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Favorite Family Beaches

Only on the Web: two more beaches! See page 3.

Sandy feet, screen doors, gorgeous waters, and all the right small-town attractions (from boardwalk bandstands to turquoise ice cream). Presenting the inside scoop on some of this country's most idyllic seaside communities.

The Choicest Corner of Nantucket
Siasconset, Massachusetts

With its shingled cottages and sculpted privet hedges, the 17th-century fishing village of Siasconset makes vacationing families feel part of a serene, sun-dappled world where the roses refuse to fade, tennis is never played in anything but white, and there's a lobster in every pot. HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT Say "Sconset" if you don't want to sound as though you just stumbled off the ferry. STANDOUT BEACH Steps from the village center, uncrowded Siasconset Beach has soft sand, a playground, a lifeguard—and occasionally rough surf. Families with small children like shallow, calm Jetties Beach , just outside Nantucket town, eight miles down the island. DON'T MISS The warm, top-heavy blueberry muffins at the Sconset Market (508/257-9915). RENT FROM Siasconset specialist Edith Delker (508/257-4538; www.sconsethomes.com ); a summer week in a two-bedroom house near the water starts at $2,000. ESSENTIAL EATING Chef Rolf Nelson's crab cakes and coconut curry-rubbed halibut (and, on request, simple kid-pleasing pastas) at the 10-table Sconset Café (508/257-4008; www.sconsetcafe.com ). CAVEAT Grocery prices are through the roof at the Sconset Market ($5.25 for Oreos?). Buy staples on the mainland. IDEAL OUTING Pack your 4 x 4 with rods and lunch, and drive on marked trails through the dunes to Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge (Wauwinet; 508/228-5646; www.thetrustees.org ; off-road driving permit $85, or $20 daily with on-island rental car). Cast for bluefish, collect driftwood, and spy on nesting seabirds.
—Meg Lukens Noonan

The Junk-Free Jersey Shore
Spring Lake, New Jersey

For every kid who can't get enough Skee-Ball, there are three who just want to dig in the sand. That's why families have been coming to Spring Lake, 90 minutes from Manhattan, for decades. Sure, there's a boardwalk—it's blessedly non-commercial. But the real lures are the castle-ready sand and manageable-yet-still-fun waves. LAY OF THE LAND Between the North End and South End pavilions—each with snack bar and rest rooms—are more than two miles of perfect beach. Three blocks inland, past vast, well-preserved Victorians, is the town's namesake lake and its Mayberry, R.F.D.-style main street, Third Avenue. DON'T MISS The 44 homemade flavors at Hoffman's Ice Cream (732/974-2253). STAY AT Doolan's (732/449-3666; www.doolans.com ; doubles from $85, children seven and over $15 each) —it may be a classic old Jersey wedding factory, but you'll love the price and the large pool. B&B's are expensive in season, and not all of them welcome kids. One that does: the Villa Park House B&B (732/449-3642; www.villaparkhouse.com ; doubles from $200), 4 1/2 blocks off the beach. RENT FROM Jackie Kennedy (yes, that's really her name) at Diane Turton Realtors (732/449-4441; www.dianeturton.com ); three- and four-bedroom houses start at $4,000 per week. ESSENTIAL EATING The thin-crust pizza at Spring Lake Gourmet Pizzeria (732/449-9595). CAVEAT You have to arrive early in summer to snag a prime parking spot on Ocean Avenue. ALSO CONSIDER Nearby towns Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach , and Bay Head offer a similarly genteel Jersey Shore experience.
—Jeffrey Bauman

The Outer Banks, at Your Service
Duck, North Carolina

The slender barrier islands along the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks are a major stop on the Great Atlantic Flyway for egrets, herons, cormorants—and ducks, hence the name of this former fishing village on the northernmost island. Over the past two decades Duck has filled up with ambitious restaurants and vacation houses, but its wide beaches and wild oat-covered dunes are gloriously intact. STANDOUT BEACH You wouldn't do badly to plop down a few yards from your front door. For true isolation, drive 90 minutes south to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (252/995-4474; www.nps.gov/caha ), on the neighboring island of Hatteras. DON'T MISS The gigantic (1 1/2 miles long and more than 90 feet high) sand dune that is Jockey's Ridge State Park (Nags Head; 252/441-7132; www.jockeysridgestatepark.com ). STAY AT The Sanderling (800/701-4111 or 252/261-4111; www.sanderlinginn.com ; doubles from $269), a resort with a private beach, spa, and indoor and outdoor pools. RENT FROM Twiddy & Co. (800/489-4339; www.twiddy.com ); four-bedroom houses from $1,300 per week. ESSENTIAL EATING The sophisticated soul food at the Blue Point Bar & Grill (252/261-8090), and the seafood with Japanese and Jamaican flavors at Tortugas' Lie Shellfish Bar & Grill (252/441-7299) in nearby Nags Head. CAVEAT Hurricanes pass over these shores, but local authorities have in place finely tuned evacuation plans. Ask your rental company about added insurance for lost vacation days. PERFECT SOUVENIR The OBX (for Outer Banks) bumper sticker. Spot them all over the country.
—Kristine Ziwica

Swells and Shells
Captiva Island, Florida

Captiva teeters so close to its natural state, you get the feeling that, given a few weeks without human intervention, the sea grape, allamanda, and mangroves would simply swallow up the bars and galleries and return the place to the alligators and ospreys. Families come here to revel in that wildness, swim in the placid Gulf waters, and soak up the village's end-of-the-road vibe. LAY OF THE LAND Fifteen miles from Fort Myers, the twin barrier islands of Captiva and Sanibel are connected to the mainland by a three-mile bridge. STANDOUT BEACH For stellar shelling and dolphin sightings, go to Turner Beach at the Blind Pass Bridge linking Sanibel and Captiva. STAY AT Palmy 330-acre South Seas Resort (800/965-7772 or 239/481-3636; www.south-seas-resort.com ; doubles from $240, cottages from $280). It dominates the northern half of Captiva and has everything from hotel rooms to three-bedroom beach houses—plus sports, excursions, and kids' activities. DON'T MISS Sanibel's 5,000-acre J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (239/472-1100; dingdarling.fws.gov ), home to manatees, alligators, and peregrine falcons. ESSENTIAL EATING The flamingo-pink Bubble Room (239/472-5558), with its colossal portions and junk-shop décor, will leave you agog. PERFECT SOUVENIR A flawless sand dollar.
—M.L.N.

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