The beach has everything you love about summer: Sand, surf, swimming — soul-sucking hours in traffic only to find there’s no room on the actual beach for you to even sit down. Before you announce that this year’s family vacation will be an afternoon of watching Endless Summer and Point Break, the tide has turned for a stress-free beach day.
The brainiacs at Foursquare used their crowdsourced intelligence from the Swarm app to find the 250 most popular beaches in the country. Then they threw out all those places where the oiled masses gather. Instead, these are the quality beaches without a quantity of people: 8 underrated oceanside destinations where you can toss a frisbee or fly a kite without crashing into a sea of humanity. Don’t forget to pack some of these.
Pescadero State Beach, CA
It’s less trafficked by tourists, making for a relaxing day of sand and surf. Pescadero Beach also has an expansive State Park atmosphere that’s even better for one of those, “OK kids, it’s time for a family adventure!” trips. Just start hiking down the southern trails before anyone can roll their eyes. It will take you to spots where you can climb on rocks, examine tide pools, and even go fishing. Who is rolling their eyes now, kids?
Pescadero State Beach
Navarre Beach, FL
It’s hard to draw kids away from the pull of the “Most Magical Place On Earth,” but this is the Florida beach that might be able to do it. They’ll barely miss those Mickey Mouse ears (and you won’t miss the 3-hour line for spinning tea cups) when they’re making castles out of “Florida’s best sand.” And if hermit crabs aren’t exciting wildlife to your family, the Gulf Breeze Zoo is right off the beach.
Atlantic Beach, NC
The reviews for Atlantic Beach all include one key, anxiety-releasing phrase: “Not too crowded.” Before you venture even farther out to the Outer Banks, know that at this spot you can do the whole lay-out-and-relax thing, but you’re not too far from the Town Park playground and fountain. Your fan can also go all Joey Chestnut on fresh seafood while you catch a movie on the sand at night. In the dark, nobody can see you feast.
Sandbridge Beach, Virginia Beach, VA
Sandbridge is removed from the main Virginia Beach resort strip (and the theme park madness of nearby Busch Gardens & Wildwater Kingdom), so you get all the charm and none of the chaos. Just be advised there aren’t any lifeguards on duty in the really quiet spots where locals go to surf. And if your kid’s into marine biology, stay after dark and watch the sand crabs come out. But leave once the teenagers come out.
Kiawah Island, SC
This is where stock photo families would go on vacation. Coastal Living Magazine named it the “happiest” place to live on the East Coast, and the island is home to a huge golf resort, bike trails, and photogenic wildlife like turtles and whitetail deer. Basically, it makes the Hamptons look like a pile of garbage.
Robert Moses State Park, Babylon, NY
You don’t have to head all the way to Montauk to find a great beach outside New York City. Robert Moses State Park is white sand, ice cream, tacos, and a limited amount of obnoxiousness. Also note that the nearby clothing optional beach has officially been closed since 2013 (you can leave the binoculars at home), but there might still be some diehards stripping down (binoculars are packed again). Seeing other people’s junk when you’re not expecting to is an essential part of being a New Yorker.
Robert Moses State Park
Cape May, NJ
Your vision of the Jersey Shore has been tainted by spray-tanned reality stars who snort pure, uncut cash from MTV. But Cape May doesn’t want any of that. There is no “gym, tan, laundry” only VCS (that would be Victorian houses, craft fairs, and salt water taffy). The $6 admission is a small price to pay for Snookie-free summer fun.
Cape May Beach
Isla Blanca Park, South Padre Island, TX
Why would beaches be an exception to the “everything is bigger in Texas” manta? South Padre Island is known for having the widest — and cleanest — beaches in the state. If you want to get off the towel, there’s great surfing, the occasional dolphin-spotting, and even the opportunity to take a sand castle lesson.
Isla Blanca Park