9 Family-Friendly Beaches Near DC
If the thought of cool ocean breezes and sand between your toes is alluring, it's time to consider a trek to one of the family-friendly beaches near Washington, DC. Of course, getting to a bona fide beach requires a (sometimes lengthy) car ride from the capital area, and some nearby shores are still off limits due to the pandemic.
Still, we've managed to gather up some beach intel just for you, with this list of nine seaside options that are open and welcoming out-of-towners this summer.
So pack the car (and the kids) for a beach day trip or a long weekend—the summer possibilities are endless. And keep an eye on the public pool situation—if all goes well, pools might open one day soon.
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Family-Friendly Beaches near Washington, DC
In addition to its 10-mile stretch of sand, Ocean City features many attractions on its boardwalk, including restaurants, shops, amusement parks, and more. The beach is free to the public and monitored by the Ocean City Beach Patrol, which is on duty daily from 10am to 5:30pm during the summer. There are also two sections dedicated to surfers and boogie boarders. Ocean City is less than a three-hour drive from DC.
Sandy Point, on the Chesapeake Bay, is only about 75 minutes from DC by car and unfurls over 786 acres. A portion of South Beach is protected with lifeguards from 10am to 6pm weekdays, weekends, and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. As of May 15, there are no restrictions on capacity and group sizes, and masks are not required indoors or outdoors for those who have been vaccinated. The playgrounds are open, but parents are encouraged to talk to kids about safe playground rules and appropriate distancing before your visit.
Although Colonial Beach is technically on the Potomac River, not the ocean, its relative proximity to DC makes it an ideal choice for a day of sand and gentle surf. Plus, Colonial Beach has plenty of other attractions such as Westmoreland State Park, President James Monroe's birthplace, quaint shops and restaurants, a boardwalk and pier, and more. And it's less than two hours from DC by car!
Sandbridge Beach is one of three Virginia Beach shores to explore. Photo courtesy of Visit Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach is roughly a four-hour drive from DC by car, so plan to spend at least a weekend there. With so things to do in Virginia Beach with kids—a great boardwalk, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, mini golf, and more—you'll have no trouble filling your time. Virginia Beach's three beach options—Sandbridge, Chesapeake Bay, and Oceanfront Resort—are all free and open to the public. You can also visit First Landing State Park (1.25 miles of beach) and False Cape State Park (six miles of beach).
Bethany Beach is one of the most family-friendly of the Delaware beaches. In addition to the gorgeous beach, Bethany Beach boasts great restaurants, fun mini golf courses, a kid-friendly nature center, ice cream shops galore, and a cute downtown with plenty of quaint shops. And at under three hours from DC by car, Bethany Beach is an easy destination for a weekend family trip.
Another popular Delaware beach, Rehoboth prides itself on its mile-long boardwalk with rides, games, and more family fun. There are also fun summer events such as free concerts at the bandstand, playgrounds and mini golf, and a bustling downtown full of souvenir shops, boutiques, ice cream spots, and delicious restaurants.
Enjoy weekly activities, including bonfires, at Dewey Beach. Photo courtesy of the Town of Dewey Beach
Just slightly south of Rehoboth is a quieter, less famous stretch of sand: Dewey Beach. Free Monday night movies on the beach and Wednesday night bonfires are a highlight for families. There's also plenty of shopping and restaurants and a laid-back vibe.
Fenwick Island, located between Rehoboth and Ocean City, is a great choice for a day of swimming, crabbing, clamming, or a longer family vacation. Its three-mile stretch of barrier island has a reputation for being less rowdy and more peaceful than other beachy hotspots in Delaware. If you're looking for thrills, head to Thunder Lagoon Water Park.
Lewes Beach, situated where the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet at Cape Henlopen, offers miles of beautiful beaches, nature trails, and bird sanctuaries. Keep time open in your schedule to visit Cape Henlopen State Park, a 3,000-acre park featuring famous "walking" sand dunes and lovely nature trails.
This post was originally published in 2020. Writer Meredith Varela contributed to this 2021 update.