Beaches & Islands - 26 min read

19 Best East Coast Beaches For Families (To Surf, Relax, Hike & More)

Angie Grier

Angie Grier, Updated October 1, 2022

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The United States East Coast contains fourteen different coastal states, with approximately 2,000 miles of coastline. In addition to the coastline, thousands of miles of coastal waters surround the many islands off the coast of the United States. 

Every coastal state draws people to their shoreline each year for beach fun. But not all beaches are worth the effort for families who want to spend quality time together on their vacation. Depending on the location, some beaches are great in the summer, but cold in the winter, while others are great year-round. 

Many northeastern beaches are relatively unknown and underappreciated. In addition, several of the New England states have beaches only open to the public or restrict the number of public passes offered for their beaches. These difficulties can make finding a public New England beach challenging.

In this list, we highlighted some of the public beaches in the New England area and included the best beaches in the southeastern states.

The following list of twenty beaches will help families decide which state, and which beach, is just right for their next family vacation. Perhaps this summer, your next beach vacation will find one of the less-visited beaches on the northern part of the East Coast.

1. Kennebunk Beach (aka Mothers, Gooch, and Middle Beaches)

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In Kennebunkport, Maine, a small section of shoreline contains a string of dog-friendly and family-friendly beaches, including Mothers Beach (sometimes called Kennebunk Beach), Kennebunk Beach (also called Gooch’s Beach), and Middle Beach. These fantastic beaches are idyllic locations for families to visit. 

Mothers Beach, in particular, is a quiet place where children can freely play in the waves if they can tolerate the cold water, build sand castles, and explore around the rocks and tide pools.

With limited facilities that only include lifeguards and portable toilets, parents bring in all of their food and beverages to picnic here with their children and dogs.

The playground for kids is located right on the beach, which makes this a brilliant place for kids to enjoy themselves when the water feels too cold to swim. 

Kennebunk Beach is the closest beach to the downtown area with restaurants and other facilities nearby, including lifeguards. Surfing and surf lessons are popular activities, as well as swimming.

Kennebunk Beach runs into Middle Beach with its smooth stones instead of sand. This beach is lovely to explore around the rocks and listen to the waves make music as they crash over the stones.

2. Footbridge Beach in Ogunquit

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Ogunquit, Maine has two beaches right next to each other called Footbridge Beach and Main or Ogunquit Beach. These two beaches comprise the peninsula that separates the brackish Ogunquit River from the Atlantic Ocean.

The Main Beach tends to get crowded and attracts more people to its sands for swimming and surfing. This developed beach has concessions, restaurants, restrooms, and items for rent such as umbrellas, chairs, and floats.

Footbridge Beach remains quiet and calm, with a beach perfect for kids to explore. As the tide retreats, small rivers carve through the sand, creating places in which kids love to explore and splash around. Plovers, a protected shorebird species, nest in this part of the beach.

So, while dogs are welcome, they must remain on their leash. The sand dunes are beautiful to look at in this estuarine setting, but people are not permitted to climb them.

Concessions and restrooms are located at Footbridge Beach and a rustic wooden footbridge separates this beach from the parking area. Nearby hotels and lodges provide moderately-priced accommodations within walking distance of this secluded slice of paradise.

Related Read: 45 BEST Things To Do in Atlantic City, NJ

3. Hampton Beach, New Hampshire

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Hampton Beach is located in an estuarine area of the Hampton Harbor. It has been rated as one of the top three cleanest beaches in the United States.

This beach community prides itself on being the “go-to” beach resort on the East Coast. Because of its fresh, upbeat atmosphere and the big welcome that this community provides to its tourists, this beach resort attracts people from all over. 

Swimming and sunbathing are popular beach activities, but there is so much more to see and experience for families who visit Hampton Beach. This small town provides endless amounts of fun with many events and activities scheduled throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Every Wednesday during the summer, fireworks are set off in the evenings. Other popular events during the summer include a sand sculpture event in June, the Miss Hampton Beauty Pageant and a Country Music Festival in July, a Talent Competition in August, and the Cirque du Hampton Beach, a seafood festival, and the Annual Fire Show in September.

Well-known bands and comedians often perform at the Hampton Beach Casino and the Oceanarium is a fantastic aquarium for kids and adults.

Plenty of accommodations in this town range from mid-range-priced hotels to RV camping at the State Park. These accommodations are often booked well in advance, so visitors should plan ahead.

Many restaurants in Hampton Beach provide plenty of seafood and summer flavors for everyone to enjoy. Families that choose Hampton Beach for their East Coast vacation will not be disappointed. 

4. Cape Cod National Seashore

Credit: Cape Cod National Seashore / Facebook

The Cape Cod National Seashore should be a bucket-list item for every family on their summer vacation. This forty-mile spit of land that sticks out of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean and curls north is comprised of several pristine, sandy beaches, salt marshes, ponds, and upland areas.

Families who visit enjoy swimming, surfing, bodysurfing, hiking, and biking along this seashore. Amenities such as showers and restrooms make this a great place to spend the day.

Lifeguards are on duty at all six beaches during the season from June to September, so there is a fee for using the beaches during that time.

Resident seals live on this seashore and because of that, great white sharks feed in these waters each summer. Swimmers should always be aware of any alerts or warnings displayed each day they visit the park.

This national park has two visitor centers. Naturalists and park rangers offer several interpretive programs perfect for kids. In addition, kids who visit this national park can participate in the Junior Ranger program and get their National Park passport book stamped. 

Self-guided tours are also offered and visitors can explore the lighthouses, wetland areas, and wild cranberry bogs found on this peninsula. Eleven hiking trails are available.

Dogs are not permitted on most of these trails and bikes are not permitted on any hiking trail. Three bike trails at the park do allow leashed pets at certain times of the year.

Some parts of the park are available for off-road vehicles at certain times of the year. With so many activities designed to engage while educating children within a wide age range, many families enjoy visiting the Cape Cod National Seashore each summer.

5. Nantucket Island

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Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts contains many excellent beaches and accommodations for a variety of budgets, and can only be reached by boat.

This small island has a wide variety of beaches to appeal to families with kids of all ages. For families with young children or children who are weak swimmers, Children’s Beach is a fantastic option.

Shark netting keeps sharks out of this section of the ocean, so swimmers can swim without worrying about sharks. The shoreline slopes down gently into the water without dropping off quickly. From this small beach, children can watch a variety of small boats, yachts, ferries, and large ships using the shipping lanes. 

Older children who are better swimmers often enjoy Surfside Beach which has plenty of sand to spread out, delicious concession options, and restrooms.

Rip currents do happen occasionally, but lifeguards on duty at this beach will help keep swimmers safe. Bodysurfing and boogie boarding are popular activities at this beach with its rough surf. Young children and weak swimmers should not swim alone.

Jetties Beach is another family-friendly beach with activities for all age ranges. Younger kids can enjoy plenty of space to run around and build sandcastles or hang out in the shallow water or play on the playground.

Older kids enjoy playing volleyball, tennis, or hanging out at the skate park. This beach also allows a great way to watch a variety of boats and ships as they sail into the ocean. Amenities such as restrooms, chair and umbrella rentals, and a restaurant make this an easy place to spend the day. 

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6. Joseph Sylvia State Beach, Martha’s Vineyard

Credit: Cottages, Martha’s Vineyard / Wikimedia

Martha’s Vineyard is a large island off the coast of Massachusetts. This famous island contains many beaches and is well-known for being the place to vacation for the wealthy and celebrities.

While some of the beaches are not open to visitors, it is a favorite place for many families to travel on their summer vacation. Of all of the beaches on this island, the Joseph Sylvia State Beach is the best one for families with small children.

The shoreline of this beach provides plenty of sand for children to run around and a wide shallow area for children to play in the gentle surf.

Kayaks can be rented at one end of the beach and an iconic wooden drawbridge provides a fun place from which to jump into the water. Interestingly, this beach was one of the filming locations for the classic movie, Jaws. 

Accommodations range from mid-range prices to luxury in the Oak Bluffs area where the Joseph Sylvia State Beach is located. This area is well known for its unique “carpenter gothic” houses.

It is a great place for families to stay with many public parks and restaurants available as well as live music in the summers. While this beach does not have any restrooms, it gets crowded on weekends and holidays during the summers, so beachgoers should go early to get a parking space.

Lifeguards are not posted along the entire length of the beach, only at one end. Because of the beauty and unspoiled beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, many families enjoy spending their summer vacations here.

7. Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island

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For a fun family adventure, the beach at Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island is an epic, unforgettable way to spend a day. A car ferry readily carries people from Rhode Island to the tiny and scenic Block Island.

Visitors that do not want to take their car can walk, bike, or take a taxi from the ferry to the beach. One-hundred-forty-one stairs lead from the top of the Mohegan Bluffs to the secluded beach below.

Once beachgoers reach the sand, they can spend a perfect day at the most beautiful beach surrounded by the 200-foot cliffs. Swimming and surfing are popular activities here.

Families can spend a few hours enjoying this beach before hiking back up the stairs and visiting the rest of this small island. Near the Mohegan Bluffs Beach, a lighthouse built in the late 1800s can be found. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse and take in the view of the ocean and the cliffs. 

The Fred Benson Town Beach provides a more suitable place for small children to swim. Lifeguards patrol this beach during the summer and the waves are gentle.

While much of the Block Island adventure is great for older children and teenagers who can bike or walk a few miles without help, many parents with young children do enjoy going on a Block Island adventure. 

8. Roger W. Wheeler State Beach

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The Roger W. Wheeler State Beach, also known as Sand Hill Cove Beach, is one of the best beaches for kids in the state.

With excellent amenities that include plenty of parking, a bathhouse, picnic tables, and a playground, parents find that this beach makes it easy to enjoy a day spent with their kids. 

The water is clean and stays shallow, gently sloping into the ocean, while the waves at this shore are calm due to an extensive breakwater barrier. The soft sand provides an excellent place to build sandcastles or bury a parent in the sand.

This beach is popular with both parents and grandparents who want to introduce toddlers to playing in the ocean. Expertly trained lifeguards patrol this beach and keep kids and families safe during the summer.

The beach is not the only attraction for children. The beach pavilion offers a kid-friendly environmental education area where naturalists spend the day teaching children about the natural resources in the area.

Concessions are also available for families that want to purchase food or beverages instead of carrying in their refreshments.

Beach wheelchairs and accessible restrooms are available for families who need them. Families should plan ahead and purchase their beach parking passes online before traveling to the beach. 

9. Easton’s Beach

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Easton’s Beach, also called First Beach, is the best of the beaches in Newport, Rhode Island. Several amenities at this beach and nearby make this an excellent place for families to spend a few hours or a whole day.

The parking fee during the summer can be a bit expensive, depending on what is available, but entry to the beach is free. Bathhouses with restrooms and showers are available, and umbrellas, beach chairs, and boogie boards can be rented during the summer season.

Families enjoy the wide, white sand beach with plenty of room to spread out. Children can run around and play in the sand. The beach slopes into the ocean slowly, providing plenty of shallow water in which to play.

The waves at Easton’s Beach are usually gentle so even toddlers can have fun jumping and splashing into the waves. Certified lifeguards patrol this beach during the summers, keeping an eye on people playing in the surf. 

In addition to the beach, other activities will help parents keep their children entertained during the long summer days. A historic carousel next to a concession stand provides kids with a break from the hot sun.

The famous Cliff Walk starts at the entrance to this beach and offers a scenic view and a short boardwalk tour along the shoreline. Within easy walking distance of the beach, an aquarium and many restaurants provide additional places for families to visit and explore.

10. Hammonasset State Beach Park

Credit: Hammonasset Beach State Park / Wikimedia

Hammonasset State Beach Park is the largest public beach park in Connecticut with more than two miles of wide, sandy beaches. The water is clear and calm because of its location in the Long Island Sound, and waves are small during both low and high tides.

Certified lifeguards patrol this beach during the summer. People visit this beach to swim, hunt for seashells, sunbathe, and play in the sand. In addition, many families also come here to fish from the stone breakwater. 

A children’s play area offers kids several activities such as swings, a pirate jungle gym, and slides. The Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Beach Park contains a saltwater touch tank, educational displays, and interpretive programs offered by naturalists.

The Nature Center offers many programs and activities during the summer to park visitors, making this a popular place for families to vacation with children of all ages. 

The Hammonasset State Beach Park campground contains more than 500 campsites with amenities that include showers, restrooms, and a camp store. This park also has several accessibility options for those that need it including accessible restrooms, picnic tables, boardwalk, camping, and surf chairs.

Daily parking and overnight camping do require a fee. People should check the website for up-to-date pricing before their visit. 

11. Coney Island Beach

Credit: Coney Island Beach / Wikimedia

Coney Island represents the ultimate summer hangout for families with children of all ages, groups of teenagers, and young adults.

This iconic beach opened to the public a hundred years ago and has attracted people to its sandy shore ever since. Families flock to this free beach and enjoy the waves by swimming, surfing, and boogie boarding.

Lifeguards patrol this beach during the summer, and many people crowd this shoreline while the weather is warm.

Coney Island attracts various clubs that meet on this shoreline including an open water swimming club that hosts races each year and the Coney Island Polar Bear Club whose most popular event is the New Year’s Day Swim, a fun, family-friendly activity. 

The beach isn’t the only thing that draws people to Coney Island. Many families with kids of all ages also enjoy the amusement parks located here.

A Ferris wheel, roller coasters, pirate ship, bumper cars, carousel, and so much more bring families together for fun thrills.

The amusement parks also offer arcade games and fun carnival foods to make the day even more exciting. Fireworks light up the sky every Friday night at 9:30 PM during the summer season.

Coney Island is also home to the New York Aquarium and a historic boardwalk, both great places for families to visit. The Coney Island Mermaid Parade helps to kick off the summer beach and amusement park season. Locals and visitors alike can find plenty to love at this iconic and historic beach.

12. Wildwood Beaches

Credit: City of Wildwood New Jersey / Facebook

The Wildwood Beaches, located on Cape May in New Jersey, are miles of clean, white sand beaches that are completely free and open to the public. These wide stretches of sand are patrolled by the Wildwood Crest Beach Patrol. 

This patrol is committed to saving lives and maintaining the safest beaches by hiring the most competent lifeguards. In addition to lifeguards, they also make sure the beaches are accessible to everyone by providing beach wheelchairs and transportation to those who need it. 

Families love spending their summer beach vacations at Wildwood beaches because they are famous for being fun, safe, and clean. Kids love swimming, boogie boarding, surfing, and bodysurfing in the waves.

Families also enjoy visiting the beaches during some of the fun summertime events such as the Sand Sculpting Festival, International Kite Festival, Monster Truck Races, Motocross Races, and more. 

Wildwood Beaches is also home to a large amusement park and three beachside waterparks. The amusement park thrills families with its roller coasters and thrill rides, arcade games, and carnival games. The waterparks offer a wide variety of waterslides, a lazy river, and tons of water fun for kids of all ages. 

A 38-block boardwalk follows the shoreline along the Wildwood Beaches. All along the boardwalk, visitors can find accommodations to fit almost every family’s budget.

Restaurants that line the boardwalk fit just about every family’s taste and price range. Families looking for a fun, thrilling beach vacation will find a lot to love at Wildwood Beaches.

Related Read: 30 BEST Things To Do With Kids Key West, FL

13. Rehoboth Beach

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Rehoboth Beach has received numerous awards over the years because of its world-class beach and small-town atmosphere that delivers an amazing vacation. Families that travel here enjoy the wide, clean beaches and fresh, sea breezes.

Sunbathing, swimming, surfing, and sandcastle building fill the days of young children and teenagers. This idealistic beach vacation injects magic into the summer and creates unforgettable fun. 

The beach isn’t the only thing that draws people to this beautiful shore. The Funland amusement park at Rehoboth Beach contains many thrilling rides for young kids, teenagers, and adults.

The carousel, boats, bumper cars, swings, and more have captured the hearts of beachgoers since 1962. In addition to Funland, Jungle Jim’s River Safari Water Park with its water slides, pools, lazy river, batting cages, and miniature golf provide a ton of fun for kids of all ages. 

Rehoboth Beach is also home to several famous restaurants and snack shops. Visitors should check out Dolle’s Popcorn or the Candy Kitchen for fun snacks. Go Fish! and Salt Air are great kid-friendly restaurants with fantastic seafood options.

Plenty of lodging options for a variety of budgets are available in Rehoboth Beach. Rehoboth Beach has a lot to offer families looking for an incredibly unforgettable summer vacation.

14. Ocean City Beach

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Ocean City Beach in Maryland is consistently listed as one of the top beaches in the United States. This wide, ten-mile-long, sandy beach attracts many people each summer.

This vibrant town has a lot to offer families with both children and teenagers. The beaches at Ocean City are clean and well-maintained. The waves are fun for both swimmers and surfers, as well as surf fishermen. Throughout the summer, families enjoy free fireworks, movies, and concerts. 

The boardwalk is the most famous part of Ocean City. Visitors that stroll along this beautiful boardwalk find many restaurants, shops, snack food, and fun activities to keep kids well fed and well entertained.

This boardwalk has been named one of the best in the United States by both National Geographic and USA Today. Saltwater taffy, one of the most famous sugary treats found on the East Coast, can be found at many shops on the boardwalk.

An amusement park appeals to kids of all ages with roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, a historic carousel, and an arcade. 

Maryland is famous for its seafood. Many visitors travel to this area to enjoy the foods that can be found here.

Blue crab is one of the most popular kinds of seafood in the Chesapeake Bay region and many people come here to enjoy Maryland crab cakes, she-crab soup, and soft shell crabs.

Boardwalk fries from Ocean City are a salty, delicious snack with malt vinegar and ketchup. Delmarva fried chicken, hamburgers, fudge, cotton candy, and funnel cakes also help fill children’s bellies in a fun way.

Ocean City Beach is a marvelous place for families to enjoy a vacation with a wide variety of budgets and a wide variety of interests. 

15. Virginia Beach

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Virginia Beach is a large resort city home to miles of beautiful, pristine beaches located where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Families visit Virginia Beach because the beaches provide great waves for swimming, surfing, bodysurfing, and boogie boarding.

The soft sand provides a fun place for kids to play and build sandcastles. Families enjoy the many amenities found along the length of this city’s shoreline.

Especially along the Atlantic Avenue section, public restrooms, restaurants and hotels, snowcone vendors, and souvenir and snack shops line the street, making it easy for people to find a place to eat, sleep, or buy a souvenir. 

A three-mile boardwalk at Virginia Beach is a popular place for kids and teenagers to bike or rollerblade with their parents. At night during the summer, live music can sometimes be found and fun entertainment for both kids and adults.

On the south side of the boardwalk, an accessible play area called Grommet Island Park provides 15,000 square feet of play space and complimentary beach wheelchairs for those that need them. 

On the northern end of Virginia Beach, families can find a quieter place to enjoy the beach. With fewer amenities but excellent seafood restaurants nearby, families can spend a day in the quiet surf, surrounded by far fewer people than the central and southern part of the beach.

This beach is one of the longest in the world in one of the biggest beach resort cities on the East Coast, so families with children of all ages will find many things to love about Virginia Beach.

Related Read: 25 BEST Restaurants in Virginia Beach

16. Nags Head Beach

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Nags Head Beach inside Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the location of the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast.

Climbing the sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge is not an easy task, but many families enjoy making the trip to this beach specifically to climb the dune. At the top of the sand dune, the view of the ocean and surrounding area is scenic. 

Many adults enjoy hang gliding from the top of the dune, but for kids, flying kites here is a lot of fun. Having a picnic on top of this huge dune while watching people hang gliding and sand surfing is a great way to spend some time.

Everyone is encouraged to take water into the park with them because there is no fresh water available for drinking.

The trip down the sand dune is what kids of all ages really enjoy. They love to leap, run, roll, or slide down the dune. Even adults find this descent fun and exciting. Once at the bottom, families can swim in the ocean and play in the waves. Lifeguards patrol this beach during the summer.

Within the Outer Banks region of North Carolina, the nearby historical site at Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers’ first flight occured is a fun place for families. Dolphin cruises and hiking through some of the nearby natural areas are also fun activities here.

Nags Head Beach and the surrounding area provides an excellent summer vacation for families to make fun memories together.

17. Myrtle Beach

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is one of the most popular East Coast beaches in the United States. This fun-loving, family-friendly beach town contains tons of activities appropriate for kids of all ages.

Myrtle Beach prides itself on being the fun place for families. The beaches are wide with soft sand, and patrolled by lifeguards along much of the shoreline. 

Many people spend time strolling along the beach, hunting for shells, beautiful rocks, and sharks’ teeth. Some kids and adults really enjoy the hunt for shark teeth and bring sifting screens to the beach.

In between swimming and boogie boarding fun, they scoop up piles of sand in the shallow surf, hoping to find some fun teeth. The waves along Myrtle Beach’s shoreline are usually gentle and provide a great place to introduce toddlers and young children to the surf.

Souvenir shops, restaurants, and amusements such as the Skywheel and Wax Museum line the main boardwalk area located at Broadway at the Beach.

Families that want a slightly quieter part of the beach to play on and explore may enjoy North Myrtle Beach. Near this area, Barefoot Landing is home to many great restaurants, souvenir shops, and entertainment such as Alligator Adventure and the carousel.

Away from the beach, themed dinner activities like the Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show or the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament provide families with entertainment and kid-friendly foods.

Myrtle Beach receives millions of visitors each year and it is easy to see why. With so many activities and a long, beautiful beach, kids and their parents can really enjoy themselves here.

18. Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island

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Families love visiting Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. South of Savannah, Georgia, Jekyll Island is separated from the mainland by the East River.

Visitors can drive across a bridge, which requires a six-dollar toll to reach the island, and is home to Jekyll Island State Park, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and the Summer Waves Water Park. 

Driftwood Beach is unique in this list because of its picturesque and romantic beach. The name of this beach comes from the forest that once thrived here.

Now all that remains are the dead trees that are left standing up or lying down scattered along the shore in the sand. People enjoy exploring and climbing over these old sentinels and taking pictures among the branches and trunks.

Toddlers and young children love splashing around in the shallow pools left behind at low tide. Families often visit here during low tide when there is more beach area to enjoy. They spend the day here with a picnic, fly kites, and walk with their dogs.

Turtles do nest on this island, including at Driftwood Beach, and the nearby Georgia Sea Turtle Center offers a tour of their hospital and rehabilitation area while educating visitors about sea turtles. Kids get to meet the patients in the hospital ward and learn about conservation efforts to protect sea turtles.

Families also enjoy spending a few hours at the Summer Waves Water Park on Jekyll Island. At only $28 per person, families enjoy waterslides, pools, and a lazy river. People can leave their valuables in a locker, find food and beverages at the restaurant, and enjoy a day of water fun.

Families looking for a unique place to spend the day at the beach and in the water will find what they are looking for at Driftwood Beach on Jekyll’s Island.

19. Canaveral National Seashore

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Florida is famous for the many beaches found along its large shoreline. Many of these beaches are excellent for families with children. However, one amazing beach in Florida is often overlooked by visitors.

The Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped beach in Florida. This pristine, scenic shoreline has few amenities but the beach is an uncrowded paradise.

Entry into the park is $20, but it is a price well worth paying. All restrooms at this national park are handicap accessible, and ADA-accessible ramps provide access to the beaches.

Families visit this beach because there is so much space to spread out. The waves provide a wonderful place for children to swim and boogie board. Sunbathing and picnicking are popular activities at this beach.

Visitors should be aware that one of the beaches is a designated nude beach. People should pay attention to the signs posted to avoid seeing things they do not wish to see. 

Canaveral National Seashore has hiking trails throughout the park. Children enjoy the hikes because they often see wildlife such as birds, alligators, turtles, and manatees. But one of the most popular activities at this beach is watching space rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center.

The beach at Playalinda allows an excellent view of the launches that occur. Visitors on launch day should arrive at least a few hours before the scheduled launch. Incoming park traffic is restricted close to launch time. 

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