From Maine to Hawaii, our top beach destinations offer something for everyone -- lighthouse touring, snorkeling, surfing, clam digging, and more!

By Marie Elizabeth Oliver
March 25, 2016

Fun in the Sun

Like baseball games and cookouts, family trips to the beach are summertime staples. To help you create a vacation -- or day trip -- that your family will remember for years to come, we polled our readers and editors for their favorite affordable beach getaways.

In the next several slides, you'll discover a range of great places to visit, from the Emerald Coast of Florida to the shores of Vancouver Island.

Ocean City, Maryland

Tracie Dorsey, one of's forum hosts and a Maryland native, raves about the appeal of Ocean City. "There is something to do for everyone," she says. Tracie can't get enough of the beach's three-mile boardwalk, roller coaster, seaside train, and Polish Water Ice (a local delicacy).

Why we love it: This destination is a one-stop shop for family fun. Beyond Tracie's boardwalk favorites, there's plenty of fresh seafood at local hot spots like Crab Alley and Marlin Moon Grille, and you can hike nature trails for a glimpse of wild ponies on nearby Assateague Island.

When to go: July and August, for fun free events such as Sundaes in the Park, where homemade ice cream and live music rule; Wednesday night beach concerts; and nightly beach bonfires. Sunfest in mid September wraps up beach season with live entertainment, great art, and delicious local eats.

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Parksville, British Columbia member, VI girl, says she loves Qualicum Beach and Parksville Beach (shown here) in the Central Vancouver Island region of British Columbia. Both offer stunning mountain views, warm water, and ideal swimming conditions.

Why we love it: Beyond the beach, there's plenty to do in picturesque Parksville, with a skate park, multiple miniature golf courses, and a mountain biking park.

When to go: August, during the three-week Parksville Beach Festival for giant sand sculptures and live entertainment.

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Long Beach, Washington

Digging for razor clams is one of member Nancy Burgett's favorite things to do in Long Beach. Don't miss idyllic Main Street, where you can visit antique shops and quaint cafes.

Why we love it: While the waters here are a little too rough for swimming, Long Beach offers horseback riding, plenty of room for kite flying, lighthouse tours, hiking trails, and clam digging.

When to go: Late August, during the notable Washington State International Kite Festival, with kite shows, competitions, and workshops.

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Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama associate editor Marie Elizabeth Oliver has fond memories of childhood vacations at this low-key Gulf Coast escape. After swimming in the warm ocean all day, she loved playing family games of miniature golf and visiting the local ice cream shop. The beachfront is lined with family-friendly hotels as well as condominiums that you can rent directly from owners (often a more budget-friendly option).

Why we love it: Crystal blue water and soft white sand are the main draws to this affordable family destination. Take a dolphin cruise, go saltwater fishing, visit the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, or hang with the alligators at Alligator Alley.

When to go: With wintertime temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and summer highs in the 80s, Alabama's Gulf Coast is delightful to visit any time of year.

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Maui, Hawaii

The second largest island in Hawaii, Maui is nicknamed "The Magic Isle." editor Kaelin Zawilinski recommends the D.T. Fleming Beach in the island's Lahaina neighborhood as a prime spot for surfing and boogie boarding.

Why we love it: In addition to its one-of-a-kind beaches, Maui offers various family adventures. Try the tropical reef aquarium at the Maui Ocean Center, a ride on the historic 1890s Sugar Cane Train, or the hands-on exhibits at the Hawaii Nature Center.

When to go: Schedule your trip before mid June to beat the summer rush.

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Destin, Florida member Sassygur says Destin, on Florida's Emerald Coast, is tops for family getaways -- and other members on the forum agree. Sassygur counts playing miniature golf, watching the fishing boats come into the bay, and dining out as great local activities.

Why we love it: The beaches are so gorgeous you may never want to leave the surf and sand. But Destin Commons, a giant open-air shopping mall with a fountain that kids can splash around in, is also worth a visit.

When to go: To avoid the summer holiday crowds, visit during off-peak times like early May or September.

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Chicago Beach, Illinois

With its snazzy public beach house and abundant volleyball courts, North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach (both located along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive) are "the perfect place to spend a perfect summer day," says member sbonner1.

Matt Strelecki, art director, agrees, and says his family loves to ride bikes along Lake Shore Drive. "We're able to fit all five of us on one bike!" says Matt.

Why we love it: Families get the best of both worlds here -- a sandy getaway that's just minutes from some of Chicago's best shops and restaurants. Don't miss Navy Pier, home to a 90-foot Ferris wheel, the Children's Museum, boat tours, and fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night throughout the summer.

When to go: Visit July 26 during the Venetian Night boat parade and watch light-adorned sailboats travel down Lake Michigan, followed by a musical fireworks display.

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St. John, US Virgin Islands executive editor, Doug Crichton, says his family enjoys St. John in the US Virgin Islands, known for its peaceful, back-to-nature vibe.

Why we love it: Most of St. John is part of the Virgin Islands National Park. If your family loves the outdoors, stay on one of the island's ecotourism campgrounds for a few nights -- you'll save cash and help preserve natural resources in these solar- and wind-powered accommodations built from recycled materials. The Reef Bay Trail offers exceptional hiking views, and the underwater trail at Trunk Bay (shown here) is one of the Caribbean's top snorkeling destinations.

When to go: The island celebrates its heritage annually with a monthlong Fourth of July celebration featuring concerts, food fairs, and fireworks. The tropical climate here accounts for warm temperatures (and showers) year round, but trip-cancellation insurance may be a smart option if you're traveling in June through November -- the official hurricane season.

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San Diego, California

"Coronado Beach is my favorite place to spend the day," says member Gypsum. "It is right next to a naval airport so you have jets flying above you (they are fascinating!) and aircraft carriers in the water."

Why we love it: Seaside treasures like La Jolla Cove (shown here) showcase the marine life and sandstone cliffs that make this Pacific shoreline one-of-a-kind. With a famous zoo, SeaWorld, and handfuls of museums, there's also plenty to do away from the sand and surf.

When to go: Avoid the crowds of Independence Day week by booking your trip in May or early September.

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York Harbor Beach, Maine member Miss Maine nominated her native southeast Maine coast as a top family-friendly beach destination. She prefers the York-Ogunquit area, but cautions that the water can be a bit chilly.

Why we love it: York Harbor Beach is known locally as Mothers' Beach because of its safe, toddler-friendly shoreline. Picturesque lighthouses and eclectic lodgings, from farmhouse B&Bs to cozy cottages, are among the area's other charms.

When to go: Plan your visit during York Days, July 25 through August 3, to enjoy local concerts, tournaments, fairs, and fireworks.

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