You’ve decided to go to the beach for your family vacation. How do you pick the right beach? Whether you’re headed to California, Florida, the Caribbean or Mexico, make sure you consider what you really want out of your vacation before you book. The best beach for your family depends on the ages of your children, your activity level and most importantly, if you want a relaxed beach getaway or an exciting beach adventure. Let’s narrow down your preferences so you can really have the beach vacation of your dreams.

Do you want plenty of amenities or total isolation? Families with babies, toddlers and younger children may feel more comfortable being in close proximity to amenities like grocery stores, kid-friendly restaurants and full-service hotels. With all these things in walking distance, you’ll be able to pick last-minute or emergency items if necessary. Families with older children or teens might be interested in finding a more remote beach where they can escape from electronics (let’s hope!) and spend quality time together.

Do you prefer beach walks or other water/land activities? Many beaches have great boardwalks, perfect for long walks in the stroller or for children to ride bikes and scooters. Parents who want to exercise on vacation will also love these lively beaches, where they can walk or run in the company of others and with a nice view. Other beaches, such as those with calm water, are catered to water activities like kayaking, snorkeling or swimming. If you plan to get active on your trip, make sure you find a beach with the right style of activities for you.  

Will your kids play in the water or just in the sand? It often pays to research in advance the water temperatures and water quality of the beach you’re considering. Ocean water near a rivermouth, lagoon or in some other less-regulated countries can be pretty bad for a developing immune system. Also, while children don’t seem to mind cold temperatures, it will affect the amount of time they can stay in the water. Unless you’re in the Caribbean or southern parts of Mexico, water will probably not be warm enough for a sensitive child (or her mother!) That said, sandcastle building and playing with sand toys can keep kids occupied for a long time.  

Are you fine “beachin’ it” all day or do you have other sights in mind? You can love the beach so much that you’re fine hanging there for a week… Or you can love the beach but feel the need to explore the area around you. If you think you’ll need a break from the bathing suit, pick a beach near an amusement park or children’s museum. The nice thing about the beach is that it’s cheap entertainment, which allows you to spend a little more taking the kids to see the sights. Your toddler might be happy spending every day at the beach (not knowing what else is out there), but an older child or teen could truly love an unexpected trip to a theme park or arcade.

Can you break the bank or are you sticking to a budget? Accomodations near the beach range from a decent motel at $50 a night to a luxury stay at the Ritz Carlton for upwards of $400 a night. Pick a beach near a lot of other things to do and the price usually goes up. The more isolated beaches can offer discounted rates, especially out of season or if the location requires a lot of effort to get to. Remember to think about add-ons like a continental breakfast, which can provide you with boxes of cereal or bananas for easy toddler snacks, and a buffet, where your growing child can get his fill while still being picky.

Don’t run yourself ragged on a family vacation trying to make everyone happy. Pick the right destination for your family. If you’re traveling to California, check out my reviews of the best beaches for families: Carlsbad State Beach (Legoland!), Stinson Beach, and Laguna Beach.

Photo by m.mate