You’ll find Key Largo nestled between the watery wilderness of the Everglades National Park to the west and the fish-rich coral formations of North America's only living coral barrier reef to the east.
Six miles offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary you will find the wreck of the Spiegel Grove, a 510-foot former US Navy ship intentionally scuttled in 2002 as the backbone for a new coral reef.
Locals consider their home the Diving Capital of the World and it is a great snorkeling spot, but the island is nearly as famous as a sport-fishing destination.
Some of the best charter captains and fishing guides in the world work out of Key Largo. Hire a guide and sailfish offshore, bonefish along the Atlantic shallows, or redfish and tarpon in Florida Bay.
Key Largo's proximity to the Everglades makes it a premier family vacation destination for kayakers, birders and other eco-tourists. All this beauty, not to mention the island's rich history, has inspired a vibrant community of artists who show their work at several local galleries.
When the day is done, you can trade stories at any of a full-range of restaurants, bars, hotels, motels and resorts. Each is as unique as Key Largo itself.
Beach vacations are hard to beat.
Toddlers build sand castles. Teens socialize around a volley ball net or work on their tan.
Adults enjoy a little peace and a paperback.
Here are eleven beach destinations that offer sun, sand and something more:
Caneel Bay, St Johns Virgin Islands.
Once a favored getaway for Laurance Rockefeller and family, this 170-acre island paradise is tucked within the Virgin Islands National Park, a protection made possible by Rockefellar’s land donation to the government in 1956. Today, family travelers can hike park trails and swim, snorkel, dive, kayak and sail in the pristine waters of the resort’s bays and inlets. Youngsters can enjoy a complimentary kids club experience while parents opt for tennis, relaxation on one of seven beaches or a massage in an open-air cabana. Plein aire art classes are also available for the creatively inclined. Contact: 340-776-6111; RosewoodResorts.com/en/caneelbay (Recovering from hurricane damage.)
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Wrap yourselves in luxury (and those deliciously cozy bathrobes) and enjoy a seaside holiday. Stow yourselves away inside the lush grounds or spill onto the famous Seven Mile Beach where snorkeling, beach walking, sand castle building can engulf the day. The hotel’s Cousteau-inspired Ambassadors of the Environment program offers more than 40 three-hour learning programs each week, designed to send family members home with a greater understanding of the islands as well the interconnectedness of the natural world . Contact: 800-241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com/grandcayman
Bitter End Yacht Club. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.
Are there Jack Sparrow fans in your clan? This haven for sea-loving sailors and beach-goers is known for a plethora of harbors and cays that once served as refuge for Blackbeard and other sword-bearing swashbucklers. Their fanciful stories still abound. Your family will also enjoy sailing and other kid’s camp activities, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, yoga classes, fishing and spa services. Contact: 800-872-2382; www.BEYC.com. (Recovering from hurricane damage.)
Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.
With more than 140 acres of lazy-river rides, 18 adrenaline pumping slides and 11 pools, the kids may never dry off. Swim with the dolphins, join yoga and family fitness classes on the beach, and make arts and crafts. Check out The Dig, inspired by the legend of Atlantis, where an underground maze mixes tales of mysterious royal treasure with live eels and piranhas. Teens will love the swanky 14,000 square foot nightclub Crush. Contact: 1-888-877-7525; www.Atlantis.com.
Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua, West Indies.
Visit this laid back, but luxurious, family-owned resort for an all-inclusive experience that offers extensive water sports including water skiing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, paddle-boating, tennis, yoga, and sailing. As the kids burn off energy post another delicious meal, relax in a hammock you’ll find tucked within the palm trees. Spend an afternoon at the spa where open air massages provide a perfect end to sports-filled day. Contact: 888-289-9898; www.CurtainBluff.com.
Hilton Head Island, SC
Miles of bike trails, parasailing, plenty of golf, tennis and of course 12 miles of great beaches make this barrier island a popular destination for families. Scope out the blue herons or spot dolphins on the horizon. Contact: www.HiltonHead.org.
Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
If your kids (or you for that matter) have dreams of joining the circus, this seaside, all-inclusive resort is for you. Kids fly through the air on a swinging trapeze, learn juggling, acrobatics and other circus tricks and then provide a demonstration for the family at week’s end. A picturesque beach and extensive programs for kids from babies to teens, make this resort a great choice for active families. Contact: 1-888-932-2582; www.ClubMed.us.
One of our family favorites, the long, wide stretch of sand is home to the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, which provides easy access to the water and a host of sea side activities. Get out your boogie board, take surfing lessons or watch Navy seamen from the nearby base train along the beach. Contact: www.beachcalifornia.com/coronado
Assateague Island, MD
Assateague Island, home to Maryland’s only ocean State Park, is a barrier island bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. Two miles of ocean beaches offer swimming, beachcombing, surfing and fishing. On the bay side explore secluded coves by canoe or kayak. Check out the marsh areas for a variety of wildlife including the famous feral horses. Contact: http://www.atbeach.com/mdstpark/index.asp
Swim in the still waters of Nantucket Sound on the north side of the island or choose the Atlantic beaches on the south shore. Once a booming port, Nantucket is picturesque, historic and awash in the whaling lore that provides much of its current character. Still pristine, nearly 40 percent of the island is protected conservation land. This is an ideal spot for a relaxing family beach vacation. Contact: www. www.nantucketchamber.org
South Walton Beach, Fla.
Here 26 miles of sugar white sand beaches provide the perfect home base for relaxation or fun for the active family. More than 40 percent of the area is preserved through state parks and forests, creating an ideal place to hike, bike, kayak and fish. Contact: www.beachesofsouthwalton.com.