World’s Best Family Beach Hotels 2015
At the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, in South Carolina, families have more than 20,000 acres to play on together—and find plenty of space when they need time apart. With horseback riding trails, wholesome lawn sports, and a pristinely restored antique motor yacht plucked straight from the early 20th century, you won’t waste a moment of your family vacation fretting over how to keep everyone in the group occupied. It’s no wonder it received a perfect score at the top of our Best Family Beach Hotels list.
Determined by our annual World’s Best Awards reader survey, the highlighted hotels have more in common than just a killer beachfront. Rooms must be spacious and modern (many boast kitchens for quickie breakfasts and easy snacking). There must be plenty of dining options, both upscale as well as casual. And the presence of a kids’ club? Essential. But what is abundantly clear is that recreation is king. From sport fishing, kayaking, crater hiking, and stand up paddle boarding to tennis, golf, and zip lining, families value activities that can be enjoyed together (and separately).
These high-performing properties are keyed in to the fact that parents need downtime, too. Kids and teens are catered to with water sports, adventure outings, and top-notch programming such as surf lessons, hands-on marine biology or exploring tide pools with a local naturalist. The result? Zero planning required. Just wake up and go.
So pack your bags and forget the to-do list. These beach resorts have it all figured out.
No. 25 Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo: Costa Rica
Nature meets luxury at this this tree house-style hideaway situated on a bluff in Guanacaste Province, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by eco preserves. Guests get plenty of interaction with wildlife—you might have monkeys hopping on your roof—and can enjoy tropical adventures like zip lining, surfing, and exploring the Monteverde cloud forest. New to the activity roster is moonlit stand-up paddle boarding, with LED-lit boards.
No. 24 The Resort at Pelican Hill: Newport Beach, California
This 504-acre, Palladian-style oceanfront retreat is a swanky, SoCal homage to Tuscany, complete with fountains, terracotta-tiled roofs, and century-old olive trees. Bungalows and villas are appointed with Italian limestone, fireplaces, deep marble soaking tubs, and private terraces. While parents chill out at the massive coliseum pool, kids ages 4 to 12 can enjoy treasure hunts and sandcastle building at Camp Pelican. Teens, meanwhile, can hangout at Latitude, a club equipped with gaming consoles, a private ocean-view terrace, and regular activities like beach Frisbee, bike tours (with a necessary stop at Shake Shack) and karaoke night.
No. 23 The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island: Florida
Amelia Island, a barrier island on Florida’s tranquil northern coast, is a dune-speckled slice of heaven for luxury-loving families. While parents get pampered at a private pool cabana, Ritz Kids keeps the kids engaged with activities that revolve around their surroundings: sand dunes, coral reefs, salt marshes. New resort programming includes family kayak tours, horseback riding on the beach, and surfing.
No. 22 The Fairmont Kea Lani: Maui, Hawaii
Super sleek design, a 9,000-square-foot spa, and a killer 140-foot waterslide are some of the reasons that this South Maui all-suite and villa property is beloved by families. Then there is the top-notch food (get hot-baked mango bread at the namesake restaurant’s breakfast buffet), and the innovative programming like Eco Hawaiian canoe sailing, mountain biking down the Haleakala Crater, and a new Ocean Discovery program led by a Maui Ocean Center Marine expert.
No. 21 Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa: Turks and Caicos
An all-inclusive resort can be a beautiful thing for a family—especially when the property in question doubles as a coastal amusement park. With Beaches’ 45,000-square-foot water park, surfing simulator, DJ Academy and partnership with Sesame Street (that means character-themed workshops and performances for wee guests), your only challenge as a parent may be getting your brood to return to you for dinner.
No. 20 Westin Maui Resort & Spa: Hawaii
Two modern white structures flank a lush layout of pools and paths at this budget-friendly property on Ka'anapali Beach. The 87,000-square-foot aquatic playground isn’t the only draw for families—there are several dining options, including the open-air Relish Oceanside and the snack-friendly Seadogs; a waterfront spa; and two nearby golf courses and an 11-court tennis center. The Westin Kids Club keeps kids busy with activities based on Hawaiian traditions including photography safaris and net fishing. Rooms are sleek, modern, and done in neutral-toned hues and subtle island patterns.
No. 19 Hawks Cay Resort: Florida Keys
Though it has six pools, a spa, and West Caribbean-style guest rooms that start at around 375 square feet, this beach resort won’t break the bank. Together you can go deep-sea fishing or swimming with trained bottlenose dolphins in the ocean-fed lagoon. Or check the younger kids into Camp Hawk, which runs as late as 10 p.m., and book a body scrub with Mojito Himalayan salt. This February, the property unveils a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes a 1,300-gallon aquarium, an updated kids’ activities center, and a high-tech teen hangout area.
No. 18 Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort and Spa: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
At the southernmost tip of the 1,000-mile long Baja Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortes, sits the crown jewel of Solmar’s five-property collection. The suite-only property was designed with jaw-dropping views, wraparound infinity pools, al fresco dining choices and new sea spa cabanas built into rock formations adjacent to Cabo’s famous El Arco. Families can opt for all-inclusive packages that allows them to eat and drink all day in the resort.
No. 17 Hotel del Coronado: San Diego, California
Thanks to a recent $13 million facelift, San Diego’s Grand Dame, affectionately known as “The Del,” is maturing stylishly. The National Historic Landmark’s public spaces exude turn-of-the-century elegance, with coffered ceilings and patterned carpets, while the 757 rooms were redone in a contemporary coastal style. Except for easel painting by the sea, the recreation options are very up-to-date: biking, paddle boarding, surfing lessons, and golf. Don’t miss the hotel’s signature Beach S’mores Roast, with jumbo marshmallows, fresh fruit, and Ghiradelli chocolate.
No. 16 The Fairmont Orchid: Big Island, Hawaii
Set on a lagoon amongst the rugged lava fields of the Kohala Coast, this Big Island property is a luxurious base from which to explore rainforests, waterfalls, plantation towns, active volcanoes, and petroglyph-filled caves. But there are also many reasons to remain at the 32-acre resort, which offers six restaurants, a year-round children’s program, water sports, and cultural activities like coconut-frond weaving. A Kona-coffee body scrub at the outdoor “spa without walls” is a must.
No. 15 Kaua’i Marriott Resort: Kauai, Hawaii
With five al fresco restaurants (including a poolside bar serving Pacific Rim cuisine), a Jack Nicklaus–designed golf course, and the largest swimming pool (26,000 square feet) in Hawaii, this property has big things to offer families. All 345 guest rooms are equipped with refrigerators and high-speed Wi-Fi streamlined décor. The 800 manicured beachfront acres facing Kalapaki Bay allow kids and adults to indulge in water sports all day long.
No. 14 Hilton Waikoloa Village: Big Island, Hawaii
Parents nostalgic for fun-filled afternoons at summer camp can channel their pint-sized selves at this 62-acre resort. There are plenty of fun features: a turtle-filled saltwater lagoon, swimming pools with waterfalls, snorkeling and kayaking outings, and island-themed workshops in ukulele, lei making, and hula. The Legends of Hawaii Luau showcases fire dancers and conch-shell blowing, accompanied by a generous buffet.
No. 13 St. Regis Monarch Beach: Dana Point, California
The St. Regis maximizes is glorious position between Los Angeles and San Diego, surrounded by coastal bluffs, white sand beaches, harbors, and parks. It offers an array of water -based activities, an 18-hole waterfront golf course, and outings to local attractions like San Juan Capistrano Mission and the Ocean Institute. Among the highlights for families: newly renovated rooms and an Ocean Explorers Package, that includes tickets for a whale-watching cruise, a field guide for a DIY tide pool exploration, and take-home beach toys.
No. 12 Four Seasons Maui at Wailea: Hawaii
Zipline through treetops. Boat to the Molokini crater. Hike through waterfalls. Snorkel in reefs. Spot humpback whales in the wild. Then, when you’ve had your daily adventure, return to your spacious, island-chic digs (entry-level suites are ideal for families with separate living and sleeping spaces and an outside lanai) to chill out and prepare for another perfect sunset. With its activity-filled Kids for All Seasons program and indulgent amenities such as five-course dinners and pool cabanas with refrigerators and Wi-Fi, this Southwest Maui property raises the bar on the concept of upscale family retreat.
No. 11 Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island, Michigan
Everyone loves a beautiful hotel with a pedigree. This Gilded Age property (rates started at $5 a night in 1887) on a pedestrian-only island in Michigan has hosted five U.S. presidents and has been featured in a number of films (remember Somewhere in Time?). Fast-forward to 2016, when the hotel opens for its 130th season. While guests will enjoy modern recreation (massages at the full-service Aveda Salon and Spa; swimming across the heated serpentine pool) and updated rooms, some things—lawn games after dinner and dancing, horse and carriage tours—remain exactly the same.
No. 10 The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort: South Carolina
Golf lovers rave about this oceanfront resort’s 90 holes of championship courses. Equally stellar are the activities for families, which range from archery to surf camp and paddling tours. Tots aged 3 to 11 can head to Night Heron Park for Kamp Kiawah, where caretakers will guide them though crab races, sandcastle-building, T-shirt tie dying, and pirate-treasure hunts.
No. 9 Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort: Maui, Hawaii
What does heaven-on-earth look like to your kids? One guess: the Wailea Canyon Activity Pool, a 770,000-gallon network of nine pools spread over six levels, complete with waterslides, waterfalls, a Tarzan pool with rope swing, and the world’s first water elevator. Grown-ups might be more wowed by watching the sun set over the thatch-roofed Humuhumunukunukuapua’a Lounge, perched over a saltwater lagoon, where a conch-shell is blown during a nightly torch-lighting ceremony.
No. 8 Four Seasons Punta Mita: Mexico
Nestled on Riviera Nayarit’s pristine coastline is this 1,500-acre casita style property. The Nuna infinity pools offer panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean, and picture-perfect miles of beachfront are a backdrop for snorkeling, boogie boarding, surfing, Frisbee, horseback riding, and sand-castle building. You can also opt to simply recline on a hammock, margarita in hand. Highlights include Four Seasons’ signature kids club, an on-site gelateria, and new culinary experiences (pre-Hispanic cooking with ancient tools and “fear factor” ingredients) in an open-air kitchen or the “Catch and Cook” expedition that allows guests to dive and fish for their lunch.
No. 7 Ocean House: Rhode Island
Ocean House is unabashedly striking, a Victorian resort silhouette set upon the bluffs of Watch Hill, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean below. Activities like croquet, squash, yachting, and concerts on the expansive lawn enhance the Gatsby-esque vibe. While parents laze on the beach, kids can partake in tennis, fishing, and surfing classes through the SandCastles kids’ club.
No. 6 Chatham Bars Inn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Chatham Bars Inn is the place to stay if you like your lobster rolls served with a side of swank, especially after the property’s recent $100 million renovation, which preserved the historic elements (leaded-glass interior windows, coffered ceilings) while adding modern features such as a spa with steam showers, dry saunas, and whirlpool tubs. In the off-season, book a clapboard cottage with bay windows so you can sip hot cocoa on the deck or curl up by the fire with a book from the wood-paneled library.
No. 5 Sea Pines Resort, Hilton Head, South Carolina
The 12-mile-long island of Hilton Head is famous for its outstanding beaches and manicured golf courses. And this luxe, 5,000-acre compound is a perfect home base for family fun, with room configurations and villas that can accommodate almost any size group. As for recreation, take your pick: kayaking tidal waters, fishing, zip-lining, or biking the low country’s nature preserves.
No. 4 The Cloister: Sea Island, Georgia
When jackets and collared shirts are required at dinner for boys (age 8 and up), you know you’re in for some good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Since 1928, this Mediterranean-style hotel has been a retreat of choice for the upper crust. Activities include squash, archery, fishing, tennis, boating, horseback riding on the beach, salt marsh kayaking, and hunting in the property's own preserve. Suites at the Cloister Beach Club have full kitchens and are located in close proximity to the hotel’s three pools, on-site ice cream parlor, the movie theater, and the children’s center.
No. 3 Sandpearl Resort: Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater is to families what South Beach is to millennials: a sun soaked Florida getaway packed with attractions. Perched on a private, sugar-white stretch of beach, Sandpearl is a luxurious resort with top-drawer amenities. It offers a range of naturalist-type adventures, such as an eco-tour through the Intracoastal Waterway, kayaking across local estuaries, and astronomy night at the local Museum of Science and Industry. The property also takes great pride in its LEED-certified status.
No. 1 (Tie ) Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa: Waikiki, Hawaii
A rainbow-hued reef set in a calm saltwater lagoon. Storytelling by the fire pit. A ? A teen spa complete with DIY body polish seminars. These are just some of the amenities that helped this Disney resort in Oahu earn, yet again, top marks from families. With spacious guest rooms and a range of kid-friendly activities (waterslides, tubing, hula lessons), plus dining options that range from beach shacks to fine restaurants, this resort is designed for memory-making vacations.
No. 1 (Tie) The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, A Montage Resort: South Carolina
With Spanish moss trailing from evergreen oaks, and riverfront cottages with porches perfect for mint julep sipping, the Inn at Palmetto Bluff embodies gracious Southern living. Formerly a series of antebellum plantations, this hotel combines a homey vibe with five-star service. Guests young and old can fish, hike, bike, kayak, and enjoy tennis and croquet. The Inn’s beach is a sandbar formation on the banks of the May River, positioned across from acres of nature preserves and marshland.