The 10 Best Budget Beach Resorts
Holiday Inn Resort (Wrightsville Beach, NC)
Free Fun: The Southern hospitality starts at check-in, when your child receives a toy-filled sand bucket and you're offered lemonade for the family. Before you leave the lobby, take a pic with Gabby the hotel mascot, a talking macaw who will happily perch on your kid's shoulder. All rooms are equipped with a small fridge and microwave; plus children ages 12 and under eat at no charge in the resort's Oceans restaurant. "My 10-year-old twin boys couldn't believe the size of the outdoor swimming pool," says Malise Terrell, founder of the blog Carolina Mama. "The beach is directly in front of the pool, so they had a blast going from one to the other." Pods of dolphins swim fairly close to shore year-round, though they're more commonly sighted in spring and summer. "We saw them every day during our trip in July," says Terrell. "Our boys literally swam with the dolphins."
Worth the Money: Take a break from the sun to visit The Children's Museum of Wilmington, about a 20-minute drive from the resort ($9.75 for ages 1 and up, free for babies). Room rates start at $200 per night.
Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Hotel & Resort (Oxnard, CA)
Free Fun: On a wide stretch of beach between LA and Santa Barbara, this all-suite resort has one of the most enviable locations of any in the brand. "You walk outside and you feel like you're on an island," says Katie Bodell, a blog editor for Trekaroo and mom of three. "In fact, it's been used in films and TV shows to depict Hawaii." Stop at the concierge desk to borrow shovels, kites, and sand buckets before you go to the beach for the day. During summer, the resort organizes free family activities, such as potato-sack races and beach treasure hunts.
Worth The Money: Spend the day at the nearby Channel Islands National Park, nicknamed the North American Galápagos for its wildlife, by taking a boat ride that's a short drive from the resort. Day trips from Island Packers start at $59 per adult and $41 per child ages 3 to 12; younger kids are free.
Save Even More: Like all Embassy Suites, this location offers free cooked-to-order breakfast and a free evening reception with snacks and drinks (think open bar for you, Shirley Temples for the kids). But this location goes above and beyond: Every suite has two bathrooms -- the one close to the door is ideal for rinsing off so you don't track sand into the rest of the room. Rates start at $149 per night for a two-room suite (you get a bedroom with a door that can be closed; the kids have a sleeper sofa in the living room).
Franklyn D Resort & Spa (Runaway Bay, Jamaica)
Free Fun: This all-inclusive resort has built up a loyal following thanks to giving every family a vacation nanny, who helps with the kids (babies to teens) from 9 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. The nannies usually take young kids to a smaller, more protected beach where they can splash around and feed fish and turtles in the tide pools. While they're busy, you can head to the large stretch of white-sand beach, which has a sundeck and lounge chairs, or go snorkeling in the reefs offshore (you can borrow equipment at no charge). Aside from the two beaches and four pools, activities range from tennis lessons to treasure hunts. One new highlight: a two-story ice-cream treehouse, where kids can climb up for a scoop.
Worth The Money: Treat yourself to one of the spa services, such as a body scrub that uses Jamaican spices (treatments start at $80). Rates start at $221 per night per adult, including room, food, and most activities. Kids under 6 are free; add $30 per night for each child ages 6 to 15.
Hallmark Resort (Cannon Beach, OR)
Free Fun: It's the closest resort to the beach's famous Haystack Rock, which is about 235 feet tall. A state-protected marine garden, the beach area is filled with tide pools that attract all kinds of sea life, including purple starfish. Snag a free sand bucket at check-in to build your own sand castle after visiting the tide pools. During the summer, volunteers from the Haystack Rock Awareness Program are often on hand to talk to kids about the sea creatures and nesting birds, including puffins. When you need a break from the sun, head back to the resort's lobby to borrow family board games and DVDs. Pick up a free cookie from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., or a piece of saltwater taffy.
Worth The Money: The winds at Cannon Beach are ideal for kite flying. Rent them for the kids (and you) from Once Upon A Breeze, which is within walking distance of the resort. If your child wants to do more than dip his toes in the ocean, you'll probably want to rent a wet suit from a nearby shop, since summer water temps average a tad above 60°F. But your kid may prefer the resort's indoor saltwater pool. Family suites with a small kitchen start at $189 per night.
Grand Lucayan (Freeport, Bahamas)
Free Fun: Just 55 miles from Florida, this beachfront resort is an aquatic wonderland. Toddlers will love splashing around in the calm 80°F water while older kids can play in the floating bouncy house.
Worth The Money: While most supervised children's clubs cost $50 or more per day, you can drop off your 2- to 12-year-old for just $15 at the all-inclusive Memories sister resort next door and he'll be entertained for hours with arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, volleyball, a wading pool, and face-painting. (The cost includes lunch.) If you'd like to stick around at that resort, you can buy a day pass for $40 per adult that includes unlimited food and beverages as well as activities, like swimming. Room rates start at $131 per night; an all-inclusive option is also available.
Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach (Honolulu, HI)
Free Fun: The resort offers lei-making with fresh flowers in the lobby every Friday. "The instructors personally helped everyone," says Tiffany Phovixay, a mom of three from Sacramento, California, who reviewed the hotel on TripAdvisor. "My 6-year-old son was proud to be able to make his on his own." You can pick up towels in the lobby and enjoy free breakfast there.
Worth The Money: The resort is a few blocks from the Honolulu Zoo, home to 900-plus animals including elephants and Komodo dragons ($14 for ages 13 and up, $6 for ages 3 to 12, free for younger kids). Room rates start at $189 per night.
Disney's Vero Beach Resort (FL)
Free Fun: About two hours from Orlando, this charming resort offers families at least a half-dozen no-cost activities daily, from glow-in-the-dark mini golf to sand-castle building, scavenger hunts to archery lessons. "Our most popular activity is an hour-long un-birthday party for kids ages 4 to 10," says Lindsay Kaye, recreation-guest-service manager. "We play musical chairs, break a piñata, and decorate cupcakes, while parents get time to themselves."
Worth The Money: Sign up for a Tropical Vichy Shower Scrub at the spa ($95). Early spring rates start at $265 per night, and most of the summer rates begin at $299 per night. But the price drops to less than $200 in mid-August.
Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya (Mexico)
Free Fun: The newest all-inclusive property in the Hard Rock chain — it opened just over a year ago — sits on an enviable private white-sand beach. "It's protected by rocks from the surf so the waves are gentle for little ones," says Frank Maduro, vice president of marketing. It's also teeming with marine life. "Kids can see grouper, snapper, and other colorful fish close to shore," he says. When kids need a break from the sun, they can spend time in the drop-off children's club, Camp Woodward, which is included in the resort price.
Worth The Money: Book yourself a spa treatment from the Rhythm & Motion menu — massages, facials, and wraps that are synchronized to music. For stays from April 3 to August 16 rates for two adults start at $372 per night, including food and most activities. Kids ages 12 and under are free.
Winnetu Oceanside Resort (Edgartown, MA)
Free Fun: At this quintessential New England resort located on Martha's Vineyard's South Beach, you can drop off your children ages 3 to 12 for a morning of fun, including crafts (which are pirate- or animal-themed), sports (such as basketball and tennis), and nature activities (such as walking to the pond to find and feed turtles). While the kids are having a blast, you can take a free yoga or fitness class. Together, the family can ride on an antique fire truck or roast s'mores at night.
Worth The Money: Ask one of the resort's camp counselors (all are certified in CPR and first aid) to babysit at night, while you enjoy a peaceful dinner at the resort's delicious Lure restaurant. If you have a toddler or a preschooler, the best time to visit is weekdays between May 16 and June 3 or between September 6 and 23, when rates start at $216 per night for a three-night stay in a spacious suite with a kitchenette, two bathrooms, and a master bedroom. During these times, there are extra activities for the under-5 crowd. Suite rates in mid-June start at $410 per night for a three-night stay.
Hilton Ocean City Oceanfront Suites (MD)
Free Fun: From June to September, your kids ages 5 to 11 can take part in a full- or half-day drop-off children's program where they make arts and crafts, play beach games, and hang at the activity pool, with a lazy river and waterslides.
Worth The Money: Buy discounted tickets to Jolly Roger Amusement Park at the front desk. Across the street from the resort, this classic theme park woos families with midway games, an antique-train ride, and mini golf.
Save Even More: All suites include a kitchen, a balcony, and a separate living area with a sleeper sofa closed off from the master bedroom. March rates start at $111 per night; rates in early June start at $269 per night.
A Shore Thing
All ten resorts on our list have family programs, easy beach access, and a TripAdvisor "bubble" rating of four out of five or higher. Many are also on a beach that's lifeguarded at peak times. Surf over to TripAdvisor to share your experiences at these resorts or others. You can also read reviews from other travelers, compare rates, and book your vacation right there.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.