Best Family-Friendly Beaches Near DC

Sun's out, guns out in Ocean City. Photo courtesy of Ocean City MD Tourism
Sun's out, guns out in Ocean City. Photo courtesy of Ocean City MD Tourism
6/16/23 - By Drew Kristofik

While Washington, DC is certainly not a beach town, there are plenty of family-friendly beaches near DC to spend the day or a weekend if you're willing to make the drive. These range from smaller beaches on the Potomac River or the Chesapeake Bay that are not too far away, all the way to farther locales like the Delaware beaches, Virginia Beach, and even North Carolina's Outer Banks.

So pack the car (and the kids) for a day trip, a weekend, or a longer vacation at one of these 10 family-friendly beaches near DC that are most certainly worth the drive. If you're looking for water fun within the DMV, see our lists of the best swimming lakes, parks with beaches, outdoor water parks, sprinkler parks and splash pads, and free public swimming pools in and near DC. Go on in—the water's fine!


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Best Family-Friendly Beach Towns Near DC: Colonial Beach, VA
Dig into the sand at Colonial Beach. Photo by Mary Carter/Courtesy of Town of Colonial Beach Travel & Tourism

Best Family-Friendly Beaches Near DC

1. Colonial Beach, Virginia

Although Colonial Beach is technically on the Potomac River and not the ocean, its relative proximity to DC makes it an ideal choice for a day of sand and gentle surf. Colonial Beach also 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!

2. Ocean City Beach, Maryland

Ocean City is one of the best beaches near DC for families looking for a full vacation experience. 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-5:30pm during the summer. Ocean City is less than a three-hour drive from DC.

3. Sandy Point State Park — Annapolis, Maryland

This 786-acre park on the Chesapeake Bay, only about 75 minutes from DC by car, is the "beachiest" beach this close to the DMV. A portion of its one-mile beach is protected with lifeguards from 10am-6pm on weekdays, weekends, and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The park also offers fishing, boating, camping, and playgrounds. There is a small fee to enter.

4. Bethany Beach, Delaware

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.

RELATED: Delaware Beaches with Kids: 21 Things To Do at the Delaware Shore

Best Family-Friendly Beach Towns Near DC: Rehoboth Beach, DE
Jump into the ocean in Rehoboth Beach. Photo by Stacey Ravo, courtesy of the City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

5. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

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.

6. Dewey Beach, Delaware

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.

7. Lewes Beach, Delaware

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.

RELATED: Your Essential Beach List: Best Baby Beach Gear, Umbrellas, Wagons, and Tips for a Fun Beach Day

Best Family-Friendly Beach Towns Near DC: Fenwick Island, DE 
You never know who will visit you on the beach in Fenwick Island. Photo by Virginia Davidson, courtesy of the Town of Fenwick Island Govt

8. Fenwick Island, Delaware

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.

9. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach is roughly a four-hour drive from DC by car, so plan to spend at least a weekend there. With so many 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).

10. Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks (also referred to as the OBX) is a series of beautiful barrier islands, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the calm Pamlico Sound on the other. Though it's a roughly six-hour drive from DC, DMV families flock to the OBX each summer to enjoy its gorgeous beaches, fresh seafood, historic lighthouses, and fun family activities like mini golf and water sports. With so many large beach houses available for rent, it's a great place for extended families or large groups of friends to vacation together.

This post was originally published in 2020. It's been updated with additional reporting by Meredith Kiryakov and Jennifer Marino Walters.