East Coast Beach Vacations Through the Goggles of Parenthood

Growing up on the East Coast I had my pick of summer coastal getaways, and while memories from my pre-parenting days are hazy I can tell you that sun, surf, and seafood were important elements in all of those trips. Memories run together of one town’s attractions and another’s shops and restaurants and certainly all of these destinations teemed with parents and their loud children.

Once I became a parent of loud children my memory certainly didn’t improve, nor did my hearing. But I did discover that when I revisited some of my favorite coastal communities and slipped on the Goggles of Parenthood, sights and activities and other little things like age appropriateness came into focus for the first time. Here now, from North to South, three coastal getaways.

Ocean City, New Jersey. Photo Credit Izik on Flickr

Ocean City, New Jersey: Liquor-free, junk-food heaven. Best for kids 3-11

Before my wife and I had children we thought it was a nuisance that Ocean City was a dry town and honestly it’s still a nuisance (though you can stock up in nearby towns and tipple in your lodging). One aspect of the town’s dryness that we certainly appreciate today is that our young family can walk O.C.’s crowded boardwalk at night without encountering visibly inebriated folks spilling out of restaurants and other establishments. As for restaurants, well,your major food groups down here will be the cheese steaks at Sack O’Subs (926 Asbury Ave), and along the boardwalk, Mack & Manco’s pizza, Johnson’s hot caramel popcorn, and the anytime meal known as Kohr Brothers Frozen Custard. And don’t miss the sweet apple cider donuts baked fresh each morning at Oves Beach Grill at 4th St. and the Boardwalk.

Your young kids will have their pick of other young kids to befriend, particularly useful when everyone shares their pails and shovels for sandcastle building. As for the water, it’s not excruciatingly cold and is calm enough for wading, though it’s also just frisky enough for kids to boogie board. Through Labor Day each family member 12 and older will need a beach tag — $5 daily, $10 weekly, and $20 for the season. You can do the O.C. as a day trip but I’d recommend several days. The Crossings condo-hotel is more than adequate for long weekends and there are many rental homes available for a week or more.

Annapolis Harbor. Photo Credit KenWiedemann

Annapolis, Maryland: Crabs, boating, and the Navy. Best for kids 12 and older

Annapolis might take umbrage with my slapping an age range on their family vacation potential, but through my goggles I see core activities best enjoyed by parents and mature kids who deserve the opportunity to concentrate on what’s good here. While a getaway in Maryland’s capital city doesn’t center on sandy bathing suits and wolfed-down junk food, Annapolis won’t let you forget for a second that you’re a guest in the shadow of the Chesapeake Bay.

Boating is obligatory while you’re here. Just accept it. You’ll have your pick of sailboats, power boats, and other crafts. Charter them with a captain or go “bareboat” (no captain or crew) and if you’re a capable motorist who can claim to have a bit of prior boating experience, you’ll find it a rare treat to pilot a motorboat on the bay. Another treat – Old Bay Seasoning, named for the Old Bay ship line that used to ply the Chesapeake. The spice adorns nearly every restaurant table in the city and where there’s Old Bay, thankfully, there’s crab. Crab cakes, crab puffs, hot crab dip, she-crab soup, hard shell crabs – forgive my channeling Bubba from “Forrest Gump,” but the crab is that good. And since two of my three kids are allergic to shellfish, I appreciate far more than before that most Annapolis restaurants have plenty of un-crabby choices.

Once your family has its fill of seafaring and seafood the water play still isn’t over. If you happen to be in town this summer on a Sunday you’ll be able to catch musicians and street performances down at the Annapolis City Dock as part of the Summer at City Dock music series. And on any day but Sunday you’ll want to check out the United States Naval Academy, perhaps the most impressive facility you’ll ever see. Guided tours lasting about 75 minutes include glimpses of sample quarters, the Olympic-sized pool, the grounds, and midshipmen going about their business. Needless to say the place radiates discipline and it’s well worth seeing how awestruck and respectful your kids become, at least for the duration of the tour.

Beachcombing on Hatteras Island. Photo Credit Terren in Virginia on Flickr

Hatteras Island, North Carolina: Beaching, birding, fishing, and more seafood. All ages

For the uninitiated, North Carolina’s Outer Banks can intimidate. Many islands and towns will cry out for your business but you could do a lot worse than make Hatteras Island your base for a week. The Outer Banks Visitors Bureau points out that while Hatteras is 50 miles long it’s less than a mile wide in most spots, so it’s easy enough to get to the sand. Plus, parking and beach access are free.

Rental houses and condos abound throughout Hatteras Village, Frisco, Buxton, Avon, Salvo, Waves, and Rodanthe (yes, of “Nights in Rodanthe” novel and movie fame, where you can see the house that co-starred in the film). If you’re not property-rental minded there are a fair number of hotels in Hatteras Village as well as Buxton, where you and your family will want to pay respects to the zebra-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse on the planet.

Aside from beachcombing and beacon gazing your family can also indulge in bird watching, which may be best to try via the bird observation room at the Frisco Native American Museum and Natural History Center, which also abuts nature trails. If you want to take at least part of your clan fishing you can head out to the Hatteras Island Fishing Pier in Rodanthe, and for those in your family who are least 10 years old and 4ft 8 but under 200 lbs, a two-hour horseback ride that’ll take you along the beach is highly recommended.

One reason the beach is in such fine shape here is that Hatteras Island falls under the protection of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and via the National Park Service participates in a junior ranger program where your kids can learn about local history and preservation from real park rangers.

Visit for more beach vacation ideas and comprehensive listings of current beach travel deals and family travel deals.

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Ciao Bambino United States family travel guide

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