South Padre Island, Texas
Padre has miles of open sand for walking, horseback riding, and, of course, swimming. The city calls itself the Sandcastle Capital of the World, and when you see the creations on display, you'll understand. You can even take lessons, bucket not required.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Walk the scenic oceanfront and marvel at 235-foot Haystack Rock. Do a little horseback riding on the beach, then head to town for culture at the art galleries and community theater. If you have pets in tow, try Surfsand Resort, where rooms come with doggie welcome baskets and pet beds. A kids' club looks after your two-legged travel companions as well.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The ocean is just the tip of the sand dune at Myrtle Beach, which boasts nearly 100 golf courses (and close to as many mini golf greens), live entertainment, and a family-friendly boardwalk. At Brookgreen Gardens you can observe local wildlife like alligators and osprey from a pontoon boat, then roam the sculpture garden.
Avila Beach, California
Don't miss Friday nights, when this laid-back beach town bustles with farmers and fish markets , sack races, and volleyball. For a change from a beach motel, try Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort, with hillside hot tubs and easy access to a hiking trail that leads to the beach.
Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama
With fishing, nature trails, bird-watching, and gulf views from the Hummingbird zip line at Gulf State Park, there's no lack of activities. But don't get so busy that you forget to take in the sugar-white sand and turquoise water.
Hampton Beach, New Hampshire
This 3-mile stretch of New England shoreline offers relaxing family fun with a boardwalk and parasailing. Learn about marine wildlife at the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, then head over to the pier to catch a classic New England fishing charter or whale-watching excursion.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
At this national park on Lake Michigan, you'll find 65 miles of shoreline where families can swim, bike, and race down the dunes, which tower higher than a 40-story building. Spend time at the Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum, then take a 20-minute ferry ride to explore the shipwrecks of South Manitou Island.
Duck, North Carolina
This tiny Outer Banks town is a true getaway: With few commercial distractions, your family can while away the days boogie-boarding, shell-collecting, and kite-flying. Take a beach stroll; you'll probably catch a glimpse of wild horses.
Image Credit: carolinadesigns.com
The Wildwoods, New Jersey
From 1950s mod-style motels to boardwalk custard stands and amusement arcades, this classic Jersey Shore town packs a lot into its 5 miles. Take the kids crabbing, show them your skee-ball prowess, then dance the night away at an evening concert.
Delray Beach, Florida
For the kids: 2 miles of wide-open sand and an oceanfront playground. For you: walkable Atlantic Avenue with galleries, shops, and restaurants. Base your trip at the historic Colony Hotel and Cabana Club, which offers old Florida charm and access to their private beach club and saltwater pool.