Vacation! September! Two kids under three! Eastern US!
July 18, 2014 6:40 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are in the beginning stages of planning our first vacation in a few years. It'll be our first vacation with kids; our daughters are 13 months and 2.5 years. We will be going in September. I'd prefer to stay in the Eastern time zone so we don't have to mess with sleep schedules. We have to stay in the US, as neither kid has a passport. We'd prefer to drive so we can set our own pace. Budget for the whole shebang is $1,000 - $1,500.

When we vacationed before kids, we usually chose cities, but this time we're thinking somewhere on the ocean. But we've never planned that kind of vacation and we're a little overwhelmed with the possibilities - we've discussed Narragansett, RI, Bethany Beach, DE, and Virginia Beach, but only because we know people who have vacationed there in the past, not because they really suit our needs. I'm hoping one of you is reading this and thinking "Oh, hey, I know just the spot!"

My ideal trip would include a (small?) beach town with clean beaches and walkable shops and restaurants. It would be great if the place were somewhere that's warm enough to want to go in the water in September, but that might mean flying? We're from upstate NY and I don't know much about autumnal climates along the eastern seaboard so maybe I'm wrong.

We're not opposed to a resort-type setting, but again, sorting through all the possibilities is overwhelming, and we're a bit budget-conscious. We're also okay with renting a house/apartment/whatever, but have never done that before and it adds a level of complexity to the searching when we haven't even narrowed it down to a town yet.

So, mefites, where should we take our two small children for a beach vacation in September?
posted by SeedStitch to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We rented a beach house about a decade ago at Rehobeth Beach, DE, and loved it. Very beautiful area, walkable/bikeable.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:47 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Myrtle Beach, SC might fit your bill. It'll still be warm in September, and it's kitchy fun.

Tybee Island, GA is another thought.

Now, another thought is Gatlinburg, TN. It's the mountains, so you and the kids could explore the Smoky Mountains. You have LOTS of opportunities for cabin rentals, or Hotel Time Share units, so you can cook, and have your own room, and have laundry. I like the Holiday Inn Vacation Club, the units are great, they have an indoor and outdoor pool, and they do activities. Also, after Labor Day, it's off season. The main drag is kitchy, touristy as HELL, but it's gorgeous there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cape May, NJ. Almost completely walkable - very family friendly, lots of neat shops and scenery. Also not too long of a drive so you won't get too stressed out getting there. Wildwood boardwalk is a short drive away. Depending on when in Sept ocean should still be swimmable.

There are lots of hotels right on the oceanfront that have suite set-ups so you could possibly have a separate sitting area for after the kids go to sleep. Also many have small kitchen areas so you could save a lot of money on cooking.

Depending on how many nights you are going for the 1,000 to 1,500 range should be workable. If you want recommendations for places to stay I could give a few.

posted by MrsMGH at 7:08 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: New England is still pretty nice in Sept (especially the first couple weeks) but the beach is freezing ALL year. We cope by choosing a place with a pool- especially a heated pool.

I could suggest Dunes on the Waterfront in Ogunquit. While this would be way out of your stated budget in the summer, in September it is MUCH cheaper. The up sides of this place are huge grassy lawn outside door with an incredible view. You can walk outside your door and have the kids play on the lawn while you eat your scones and coffee (they provide). It's not on the beach and water is pretty inaccessible so no worries about turning your head for a minute. They have a pool that they cover at night that keeps the water very warm. It is away from the main road. The lower priced rooms are simple, not huge, but have a fridge and keurig (traveling with small once I found I could live with almost anything but a fridge). I like rooms 22 and 23.

Things to do for little ones... they are on a tidal river and have row boats to use. The Ogunquit beaches are softest sand and at low tide stretches forever. Wells, York and Kennebunkport are all close for exploring. There is a town trolley to take from the Dunes that goes around town and to the beach. Laudholm Farm is gorgeous and has farm and an incredible beach.

You'll want water shoes to walk across the river bed at low tide to hit the beach with out having to drive there. The beach is quiet and gorgeous.
posted by beccaj at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jekyll Island, Georgia. We've stayed there several times using these folks, and it's fantastic. Everything is within walking/biking distance (definitely bring bikes and a kid carrier if you can), the house rentals are pretty inexpensive, and it's off the radar enough that it's not touristy. Tons of stuff to do within a very short drive, if you want to go off the island during the days.
posted by jbickers at 7:40 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The water in the Atlantic is still warm in September in the northeast. You probably want somewhere without big waves so your girls can wade safely. Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard might be good but too expensive. Cape May, yes! Bethany Beach is nicer than Rehoboth, but the waves may be a problem. Where are you? Upstate NY is huge. Try to limit drive to 6 or 7 hours total each way for everyone's sanity. Forget about Georgia, South Carolina, even North Carolina- they're too far and the drive will exhaust you. Trust me, I've traveled a lot with kids!
posted by mareli at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The distance may stretch your budget a bit but New Smyrna Beach, FL is a nice little beach that will still be warm in Sept. It's a small artsy town that has a different atmosphere than most of FL, especially if you stay on the beachside. There are tons of weekend festivals, lots of little art galleries and boutiques, and it's about an hour from Disney/Orlando if that's your thing.

Also St. Augustine, FL - a great little town about an hour and a half north of NSB is a beautiful little place with gorgeous beaches, lots of sightseeing and tons of history. It's the oldest continuously occupied city in America!
posted by dozo at 9:48 AM on July 18, 2014

Best answer: These charts might help a little. Water temps on the Maryland coast actually peak in September. I've gone many times to the Delaware and Maryland beaches in mid-September, and the water was wonderful.

I'm honestly surprised to see the Massachusetts water as still being warm in September. I feel like the water on Martha's Vineyard is freezing even in August! I'd definitely choose Maryland or Delaware over New England simply because the water is going to be a little warmer and the air is definitely going to be much warmer, which is going to make your trips to the beach much more comfortable. I think you're going to be cold in Naragansett that time of year, especially once the wind whips up.

Also, most stores and restaurants will still be open in Maryland and Delaware in September, which may not be true for New England.
posted by Leatherstocking at 10:16 AM on July 18, 2014

Are you game for camping? If so, I'd recommend Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, CT. They have tent, RV & "rustic cabin" camping at $35-$80/night. Madison is a nice town, too. It's about 40 minutes from Mystic Acquarium and Seaport and 50 minutes from the Foxwoods Pequot Museum. And there are other (pricier) accommodations if camping isn't your deal. Be sure to check out Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale for dinner!
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:02 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Putting my vote in for Narragansett, RI! Beautiful beaches and close for day trips to Block Island, Newport and Watch Hill. Narragansett shops *should* be open all year round because of the big off-season student population (a lot of URI students rent houses there during the school year but not completely sure on that one). I've gone swimming there in September and it's been OK.

Regarding students renting houses in Narragansett the off-season, you may want to check on availability for short rentals in September. Not sure how quickly they fill up.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 11:03 AM on July 18, 2014

Anywhere along the Outer Banks?

Duck, NC, specifically, is small and walkable. Beach, town, shops. If you stay in Duck, double check that the place you rent has beach access - the paths to the ocean are only open to renters in *some* areas in Duck, despite what the websites make it sound like. Some places do have pool access if the waves are too big for the kids.

There are other towns in the Outer Banks, most of which are cute little beach towns. Kill Devil Hills / Kitty Hawk / Nags Head aren't so cute but they have the most stores and services. As you go down the Outer Banks, the towns get smaller. A different current hits the Banks south of Hatteras, and so the water is both warmer and has different shells than the area north of Hatteras.

If you get tired of beach, our toddler was unexpectedly fascinated by lighthouses, there's a neat little museum in Corolla, there's also a walking path there which has a small chance of being a place you can see a wild horse without paying $40/person to ride around for two hours looking for them, there's a great little aquarium in Manteo - that would be driving, of course, but it's not much driving. There's a children's play museum in Kill Devil Hills that we haven't personally been to, but it was good to know it was there in case of rain. Between naps and toddler feeding schedules, going to the beach wound up filling most of the week. In Duck, you can park at the Duck park (generic play climbing structure,) take a very short walk to the left on the boardwalk, and wind up at Duck Donuts. They're just donuts, ok, whatever, but if she weren't napping, she'd highly recommend ordering donuts and watching them make the donuts and then eating donuts and looking for antlions from the boardwalk as an enjoyable activity.

If you rent a place, Outer Banks does it through reality offices. They highly recommend insurance (hurricanes, n'at) and I wound up going through them instead of VRBO because it wasn't clear how VRBO would handle it. The prices were equivalent, even in high summer. I'd recommend calling the realty office instead of just using their webpage, so you can ask questions like, "Does this rental actually come with beach access?," or, "Does this rental actually have curtains over the windows so the little ones can sleep?" You could probably even say, "Hello, I want a place with two bedrooms that's kid friendly with a pool that's got easy beach access" and let them figure it out. We found Southern Shores Realty to live up to the glowing google reviews, but there's stiff competition out there and many options.

If you rent a place near the ocean, it looks like you could spend about $1000 for a week in a condo with a pool. If you're willing to rent a place on the soundside and drive to the ocean - maybe half a mile, maybe four miles, depending on where you stay - you could rent a condo with a pool for about $600 for a week. Although it would be nice to walk to the beach, by the time you factor in all the stuff, it's a lot to carry anyway. Starting in Kitty Hawk and heading south for some time, all the beaches are public access and we never had trouble finding parking in Kitty Hawk, even by a lifeguarded beach, during high season.

Some sound-side places might have little beaches, and the Sound waves aren't nearly as big as the ocean waves. It could be a plus for little ones. My kid found it interesting to compare the sites and although she greatly preferred the "Big Beach," I didn't regret staying soundside.

We did find it overwhelming to pick a place, and I finally just picked one almost at random. It's hard, because everywhere is going to be good.

Outer Banks is deliberately courting families - even the more expensive restaurants (by which I mean, 20-30$/plate, as in, not McDonalds) are completely and totally kid friendly. Our kid has good restaurant manners but it was great to go somewhere where you don't get stinkeye just for walking in with a toddler. The restaurant workers at worst had training for meeting kid needs and at best seemed to openly enjoy having them there.

We just got back from Duck, and it's the best vacation we've taken with her yet. We're planning to go back next year, which makes it one of the few places I've ever wanted to go to more than once.

I've been to Virginia Beach for about half an hour and left to go to the Great Dismal Swamp instead. We took the kid to Rehoboth Beach when she was not quite a year old, but it wasn't as enjoyable as Outer Banks.
posted by arabelladragon at 12:48 PM on July 18, 2014

Martha's Vineyard is wonderful in Sept., the water is still warm, the crowds are thinned out, and the hotels and inns and whatnot are a little cheaper. Mefimail me if you visit, I'll free up a day and buy you a beer or two.
posted by vrakatar at 1:18 PM on July 18, 2014

Response by poster: Great answers, all! I actually went to Rehoboth as a guest of my rich cousins when I was a teenager, but all I remember was a cute lifeguard and that neither cousin looked at prices before buying things, which blew my mind.

After looking at plane ticket prices, we've pretty much eliminated flying, which means all of the Southern US stuff is out. We've narrowed it, on your excellent recommendations, to Rehoboth, Cape May, Ogunquit, or Naragansset.

Leatherstocking, those charts are really helpful!
posted by SeedStitch at 6:15 AM on July 21, 2014

I would suggest Lewes, DE rather than Rehoboth. Lewes is bayside, very walkable, and if you want to check out Cape May, take the ferry over.
posted by MichelleinMD at 5:54 PM on July 21, 2014

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