by JG Walker
Grab your flip flops, swimsuits, and sunscreen because there’s no greater delight than a beach trip with the grandkids. You already know about the big-name destinations, so this edition of “Grand Vacations” highlights some locations that are slightly off the beaten path, but sure to delight every seeker of seaside sun and fun.
THE OUTER BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA
The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands that stretch for about 150 miles along the Atlantic coast. There are an amazing variety of accommodation choices that include cottages, campgrounds, and condos, as well as large private homes and locally owned inns and motels. Nearly all are right on the beach or just a short walk away, and you can rent everything from kayaks and surf boards to beach bikes and fishing gear by the day. You can even learn to hang glide on one of the enormous sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.
Among the must-see Outer Banks attractions are the impressive Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the wild horses that roam freely in several locations.
All along the Outer Banks are family-friendly restaurants that feature local seafood and special kids‘ menus. Shorts and other casual attire are always in fashion, but be sure to pack a hoodie or a light jacket—the steady off-shore breezes that make the Outer Banks a kite-flying paradise can also put a little nip in the air after sunset.
LITCHFIELD BEACH/PAWLEYS ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
Private homes on or near the oceanfront offer some of the best vacation values, but there are also a variety of available area condominiums and chain hotels. The beaches are among South Carolina’s best, especially at Huntington Beach State Park, which also has seaside tent camping and RV sites. And just across Highway 17 you’ll discover Brookgreen Gardens, a 9,000-acre National Historic Landmark with America’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, plus a Native Wildlife Zoo, Children’s Nature & Sensory Trail and Enchanted Storybook Forest.
In addition to bicycle and watercraft rentals, golfing families take note: the Litchfield Beach/Pawleys Island area is home to the Waccamaw Golf Trail, a dozen top-rated golf courses where kids can play for free with an accompanying adult.
The Murrells Inlet Marshwalk is a great place for a waterfront stroll before or after an early dinner. Then head on up to Myrtle Beach for an evening of fun at Broadway at the Beach, a Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball game, or one of the big musical-show theaters.
TYBEE ISLAND, GEORGIA
Tybee Island is a family-oriented Georgia beach town about 18 miles east of Savannah. In addition to private beach homes, cottages, and condos, Tybee features a number of seaside hotels and small inns. There are many casual dining restaurants where kids are welcomed and two big public parks with playground equipment and picnic areas.
Water sports are Tybee’s primary daytime activities: you can rent a kayak, Jet Ski, or paddle board and learn how to surf from professional instructors. Dolphin tours, scenic cruises, and deep sea fishing charters are also available. Among the favorite local attractions are the Tybee Lighthouse, Fort Pulaski, the Tybee Marine Science Center, the Tybee Pier & Pavilion, and natural adventures on pristine Little Tybee Island.
Nearby Savannah is a great destination for a day trip and exploring the city’s historic district on foot, by trolley or from a horse-drawn carriage. The downtown Jepson Center offers art shows, educational programs, and the unique ArtZeum, a 3,500-square-foot interactive gallery designed especially for kids. For more information, go to TybeeIsland.com.
DESTIN/FT. WALTON BEACH, FLORIDA
Located on the Florida Panhandle between Pensacola and Panama City, Destin and Ft. Walton Beach are Gulf Coast towns offering endless summer vacation fun. Known as the “Emerald Coast” for the distinctive blue-green color of the local waters, the wide area beaches are among the region’s most inviting. Accommodations include big waterfront hotels and private beach homes or condominiums, as well as campgrounds with cabins and RV hookups.
Away from the beaches, Destin is a wonderland of family-fun attractions, from Big Kahuna’s Water & Adventure Park and the interactive Buccaneer Pirate Cruise ship to Lulu’s Destin theme park and the Track Family Recreation Center to Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone and the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Ft. Walton Beach. But don’t miss out on the ecotourism adventures available at the Gulf Island National Seashore, Henderson Beach State Park, and Mattie Kelly Park and Nature Walk. Diving, snorkeling, and fishing, including charter-boat excursions, are also popular outdoor activities.
With hundreds of restaurants, including many certified Gulf-to-Table eateries that promote local products, there’s always a healthy dining option. Get more information at EmeraldCoastFL.com.
Previously published in the 2016 Spring Issue.