Summers at the beach are, of course, loads of fun for families, but fall offers a whole different experience. Many beach towns have local festivals, more affordable accommodations, and that same gorgeous view without all of the fair-weather beachgoer fans. Check out our list of beach vacations you’ll want to take when the temps drop and the crowds disappear. 

photo: Wendy Altschuler

Cambria, CA

Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, on California’s central coast, sits one of the loveliest little beach towns: Cambria. Visit the historic and famous Hearst Castle, where you can take a tour of the stunning grounds and architecture in the Santa Lucia Mountains with Pacific Ocean views. Spend time exploring Moonstone Beach, where you’ll find all sorts of treasures on the sand. Take the family horseback riding along the shore or visit a family-owned avocado ranch. Consider taking the kids surfing—the waves in the fall are the best of the season when the sea swell is at its best. Don't miss the Cambria Scarecrow Festival in October, featuring over 400 scarecrows as well as fun activities like bowling, painting, biking and fishing. Kids will also love the Halloween parade and trick-or-treating throughout the business district.

Good to know: Part of what makes San Luis Obispo County area amazing is the prime location along California Highway One Discovery Route. Several unique beach towns are strung together along 80 miles of coastline, offering travelers the ability to experience many diverse beaches and an array of fun fall events.

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Door Country, WI

Who would guess that the Midwest would have stunning beaches for families to romp around? Wisconsin, layered in orange and yellow fall colors, offers visitors craggy shorelines, lighthouses and sand dunes. In lovely Door County, kids can go hiking at Whitefish Dunes State Park. You’ll hear the wind blow through the tall grasses and watch Fido bob up and down the sandy dunes. School House Beach, on Washington Island, has the roundest white rocks you’ll ever see, and you’ll find lots of perfectly flat rocks for skipping across the water. Visit one of the many little towns dotting Door County for shopping and dining—there are smaller public beaches downtown as well. In under three hours, you can travel to Madison, Wisconsin, for a more urban experience, and visit Lake Mendota, which offers some of the best fall fishing in the state.

Good to know: Stay at The Edgewater Hotel in Madison, where you’ll rest your head in the heart of downtown, on the water’s edge of Lake Mendota. Visit in late September for Oyster Fest, free and open to the public.

Find out more: See our insider's guide to Door County here

South Padre Island, TX

South Padre Island in Texas is balmy and hot in the summer months and full of tourists, but fall offers a bit of a respite. Located in the southeastern tip of Texas, this barrier island is a protected National Seashore. You’ll find everything you need in the downtown strip, full of shops, dining and resorts, but the beach is where you’ll want to spend most of your time, thanks to the year-long warm weather. Watch the sunset via horseback, play a game of beach volleyball, or test your hand at fishing. Don’t miss Sand Castle Days in October to see amazing sand art come to life while enjoying great food and entertainment.

Good to know: Five miles away sits Port Isabel, home of the Port Isabel Lighthouse, where you can see awesome views of South Padre Island the ocean.

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Nantucket, MA

Just south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts sits lovely Nantucket, where life slows down and moves much slower in autumn. Nantucket Island is just 14 miles long by 3.5 miles wide, with 40% conservation land, which translates to pristine beaches. Through mid-September, children can sing along at the concert series and giggle during the NanPuppet show, which takes place on the bandstand. Other fall events include Nantucket Arts Festival, Fall Restaurant Week, Cranberry Festival, and Cold Turkey Plunge. Several bike paths weave in and out of town, ending at one of the beaches: Madaket Beach, Cisco Beach, Surfside Beach, and Dionis Beach.

Good to know: Nantucket is reachable by ferry boat or plane, year-round, and it’s best to make arrangements ahead of your scheduled travel.

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photo: Jason via Flickr

Cannon Beach & the Oregon Coast

Temperatures along the coast in Oregon are actually quite enjoyable and fairly warm in the fall. Crowd sizes dissipate once school is in session, which means area lodging prices go down, and beaches can be enjoyed with a more private and serene experience. In addition to stunning secluded beaches, in the fall you can also enjoy the lively Jazz Festival in the Nye Beach area, the Salmon Bake at Depoe Bay City Park, the North Coast Seafood Festival, Lincoln City’s Fall Kite Festival, and the super fun Dog Show on the Beach at Cannon Beach.

Good to know: Consider volunteering with your family, and making the adventure a voluntourism experience, at the Great Oregon Fall Beach Clean Up event. Kids will learn to protect the environment and make a real impact along Oregon’s shoreline.  

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Old Orchard Beach & Ogunquite Beach - ME

The state of Maine is known for more than Acadia National Park, its lobster (they’re the largest harvesters in America), Mt. Katahdin, author and resident Steven King, and the L.L Bean Company. Maine is also home to 3,478 miles of coastline (that’s a tad bit more than California) and 3,166 islands off-shore. If you’re a fan of lighthouses, sunrises, and beaches, you and your family will thank your lucky stars for getting to spend time in Maine. Visit Old Orchard Beach for gentle surf and a long pier, with an amusement park and carnival games. Ogunquit Beach, considered to be one of the loveliest stretches of peninsula beach in America, is also well-liked by families due to its accessibility via trolley and easy beach parking. Scarborough Beach State Park is ideal for swimming—the water is the warmest here—and there are multiple hiking trails, fishing opportunities, and boat charters.

Good to Know: The beaches in southern Maine are sandy with glassy water while, further up the coast at the State Parks, you’ll find tidal pools and more peaceful and private beaches. If you’re visiting Acadia National Park, be sure to stop at Sand Beach on Mt. Desert Island for scenic views of the sea. Plus, the sand, made from crushed shells, is pink!

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Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo - Mexico

Quintana Roo, at the southern tip of sun-soaked Mexico, offers a plethora of beach activities for multigenerational families. All along the coastline, sandy beaches with bright azure warm water lure vacationers in for a swim. Cancun is one of the busier and more popular places to visit but the state is also home to several islands, where you’ll find native wildlife, lush greenery and immaculate sand in the Yucatan Peninsula. Isla Mujeres is one of the best islands in the Caribbean Sea, for example, offering families swinging hammocks for resting, tranquil water to splash around in, stunning coral reefs for snorkeling and diving, a little town for shopping, and even an underwater sculpture and art garden near Manchones reef called Isla Contoy National Park. 

Good to Know: If you’re looking for a little adventure, not too far from the sand, consider flying through the jungle on an ATV, zip lining over a tree canopy, swimming in a cenote (with bats hanging overhead and little fish giving you a pedicure below), and dining at Emotions Native Park. Visit Rio Secreto to explore and swim in an underground cave with stalactites and stalagmites. Celebrate Mexican culture with your family aboard a trajinera at Xoximilco, and enjoy live music and food while floating down a canal.

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photo: Gabby Cullen

Ponte Vedra, FL

Nestled in between St. Augustine and Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra is a sleepy little beach town that offers a lot more than sand and surf. Known as the home of the PGA, and the famous TPC Sawgrass Golf course, families can try their hand at 18-holes (the Sawgrass Marriott offers a mini-course on its property), ride bikes and fish in the ponds at Davis Park, rent a Kayak from Palm Valley Outdoors or even take a day trip down to historic St. Augustine. If you stay at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa, there's plenty of fun to be had, including a kids' playroom, scavenger hunt, lawn games and more. And, if you simply must hit the beach? Be sure to look for the fossilized shark's teeth that wash up on the regular. 

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—Wendy Altschuler



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