My image of a perfect beach trip has changed so much over the years. It used to be simple: a place to park my fanny, listen to the waves, read all week long, and people watch. Four kids later, that vision is a distant memory. It’s not quite so relaxing, but it’s a lot more fun (well, for the most part).
Nowadays, I need/want a Target or Harris Teeter close by because I don’t care how much I plan, I will forget something. And I want some shopping and restaurants reasonably close because I do enough cooking in “real life” and a week is a whole lot of family time – sometimes you just need a little change of scenery from your vacation right? And we have to have a pool close by because my kids won’t stay at the beach all day, BUT I don’t want a pool in the backyard because I still have a toddler and I think I’d lose my mind always worrying about the pool and the baby (when my kids are pre-teens, yes to the backyard pool!). Oh, and an Urgent Care is now necessary because no matter how healthy we are on our way to the beach, SOMEONE will get sick during the vacation and will require a prescription of some kind.
My husband and I have taken family beach trips every year since we were married (we both grew up going on family beach trips and just feel like it’s what you do during the summer). Since neither of our families owns a beach place, we’re not partial to any one place. We’ve hopped around trying to find the perfect family beach getaway – we’ve tried renting a house on a quiet beachfront, a condo within walking distance to the beach, a townhome in a resort – you know name, we’ve rented it. They each have their pluses and minuses – and our needs seem to change so much as the children get older.
No matter what your requirements are, we are so lucky to have hundreds of fantastic beaches within driving distance of the Queen City (I often feel sorry for Midwesterners who are so land-locked!).
I’ve compiled a little list of (in my family’s opinion) the best NC and SC beach destinations for families – I know there are more out there and would love to hear what yours are (I know people are partial to THEIR beaches – especially if you grew up going with all of your relatives to the same beach house year after year). Some on the list are resorts on a beach; others are just the beaches themselves. Here it goes!
Wild Dunes on Isle of Palms, SC – We’ve been to Wild Dunes several times and LOVE it. Wild Dunes is a resort on the Isle of Palms right outside the Charleston/Mt. Pleasant area. A super quick drive (around 3 hours door-to-door for us and all interstate – whoop, whoop!), this one gets high marks from me because of accessibility and proximity to major chains like Harris Teeter and Target. BUT since you’re on an island resort, it feels like you’re millions of miles from the chaos (plus Isle of Palms is gorgeous!!). Charleston is SO close – awesome shopping, food, a children’s museum, battleships, an aquarium, and horses – what more could you ask for? The actual resort has tons to do – great bike paths, golf, tennis, kids activities, pools, dining, etc.
Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, SC – This one is a little farther from Charlotte (I’d say it takes around 4 ½ hours with stops) but also gets high marks from our family. We’re actually going there again this summer because we had such a great experience last summer (and the prices aren’t terrible!). Similar to Wild Dunes, Sea Pines is a resort on Hilton Head Island. You get all the amenities – bike paths, running trails, tennis, golf, restaurants, pools, kids’ activities (my kids did half day camps twice last year and loved them!), and Harbor Town, which is a great entertainment hub with restaurants, shopping, and kids’ activities. It’d be a great place with teenagers because you could give them a little bit of freedom in Harbor Town but still know where they are. Hilton Head Island has so much to offer as well – tons of shopping (great outlets!), restaurants, and golf. Oh, and there is a Harris Teeter right outside the resort. Yes!
Myrtle Beach, SC – While it may get an unglamorous reputation at times, Myrtle Beach is a great place to take families. There are SO many things to do (think Las Vegas for kids) but enough pretty beaches left to make it worthwhile for parents. North Myrtle Beach including Cherry Grove, Ocean Drive, Crescent Beach, and Windy Hill are great places to rent a house or a condo – they are a little more tame but are close enough to the action to get your fill and get home. Oh, and I hear there is great golf!
The NC Outer Banks – While this is quite a drive for Charlotteans, the Outer Banks is such a beautiful destination that has a totally different feel from the more southern NC and SC beaches. Made up of small islands and towns like Hatteras Island, Kitty Hawk, Duck, Nags Head, and Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks has tons of history, charm, and peaceful beaches to appease parents and kids. Shops and restaurants are plentiful. Definitely check out Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head – this 426-acre park has the largest natural living sand dune on the East Coast. My kids LOVED this. There is also The Lost Colony, The Graveyard of the Atlantic, and tons of lighthouses to check out (note – this would be a great beach to visit with kids who are studying North Carolina or American history!).
The Crystal Coast – Still a drive but not quite as far as the Outer Banks, the Crystal Coast, which includes Atlantic Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Beaufort, and Morehead City, and a few others is an awesome family destination. It’s quiet but has tons of charm and things to keep the kids entertained like putt-putt, water slides, bowling, and a pirate invasion in August. A NC aquarium is located in Pine Knoll Shores (so fun and will have penguins this year!) and Beaufort and Morehead City have cute little shops and restaurants. Pine Knoll Shores also has an AWESOME day camp called Sound to Sea – a great way for the kids to learn, have fun, and meet new friends while you actually get a little vacation on your vacation (I’m also a little biased as my brother-in-law is affiliated with the camp – but I promise – it’s so fun!).
Pawley’s Island, SC – This is fellow CSP blogger Susan Bowman’s pick. Located about 70 miles north of Charleston and 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach, it’s known as one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast. It’s a little bit south of Litchfield Beach, SC. It is a barrier island that is about 4 miles long so practically every home is oceanfront and even homes located across the street are a very short walk to the beach. It’s an island so one side is ocean and the other is a salt marsh – great for those that like to crab, fish and ride a boat or a kayak. There are no hotels in Pawley’s Island, so there’s never a crowd.
Sunset Beach, Holden Beach, and Topsail Beach, NC – I lumped these together because they are very similar. All are quiet, beautiful beaches without the glitz and noise of places like Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. They are about the same distance from Charlotte (Topsail is a little further). Most people rent houses on these beaches since there aren’t any real resorts (which is the beauty of it). The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is located on Topsail Beach – I’ve never been but have always wanted to check it out. While there aren’t many chain stores close by, sometimes it’s nice to just be away from it all. We vacationed here when our older kids were babies, and we really didn’t need all the other fluff. Right now my family is more into the “Las Vegas” beach stage – we love to have activities, shopping etc. – but I know the time will come when this type of beach will be perfect for us again. If you want quiet, relaxing family time, try one of these beaches!
So now it’s your turn. What beach or resort in NC or SC did I miss?? Where should we go next year?