Take a Fall Beach Trip

Fall is one of our favorite times to head for the beach. Even though the temperatures are a bit cooler, the summer crowds have gone home and the shores are deserted. This is a great time for shell collecting, fishing, nature watching, or just strolling along the water's edge with your children. Bring along a pail for your finds, as there are sure to be many at this time of year.

On Virginia's Assateague Island, the wild ponies are much easier to see in the autumn months and the nasty green flies are almost completely absent. The beaches on Assateague are undeveloped and particularly beautiful. You'll find a bathhouse with rest rooms and showers, but no food concessions. Camping is available on Assateague Island, but all other lodging accommodations are on Chincoteague. Good places to stay include the Waterside Inn with its beautiful sunsets and crabbing pier, the Island Motor Inn Resort which features a heated indoor pool, the Refuge Inn with friendly Chincoteague ponies in its pasture, and the Driftwood Lodge located right at the entrance to Assateague Island.

Fall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina means tons of shells, abundant runs of bluefish, and deserted beaches. The water is still warm due to the nearby Gulf Stream and there is much to do along the Outer Banks' coast. Take a 4-wheel drive off-road adventure along the beaches north of Corolla to view the wild horses, go kayaking or windsurfing on the waters of the sounds, take hang gliding lessons at the world's largest hang gliding school, sample a famous "Apple Ugly" at Buxton's Orange Blossom Bakery, visit one of the area's many lighthouses, or take a ferry ride to enjoy the beautiful beaches on the island of Ocracoke. Vacation homes are available for 3-night long weekend rentals in the off season. Check with companies such as ResortQuest, Twiddy & Company, and Outer Beaches Realty to find a house that fits your needs. Many have private pools, hot tubs, and baby equipment, and some also allow pets. The family-friendly Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks/ Corolla offers complimentary breakfast for its guests and children under 18 stay free in their parents' room.

Another great spot for a fall beach getaway is the island of Nantucket. Located approximately thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, this little gem of an island is an excellent choice for a fall family beach escape. With its warm weather and lack of crowds, Nantucket was particularly alluring during my September stay. In addition, lodging prices are much lower and car or bike rental specials are often available. Bicycling is a very popular pastime here, as cars are expensive to bring to the island. The island is relatively flat, making family cycling relatively easy. In addition, buses run to the airport, beaches, and town on convenient schedules. Harbor House Village is one of the island's most family-friendly lodging establishments. Located close to downtown Nantucket and Children's Beach, Harbor House Village offers spacious guestrooms and a heated outdoor pool. The Cottages at the Boat Basin, a collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom cottages located around Nantucket's Old South and Swains Wharves in the historic downtown area, is another popular choice for families.

Further south, the low islands of Charleston, South Carolina, beckon families to enjoy one more weekend at the beach. Nearby Kiawah Island is a particularly good choice for an autumn family vacation. Parents rave about this island resort located just twenty-one miles south of Charleston because of the Kiawah Island Resort's family-friendly accommodations, its wide beaches, and the variety of family oriented recreation and children's programs offered here. Ten miles of pristine sandy beach stretch from east to west, and a challenging array of championship golf courses will satisfy even the most demanding enthusiasts in the family. Vacationers can choose to stay in single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, or Kiawah Island's grand hotel, The Sanctuary. Kamp Kiawah, the resort's children's program, runs on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through mid-November. A variety of family arts & crafts and sports activities run through the same date. In addition, Kiawah offers a number of nature activities for families including a dolphin encounter boat cruise, shelling expeditions, family fishing, a gator walk, parent-child kayaking, and beachside bonfires.

Another good choice for sports and nature-loving families is Amelia Island, Florida. Conveniently located near Jacksonville, Amelia Island offers 13 miles of beautiful, wide white beaches with tall dunes. >From Fort Clinch at the northern end to the high dunes at the south, you'll find endless vistas for jogging, relaxing, or playing in the sand. If you have three or four days to spend here, do try to take a day trip to nearby Cumberland Island across the Georgia state line. Ferries leave from nearby St. Mary for Cumberland, where you'll find miles and miles of deserted beaches, wild horses, armadillos, and the ruins of mansions and plantation homes. In addition to camping facilities and numerous rental properties, you'll find some world-class resorts available on this island. The five-diamond, award-winning The Ritz-Carlton offers families luxury and fine dining, with a children's program to entertain the kids. Spanning the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the intercoastal waterway on the west, the 1350-acre Amelia Island Plantation offers guests a choice of single-family homes condos, suites and hotel rooms for rent. Beach walks, bike rides along flat paths and winding roads, and a leisurely game of golf or tennis are great ways to spend a fall day here.

The West Coast offers a wide variety of choices for a fall family beach break. One of the most beautiful options is the seaside community of Coronado, California. Located just fourteen miles from San Diego's airport, the island of Coronado boasts eighteen miles of white sand beaches and generally gentle waves perfect for kids and learning to surf. The ocean beaches of Coronado have been named as the best beach in California and the #2 best beach in the United States by the Travel Channel. In addition to the picture-perfect beaches, there are many family oriented attractions in the area. The Ferry Landing Marketplace is a great place to shop, and nearby San Diego offers the world famous San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Legoland, and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Kids and teens are pampered and catered to at the historic Hotel del Coronado, a 31-acre Victorian oceanfront beach resort located on an idyllic crescent strand of white sandy beach. At The Del, teens can enjoy spa treatments, a variety of recreation programs, and the Coast Club Teen Lounge designed specifically for kids ages 12-17. The Hotel del Coronado's Tent City Kids Camp for ages 4-12 offers full afternoon and evening programs and shorter one-hour programs at Kids' Crafts feature fun arts and crafts. The surfing lessons are also a big hit here.

If you're missing the waves and the sound of the surf, here are a few more tempting U.S. choices for your fall family beach escape:

Dana Point, California

Santa Cruz, California

St. Petersburg Beach, Florida

Sanibel, Captiva, and North Captiva Islands, Florida

Sea Island, Little St. Simon's Island, St. Simon's and Jekyll Islands, Georgia

The Big Island, Hawaii

Maui, Hawaii

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

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