan for a picnic on the beach or drive to Matanza’s Inlet restaurant listed above.
Tips for staying in this area: Park in the lot directly across from the entrance to the Ft. Matanzas national monument on Hwy A1A. This is the public beach access and where you can drive onto the beach (4-wheel drive only). Bring a kite – the beaches are wide open and rarely get crowded. After your beach day, plan a visit to the bay side or the monument. Be sure to find out the times the ferry takes visitors to/from monument before you show up. It’s best to visit the bayside at low tide.
Indialantic/Melbourne Beach, FL
Compiled by: Kristie Touchstone
Distance from Triad: 10 – 11 hours
Favorite place to stay: Radisson Suite Hotel Oceanfront (Indialantic) – all rooms are suites and all have ocean views
Favorite Dining Spots: Bizzaro’s Pizza on the boardwalk (CASH ONLY); Bunky’s Raw Bar; Grills; Longdoggers; Blueberry Muffin Restaurant (breakfast); Downtown Melbourne (variety of restaurants); Squid Lips
Favorite Attractions: 5th Avenue Boardwalk (Indialantic); Melbourne Beach Pier; day trips can be taken to Port Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, Ron John’s Surf shop/Cocoa Beach; Sebastian Inlet
What you like best about this beach: Melbourne Beach and Indialantic are minutes apart with most of the dining spots being in Indialantic. They are small towns and even when it is tourist season, the beaches aren’t very crowded. If you like very minimal crowds, Melbourne Beach is the place to go.
Downfalls of staying in this area: If you are expecting to find a lot of ‘touristy’ things to do in this immediate area, you won’t find many. These are truly beach towns which haven’t been commercialized. There are a few local surf shops (Spectrum & the Longboard House) but if you are looking to shop the outlets, etc. all day long, you will need to head to Viera or Orlando.
Tips for staying in this area: Utilize the locals – ask questions! If you have a small family, the B&B’s or Tuckaway Shores are great little beach-front places to stay. Everyone is so laid back there. Bring your sunscreen (of course) and quarters for parking at the boardwalks. There is only one stop light as you go into Melbourne Beach…past that the 30 mph speed limit is strictly enforced and they are always waiting for you…don’t go even 5 mph over the speed limit!
Tybee Island Beach
Compiled by: Melanie Cole
Distance from Triad: About 6 hours
Favorite place to stay: We like to use VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) and choose a house on the beach or close to the beach. We liked this one:309 DeSoto Beach Club
214 Butler Avenue
Tybee Island, GA 31328
Favorite Dining Spots: Bernie’s Oyster House hast he perfect beach atmosphere. Sting Ray’s seafood not only has delicious food, but great live music & yummy margaritas for the adults.
Favorite Attractions: You go for the beach… not for putt putt or kids activities. Love the golf cart that drives up and down main road for easy rides. Easy parking. Great restaurants and bars. Can get good info at tybeeisland.com.
What you like best about this beach: The beach is super clean and the people (super friendly) 30 -40 min from Downtown Savannah. Lots of local artists & unique shops.
Downfalls of staying in this area: Need to drive to Savannah if you want to enjoy other activities aside from relaxing and the beach.
Tips for staying in this area: Go to relax and slow down… It is hot in the summer but the water and drinks are cool! Liked it so much that we have talked about going again next summer.
Coast Guard Beach – Ocean side, Eastham, MA (Cape Cod)
Compiled by: Paul and Carolyn Flaherty
Distance from Triad: 12 hours
Favorite place to stay: Red Roof Cottages
Favorite Dining Spots: Many local Seafood restaurants, Red Barn Pizza, Nauset Ice Cream
Favorite Attractions: Red Barn mini-golf, the Cape Cod Rail Trail,Wellfleet Drive-in movie theater, Orleans Firebirds -Cape Cod League baseball.
What you like best about this beach: The beach is spacious, plenty of soft yellow sand. It is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore (Federal Park dept.), so it is well kept and highly monitored between life guards and rangers. This beach has showers and changing rooms.
Downfalls of staying in this area: You will need to pay to park (about $15 for the day at last check) and take a shuttle from the parking lot (about a 7 to 10 minute ride). The parking lot fills up fast, get there before 10a. No food service.
Tips for staying in this area: What is nice about Eastham is that you can either swim in the bay (warmer water, very kid friendly swimming, but subject to more drastic tides) or enjoy the ocean (water is colder overall and deeper at high tide than the bay) and the two are only about 3 miles apart. Bring bikes or rent them (Idle Times Bike Shop). There is plenty to do in about a 15 mile radius between Wellfleet and Orleans as well. The area is very quaint and pleasantly quiet depending on where you stay, the area is not overflowing with commercial developments.
Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores & Emerald Isle, NC
Compiled By: Debbie Burns, Kathleen Thorell & Lucinda Hancock
Distance from Triad: 4.5 hour drive
Favorite place to stay: Use VRBO (vacation rentals by owner and find a great house on the beach! There is also a wonderful campground called “Holiday Trav-L Park”- it’s a GREAT campground- right on the beach- although the closer you camp toward the beach- the more it costs. But it is immaculate and well-run.
Favorite Dining Spots: Amos Mosquito’s restaurant is a must. It has a great kids menu but gets extremely crowded and they do not take reservations. Big Oak Drive -In…walk up for a yummy shrimp burger, many more restaurants along waterfront across the bridge in Morehead City. Emerald Island has a new restaurant- Caribsea- on the third floor of an office building. The food is quite good- but pricey. The best part is the outside bar area on the 4th floor- where you can see both the ocean and the sound (for sunsets). You can also eat up there if you choose.
Favorite Attractions: Morehead City – you can watch boats come in, browse the shops or grab a drink in the hip bar ” The Arendell Room”. During the day you can enjoy the lovely beaches, going fishing off the “oceana pier”, visit the NC aquarium, rent a boat and head over to explore Shakleford island (where you will see wild horses) picnic and jump in for a dip and relax! Check out Fort Macon State park for an incredible look at a fort built in 18th century! Venture a little beyond Morehead to charming/quaint Beaufort for more waterfront shops and restaurants. Just splendid!!!!! In the summers in the evening at “The Circle located ocean front straight over the only bridge onto the island from Morehead City”- they show family movies- check local papers for info. Also, Mac Daddy’s in Cape Carteret. Atlantic Beach also has a new Skateboard park and Mini Golf at the Town park – a great little park.
What you like best about this beach: Laid back family beach. Great fishing shopping, and restaurants! From Emerald Isle at the western end to to fort Macon on the eastern end the total island is only about 26 miles with various locations along the way…Salter Path, Pine Knoll Shores, etc but my favorite is Atlantic beach! Rent a house or a condo and enjoy a great family vacation!
Downfalls of staying in this area: There are not as many restaurants, shops, and kids activities. This area has some of those things, but it is helpful to have kids who love the beach & come here because then they don’t need as much off-the-beach activity (on the flip side the crowds are not bad and aside from July 4th, neither is traffic. What I like best about AB is that it is low key.)
Tips for staying in this area: Get the “This Week” booklet at the grocery store (a little local mag). It has coupons and articles about happenings. If you are there for a holiday like Easter or July 4th, check with the parks and rec about public Easter egg hunts and a fun neighborhood July 4th parade where all the kids decorate bikes and everyone comes decked out in red, white, and blue. The AB, pks, and Emerald Isle fireworks are all fabulous too. Lastly, don’t speed! Police are always catching people at the AB/pks border.
Bald Head Island, NC
Compiled by: Janet Fulp
Distance from Triad: 4 hours to Ferry Terminal, 30 minute passenger ferry
Favorite place to stay: House Rental (VRBO)
Favorite Dining Spots: Bald Head Island Club, Mojo’s, Delphina, Maritime Market Cafe
Favorite Attractions: Old Baldy Lighthouse, Marina, Maritime Market
What you like best about this beach: Bald Head Island is very a unique beach. As a matter of fact, there are 3 unique beaches on the Island; East Beach, South Beach and West Beach. East Beach faces east along the Atlantic Ocean and has great waves and very good fishing. As you round the tip of Cape Fear at Frying Pan Shoals there is South Beach which is slightly more protected and calm than East Beach. Here is a great place to set up shelter and stay for the day. In the fall, there are spectacular sunsets over the ocean. West Beach fronts the Cape Fear River and has wonderful views of Southport, Caswell Beach and the myriad of river traffic. Island transportation is golf carts only, there are no cars allowed outside of service vehicles. There is just something fun about driving around all day in a golf cart! Be careful though, all rules of the road apply so don’t let your kids drive the cart unless they have their license or permit. One of our favorite things to do is to drive the cart around and visit some of the Open Houses of homes on the market. These houses are pricey, but they are so interesting to see. It’s a family event! The main attraction is the Island itself. From the beaches, to the maritime forest, to Bald Head Creek the natural beauty of the area is breathtaking. While there are no mini-golf courses, there are numerous outdoor activities to keep you occupied. Kayaking in Bald Head Creek (and throwing in the occasional crab trap) is a favorite for our family. If fishing is your sport, then you can surf fish on East Beach, drop a line in the marina or fish and crab from the docks on the creek. There are always events going on as well. There is a pet parade at Thanksgiving, ghost tours, outdoor family movies, arts & crafts and excellent educational programs out at Bald Head Island Conservancy. If you’re lucky, you can even attend a turtle hatching! One of the best activities is the Howl at the Moon party. Every month on the full moon, Maritime Market will prepare a batch of soup or some appetizers and islanders will bring a little something of their own and head out to East Beach to watch the full moon rise. The emphasis here is nature and the outdoors, there are no movie theaters, laser tag games, mini-golf courses or shopping malls.
Downfalls of staying in this area: It can be expensive to rent houses there, so you should do your research and shop around. There is also an additional fee to ferry your family across as well as a parking charge for leaving your car at the marina. Also, as I mentioned before, if mini-golf and outlet malls are your thing, you’re not going to find that here.
Tips for staying in this area: Do your research. Get on VRBO or another rental site and see what houses are available. Food prices on certain items such as milk and other beverages can be high at the Market, so pack some storage tubs full of food and bring them over. A tram service will take you and all your belongings right to the door of your house or condo.
Beaufort, North Carolina
Compiled by: Kelly Melang
Distance from the Triad: A little over 4 hours
Favorite Places to Stay:
Favorite Dining Spots: For family friendly, Finz Grill right across from the Maritime Museum. If you’re looking for something fancy, try Beaufort Grocery Company (closed on Tuesdays). For sitting by the water and watching the boats go by, I would recommend The Rhum Bar at Stillwater. And for best live music on a Thur and Sat Night, go to the The Dockhouse!
Favorite Attractions: Located on the “Inner Banks” of North Carolina, Beaufort provides great family fun and adventure complete with Atlantic Beach just 20 minutes away. Any beach trip to Morehead City or Atlantic Beach is not complete without a day trip to Beaufort. One of the major claims to fame for Beaufort is the Hammock House or Blackbeard’s house, with the tree in the front yard he used to hang his wife! This house is a short walk from downtown Beaufort. Make sure you visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum before walking to the house as items salvaged from Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship located off the coast of North Carolina are on display. Admission to the museum is free. Beaufort’s main street is full of boutique shops, outdoor center and several different ways to further explore the region. Taxi ferries take you to different places of interest, Shakleford Banks, a wild pony refuge and beach for the day, Shell Seeking in different places, Rachel Carson Preserve, an animal sanctuary located directly across from downtown Beaufort full of wild life, paths and small beaches for picnicking. There is even a Pirate Ship for battling Blackbeard’s pirates as a fun family adventure. If families have their own water craft, enjoy the free dock located in downtown Beaufort for putting in small craft, paddling up and down Taylors Creek. As a historic town, Beaufort has many different sights each with a story behind it. The Old Burial Ground located at 400 Anne Street is full of old graves and interesting stories showcasing Beaufort’s 300 year history. Owned by the Town of Beaufort and maintained by Beaufort Historical Association, you can take a tour with a volunteer showing you graves such as a British soldier buried standing and facing his mother country, a small child passing away on a ship coming to America buried in a rum barrel to famous and infamous people of Beaufort, graves marked by wood, shells and other oddities. Volunteers have maps of the area, there is also a wonderful book located at the Historical Society for more information beyond the tour. And they now have an APP! A short ferry ride from Beaufort, is the Cape Lookout Lighthouse of Harkers Island. Built in 1859, the 163 foot hight light house also has beaches and wild ponies. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is a good starting point for visiting the Outer Banks Lighthouses and is open for climbing to the top May through September. Open for climbing Tuesday through Saturday, children 12 and under must be accompanied by someone 16 years of age or older.
Holden Beach, NC
Compiled by: Julie Giljames
Distance from Triad: 237 miles, about 4 hour drive
Favorite place to stay: Any homes that back up to the canal!
Favorite Dining Spots: Provision Company
Favorite Attractions: Provision Company, tubing on the ICWW, and the HB waterslide
What you like best about this beach: The sea turtle education program and the lack of busy. This is not an outlet-filled, theme park, water/adventure golf park beach. It’s quiet and filled with lots of families. We have been to the sea turtle education program (given weekly at the Town Hall) and watched a family of babies make their way to the water. VERY COOL!
Downfalls of staying in this area: There isn’t much to do, so pack your games and plan a day trip to an attraction on another beach.
Tips for staying in this area: Order your groceries via Lowe’s Foods to Go in Shallotte, find a home that backs up to the canal and bring your boat. Makes for a lot of fun when the beach has lost its luster.
Kure Beach, NC
Compiled By: Susan Anderson
Distance from Triad: 3 1/2 – 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: We always stay at the military recreation area where we can rent a 2 bedroom home. Its just across the main street from the beach. Before we knew about that spot though, and/or for non military families, there are lots of beach front property. I prefer a house or hotel with a suite over a regular hotel room. I think it makes it much easier to not have to eat out all the time when traveling with kids (and healthier too!). I always recommend beach access with little ones so you can quickly run back to the room quickly. The great tidepools are pretty far south on the peninsula.
Favorite Dining Spots: We always grab some seafood at Ocean Grill when we go up at Carolina Beach (just minutes north)
Favorite Attractions: Its just minutes from the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. You get in free if you have a Greensboro Science Center Membership or another Zoos and Aquariums membership of some sort. Kure Beach is also not too far from Wilmington (we love the children’s museum there). Kure Beach has a fabulous little tide pool area, where at low tide (check with your hotel for tide guides), the kids can go seashell, fish, and crab hunting. The military recreation area there has all kinds of fun activities for military families. There is also a nice central little park where they do outdoor movies during the summer and have live music, etc. They also have a little farmer’s market there too with craft vendors, etc. There is a carnival area with a boardwalk just north in Carolina Beach as well (great photo spot!) with rides, cotton candy.. all that great stuff!
What you like best about this beach: Its a pretty quite beach (at least when we have gone in the spring/early summer)
Downfalls of staying in this area: Its on the end of a peninsula, so if you wanted to just drive down the coastline from here, you couldn’t. There aren’t a lot of restaurant choices, and there is a little bit of traffic on the one road going in and out.
Tips for staying in this area: We try to go just before the summer season starts as its less crowded, and not so hot.
Oak Island, NC
Tips for staying in this area: As mentioned above, if you want to explore and do some activities, it is best to visit a neighboring beach.
Ocracoke Island, NC
Distance from Triad: 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: Rentals from Blue Heron Realty
Favorite Dining Spots: Café Atlantic, Back Porch Restaurant
Favorite Attractions: Beach, kayaking, kite boarding, surfing or parasailing, gulf stream fishing with friends or family. Take a trip to explore nearby uninhabited Portsmouth Island where you’ll find some of the best seashells! Unique gift shops & wonderful seafood.
What you like best about this beach: It’s a quaint village, 13 miles of undeveloped beaches, you can walk or bike ride to just about everywhere
Downfalls of staying in this area: None!
Tips for staying in this area: Great website for ferry information.
Sunset Beach, NC
Distance from Triad: 3 1/2 hours
Favorite place to stay: there are no hotels at this beach so you can rent a house or condo for the week
Favorite Dining Spots: Twin Lakes Seafood is our personal favorite, our second family favorite is called Causeway Gourmet which is a couple miles down the road in Ocean Isle Beach. La Cucina Italian Grill is rated #1 on Trip Advisor for Sunset Beach although we have never eaten there and Fibber McGees is listed as #2 on Trip Advisor as well
Favorite Attractions: the beach!, boat rentals in Calabash, bike rentals, fishing, crabbing, boutique shopping, golfing, Silver Coast Winery (in Ocean Isle), Museum of Coastal Carolina (in Ocean Isle), St. Nick Nacks (in Calabash)
What you like best about this beach: This beach is not overly crowded since there are no high rise hotels on the beach, it is family friendly and quiet. They have replaced the old drawbridge with a much nicer permanent bridge so there are no more issues with timing your trips to and from the beach.
Downfalls of staying in this area: If you rent a condo, you will be on the other side of the bridge and will need to load up into the car to get back home when you and the children are covered in sand and wet. There can be issues with parking and meeting up with other groups of people if you can’t park at the same place.
Tips for staying in this area: We enjoy staying in Sunset and making quick trips to neighboring beaches in the evening to experience all they have to offer in the area. Ocean Isle and Calabash are within 5-15 minutes.
Topsail Beach, NC
Compiled by: Hillary Peterson
Distance from Triad: Just under 4 hours (depending on which end of the island you are visiting).The Island is just off US Highway 17, about halfway between Wilmington and Jacksonville. Situated at the southern end of Topsail Island, the Town of Topsail Beach is the smallest of the three communities on the 26-mile long island. Surf City, the largest town on the island, is in the center. And North Topsail Beach occupies the northernmost section.
Favorite place to stay: Topsail Realty has a variety of quintessential beach cottages – our favorite is the Hibiscus Hut with unobstructed ocean views.
Favorite Dining Spots: For the southern end (Topsail Beach), we love Dirty South Bar & Grill and the Beach Shop & Grill. In the center of the island in Surf City, our favorite spots are Sears Landing, Beauchaines 211, Daddy Mac’s and the Bistro. In North Topsail Beach, both Ocean’s Edge and the Inlet 790 Grill & Bar offer lovely views and great food. Honestly we love to cook at the cottage and enjoy the view – JM’s Seafood Market and Surf City Crab Market offer fresh selections daily.
Favorite Attractions: the uncrowded beaches, surf board/paddle board rentals from Onshore Surf, bike and kayak rentals and tours from Herring Sports. Rainy days are good for the Missiles & More Museum and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Step back in time at the Topsail Beach Skating Rink – it’s an old wooden roller rink above the post office. Topsail Island is a nesting site for sea turtles. From May through August, adult female sea turtles make their way onto the beach to lay and bury their eggs (usually 100 or so ping-pong ball sized eggs). The eggs hatch in about 60 days and only one in 1,000 hatchlings survives its first year. The odds of a hatchling surviving into adulthood decrease to about one in 5,000 to 10,000. We were lucky enough to help the turtle hospital relocate hatchings that crossed the dunes and ended up in our yard instead of heading to sea. (We called the The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center immediately and advise anyone visiting the island to do the same if you see signs of a nest or hatchlings.)
What you like best about this beach: With 26 miles and three individual beaches, this beach is not crowded since there are no high-rise hotels on the island – it is family friendly and quiet. There are two bridges onto the island, the high bride and swing bridge (which is being replaced – don’t miss the chance to see it before it is gone). There are many parks on the island, Soundside Park is in Surf City and offers movies in the park, concerts and great views of the swing bridge when it opens. The island is narrow so even if you don’t rent an ocean front house, the walk to the beach is not too long.
Downfalls of staying in this area: With the swing bridge being replaced, traffic gets congested in the center of the island going into Surf City. If you are used to lots of attractions, this beach may be too quiet for you.
Tips for staying in this area: We enjoy staying in the center of the island where we have access to everything.
Wilmington, NC (Wrightsville Beach)
Compiled by: Dani Luft
Distance from Triad: 3-3.5 hours
Favorite place to stay: Shell Island Resort
Favorite Dining Spots: Sweet and Savory, Dockside, Our Crepes and More, Fish House, Circa 1922
Favorite Attractions: The downtown is great to walk around and shop!
What you like best about this beach: It is close enough that we have done this as a day trip with our kids. We left Greensboro by 8 am, packed a picnic lunch, parked and were set up on the beach by 11:30. We played, built sandcastles, swam, had our picnic lunch and played some more until about 3-4 pm. We used a random hotel’s outdoor water spout to wash off. We changed in the car and had an early dinner and drove home. It was perfect! We have also stayed for a few nights and it is quiet and beautiful.
Downfalls of staying in this area: There is not a TON to do with little kids, so if the weather is bad, you might have to get creative.
Tips for staying in this area: Enjoy the locals! Ask for restaurant advice and walk around and look at the beautiful ocean front homes. There is a lot of history in Wilmington, too, if you’re a history buff.
Cherry Grove, SC
Compiled by: Rachel Hoeing
Distance from Triad: average 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: We have rented a few different hours from Elliot Realty and were very pleased. The inlet side can be just as much fun as oceanfront. We stayed in the condos at Tilghman Shores which are all privately owned. They have a pool, are nice and quiet, and are walking distance to the beach. If you prefer a hotel, we liked Tilghman Beach & Golf Resort (address is actually North Myrtle). It is definitely louder and crazier than staying in a private house or condo, but the kids love the lazy river, water areas, and the beach is across the street.
Favorite Dining Spots: Basil’s Pizza, Hoskins Restaurant (always a line, but it moves quickly), Crab Catchers in Little River, Duffy Street Crab Shack, Krave Bagels in Myrtle
Favorite Attractions: Great carnival rides (see photo) on Ocean Drive. Kids can buy a wristband and literally spend hours running around and riding the rides over and over again. They shoot fireworks off the pier on 4th of July. If you drive down to Myrtle, we also loved the Pirate Voyage Dinner & Theater. It can be expensive, but we thought it was a great show and worth the money. We also liked Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle and of course the usual Broadway at the Beach, Tanger Outlets and Barefoot Landing. Walking around on Ocean Drive is fun because there is often music outdoors and shagging by the carnival rides. Plenty of choices for Putt-putt as well.
What you like best about this beach: You are still very close to Myrtle, but it seems to be a little less crowded than Myrtle itself. I also liked the fact that you can hop over to the Little River area easily. If you end up with bad weather, there is still PLENTY for the kids to do as I mentioned in the attractions above.
Downfalls of staying in this area: Pretty crowded all summer long, but if you head out to the ocean away from the high rises and condos, you will have very few crowds.
Tips for staying in this area: There is a great park area for the kids just as you enter Myrtle Beach from the Cherry Grove area. It is between 1st and 2nd avenues. Nice place to be outside and still have some shade. Another tip: grocery shop at home if you can and bring food down with you. I spent a small fortune on groceries!
Hilton Head Island, SC
Compiled by: Rachel Hoeing
Distance from Triad: 5-6 hours
Favorite place to stay: Sea Pines neighborhood – either a rental home or a condo. We have stayed at this one numerous times and love it. Shipyard Plantation is also a great place to stay because it is less expensive and less crowded.
Favorite Dining Spots: Jake’s Salty Dog Cafe, Truffles Cafe, Giuseppi’s Pizza and Pasta, Skull Creek Boathouse, Roastfish and Cornbread, Charbar, and Marleys – they have a great early bird special and its kid friendly.
Favorite Attractions: Salty Dog Cafe in South Beach, Greg Russell show under the tree in Harbour Town, Harbour Town Water Sports: Parasailing, kayaking and canoeing, dolphin tours, pirate cruises, Tanger Outlets, shops and restaurants at Coligny are great, too.
What you like best about this beach: You can ride your bike everywhere. The entire island has sidewalks so you and your family can ride easily. The area is not commercialized at all. Lots of trees, many alligator spottings, horse stables, quiet, soft &sandy beaches. Fun women’s boutiques in which to shop.
Downfalls of staying in this area: Can get expensive. Jellyfish stings are common in August.
Tips for staying in this area: Bring your bikes! You can rent them as well, but if you have a bike rack you will definitely want your bike there. Since the area is not commercialized, it is really tough to find certain venues. (Signs are low to the ground and neutral colors.) Be sure to use a GPS or Mapquest when looking for a specific spot! Another tip is to bring change for the toll booth when entering the island. (You can choose not to take the toll road, but it is much quicker.) If you are staying in a house instead of a condo, you get the perk of an almost empty beach.
Kiawah Island , SC
Compiled by: Kelly Melang
Distance from Triad: 5 hours
Favorite place to stay: ** The Sanctuary Golf Resort
Favorite Dining Spots: Breakfast – Southern Kitchen Dinner Jasmine Porch for SheCrab Soup
Favorite Attractions: Beachwalker County Park, Heron Park Nature Center
What you like best about this beach: Just 21 miles from Charleston is a ten mile stretch of undisturbed Altantic Beach . Kiawah Island is the perfect beach get away – natural beauty in marshland for nature exploring, forests of pine, magnolias, massive oaks with the beach.
Downfalls of staying in this area: There is a fee to enter the park ( $8/vehicle to $40/bus or RV.)
Tips for staying in this area: The best way for family access is on the western end through Kiawah Beachwalker County Park , the only public beach access. The boardwalk that extends out onto the beach from the park is spectacular. Year round features of the beach include dressing areas, picnic area with grills, restrooms and vending. Seasonally, you can find lifeguards, beach item rentals and outdoor showers. Dogs are allowed but a leash is required. With the river on one side and beach on the other, this area is a great family getaway for not just swimming but exploring seaside life. If you have time, make sure you stop by Angel Oak Tree, the oldest living tree east of the Mississippi . A stop at Kiawah Beach shows why Travel Channel called it one of the nation’s “Top Ten.” Make sure you click HERE for information and hours of the park and take a look HERE for a look at the local wildlife.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Compiled by: Courtney Tucker
Distance from Triad: average 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: We own an oceanfront condo at Kingston Plantation (which is in an excellent location at the north end of Myrtle) so of course we prefer to stay there when we go to the beach! Kingston is a 145 acre resort with beautiful landscaping and nice wide beaches because the condominiums are built back further off the beach than they are at most places in the area. It is not crowded near the North and South Hampton buildings at Kingston and there are plenty of things to do there without even leaving the property. (restaurants, swimming pools, freshwater lakes, and a water park) My kids love to walk the property and feed the ducks, climb our favorite crooked tree and go for a quick bike ride around the lake. The rooms are very large and all condominiums have a full kitchen. In addition, there are nice spacious balconies with gorgeous views all the way up into the North Carolina coastline. We do rent our own condominium and we’re able to charge lower rental fees because we don’t use a rental agency. With all of this being said I can’t really recommend other places to stay because I haven’t visited anywhere besides Kingston in more than ten years!
Favorite Dining Spots: There are numerous places to dine in the Myrtle Beach area. These are some of our favorites, but of course preferences and experiences may vary: Sea Captains House, Hamburger Joe’s, Carolina Roadhouse, Tupelo Honey Cafe, Flying Fish, Fiesta del Burro Loco, Sam’s Corner, Collector’s Café, Rossi’s, Chesapeake House, and Chestnut Hill.
Favorite Attractions: Myrtle Beach has more activities than one family can fit into a week’s vacation. June through September there is a summer concert series at Plyler Park with free entertainment including kid’s carnivals, live music, and fireworks. There are free carriage rides and live music available at the Market Common outdoor shopping area. We love to visit the old Pavilion rides at Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach and there are dozens of restaurants to try on Restaurant Row. Kingston Plantation is less than a mile from the Tanger Outlets and it is only a very short walk down the beach to the Apache Pier which has fishing, nightly live entertainment, and weekly church services. My kids love to save their quarters to visit the arcade and also run around “dancing” to the music there at night. In addition, we have enjoyed visiting several dinner theaters and shows but mostly find that there are plenty of things to do in Myrtle Beach without spending a lot of money.
What you like best about this beach: Many people think of Myrtle Beach as crowded but at this resort it is luxury without the crowd. The Fall and Spring are our favorite times to visit Myrtle Beach as the weather is perfect and the water is warm. There are no waiting lists at restaurants and the activities are plentiful. We enjoy all the comforts of home and we especially love that it is only a four hour drive.
Downfalls of staying in this area: I don’t know of any downfalls except that it can be crowded dining out at night.
Downfalls of staying in this area: Myrtle Beach can be pretty crowded during the summers.
Tips for staying in this area: You can cut down on rental rates if you share a condominium with extended family or friends. Many restaurants offer early bird pricing and you can print a lot of coupons for shopping from the Tanger Outlets website.
Pawleys Island + Litchfield Beach, SC
Compiled by: Colleen Taylor
Distance from Triad: 4:30
Favorite place to stay: PI and Litchfield beach are really just two stretches of beach that run down south of Myrtle beach, it confuses people that PI is a very small island but the town area around it is also referred to as PI. Litchfield is just North up the beach. Both beach areas are great! Litchfield is extremely family friendly, has one main resort – Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort (look online for deals and coupons, especially for holidays, spring break, etc) with so many different accommodations from condos, hotel rooms, efficiencies and pricier options. All the amenities you could ever want, great in-resort biking trails but great trails to go to the grocery store and restaurants nearby. I love to stay at the resort but also have rented great family houses either on (or very cost effectively off ocean) and I tend to use the local beach vacation rental companies such as James Smith Realty (www.jwsre.com) or Lachicotte Realty (www.lachicotte.com) to rent both condos and homes. On Pawleys Island (the actual island) they still rent some amazingly wonderful old style cottages with the slamming screen doors and knotty pine walls. I love the marshland and creek area and have in the past couple years started renting closer to the creek because my boys and I love to spend our late afternoons in the creek looking for hermit crabs and other tiny life forms. The island is nothing short of spectacular if you love what they call “the shabby life.” There are some gorgeous mansions and some tiny old well loved places on the island. My warning to folks with kids is, make sure you get a house that is not too tightly situated between two jetty’s….look far north and far south. The jetty’s can cause some current issues and in rip tide kids can get sucked over toward the jetty’s on play boats, rafts, boogie boards.
Favorite Dining Spots: Murrels Inlet is a stretch of nothing but wonderful restaurants on the marsh. For breakfast, you must stop at Eggs Up Grill in Litchfield area! For a little dress up and go out with the adults and eat great food (you can still wear flip flops), try Franks.
Favorite Attractions: This is a beach going area with great restaurants but not a bit riddled with ticky tacky beach shops and entertainment villages. But, in 25 minutes you can be in Myrtle Beach. Right in Litchfield are two gorgeous places for the not so young folks, Brookgreen Gardens is a spectacular sculpture garden and Atalaya across the street is a beautiful piece of ruin that was once the home of the sculptor whose work is in the gardens. My boys and I love a quick trip in the morning to Huntington Beach State park where you pay a small fee to drive in, park and walk out to observe the alligators sunning themselves on the banks. You are never too old (or young) to be fascinated with the gators…just don’t feed them!! Super fun for the little ones (and I mean really fun!) is the Pirate Ship Adventure out of Captain Dicks Marina in Murrells Inlet. Also may other great fishing charter options from here. We love to surf and fish as well. Great surfing lessons and easy to sign up by just walking into Surf The Earth in PI and making arrangements there, you can do individual (I do recommend this for beginners, you can do two kids at a time) or they have camp all summer long. If you are into fishing there are some great charter boat options out of Murrells Inlet and down in Georgetown, SC which is about 20 minutes south and worth the trip down there to see historic Georgetown (we love the indoor fish tank at the River Room, keeps kids busy while you wait for your food!)
What you like best about this beach: There is a wonderful feeling in Pawleys Island, it’s situated in the SC Low Country which naturally gives it a more laid back pace. The traffic is not an issue, the people are friendly and accommodating and everything you need, I mean everything, is situated between 3-4 traffic lights on Hwy 17. You can stay in and cook night after night with food supplies from places as plentiful as The Fresh Market, or you can dine out to your hearts content. Every restaurant is kid-friendly but you don’t have to compromise your food taste so your kids can come along. And everywhere you go, flip flops are welcome!
Downfalls of staying in this area: I cannot see a downfall unless you have someone with you that wanted smoky nightclubs, crowds on the beach and general chaos!
Tips for staying in the area: Contact Carol Barr at Sand Bar Real Estate Company. She knows the island by the back of her hand! And when you rent from her you may get fresh eggs from her chickens as part of your deal 🙂 Carol rents several houses in the area, will give you great service and she also has several condo’s at the only mid-rise condo building on N. Litchfield beach, one of my favorite family places. Rental homes on the beach book out sometimes a year in advance. You can always find something or somewhere but planning ahead is key. If you have kids and they aren’t school age, try to take advantage of the later August dates when the rate drops and it is a bit more quiet. I learned a little known trick years ago when I went with my not-yet-walking twins. If you call the rental agencies and ask if they have a babysitter list, they will refer you to a sitter in the area. Many of the sitters in the area will bring a friend or parent if your group is very large so they can accommodate the whole lot of you!
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