News flash: You don’t have to haul out to the Atlantic to have some waterfront fun. Washington is close to many beaches that offer plenty of off-the-beaten-path experiences, such as admiring wild ponies or touring a Civil War prison camp. Here are 12 places where you can dig the sand out from between your toes.

sandy-pointPhoto: AccessDNR via

Sandy Point State Park
This is the closest beach to the D.C. area, situated in Anne Arundel County, Md., on the northwestern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. In case hiking, sunning and swimming get old, there’s always the nature center, which offers education programs for third- through eighth-graders.

Distance from D.C.:  37 miles, 1 hour

Point Lookout State Park
Another bay beach, Point Lookout is also the former location of a prison that held about 56,000 Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. A museum here can fill you in on the details – and eliminate concerns about summertime brain drain.

Distance from D.C.: 83 miles, 2 hours

13173964_1094851087223052_3947607646948638101_nPhoto: Delaware State Park

Delaware Seashore State Park
Water is kind of this 2,285-acre park’s thing. After all, it’s bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay. Visitors can surf and sailboard or just frolic in the water. In July, join in some friendly competition during the Sandcastle Contest.

Distance from D.C.: 127 miles, two hours and 40 minutes

Assateague Island
Home to more than 300 wild ponies – yes, ponies – this 37-mile long barrier island where Virginia and Maryland intersect has three public areas where you can swim, fish, crab, hike, kayak, clam or bird watch. For a close look at the ponies, take out a kayak or go on a guided boat cruise.

Distance from D.C.: 141 miles, almost three hours


bethany-beachPhoto: Blake Patterson via

Bethany Beach
Your “Dewey Days” may be long gone, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Delaware’s beaches with family in tow. For a kid-friendly alternative, visit the town of Bethany Beach.  Bethany is a great getaway for families who are looking to taste the excitement of more popular summer destination, but who also want the comfort and quiet of a low-key beach town. Take a stroller stroll down the boardwalk, try out bogey boarding and surf fishing, or play a round of mini-golf. And don’t forget to save room for beach food favorites like Fisher’s Popcorn or Thrasher’s French Fries.

Distance from D.C.: 128 miles, three hours

Cape Henlopen State Park
OK, so this is kinda ocean-y, too – the park sits where the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic meet – but it’s more than a pretty shoreline. Take in some nature along the 3-mile paved trail that loops the park, ascend the World War II Observation Tower or climb a former military bunker.

Distance from D.C.: 119 miles, two and a half hours

Matapeake Clubhouse and Beach
Fido feeling left out? Most beaches on this list aren’t pet-friendly, but at Dog Beach here, they can romp with the rest of us. Of course, there are plenty of people-only sandy spots, too.

Distance from D.C.: 45 miles, one hour

beach-flag-kidsPhoto Courtesy of John Athayde via

Yorktown Beach
History buffs may know that Yorktown’s the place where America won its independence from the British. But did you know this historic locale is also home to a beautiful beach? Yorktown Beach is known for its calm beachfront, fishing pier, and 10-acre grass picnic area. Consider visiting Yorktown over the Fourth of July to take part in their annual festival, which features fireworks, a free concert, and a Liberty Bell ringing ceremony.

Distance from D.C.:  165 miles, Two hours and 45 minutes

Lake Anna
One of Virginia’s most popular parks, Lake Anna offers 10 miles of lakefront fun, plus horseback riding on nearby trails. A former gold mining area, the park has a gold panning program and tours of the Goodwin Gold Mine. Camping is available, as are six camping cabins and 10 two-bedroom cabins.

Distance from D.C.: about 90 miles, one hour and 45 minutes

North Beach, Md.
Another Chesapeake pick, families can rent single and double sea kayaks and standup paddle boards for the water or bikes for the boardwalk. There’s also a weekly Classic Car Cruise-In and evening art fair featuring local artists.

Distance from D.C.: about 40 miles, one hour


sandy-bridge-beachPhoto Courtesy of Lina Smith via


Chincoteague, Va.
As Virginia’s only resort island, Chincoteague offers hiking, biking, a lighthouse, guided wildlife tours, swimming and boating. Star attractions are the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the annual Pony Swim, when the Virginia herd of ponies is led from Assateague to Chincoteague the last Wednesday of July.

Distance from D.C.: 170 miles, about three hours

Breezy Point
Cater to kids here on the half-mile of sandy beach overlooking the Chesapeake. When building sandcastles is tiresome, there’s a playground, or kids can hunt for shark teeth.

Distance from D.C.: About 50 miles, about one hour

What is your family’s favorite local beach? Tell us in the comments section below. 

—Stephanie Kanowtitz and Sarah Vogel