Secret Beaches for Families: Can the Kids Keep This Hush-Hush?
Wingaersheek Beach, Massachusetts
Wingaersheek (pronounced Wing-er-sheek) Beach near Gloucester, MA, is great for families because the sea here is like one giant bathtub. The ocean at Wingaersheek is largely protected by the Ipswitch peninsula, so it's usually calm and warm, creating perfect swimming conditions for the little ones. At low tide, sand flats seem to stretch forever (or at least to the Annisquam River). Another benefit: glorious tide pools, which are perfect places for inquisitive tykes to get up-close-and-personal with snails, hermit crabs, sea stars and other critters. Perhaps the only downside to this natural treasure is parking; since beach access is smack in the middle of a residential area, daily fees can be steep.
Bean Hollow State Beach, California
Pocket beaches are plentiful along the San Mateo County Coast south of San Francisco, but Bean Hollow offers something different: privacy. Bookended by wind- and water-carved bluffs, the beach has a number of natural nooks and crannies that are perfect for family picnics--and Frisbee, book-reading or some serious sunbathing. There's also a self-guided nature trail that winds atop the bluffs, offering a great vantage point from which to see passing grey whales (in the winter and spring). Three miles up the road, in the sleepy town of Pescadero, be sure to bring the family on a tour of Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where kids can feed, pet and even milk a bunch of alpine goats.
Robert Moses State Park, New York
When most New Yorkers seek ocean waves, they flock to Jones Beach, one of the oldest and most famous stretches of shore on the Eastern Seaboard. Farther east along the Fire Island National Seashore, however, is another beach that sees far less tourist traffic: Robert Moses State Park. Kids will love wake-boarding and wave-jumping in the lively surf; parents will appreciate that the beach isn't crawling with humans. Toward the eastern end of the beach, past Field 5, the circa-1891, black-and-white ringed Fire Island Lighthouse is a living window into the past, offering tours and historical photos of yesteryear. Be warned: just beyond the lighthouse is a nude beach.
Kure Beach, North Carolina
This tiny seaside community sits at the southern tip of North Carolina's Pleasure Island--a strip of barrier beaches that front the Atlantic--and while some of its northern neighbors are teeming with tourists in the summer, Kure remains fairly empty. That's good news for vacationing families, who usually have most of the town's attractions to themselves. On the list of must-sees: the fishing pier, which is the oldest on the Atlantic Coast; and the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Center, which spotlights shipwrecks and dive sites nearby. The ocean beaches are breathtaking; for a more off-beat experience, hike the trail at sound-side Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and look for native plants and animals along the way.
Ebey's Landing, Washington
Technically speaking, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve contains 17,500 acres, 18 farms, 400 historical structures, 2 state parks and the second-oldest town in the state of Washington (Coupeville). We, however, love its beach best. On a clear day, the rocky, driftwood-strewn shoreline serves up too-amazing-to-believe views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. A 3-mile bluff trail provides even more perspective on these sites, and some good (read: protected from the elements) picnic spots for the family to spend an hour. For children who appreciate wildlife, nearby saltwater lagoons and wetland marshes are teeming with birds; with the right pair of binoculars, it's like going to the zoo, only free.