For diversity of nature on a budget, few beaches in the western hemisphere can rival this little island in the Lighthouse Reef atoll on the Belize barrier reef. Half Moon Caye is a national park, with crystal clear waters and world-class wall diving. Because the area is completely undeveloped, it’s absolutely teeming with marine creatures and birds. It happens to be the breeding ground for the hemisphere’s only red-footed booby colony.
Although it’s situated in a gated luxury community of golf courses and vacation homes, there’s an untouched beauty to the surrounding nature trails and mangrove forests. That means guests at Magdalena Grand Beach Resort enjoy the thrills of back-to-nature adventure combined with the perks of a large resort development. All 178 rooms have marble baths, high-def flat screens, and ocean-view balconies.
We’ve never found a beach we didn’t love, so to help us narrow down the list, we asked Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, to lend us his expertise. Every year, he picks America’s top 10 beaches after considering factors such as sand softness, water temperature, pollution, and views. Dr. Beach is currently the director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, but when he isn’t working, he retreats to his favorite seashore, Cape Florida State Park.
Taking the family to the beach can create lifelong memories, as long as every member of the family is satisfied. To help you choose your next family beach vacation, U.S. News considered factors like safe waters, kid-friendly attractions, dining options, spacious accommodations and multigenerational appeal to determine the list below. Weigh in by voting below, then use this list to plan your upcoming travels.

The fishing town of Wells, Maine, is made up of harbors, beaches, and nature reserves. From modest fishing boats to luxurious yachts, boat owners can dock at Wells Harbor. The coastline provides almost 4 miles of beaches. The longest stretch, Wells Beach, is almost a mile long, and here guests can enjoy the view from the sandy dunes and grassy knolls. In the summertime, music concerts in the gazebos are common and always free. The town is also home to an annual chili festival, where chili makers can compete in the World Chili Championship Cook-Offs.
Budget for the trip: If you’re a diver, trips are a pretty good value with a full day of three dives and a long boat ride for about $250. Flights to Belize City are about $350 from US hubs, though San Pedro is the nearest city. There, nicer hotels set you back about $90 a night, but you can find decent ones for $50. Your daily cost aside from diving is under $30.
When planning your dream beach vacation, be sure you know what you want and what you are getting. This may seem obvious, but during our travels we’ve talked to enough disappointed vacationers to say that this is the most important point when choosing the best beach vacation for you. While a resort on the beach in Thailand may sound fun and exotic compared to Southern California, be sure to consider everything that the trip entails: the cost, long airplane flight, recommended vaccinations, etc.
Free iPad rentals, white-on-white leather furnishings, cute naming conventions (B Active gym, B Nourished restaurant)—sound familiar? If it weren’t for the rates, you could mistake this hotel for a pricer single-letter chain (cough, W, cough). But we love how the 240-room B Ocean does affordable without nickel-and-diming guests. Wi-Fi is free, ocean views are standard, and spa services are a bargain.

Don’t Miss: Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where you’ll lose yourself in the massive sand dunes. Take a sunset hike to the top of the ridge or try your hand at hang-gliding; the soft sand is a forgiving landing pad, and defying gravity is a local tradition (the Wright brothers took flight in nearby Kitty Hawk). Alternatively, take to two wheels and check out the terrain on a rented bike.
For summer R&R that includes gallery hopping, wine sipping and spa going, this upscale beach community located about 90 minutes north of San Diego is ideal. Several large resorts — Montage Laguna Beach, The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and Surf & Sand Resort among them — are set along the area's picturesque cliffs and are perfect for a romantic couple's escape or a girlfriends' getaway. The town is a longtime art colony (with more than 100 galleries), so it's easy to find a one-of-a-kind souvenir, while the region's focus on healthy California cuisine means you'll eat well, too.
Most Roatan tourists come for the diving and snorkeling, which is among the best in the Caribbean. Besides the coral reefs, you can explore shipwrecks and go on dives specifically to swim with sharks and dolphins. You can also visit a butterfly garden, go horseback riding on the beach, shop at local art galleries, or just relax at one of several open-air seafood restaurants and bars.

Oahu is expensive but has some of Hawaii's most inviting beaches. Head to Waikiki Beach, where the water remains relatively calm and lifeguards are always present. When you need a break from the beach, trek the kid-friendly Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail or explore some of the island's historic sights, such as the Battleship Missouri Memorial. Read More »

A popular spring break destination, South Padre Island can be touristy, but it’s not without its charms. Snag a table on the patio at The Café on the Beach to tuck into fresh shrimp tacos, crab cakes, grilled snapper and tortilla soup, or opt for a grab-and-go meal at Ceviche Ceviche (the mahi mahi with fresh mango and avocado is to-die-for). When you want to venture outdoors, there’s the boardwalk along the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, the beachfront Isla Blanca Park (a popular picnic spot), and the 70-mile Padre Island National Seashore, the world’s longest undeveloped barrier island, just three hours away. The Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island is steps from the beach and offers spacious rooms from $130/night.
Although every mile of California's historic, narrow, twisting, and epic-view-blessed Highway 1 is an adventure, this 280-mile stretch from San Francisco to the Lost Coast region is marked by a remarkable string of near-empty beaches. Take as many days as possible to allow for stops for long walks and beachcombing, not to mention enjoying the inns, restaurants, markets, wineries, and breweries that line the route. For places to lay your head down, don't miss Nick's Cove on Tomales Bay (shown here) with 12 vintage cottages, including a string right on the water, plus an old-school bar and charming restaurant. The Sea Ranch Lodge has maintained its modern aesthetic, a perfect match for killer views over bluffs to the Pacific. Point Arena's restored Coast Guard House overlooks a glistening narrow cove and puts out a memorable full breakfast. Shelter Cove's Inn of the Lost Coast is a low-key hideaway with sweeping ocean vistas. Book it here: Nick's Cove, Sea Ranch Lodge, and Coast Guard House.
Jamaica is a top destination for couples celebrating their honeymoons and anniversaries, but it has beaches well-suited to travelers regardless of whether you’re celebrating something or not. You can find direct flights to Montego Bay from many cities, and Ocho Rios tends to be even more affordable than Montego Bay. You’ll find plenty of all-inclusive resorts here, but also small hotels that are near local restaurants and bars that offer cheap eats and drinks. While in the Ocho Rios area, you can spend lots of time on the sandy beaches and go hiking and swimming by waterfalls.

Where to stay: To see the rainforest and its many colorful bird species, stay in an eco-lodge or go on a day tour with a local guide. The Cuffie River Nature Retreat, a reasonably priced eco-lodge located on the edge of the rainforest, offers a variety of nature tours including birding walks and visits to secluded waterfalls and natural pools. If you’d prefer to stay near the beach, try the intimate Hummingbird Hotel.
Villas are famously cheap in Phuket. You can rent an entire apartment in Phuket Town for as little as $26 a night, or a 2-bedroom villa with private pool for $48 per night. You can even afford to splurge on a beachfront villa with private pool, like this 3-bedroom (accommodating six guests) for $379 a night. With 6 people, that's $63 per person per night.
With pet-friendly beaches, local brewery tours, and adventurous watersports, Virginia Beach is the ideal place for a family to find their own adventure. Visitors can navigate the city with a bike rental or take a stroll on the 3-mile boardwalk. Visitors looking for a tranquil place to unwind will find it at Chesapeake Bay Beach with its calm tide and lighthouses. For those looking to surf, kayak, or hike, Sandbridge Beach encompasses the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, two natural spots that are great for the nature-inclined. Visitors who want fresh seafood will enjoy going on an educational and fun oyster tour with a local. Next read: Things to Do in Virginia Beach, 15 Best Dog-Friendly Hotels in Virginia Beach
This charming beach town is super accessible, particularly for Houstonians who only have to drive 45 minutes to get there. And once you arrive, you can get just about anywhere by foot, so there's no need for pricey cabs or rental cars. Learn about the historic island city, one of the country’s leading ports in the 19th century, at Moody Mansion, the former home of one of Galveston’s founding families, or at the East End Historical District, where you’ll find a dazzling string of restored Victorian landmarks. From there, tuck into a diet-busting feast of hush puppies, corn on the cob, and three-pound platters of steamed crawdads at Benno’s on the Beach, a casual waterfront hang with an outdoor patio and wallet-friendly prices. Your Victorian-inspired digs at the Tremont House are the perfect place to kick back and relax after a long day of exploring.
The most immaculate resort in Myrtle Beach is waiting at the beautiful Bali Bay Resort! Guests can experience the ultimate in a Myrtle Beach vacation among one of their elegant and sleek condos, ranging from two bedroom oceanview condos to deluxe seven bedroom oceanfront penthouse villas. With tremendous accommodations and second-to-none location right on the sandy shores of the Myrtle Beach shoreline, a higher class of Grand Strand getaway is guaranteed.
Oahu: When planning a vacation in Hawaii, the first step is to decide where to go. Each island is different, offering a choice of accommodation, activities and scenery. The most famous destination in Hawaii is Waikiki on the island of Oahu. It's home to numerous hotels and resorts, some right on the sandy shore and others a just a few blocks from it. Travelers come here for their honeymoon, on a family trip and to learn how to surf. The Royal Hawaiian is decorated all in pink. Because of its historic ambiance and romantic atmosphere, the hotel is especially popular with honeymooners. Next to the Royal Hawaiian is the 1,695-room Sheraton Waikiki which offers many rooms overlooking the ocean. If you are looking for a more secluded getaway, reserve a cottage at Turtle Bay on the north end of the island. The resort has two golf courses, a spa and a kid's club.
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Set next to the blue waters of the Grand Traverse Bay is Traverse City, known for its Cherry Festival, scenic driving territory, and quiet cycle and hiking trails with unspoiled views. You’ll want to make a stop at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to discover its beaches (North Bar Lake Beach is particularly stunning), sand dunes, and forests. If you’re more of a lakeside cabin person than sandy beach house, Spider Lake is the perfect spot for kayaking, canoeing, or lounging on the dock.
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