Coronado, California, and St. Pete Beach, Florida
2. Coronado, California
Oceanfront Fun Just over the bridge from San Diego, Coronado's 7 miles of coastline encompass five main beaches. All beaches have lifeguards and, except for South Beach, restrooms. The most popular choice: Central Beach in the heart of town, just a short stroll to restaurants and ice-cream shops. For something more serene, head to the 41/2-mile Silver Strand State Beach. The ocean side of the strand is strewn with shells, while the bay side has warmer water, gentler waves, and a nature preserve. Kids ages 7 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger badge at Silver Strand on Saturdays.
Inland Hot Spots Grab an ice cream at MooTime Creamery -- it's made fresh daily -- and walk to the Coronado Children's Library, where there's a whimsical Wizard of Oz exhibit. (L. Frank Baum wrote some of the story in Coronado.) Or catch a flick at the old-timey Coronado Village Theatre and then take your kids to Delux Gourmet Hot Dogs, a new restaurant serving up franks (plain or with all sorts of zany toppings, like Thai peanut spread and carrots) plus salads and organic ice-cream sandwiches. The town also has tons of great shopping -- Seaside Papery is a must-stop for any Etsy fan.
Castles in the Sand The Loews Coronado Bay Resort is just a ten-minute walk or short shuttle ride to Silver Strand State Beach; in fact, the hotel has raised more than $1 million to help its nature preserves. On the property, Loews hosts outdoor kids' yoga, pool games, and marshmallow roasts; kids 4 to 12 can participate in the children's club, which entertains them with magic tricks, GPS-led scavenger hunts, and sand castle-building while you get a treatment at Sea Spa or take a fitness class. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $189 per night. Get a 20 percent discount when staying three or more nights; loewshotels.com.) The Hotel del Coronado, a 125-year-old Victorian-style resort, is on Central Beach. Its Kidtopia program offers one-hour drop-off craft activities (like making a birdhouse) and three-hour camps for kids 4 to 12. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $289 per night; hoteldel.com.)
3. St. Pete Beach, Florida
Oceanfront Fun St. Pete Beach is the closest town to Fort de Soto Park -- home to miles of lifeguard-patrolled white-sand beaches along with nature trails, fishing piers, a fort, and playgrounds, as well as kayak and bike rentals. "The North Beach area is like nature's wading pool," says Jim Wilson, park supervisor. "The gentle gulf water and gradual slope makes it perfect for little kids." St. Pete Beach itself also has 6 miles of beaches but no lifeguards on duty.
Inland Hot Spots The Dali Museum's treasure hunts, stories, and craft projects occupy the kids so you can appreciate the nearly 100 paintings by the famed artist. The outdoor waterfront garden adds to the kid appeal ($21 for adults, $7 for kids 6 to 12, children 5 and under are free; thedali.org). For a sure hit with preschoolers, consider Great Explorations Houghton-Wagman Children's Museum ($10 admission, babies under 1 are free) or drive ten minutes to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium ($20 for adults, $15 for kids 3 to 12, children 2 and under are free), home to Winter, who was featured in the movie Dolphin Tale. Back in St. Pete Beach, eat at Snapper's Sea Grill, which has outdoor seating, free baked pita chips and hummus, and a kids' menu.
Castles in the Sand Right on the beach, the budget-friendly Postcard Inn offers a kiddie pool, free loaner sand buckets, and rooms decorated in surf-style retro. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $99 per night; postcardinn.com.) For a full-service resort, book a room at the Loews Don CeSar Hotel -- aka the "pink palace." It has a new oceanfront pool area with a splash pad; chic, child-proofed guest rooms (just request a kit); and loads of loaner baby and toddler equipment. (Rooms with two queen beds start at $249 per night; loewshotels.com.)