Great Lakes Living
Grand Haven, Michigan
Squeak, squeak. That's the sound of the "singing" sand along this stretch of Lake Michigan, 30 miles west of Grand Rapids. Grand Haven's water is shallow and warm—think of it as a kiddie pool for giants. There's a sleepy downtown with a bustling marina, and plenty of U-Pick farms in the vicinity. STANDOUT BEACH Grand Haven State Park is the biggest, most popular swimming spot, but North Shore Beach has a shaded picnic area, rest rooms, and parking close to the lake. STAY AT The 1873 Khardomah Lodge (616/842-2990; www.khardomahlodge.com ; doubles from $88), where the kitchen—with its 1930's stove—is open for guests' use. RENT FROM The list of privately owned rentals on www.grandhavenchamber.org ; the average weekly rate for a two-bedroom lake cottage is $1,200. ESSENTIAL EATING The surf and turf at the lakeside Bil-Mar Restaurant (616/842-5920). SPLASH OF VEGAS At dusk, families fill bleachers by the Grand River for the musical-fountain water show synchronized to tunes by Elvis, the Beatles, and Bach.
Santa Cruz's Chic Neighbor
Where do Santa Cruz surfers go when it's time to raise a family?Six miles south to Capitola. With its calm beach on Monterey Bay and café-lined esplanade, the town is a great place for vacationing families, too. STAY AT The Inn at Depot Hill (800/572-2632 or 831/462-3376; www.innatdepothill.com ; doubles from $225), a converted 1809 railroad station with rooms styled after international ports of call. RENT FROM Vacations by the Sea (888/521-3500 or 831/479-9360; www.vacationsbythesea.com ). One-bedroom beach condos are $1,300 a week. ESSENTIAL EATING Everything at Gayle's Bakery & Rosticceria (831/462-1200). Shadowbrook Restaurant (831/475-1511), a dinner spot in a 1920's summer house reached by cable car, has child-sized prime rib and free sundaes for kids who finish their vegetables. CAVEAT You may wake up to socked-in fog. Don't freak; it'll burn off by noon.
Down by San Diego Bay
An old-fashioned shore haven in surfer-dude southern California?That's Coronado, eight miles from San Diego International Airport. LAY OF THE LAND On the bay side of this 13 1/2-mile isthmus: dramatic views of San Diego Harbor, the city skyline, and the two-mile bridge that connects Coronado to the metropolis (you can also take the fun, 15-minute ferry). On the Pacific side: nothing but water, all the way to Japan. STANDOUT BEACHES Central Beach —dominated by the Hotel Del Coronado ("the Del") but accessible to all—has lifeguards and rest rooms. The Silver Strand , mid-isthmus, is great for beachcombing (horn shells, moon shells, cockleshells, and sand dollars). Just for Sparky: Dog Beach , at Coronado's north end. DON'T MISS The free Sunday-evening concerts in the Spreckels Park Gazebo—blues, Latin jazz, and swing. IDEAL OUTING Rent wheels at Little Sam's Island & Beach Fun (619/435-4068) and go for a spin on the flat, 17-mile Silver Strand bike path. STAY AT The 115-year-old Hotel Del Coronado (800/468-3533; www.hoteldel.com ; doubles from $265), a turreted national landmark, where Billy Wilder filmed Some Like It Hot. The Loews Coronado Bay Resort (800/ 815-6397; www.loewshotels.com ; doubles from $265) offers surfing, waterskiing, and kung fu lessons. The Crown City Inn (800/442-1173 or 619/435-3116; www.crowncityinn.com ; doubles from $140, suites from $200) has big suites with kitchens. RENT FROM Lee Mather Co. (800/822-2892 or 619/435-1851; www.leemather.com ). A two-bedroom condo starts at $4,000 for four weeks. CAVEAT There are two U.S. Navy bases here, so you'll see (and hear) screaming jets as they land. Kids find this thrilling. ESSENTIAL EATING At the ferry landing, stop for shrimp cocktails at the Bay Beach Café (619/435-4900), rice pudding at Spiro's Gyros Greek Restaurant (619/435-1225), and local produce at the Tuesday-afternoon farmers' market. The big draw at the Hotel Del's Moo Time Creamery ?The Silly Vanilly Aqua—ice cream as blue as the sea.
AWESOME SAND AND OTHER BEACH FACTS You hear a lot of bragging about who has the whitest sand (the powdery, quartz-based Florida beaches, for example), but there's also garnet sand (New England) and even green and black sand (Hawaii). Hobbyists save and swap samples (see the International Sand Collectors Society Web site, www.sandcollectors.org ). • The ideal time to hunt for seashells is after an offshore storm, particularly in winter. Florida's Captiva and Sanibel islands are known for having the nation's best shelling. • For a coastal-studies professor's own list of America's top public beaches, go to www.drbeach.org .
SUN-BLOCKING BEACHWEAR Keeping kids sun-protected is a lot easier these days—if you dress them right. T-shirts won't do: most cotton has an SPF equivalent of only 6 (markedly lower when wet). Instead, consider the latest beachwear—suits (one from New Zealand-based Ozone, $50), swim shirts, hats, and cover-ups with impressive sun-blocking powers. The secret?These garments are made of common, quick-drying materials, such as cotton and polyester, that have been specially woven to minimize the transmission of ultraviolet light. Get them from: Ozone Clothing Co. (64-27/433-8777; www.ozoneswimwear.co.nz , to order see www.ollipops.com , which offers free shipping worldwide); Solumbra by Sun Precautions (800/882-7860 or 425/303-8585; www.sunprecautions.com ); or Sun Grubbies (888/970-1600 or 858/268-1600; www.sungrubbies.com ). ONLY ON THE WEB: Turn your clothes into sun-blocking armor: washing them in a detergent additive called Tinosorb makes fabrics 400 percent more effective as sun barriers—even after repeated launderings. It's the key ingredient in Sun Guard from Rit (available at most drugstores; $2.50 for a one-ounce package ).
SEND YOUR FAMILY TO SURF CAMP Hey, all you grommets, these programs teach parents and kids how to take on the waves. Boards and wet suits provided. Endless Summer Surf Camp (San Onofre State Beach, Calif.; 949/498-7862; www.endlesssummersurfcamp.com ; $695 per person for five days, including tents and meals). Weeklong programs June through August are for anyone 11 or older. This is where Julia Roberts learned to ride with surf-bum boyfriend Benjamin Bratt. Groundswell (San Elijo, Calif.; 949/361-4906; www.surfcamp.com ; $750 per person for five days, including tents and meals). Camp on the bluffs above the Pacific while attending this school on southern California's San Elijo State Beach. The July 14-20 program is just for families. Surf Camp (Wrightsville Beach, N.C.; 866/844-7873 or 910/256-7873; www.wbsurfcamp.com ; $450 per person for five days, lodging not included). Three family sessions in July and August offer 8 a.m.-to-4 p.m. instruction, plus field trips. Anyone up for a canoe outing to Zeak's Island?
IS IT SAFE TO SWIM? The Natural Resources Defense Council publishes an annual report on water quality at America's vacation beaches. Check out its ratings of more than 2,400 locales at www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/gttw.asp .