Easy, cheap trip to the ocean?
February 5, 2018 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I want to bring my two kids (under 7) to the ocean this June for a few days on my own. Somewhere with temps averaging between 65-80, swim-able, easy to get around. We'd be flying from Chicago and most likely renting a car to explore. I'm thinking northern California or North Carolina, but totally open to ideas. I'd like to keep ticket costs under $800, and hotel costs under $120 per night. Any ideas?
posted by retrofitted to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Morro Bay, mid coast California. Several beaches and tide pools between Pismo Beach to San Luis Obispo. Hotels are nice in that price range. There are various and many places to eat and the hotel where I stayed with my grandson, had breakfast.
posted by Oyéah at 8:03 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The water is generally under 65 degrees in June in California. The further north the colder of course.
posted by gryphonlover at 8:05 PM on February 5, 2018 [13 favorites]

Do you have passports?
Flights into Cancun and a nice little hotel along 5th Ave in Playa might be nice.
posted by beccaj at 8:05 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In general I think the ocean is much warmer on the east coast beaches than the west coast. North Carolina's Outer Banks are a very popular and family-friendly destination.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:06 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Not Northern California, if by Northern you mean Bay Area-ish. The water will be cold and many beaches have strong riptides. It's also likely to be foggy (we call it Juneuary here). Santa Cruz may be an exception.

North Caroline is a better bet, I think. Even further north - I've been to the Jersey Shore in June, and although the water is still pretty chilly, it's doable and there are plenty of swimmable beaches to choose from.
posted by rtha at 8:20 PM on February 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

The northern East Coast ocean temps starting at around New Jersey are still too cold for my total enjoyment even thought I've spent most of my life in the NYC area and should be used to it. Your mileage may of course vary.

Haven't tried NC but I spend plenty of time on the lowcountry islands* around Charleston, SC which are beautiful and have lots of cool nature and wildlife. The water temperatures are warm and the ocean is pretty calm. (If your kids aren't strong swimmers/used to the ocean you may be surprised and possibly dismayed at how powerful the California currents and waves are.) SC air temperature may be a shade hot for your taste in June though.

* Sullivan's Island, Kiawah, John's Island, Isle of Palm, Seabrook, there are more, all at different levels of price and activity, and Charleston's a pretty neat city to explore in and of itself.
posted by lalex at 8:26 PM on February 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

Savannah/Tybee Island?
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:34 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I do see kids in the water at the Santa Cruz beaches but you'd never catch me in there. Unless you and your kids are real polar bears, I don't think N Cal beaches will be right.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:54 PM on February 5, 2018

(Not an island but I meant to throw out Charleston-adjacent Folly Beach out there, which will have decent price variety for nearby hotels and beach town activities.)
posted by lalex at 9:07 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Agreeing that northern California in the summer = cold ocean. Here's a recent question about what to do with kids on the Central Coast, where the weather is warmer, and generally warm enough to make the ocean a lot more appealing (though some parts of the Central Coast and south can get socked in with morning fog, which can definitely dampen spirits set on the beach).

We stayed at an Air B'n'B last summer in Santa Barbara, which is generally an expensive area, but the rental was pretty cheap. As a bonus, the rental included boogie boards and beach gear, even though it wasn't beach adjacent. If you do stay closer to Santa Barbara, it has a great zoo, and some great parks, if beach life gets old (or the fog doesn't burn off and the temperatures don't rise).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 PM on February 5, 2018

Definitely stick to the East Coast. The Pacific Ocean off the West Coast of North America is not friendly to swimmers due to few accessible beaches, frigid temps, surprise riptides, and great white sharks (okay yeah I know there haven't been THAT many attacks, but one is one too damn many!). Additionally, your hotel price limit is a bit low for coastal California, otherwise I'd suggest you try San Diego or Ventura or something if you really wanted to do California.

You *might* be able to get away with Pismo or Morro Bay and stay at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, but the nearest large airport is like four hours away. It's just not worth the effort. Especially because the water is still damn cold; my aunt has a house west of SLO on a cliff overlooking the ocean and I've been in the water once. And it was summer. Never again.

Midway and O'Hare are both hub airports; Southwest flies nonstop from MDW to Virginia Beach and Charleston. That'd be my suggestion.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:12 PM on February 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Central coast local here, it's likely (but not guaranteed) to be foggy and none too warm on the beach here in June, the primo beach weather time is early fall, Sept and Oct. You see kids in the water, but my son wants his wet suit. We head to the beach in the summer to cool off/soak up the fog when we can't take the hotter temps inland where we live. It is, as pp pointed out, also not a straightforward place to get to by air. You'll pay a premium to fly into SLO or have to fly into the bay area or la, rent a car and drive at least 3 hours. It's beautiful, but for the effort to get here, I think you'd want to spend at least a few days. If you really have your heart set on CA, I'd head farther south, maybe Catalina, or stick closer to places near the bay area - Santa Cruz or Monterey.

What about Florida? We did a last minute trip to FL last year for spring break (cliche, I know!) and it was a great family trip (our kids were 6 and under). Florida was not really on my radar but after this trip I'd go back in a heart beat. It'll be on the top of your heat scale (looks like the avg in clearwater in June is 80). We flew into Tampa and spent time in Clearwater and on Sanibel Island. There were lots of hotel options in Clearwater, more expensive ones on the beach itself and cheaper chains downtown, which is where we ended up. Sanibel might be trickier budget wise, but you could fly into Ft. Meyers or stay there and take a day trip to the island. We booked our flights last minute from CA and it was surprisingly affordable on Southwest. There are also plenty of kid friendly non beach activities in Tampa, we had a great time at the science museum, discovered a cool playground right by the airport, and spent a (very muggy) day at Legoland (in the old busch gardens theme park) which is just over an hour away.
posted by littlerockgetaway at 10:22 PM on February 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Nthing that ocean swimming in northern California is done in a wetsuit.
posted by ryanrs at 11:41 PM on February 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd try further south, Southern California, specifically north county San Diego. The stretch of coast from La Jolla all the way north to Carlsbad is full of accessible, interesting beaches.

You definitely need a rental car but plenty to do in San Diego with kids - from the Zoo/Safari Park to Legoland or just walking around the coastal towns. La Jolla is a bit upscale but as you head north to Encinitas and Carlsbad, the communities are a bit more laid back with walkable centers. I grew up near Moonlight Beach.
posted by vacapinta at 1:38 AM on February 6, 2018

With a young kid, I prefer the Gulf Coast because the water is much calmer, generally. My mom and I stayed on Manasota Key (between Tampa and Ft. Meyers) last year and it was lovely. Lots of VBRO typed condo rentals rather than hotels (another thing I prefer with kids), very slow-paced Old Florida. Shells and wildlife out the wazoo. Fly in to Punta Gorda if you can (small discount carriers fly there). It's a two-gate tiny airport, so easy to deal with, and then if you rent a car it's about a 30-40-minute drive to the coast and various barrier islands.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:58 AM on February 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

I am pretty sure you could do Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on your budget, and I have friends in the Chicago area that used to live in Southport who flew non-stop out of Myrtle Beach all of time. Tons of stuff to do, and a lot geared towards kids and families, but you’d want to stay on or near the Grand Strand for easiest access. Lots of beach access, easy rentals, cheap food, shopping, Alligator Adventure, Myrtle Beach Pelicans minor league baseball (actually a very nice minor league stadium), water parks, Ripley’s Museum on the Strand and Aquarium at Broadway at the Beach, rides on the Boardwalk, go-karts; I love being just an hour an a half away. A lot of Southeastern US kids grew up going to Myrtle during the summer, and my family was Navy, so we lived at *other* beaches, and there’s just something about it. June isn’t too hot, either.

Alternatively, you could check out Wilmington/Carolina Beach/Topsail Beach, which are fun spots for kids; parks and rentals and mini-golf and fireworks. Wilmington the city has a lot for kids to do, but there’s a lot of traffic in the area in the summertime.

Virginia Beach is also a good bet.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:59 AM on February 6, 2018

Ocracoke Island (pronounced like Oak-er-coke) in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the southern part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It's gorgeous and much less built up than Topsail (pronounced Tops'l because none of the OBX pronunciations make sense), and leans less Trumpy than Hatteras Island (I am making a leap in judgement since your other potential destination is coastal California).

Ocracoke has its village on the west side of the island, which is adorable and walkable, and the rest of the island is pretty primitive with lovely beaches. It would be worth your while to bring a car to access some of the points further from town. There's also tons of pirate history what with Blackbeard's last stand. The water is warmer since you're south of Cape Point/Buxton, and I've found the beach access to be less tricky (parts of Hatteras have some rough surf).

If you want super primitive, nature-tastic views with great water access and seashelling, check out Cape Lookout National Seashore just south of Ocracoke.

Also, in general, I've found AirBnB's to be a better deal in coastal North Carolina than the crumbly old hotels that go for some insane prices in the summer.
posted by Drosera at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Clearwater florida. Great beach. (Although shelling is better in Dunedin). Expensive hotels have popped up in the last 10 years or so, but there are still reasonable places to stay, especially if you rent a car. The Marine Aquarium rehabilitates dolphins and sea turtles and was one of my favorite things as a kid. (Although there is now a really nice big aquarium in Tampa) I haven't been in years, and it's a bit of a drive-- but a side trip to Tarpon Springs might be fun. There is a historic Greek community built around sponge diving docks.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:18 AM on February 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

Thirding Florida. Others have recommended various spots on the Gulf Coast, but I'll nominate the Atlantic side, specifically St. Augustine and surrounding environs. Our beaches are beautiful and warm, we've got plenty of other stuff for kids to do (if you're willing to drive a bit you could even pop down to Kennedy Space Center for the day), and you shouldn't have any trouble staying under budget.
posted by saladin at 6:21 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

I live a mile from Moonlight Beach! While San Diego has fantastic beaches there is a non-trivial chance that “June Gloom”, a marine weather pattern related to the coastal bight that leaves the weather chilly in early summer, will make your trip less fun.
posted by q*ben at 6:46 AM on February 6, 2018

Hard numbers:

Average ocean temperature in June in San Francisco (Northern California): high 50s.
Average ocean temperature in June in Los Angeles (Southern California): low 60s.


Average ocean temperature in June in the Carolinas: mid 70s to low 80s. (source).

Florida water temps will be in the 80s.

As a native Northern Californian, I can assure you the only people getting in our ocean waters past "dipping my ankles in on principle that this is a 'beach'" are wearing wetsuits for surfing and cold-water snorkeling. Go to the southern US Atlantic.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:00 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

If it was later in the summer I would say that Rhode Island's beaches are nice. You can take day trips to Cape Cod or to Boston, but also just hang out in the sand. And it's way cheaper than the Cape.

Still kind of chilly in June, though.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:45 AM on February 6, 2018

Charlottean here - we were able to do Carolina Beach last year in late March/early April and we played in the water all day with shorts and rash guards. It was a bit chilly, but doable. I would imagine in June it would feel awesome!

One thing that has not come up, though is that with the Atlantic Ocean, you risk hurricanes. I don't mean that a hurricane will come out of nowhere and blow you away, but it could ruin a trip that you already have airline tickets for. One great thing about being in Charlotte is that if you can't do a beach trip, you can drive two hours in the opposite direction and be in Asheville. Four hours and you are in the Smoky Mountains. I would maybe consider flying to Charlotte, Raleigh or Columbia and then if severe weather impacts your trip, you could always move North or South (or inland) and rearrange the vacation to avoid the storms.
posted by Slothrop at 7:46 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Native Angeleno here, with family all over the state. Time for my annual PSA: Please please please DO NOT come to California for a warm beach vacation in June. It doesn't exist. The California coast is overcast and windy in May and June, and generally doesn't clear up until just before the beginning of July (and often as not, when we watch fireworks at the beach on the 4th we're wearing winter coats).

Sunny warm beach vacations in California exist in August, September and October. And even then the water is still in the 60's.

For this trip look at the Gulf or Florida instead.
posted by vignettist at 8:02 AM on February 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Gulf Coast of Florida would be better with young children. Beaches on the Atlantic side may have big waves and riptides, Gulf Coast beaches rarely have them. St. Pete has a lot of interesting places to explore.
posted by mareli at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have hardy kids they might be able to swim in the ocean, but I will nth the folks who say that even LA is too cold for extended contact. Basically the beaches are full but there is no one in the water. Maybe Cabo? Honestly, June is touch-and-go even on the Outer Banks, with a big difference between the first week of the month and the last. Again, kids and more warm-blooded grown-ups would be fine. The first couple weeks are way cheaper, because most kids are still in school. If you really want warm in June, I would go to Florida, which is inexpensive and almsot certainly has direct flights. Cancun is warm year-round, can be really hot, but is also relatively inexpensive.
posted by wnissen at 10:52 AM on February 6, 2018

As partial as I am to the Gulf beaches in Florida, I feel obligated to mention that Red Tide, an uncontrolled algae bloom, that has been an issue with Florida's beaches lately on the Gulf side. If you're making a big special trip down this way just to go to the beach, I'd probably stick to the Carolina/Georgia Atlantic beaches, because the Red Tide can be a bit unpredictable; it was pretty awful this time last year, but seems OK at the moment, although it has been lingering off the coast.
posted by PearlRose at 12:12 PM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida
Hotels on the beach side of El Mar Drive are more expensive. We stay somewhere between Pine Avenue and Palm Avenue. Anglin Pier is nice, Publix is on Pine and N. Ocean, and many of the streets have beach access. Parking is a problem so again, renting a "one-bedroom with kitchen" for a week solves many issues.
We go to shore dive, but there are other things for children to do. I love the Independence Day fireworks along the beach.

Venice, Florida
Bring a spaghetti strainer and get some information about combing the sand under the waves for fossilized shark teeth.

Panama City, Florida
Easier to drive to from the Midland, nice beaches.
posted by TrishaU at 7:25 PM on February 6, 2018

Ocean currents.

(in case you were wondering why the west coast is cold and the east coast is warm)
posted by ryanrs at 9:03 PM on February 6, 2018

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