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 after all the crowds go home.
Ocean City, MD
This beach town is busy and filled with visitors during the summer months, but the fun doesn’t stop once the crowds leave. Ocean City is home to 10 miles of sandy beaches, and there’s a two mile-plus boardwalk that families can stroll all year long. Rent a bike, browse the shops and be sure to stop in at Dolle's for the iconic caramel popcorn and saltwater taffy it's been serving up since 1910. The weather is perfect for a round of miniature golf at Jolly Roger Amusement Park, and for those who love seafood, the good news is, the playground at Fish Tales will be emptier in the fall. Fun fall events include Family Bonfire on the Beach, the O.C.toberfest Beach Maze and the 2019 Great Pumpkin Race. Book a room at Hyatt Place for sweeping ocean views, proximity to the boardwalk and the best pizza in the area at Franco's Pizzeria.
Good to know: The famous Assateague wild ponies are only nine miles away, a totally doable day trip with kids!
Find out more: ococean.com
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.
Find out more: sopadre.com
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, located in nearby town San Simeon, 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.
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 seasonal events.
Find out more: slocal.com
Door County, 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.
Good to know: We've visited Door County at all times of the year: peak fall (October) is epic but also slightly more crowed. September still offers a peek at the colors to come but also has the weather fit for hiking and romping the forests. Even in winter festivals and small-town coziness rule, so there's no bad time to visit Door County.
Find out more: Check out our insider's guide to Door County here.
St. Pete Beach, FL
This hidden gem of a white sand beach just minutes from the Tampa airport is way less know that the nearby Lido Key in Sarasota or the famous Sanibel Island further south. Which just means you can beat the crowds while still getting that relaxed, let’s-chill-on-the-beach-all-day vibe for a fraction of the cost. We love the Sirata Beach Resort for incredibly affordable luxury, located on its own private section of the gorgeous White Sand Beach.
Good to know: When you tire of chillaxing on your cabana, call Free Beach Ride and head into downtown St. Pete (aka St. Petersburg) where you can tour an amazing array of murals sure to wow the kids, shop artisan wares and dine on local gourmet food. The Salvador Dali Museum is just a quick jaunt away.
Find out more: Check out our insider's guide to St. Pete Beach here.
Just south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts sits lovely Nantucket, where life slows down and moves much slower in the offseason. Nantucket Island is just 14 miles long by 3.5 miles wide, with 40% conservation land, which translates to pristine beaches. Several bike paths weave in and out of town, ending at one of the beaches: Madaket Beach, Cisco Beach, Surfside Beach, and Dionis Beach. Plus, there's plenty of family-friendly fun to be had during the fall. Don't miss the 16th Annual Cranberry Festival.
Good to know: Nantucket is reachable year-round by ferry boat or plane, and it’s best to make arrangements ahead of your scheduled travel.
Find out more: nantucket.net
Cannon Beach & the Oregon Coast
Temperatures along the coast in Oregon are actually quite enjoyable and fairly warm in the spring. Crowd sizes dissipate because school is in session, which means area lodging prices go down, and beach days will be a more private and serene experience.
Good to know: Fall into winter brings Haystack Holidays to Cannon Beach. From November through the end of the year there are fun happenings almost every weekend.
Find out more: visittheoregoncoast.com
Old Orchard Beach & Ogunquite Beach, ME
The state of Maine is known for more than Acadia National Park, 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!
Find out more: visitmaine.com
Clearwater Beach, FL
Located on the west central coast of Florida, Clearwater Beach offers miles of white sugar sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters and a laid-back resort town vibe. The coastal gem, which has been named number one beach in America many times over, is reminiscent of a tropical island destination because of its subtropical climate, warm gentle waters and year-round sun. Families who visit this slice of paradise during the post summer months will find lessened crowds and ideal weather conditions for playing on the beach or taking in the area's many family attractions. Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and meet rescued dolphins, Winter and Hope, and Herald the sea turtle (aka Mavis) from the Dolphin Tale movies and learn about the aquarium's dedication to rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing sick and injured marine animals back into the wild, public education, conservation and research. Take a sunset cruise and learn interesting facts about the natural wonders of the Gulf Coast and hit the Dolphin Trail.
Good to know: In the midst of Clearwater Beach is where you will find Pier 60, an iconic 1,080-foot fishing pier and recreational park. If you’ve got a crew of little anglers, stop into the pier bait house and pick up everything you’ll need to reel in a mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, flounder or other fish (depending on the time of year). The pier’s nightly Sunsets at Pier 60 festival offers a carnival-like atmosphere with street performers, artisans, musicians and local artists two hours before sunset and two hours after sunset, and is the perfect way to cap off a day at Clearwater Beach!
Find out more: Check out our insider's guide to Clearwater Beach here.
Myrtle Beach, SC
After surviving a major hurricane hit, Myrtle Beach is revitalized and ready to welcome your crew of adventure seekers! Family Kingdom has no entrance fee (perfect for parents or grandparents who want to opt out of rides), and those opting for rides can buy an all-day wristband for under $30. Explore The Boardwalk and Promenade which includes lots of fun options along the way like the SkyWheel and old-school arcades like Fun Plaza. History buffs will love visiting the free-admission L.W. Paul Living History Farm. Myrtle Beach is also known for its world-class golf and boasts a really cool Kids Play Free program year round.
Good to know: Most of the area’s 90,000+ accommodations are condo-style, making them ideal to host larger groups and cook some meals to save money. Dunes Village is a great option because it is oceanfront, offers multiple waterparks onsite and always boasts a slew of specials, so a two-bedroom suite runs under $170/night for the spring.
Find out more: visitmyrtlebeach.com
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.
Find out more: visitmexico.com/quintanaroo
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.
Find out more: visitflorida.com/pontevedrabeach
Virginia Beach, VA
Make time for sunsets— with their pink and purple hues—when you visit Virginia Beach—a destination that is more than just a beach. Here you’ll find a three-mile oceanfront boardwalk with a plethora of shops, restaurants, museums and hotels. And, with spring's mellow temps, it's the perfect opportunity to explore the local hiking opportunities. Don't miss the chance to visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, where your kids will delight thousands of animals that make up over 300 species!
Good to know: For a little more peace and quiet, consider plopping in the sand at Chesapeake Bay Beach and Virginia Beach’s southern shore, Sandbridge.
Find out more: visitvirginiabeach.com
—Wendy Altschuler with Gabby Cullen