There’s no better way to bond with the fam than by soaking up the sunshine together on a gorgeous tropical beach. From hanging with animals in Costa Rica to kitesurfing in Aruba to shelling on Sanibel, here are five of the best beach locations that combine R&R with plenty of family-friendly adventures.
If you haven’t been, it’s time to check Costa Rica off the bucket list – a must-visit if you’ve got animal- and adventure-loving kids. Secluded beaches, picture-perfect surfing waves, incredible fruit, and an arks assortment of wildlife make it ideal for the family.
Where to Stay
In the heart of Manual Antonio/Quepos on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Tulemar’s accommodations range from octagonal tree-top bungalows to jaw-dropping, cliff-hugging villas with epic views in every direction. Head down to the water (walk or take the shuttle) to spend an afternoon on the resort’s private beach, herding hermit crabs or tooling around on the kayaks. The best part of Tulemar’s luxury-in-the-rainforest location is that everywhere you look – the trees above you, the paths through the property, even your room balcony – can at any moment be filled with Toucans, Howler monkeys, massive iguanas, and sloths all roaming freely. (Dodging a Spider monkey’s lunch mango tossed from a branch on high is part of the allure.) Fun fact: Tulemar is actually an official sloth preserve where graduate students come from all over the world to study these curiously slow creatures.
Nearby Manuel Antonio Beach is an ideal place to try out your surfing skills as the waves here are consistent and gentle. Most surf schools in the area will have a staff photographer on-site to snap evidence of your success as you learn to “pop up” and hang ten. Head to Manuel Antonio National Park for an expertly guided tour of the area’s ecosystem and hit the forest after sundown (a short walk from the resort) to join a night hike with a naturalist and (safely) spot salamanders, snakes, and scorpions.
A constant tropical breeze ruffles the palm fronds on this below-the-hurricane-belt island, making it a good option whatever month you’re looking to getaway. The island’s status as a territory of the Netherlands means there’s a huge Dutch population here, which lends a distinct vibe to the island inhabitants – a mix of orderly and laid back in the best way.
Where To Stay
Set at the very end of Palm Beach, The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is a luxury oceanfront resort that will lull you into vacation mode with its two beachfront pools, great kids club, and fresh-caught sushi restaurant, Divi. Make sure to book a babysitter and schedule a private, shoe-optional, romantic dinner right on the beach at sunset.
There’s barely any reason to leave the resort when the family can enjoy snorkeling and kite surfing on the pristine water outside your front door. But if you can pull yourself away, rent a Jeep 4×4 and make the 30-minute drive to the largely unpopulated, Hawaii-esque North side of the island, where you will see lunar-like, surf-carved rock formations alongside spectacular uninhabited inlets and beaches. Back at the resort, drop your littles off at the kids club where they can learn about sharks and coral reefs or hear a bedtime story in their PJs while you explore the drink menu at the alfresco bar or try your luck in the 24-hour casino.
Sanibel Island, Florida
This Gulf-side island, just an hour’s drive from the Ft Myers airport will take you back in time to old Florida – because of strict zoning regulations, there are no high rises and barely any chains here. Instead, you will find gorgeous white sand beaches, an enormous nature preserve, and some of the most spectacular shelling on earth.
Where to Stay
Right on the beach, Sundial offers family-friendly condos from studios to three bedrooms. All rooms have full kitchens, comfy living rooms, and crisp white linens on their comfy beds. Many have a spectacular panoramic view of the Gulf. Sanibel is also home to a great food scene — centered around seafood of course — where restaurants like Traders and Sweet Melissa’s Cafe rival meals at big-city destinations.
Put the kids in Sea School – there’s a location right on property, where they will spend the afternoon seining (fishing with nets) for crabs, sea dollars, and octopi. While they’re happy and occupied, pull a pair of stand-up paddleboards into the water and float lazily down the shoreline. (Yes, you will see dolphins!) Rent bikes and too around the island, making stops at the Ding Darling Nature preserve, and the iconic Sanibel Shell Museum, or hire a pro to teach a family pickleball lesson on one of the many courts at Sundial, a big attraction for resort guests and locals alike.
Turks and Caicos
Vacationing in the Turks is as close to a sure thing weather-wise as you can get, which is an important factor when your kids’ idea of a good time is endless sunshine. And if you are a family of divers or snorkelers, there is no other Caribbean island that rivals the coral reefs here, teeming with iridescent inhabitants.
Where to Stay
Stay at the all-inclusive Beaches resort, a mini town where family vacations are literally all they do. The luxurious rooms include the services of a butler, who will gladly secure favorite chairs on the beach each morning accompanied by a cooler full of everyone’s beverage of choice. There’s nightly live entertainment, multiple gigantic pools (and swim-up bars), an incredible water park with slides (and lifeguards), and a twisty lazy river to explore.
Beaches is situated on the most perfect stretch of calm, safe-for-little-kids Grace Bay, which makes beach activities low stress whether you’re body surfing or ogling the tropical fish swimming by. Every restaurant here has a robust kids selection which makes meals tear-free, and vigilant security means that big kids can roam the property independently without worry. The kids club is best in class at Beaches, and they have evening hours, which means your minis can enjoy their beach luau while mom and dad walk down the sand for a drink at one of the other luxe resorts that face the bay.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Vieques, one of the small islands that make up Puerto Rico, is one of the best-kept family vacation secrets. It’s on the rustic-luxe side – until the 1990s the US Navy used Vieques as a military base – and the entire island is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. That means you may not see a ton of other tourists here, but this makes gorgeous, beach-rich Vieques truly more special and unique.
Where to Stay
You’ll want to stay at a VRBO with the kids, as many of the best hotels on the island are adults-only. Renting a Jeep to scoot everyone around or to get from your house to the grocery store is essential since roads are more a suggestion than anything else. But that rustic jungle adventure vibe is a huge part of the Vieques allure.
Take the family along the bumpy dirt road to spectacular Blue Beach, where you will likely have the whole thing to yourselves. (The kids will love the freedom to make waterfront Tik Toks without judgy beach neighbors.) Hang out with the packs of horses that roam wild all over the island, and at night, don’t miss the most magical experience here – a guided kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay, where the water beneath your boat literally glows blue when a fish streaks by and rays leap out of the water trailing trippy iridescent blue phosphorescence behind them.