Camping by the Sea: Best Beach Campgrounds for Families
Family-friendly campgrounds by the beach By Jody Halsted
Jalama Beach near Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr: John Murphy)
As you prepare your summer adventures, it’s likely two words figure into your plans: beach and camping. Beginning your search for the perfect waterfront campsite, you’ll find two things – a) the list is long and b) the term 'beach camping' has a different meaning everywhere you look. Add the term 'family-friendly' and you’ve really got your work cut out for you.
Every family has different requirements when choosing a family-friendly beach campsite, whether it’s location, facilities, or activities. At least one of the following recommendations should be a perfect fit for your family adventure!
Jalama Beach, Santa Barbara County, CA - A dozen tent-camping sites nestle next to the Pacific Ocean at this site just an hour from Santa Barbara. More tent camping, plus RV and cabins sit a bit farther back. Picnic tables and BBQ pits accompany each campsite, while restrooms, water, and showers are available on the grounds. Kids will enjoy swimming, surfing, fishing, whale watching, and the on-site playground.
Thornhill Broome Beach Campground near Malibu, CA - Just off the Pacific Coast highway near Malibu, sandwiched between the pavement and the rolling surf, this campground is part of Point Mugu State Park. All campsites, both tent and RV, are on the beach though most are elevated by a few feet of rock. Sites are large, but there is no shade. Sites are primitive and include a picnic table, fire pit, access to port-a-potties, running water, and a cold water beach shower. Activities include hiking and swimming - just be aware of powerful rip tides.
Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi, TX (Flickr: Mishal A)
Padre Island National Seashore, TX - This island National Park near Corpus Christi, stretched along the Gulf of Mexico, has four great campsites for families. All sites, both RV and tent camping, are on a first-come basis, so have a back-up plan, just in case. With over 70 miles of coastline, your family will find plenty to keep occupied! Wildlife is abundant and includes nearly 400 bird species as well as sea turtles. Don’t forget about the Junior Ranger program for the kids, as well as park events.
Mustang Island State Park, TX - Not far from Padre Island, this Texas State Park has 5 miles of beachfront coastline with primitive tent camping on the beach. RV and electric sites are only 75 yards from the water. Campfires are allowed on the beach, while the less rustic sites offer shade shelters, picnic tables, outdoor grills and restroom facilities. Kayak or canoe along the Mustang Island Paddling Trail for birdwatching and wildlife sightings. Beyond beach activities kids will love the geocaching opportunities and the Texas State Park Junior Ranger programs, which are similar to the National Park programs.
Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys (Flickr: Barbara Eckstein)
Bahia Honda State Park on Bahia Honda Key, FL - Offering tent, RV, cabins, and even hammock camping, this remote Florida park is a tropical oasis for families. Water activities include swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and boat trips to the reef for snorkeling. The Sand and Sea Nature Center will prepare your family for on land activities like hiking, geocaching, and bird watching.
Fort Clinch State Park, FL - To get sand in your toes, stay at the Atlantic Beach Campground which offers RV and tent sites. Sites have a fire ring, picnic table, potable water and electric hook-ups with nearby bathroom and shower facilities. Shell and shark tooth hunting are popular beach activities. Wildlife sightings include dolphins, deer, and wild horses to the north along Cumberland National Seashore. The Fort Clinch historic site offers a ‘living history’ experience with is a 19th century period costumed guides depicting daily life in the fort.
First Landing State Park, VA - Described as 'an oasis within urban Virginia Beach', this is Virginia’s most visited state park. RV, tent, and cabin camping are available for those wanting an escape along the Chesapeake Bay. The park is a National Historic Landmark as the first English colonists landed here in 1607. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places for the work done by an all African-American Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. From historic and education exhibits, to pirate lore and recreational activities, families will find a multitude of activities to keep them occupied.
Assateague State Park in Maryland (Flickr: Numb Photo)
Assateague State Park, MD - A barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean, this is Maryland’s only oceanfront park, located on Assateague Island National Seashore. Though camping isn’t allowed on the beach, campgrounds for tents lie just beyond the dunes. Campsites include a picnic table and fire ring, with a bathhouse nearby, so be prepared to ‘rough it’. The natural beauty and waterfront activities of swimming, fishing, boating, and beachcombing more than make up for the lack of facilities. And, if you’re lucky, you may see the island’s most famous inhabitants- the Assateague Wild Ponies.
Hammonasset Beach State Park, CT - With over 2 miles of beach, this is Connecticut’s largest shoreline park. It also has a huge campground – over 550 grassy campsites for tent or RV are just a short walk from the beach. The on-site Meigs Nature center offers programs and organized summer activities for all ages. When kids tire of swimming, shelling, or fishing they can enjoy the centrally located playground.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan (Flickr: Les Infill)
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI - Located on the shore of pristine Lake Michigan, this park offers three drive-in campgrounds. To get closest to the water stay at Twelevemile Beach. This tent-only campground offers a picnic table, fire grate and tent pad at each site, along with a solar-powered well for water. You’re completely disconnected here as cell phone coverage is spotty at best. Located on a plateau above the beach, you can be dipping your toes in the cool lake within minutes. Enjoy hiking, cycling, boating, swimming and guided tours in this National Lakeshore. And don’t forget about the Junior Ranger program for the kids.