By TMoM team member Katie Moosbrugger
Whether you’re looking to head to the beach this summer or later this year, we have a great list of recommended family beaches all along the East coast, thanks to TMoM members, readers and fans.
We hope these tips & suggestions from other local moms will help you choose a beach location that fits your family’s needs and wants. If you have a beach to add to our “favorites” list, email us here.
This blog will be archived under our Recreation category and linked on our Directories page.
Delaware Family Beaches
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, Arena’s Deli (voted Best of DE for sandwiches and lunch spot)
Favorite Attractions: Funland on the boardwalk, 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 and traffic is heavy. 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.
Florida Family Beaches
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 Lauderdale, FL (Deerfield Beach and Boca Raton)
Compiled by: Laura Simon
Distance from Triad: 11-12 hours driving distance. You can also fly into Hollywood International Airport.
Favorite place to stay: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach, The Westin Fort Lauderdale, W Fort Lauderdale, Wyndham Deerfield Beach
Favorite Dining Spots: Max’s Grille in Mizner Park, The Whale’s Rib in Deerfield Beach doesn’t look fancy, but the seafood is fantastic. JB’s on the Beach offers beautiful views and good food. Kelly’s Landing in Fort Lauderdale is similar to The Whale’s Rib: great seafood at a fair price.
Favorite Attractions: Shopping and eating in Mizner Park, parasailing, jet-ski rentals, day trip to the Everglades for an airboat tour.
What you like best about this beach: The Fort Lauderdale / Boca Raton / Deerfield Beach area boasts some of the prettiest white-sand beaches around. Waves are usually manageable and even little kids can play in the water. There’s no shortage of shopping and other amenities in the area.
Downfalls of staying in this area: This is an expensive area. Much of the beach access is controlled by high-rise condos and hotels, so you pretty much need to spring for lodging within walking distance. If beachfront lodging is too pricey, try to stay in the intracoastal waterway, which will put you a block or two from the beach. Consider bringing a wagon if you’re a family that takes lots of gear to the beach. In general, the area is densely populated, so be prepared for lots of people.
Tips for staying in this area: Be mentally prepared that everything is going to take longer than it would in the Triad; traffic is heavy even in the off-season. That’s not a deal-breaker for us (the beaches are worth it), but it helps to manage expectations. If you do stay further inland (we typically stay with my in-laws), Deerfield Beach has the most public (metered) parking. There’s also a small beachfront park in Boca Raton. Deerfield is the most family-friendly area.
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 fancier dinner out, Salt Water Cowboys (closer north to St. Augustine) is one of my all-time favorite restaurants. Other suggestions can be found on this link.
Favorite Attractions: Marineland (like a mini Sea World – no rides but you can swim with dolphins!) 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. (Scroll down for more ideas in St. Augustine which is so close!)
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!
Key West, FL
Compiled by: Suzy Fielders
Distance from Triad: 14.5 hours (with tolls – without tolls its 17.5 hours).
Favorite place to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites Key West – The pool here was nice but it was far from downtown. If you plan to do more things downtown, I recommend looking into options near Duval Street. Someone on the TMoM team recommended this place in downtown Key West (very close to Duvall Street). It’s definitely not fancy, but it’s fun and quirky with plenty of roosters!
Favorite Dining Spots: Old Town Tavern & Beer Garden and Margaritaville. There are a variety of food choices on Duval Street that every member of the family is sure to love.
Favorite Attractions: This is a great place to try out or do water sports and excursions. I highly recommend snorkeling and a sunset cruise in Key West! Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has a cool fort to tour. If you want to take a break from a lot of walking, consider renting scooters for your family (if your kids are old enough). It’s affordable and lots of fun! Make sure to to head to Sunset Pier for the nightly Sunset Celebrations in Mallory Square! And of course, don’t leave before getting a family picture at Southernmost Point Buoy.
What you like best about this beach: There are actually only two main beaches in Key West. The most popular one is Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park Beach. There is a nice little café right by the beach for drinks or lunch. The other beach – Simonton Beach – is at the end of Simonton Street right near downtown Key West. It is small but quiet and Lagerheads Beach Bar has tasty drinks!
Downfalls of staying in this area: It gets very busy in Key West, especially the downtown area around Duval Street. Watch out for all the roosters walking around!
Tips for staying in this area: It is an exceptionally long drive from the Triad, so I highly recommend flying there. Another option is flying into Miami (tons of great beaches & attractions there as well) and then driving to Key West. It is just under a four-hour drive.
St. Augustine, FL
Compiled by: Suzy Fielders
Distance from Triad: 7.5 hours.
Favorite place to stay: Courtyard St. Augustine Beach – it is only one block over from the beach and right near a public beach access point.
Favorite Dining Spots: The square across from Castillo de San Marcos has several wonderful restaurants. We loved the Meehan’s Irish Pub & Seafood House and Casa Maya. There is literally something for every taste in this square! Also, Salt Water Cowboys comes highly recommended too!
Favorite Attractions: Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the square across the road. There are so many restaurants and shops in those squares. Click HERE to see TMoM’s blog for more fun ideas in St. Augustine!
What you like best about this beach: It is relatively low-key and plenty of space to spread out. The ocean is calm on most days.
Downfalls of staying in this area: St. Augustine beach is not near old St. Augustine (the area that has everything to do.) I recommend staying near the beach to make it easier for beach days, but you will have to drive to the downtown area. While mileage-wise it is not far between the two spots, with traffic it is about a 20-minute drive.
Tips for staying in this area: It involves a lot of walking when you visit the fort and square, so be sure to have good walking shoes. There are a lot of street vendors that offer cool services too, such as hair-wrapping. I fondly remember getting a hair wrap there when I was a kid!
Georgia Family Beaches
Compiled by: Katie Moosbrugger
Distance from Triad: 6.5 hours
Favorite place to stay: There are not many places to stay on this tiny island, but I would recommend one of the hotels and not an airbnb (houses are older and not near the beach). We stayed at the Westin and its location was perfect. It was directly on the beach and within walking distance to shops and a few eateries. Plus it has a cute pool/hot tub area with a beachy outdoor bar area and live music.
Favorite dining spot: As mentioned, this island is TINY, but there are a few places for causal meals out. We opted for more casual dining while we were there, and loved our dinner at Tortuga Jack’s – it had a Key West atmosphere and the food was delicious. For an easy lunch or dinner, Red Bug Motor Pizza was a hit with our kids. When we first arrived, we had lunch as McGarvey’s Wee Pub, an Irish pub/restaurant. There is also a marketplace take out in the same shopping area as McGarvey’s which was the perfect choice for sandwiches on the beach. We also heard good things about Zachry’s Riverhouse, although we never made it there. You can find more formal dining options inside the beachfront hotels.
Favorite Attractions: Bike riding (many hotels offer bike rentals) on the 25 miles of paved trails, Driftwood Beach (pictured), Summer Waves Waterpark, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and the historical downtown area.
What you like best about this beach: If you’re seeking a slow paced, laid back beach vacation, this is a great spot!
Downfalls of staying in this area: Since the island is so small, there is not a lot to do for entertainment, and not a ton of dining or shopping options.
Tips for staying in this area: This beach is best for a short visit, especially since you will most likely be in a hotel and not in a rental home. A great way to extend your vacation to this area, is to visit St. Simon’s Island and/or Savannah – both are short drives!
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 has the 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.
Maryland Family Beaches
Ocean City, MD
Compiled By: Laura Dydek
Distance from Triad: 7(ish) hours
Favorite place to stay: Our family rents a condo anywhere between 40th and 60th street. This area is ideal because it keeps you away from the boardwalk traffic and crowds but is easy access to all the attractions and easy access to the Rt 90 bridge. There are lots of condos available and plenty of hotels as well.
Favorite Dining Spots: Phillips Seafood, Dough Roller for pizza night, Macky’s, Fagers Island, Barn 34 for brunch, Bayside Skillet, Ropewalk’s
Favorite Attractions: With young kids, Jolly Roger is always a hit. The boardwalk is a fun family night as well. We always make sure to to take a trip to Candy Kitchen and Fishers Popcorn for treats to bring home. There are tons of places for mini golf, arcade games, and water spots!
What you like best about this beach: There is something for everyone in Ocean City Maryland and if you are making a full trip out of it, you are not far from DC or Philadelphia. The beach is a great attraction, but there is something new on every block and you will never be bored!
Downfalls of staying in this area: The beaches are very busy during peak season.
Tips for staying in this area: With it being a very popular beach, going early in the season or late is your best bet!
North Carolina Family Beaches
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. 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. In Emerald Island, check out Caribsea. 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).
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, fishi 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. In the summers evenings at “The Circle” (located oceanfront 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 has great bowling for family fun. Atlantic Beach also has a Skateboard park and Mini Golf at the Town 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.
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.)
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. Read my TMoM blog HERE for more ideas about Bald Head Island!
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 high 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.
Compiled By: Felicity Lewis
Distance from Triad: 3 1/2 – 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: Carolina Beach has great condos and house rentals as well as a few hotels. We love the accessibility to the beach from really any location on the island.
Favorite Dining Spots: Britt’s Donut shop
Favorite Attractions: The downtown area always has fun events for the family and often throughout the summer there are fireworks!
What you like best about this beach: Easy to get to the beach but also not far from more activities in Wilmington. There are also lifeguards that patrol the beach.
Downfalls of staying in this area: It is further away that other beaches to the Triad.
Tips for staying in this area: Renting near a beach access is easiest so that you can easily head back for restroom breaks. Visit my TMoM blog HERE for more ideas about Carolina Beach!
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: Tubing on the Intracoastal Waterway, 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: Felicity Lewis
Distance from Triad: 3 1/2 – 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: We always utilize AirBnB or HomeAway when booking a house. There are so many home rentals for a great price. That way you can go with a large group or find a smaller house if it is just your family. Kure Beach also has military house rentals which are a great deal for those in the military.
Favorite Dining Spots: A family favorite of ours at Kure Beach is Freddie’s Restaurant. It is great Italian food for when you want a break from seafood!
Favorite Attractions: NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and Fort Fisher Historic Center are great attractions to visit. You get a discount if you have a member to Greensboro Science Center at the Aquarium. They also have a fun Dinosaur exhibit outside which is really fun for kids. If you are a history buff definitely check out Fort Fisher for some North Carolina history.
What you like best about this beach: It is further out so there are less tourists that visit this beach. Easier parking and less people make for a more relaxing beach experience.
Downfalls of staying in this area: It is further away from places to eat and shopping. There are also not as many options for housing as other beaches.
Tips for staying in this area: Stop at the grocery store on your way onto the island. Traffic back towards Wilmington can be hectic so it is easier to stay once you get there!
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.
Outer Banks, NC (Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Corolla, Duck)
Compiled by: Laura Simon
Distance from Triad: 4- to 5-hour drive from the Triad
Favorite place to stay: Go for an AirBNB or rental house or condo. There aren’t many hotel options.
Favorite Dining Spots: Duck Donuts (the original store is in Duck, but there are locations up and down the island). Art’s Place in Kitty Hawk. Miller’s Seafood and Steakhouse in Kill Devil Hills. Dare Devil’s Pizzeria.
Favorite Attractions: The beach, of course. Jockey’s Ridge State Park is an impressive collection of huge sand dunes. Be prepared: it is surprisingly strenuous hiking. You can sled down the sand just like you would in snow. I recommend going in the evening and watching the sun set over the sound. Wild Horse Tours in Corolla. Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the surrounding historic town. Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Downfalls of staying in this area: During peak season, traffic can be very challenging. Many of the small hotels and condos are somewhat dated.
Tips for staying in this area: Stay on or within easy walking distance of the beach in order to avoid traffic headaches. Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and Kitty Hawk are more built up; this is great if you want access to grocery stores and convenience restaurants, but not if you’re looking for peace and quiet. If you want more quiet and seclusion, look in Duck, Currituck, or Corolla.
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: One of our favorites is 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.
Favorite Dining Spots: For the southern end (Topsail Beach), we love the Beach Shop & Grill (and their resident English bulldog in the gift shop). In the center of the island in Surf City, our favorite spots are Sears Landing, Beauchaines 211, and Daddy Mac’s. Honestly we love to cook in our rental and enjoy the view – JM’s Seafood Market and Surf City Crab Market offer fresh selections daily and the local produce stand, Andrew’s Produce is open from May 1 – Labor Day. Another local favorite is Shaka Taco for super casual and delicious outdoor eats.
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 many parks on the island, Soundside Park is in Surf City and offers movies in the park, concerts and great views of the sunset. 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 opening of the new high bridge, 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: Blockade Runner
Favorite Dining Spots: Sweet and Savory, Dockside, Our Crepes and More, Fish House, Circa 1922. A couple of restaurants in downtown Wilmington that have been recommended include Elijah’s and The Fork ‘N’ Cork. For more dining ideas around Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, visit this TMoM blog HERE.
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. The NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher (at Kure Beach) is not far, and Wilmington does have other attractions like the ones found HERE in this link.
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.
South Carolina Family Beaches
Cherry Grove, SC
Compiled by: Rachel Hoeing
Distance from Triad: average 4 hours
Favorite place to stay: We have rented a few different houses/condos 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. You can also find some rentals on the border of N Myrtle and Cherry Grove on the Condo World website here.
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 the 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 & Leigh Munley
Distance from Triad: 5-6 hours
Favorite place to stay: Sea Pines neighborhood – either a rental home or a condo. We have stayed at Lighthouse Tennis Complex a few times and it is a great location. 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, Crazy Crab, Skull Creek Boathouse, 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, H2O Sports in Harbor Town: Parasailing, kayaking and canoeing, dolphin tours, pirate cruises, Tanger Outlets, shops and restaurants at Coligny are great, too. Something fun for families is to do a marsh tour at HoneyHorn center and/or a zodiac tour (rubber rafts tours go out of south beach and harbor town). There is also a great zip line course. Pinckney Island Preserve is a great place for a long hike and or remote shelling/biking. Similarly, the sea pines forest preserve is a good hike/bike. Lawton Stables offers trail rides through the forest preserve. You can also catch a ferry to Daufuskie Island and spend the day exploring this island on golf carts (Pat Conroy wrote book called The Water is Wide about the time he spent there teaching the remote children there in 1970s.)
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. All in all, it is one of the most beautiful beaches we have visited on the east coast.
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, and there are so many safe and shaded pathways to discover. We have also rented bikes from hiltonheadbikerental.com. 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.
Isle of Palms, SC
Compiled by: Suzy Fielders
Distance from Triad: 4.5 hours
Favorite place to stay: Residence Inn Charleston Mt. Pleasant – these have suites and kitchenettes, which is perfect for family vacation stays.
Favorite Dining Spots: Coconut Joe’s and Burton’s Grill & Bar
Favorite Attractions: Honestly, when we come here, we spend most days and time at the beach. The pool at the hotel mentioned above is also nice, and not usually crowded. Occasionally, we take a day trip to Charleston to walk around downtown and check out the South Carolina Aquarium. For more ideas in Charleston, visit TMoM’s blog here!
What you like best about this beach: It is a very family-friendly, fun beach. There are a lot of dining options right at the beach. The sand is soft, and the waves rarely get big.
Downfalls of staying in this area: The beach can get crowded, especially during the summer. Traffic in the area is always heavy as well.
Tips for staying in this area: If you stay at the above hotel, it is about a 10-minute drive from the beach. If you are wanting to stay closer to the beach, there are a few options on the beach. They tend to fill up fast though, so book those early.
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.
Litchfield Beach, SC
Compiled by: Robin Fulk
Distance from Triad: 4 hrs
Favorite place to stay: My parents have a time share at North Litchfield Beach, so that is where we always stay. The Dieter Company is great to go through to find the perfect house or condo to rent at North Litchfield or Litchfield. North Litchfield is a tiny little beach with its own turn off of Hwy 17. Beautiful houses and beach, and it’s not crowded at all. The only place to stay at North Litchfield other than renting a house is Litchfield Retreat, which is not ocean front but just one row back with good views and a pool. Drive a few miles south down 17 and you are at Litchfield. Litchfield By the Sea and the Litchfield Inn are wonderful places to stay there! If you drive a little further south, you come to Pawley’s Island. I have never stayed there, but it’s a favorite of many! On Pawleys Island (the actual island) they still rent some amazingly wonderful old style cottages with the slamming screen doors and knotty pine walls.
Favorite Dining Spots: Franks is wonderful for a nice meal, and we love bisQit at the Hammock Shops at Pawleys Island for a more casual meal. For breakfast, check out Eggs Up Grill! And you MUST go to Kudzu Bakery first thing in the morning and get some cinnamon rolls!!!! They are truly the yummiest thing I’ve ever tasted!!! No other cinnamon roll that I have ever tried even compares! They bake them fresh every morning (except Sundays when they are closed), and during the busy months you will see a line at the door waiting for them to open. They sell out fast as they don’t make a ton of them, so be there when they open! I promise they are worth it!! There are other yummy things at Kudzu, but these are the favorites. Kudzu is also a great place to pick up some wine, deli items, and pre-made entrees to cook at home.
Favorite Attractions: The beach is the main attraction here! Not much else to do which is nice in my opinion! Brookgreen Gardens is a spectacular sculpture garden right off of 17. There is the Pirate Ship Adventure out of Captain Dicks Marina in Murrells Inlet, just a few miles north of North Litchfield. That’s a fun and different thing for the kids to do. 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. Other than that you will need to drive up to Myrtle for attractions.
What you like best about this beach: Litchfield is a family beach…which I love! Not too crowded, not cheesy, not commercialized. If you want a day or night of that, you only have to drive 30 miles north to Myrtle, and then come back to the laid back quiet pace of Litchfield. 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: No downfalls unless you like to have tons to do, in which case this beach isn’t for you. But again, just head north for an adventure. If you want to have a real beach trip actually spending time on the beach with your family, Litchfield is perfect!!
Tips for staying in the area: Paradice Ice Cream has literally every kind of frozen treat you could want!! Homemade ice cream, soft serve, dipped cones, frozen yogurt, smoothies, sorbet, gelato, toppings, milk shakes, and more! And it is all so delicious!! Also there is a Starbucks inside the main lobby of Litchfield by the Sea, which is sort of a hidden secret. The only Starbucks in the area, but it’s open to anyone. You don’t have to be staying there.
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, Lulu‘s, Margaritaville, 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. (You might want to confirm all this since we are not totally out of Covid yet). 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.
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.
Sullivan’s Island, SC
Compiled by: Laura Simon
Distance from Triad: 5 hours
Favorite place to stay: Rental homes (use sites like AirBNB)
Favorite Dining Spots: Poe’s Tavern, The Obstinate Daughter (did they name this after me?), Vickery’s Bar and Grill in Mt. Pleasant, Swig and Swine in Mt. Pleasant (I’m not usually one to go crazy for Bar-b-que, but this is AMAZING.)
Favorite Attractions: The beach is the big draw on this tiny island. There’s a cute downtown area with local shopping and art galleries. Fort Moutrie if you’re into history. If you want to drive, Mt. Pleasant is just across the sound. In addition to a wealth of local businesses, the Mt. Pleasant Pier is part of a huge city park with a shaded playground, fishing spots, ice cream, and beautiful views. Shem Creek Park is a great place to go boating or paddle boarding, and you can watch dolphins in the creek from the network of boardwalks. Downtown Charleston is only 30 minutes away, and it certainly merits at least a day trip. For more ideas in Charleston, visit TMoM’s blog here!
What you like best about this beach: Since there aren’t any big hotels on the beach, this is a very peaceful, family-friendly beach. The views are beautiful in all directions. You can easily walk and ride bikes in the residential areas.
Downfalls of staying in this area: There’s plenty of public beach access, but parking is largely on-street and can be tight in peak season. There also aren’t any public restrooms, so it helps to stay nearby. In addition, the area can be pricey.
Tips for staying in this area: If you’re planning to eat on the island, plan ahead or be prepared to wait. There aren’t a ton of options on the island itself. Dining on Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant is an incredible experience; most restaurants have decks overlooking the creek, and you can watch dolphins swim up and down while you eat. If you have bikes, bring them. They’re a great way to get around Sullivan’s Island. If you have access to a kitchen, plan to do your shopping in Mt. Pleasant before you head to the island.
For more Day Trip ideas, click HERE!
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I am from Canada and have always wanted to come down there and see some of the cool beaches you guys have. I also love food and know you Americans do it right. Thanks for making this, I will be able to use it when I go!
Don’t forget to eat at the Shark Shack if going to Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores area!
I’m from Delaware. You totally missed Thrasher’s French Fries (absolutely the BEST!), Grottos Pizza and Nicola’s creator of the Nic-O-Boli to add to your list. Great breakfast at EGG. If you’re going without the kids, Starboard in Dewey Beach has a great Sunday brunch and bloody mary bar.