Ready for some sun, sand and waves?
As the weather warms up, it's the perfect time to pack your bags and head to the beach.
Depending on which direction you want to travel, both east and west coast beaches offer plenty of activities for military families. Before you head out, check with your installation’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) leisure travel office to score discounted tickets for local attractions.
Here we share our top four favorite military-friendly beach destinations:
Tybee Island, GA
Tybee Island is a small coastal community located 30 minutes from downtown historic Savannah. It’s particularly close to Fort Stewart, the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River. This lovely beach is split into five sections: North Beach, Mid Beach, South Beach, Back River and Little Tybee Island.
Things to do:
On the beach
- Boat or kayak to Little Tybee Island. This gorgeous uninhabited nature preserve is a great way to spend the day or camp overnight.
- Take a seaside ride on a beach cruiser while the wind caresses your skin with salty kisses.
- Love to fish? Head to the Tybee Pier & Pavilion where you’ll find a great fishing spot along with concessions stands, picnic tables and public bathrooms available.
- The Tybee Island Marine Center is practically on the beach as it’s located right next to the Tybee Pier & Pavilion. It has inexpensive marine science “walks, talks, and treks” for the whole family.
- Tybee Island Lighthouse - Take a tour of Georgia’s oldest lighthouse. Challenge yourself to climb the 178 stairs to the top. Sunrise and full moon tours are available.
- Explore Fort Screven, a site built in 1897, also home to the historic lighthouse. Check our the site’s gun battery and island museum.
- Shop and dine on Tybee - Explore locally-owned gift shops, art galleries and specialty stores along Tybrisa Street. Fresh seafood is famous around here, so be sure to stop to dine at a place like Fannie’s On the Beach.
- Open daily, Fort Pulaski National Monument offers fascinating insight into Civil War events and history. Walk across drawbridges and ditches before heading inside to explore the visitor’s center.
Insider tip: South beach is the most popular and busiest beach, so if you’re looking for a little more quiet time, head to Little Tybee.
San Onofre, CA
As one of California’s favorite beaches, San Onofre State Beach receives nearly 2.5 million visitors each year. With its close proximity to Camp Pendleton in San Clemente, this beach is a perfect escape from everyday military town life. Broken into three parts — San Onofre Bluffs, the San Mateo Campground and the San Onofre Surf Beach — this beach offers lots to see and do.
Things to do:
On the beach
- Open from 4 a.m. to midnight, San Clemente Pier is a must for shoppers, diners and ocean lovers. Whether you’re in the mood for fishing, shopping, or sunset viewing, tis pier is always bustling.
- The constant waves at San Onofre State Beach make this a perfect spot for beginner to advanced surfers to hit the breaks. Surf the day away, but be sure to check the San Onofre surf report first.
- Sea Summit Trail - While this isn’t on the beach per say, you do get amazing panoramic views of the beach, including all the way from the Clemente Pier to the Dana Point Headlands. Start your walk at the stairs near the San Clemente Outlets off Avenida Pico.
- Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens - Visit this award-winning arts center and historical landmark. Self-guided and guided tours are available. Check the calendar of events for yoga sessions, cookings classes, poetry readings, and more.
- If you love surfing, check out the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center dedicated to the art and history of the beloved water sport.
- Visit Downtown San Clemente - This Spanish village by the Sea is always buzzing with weekly events like the farmer’s market, care shows, festivals, and more.
Insider tip: If you plan to go camping near the beach, schedule your trip well in advance as the San Mateo Campground books up fast. Even if you aren’t a camper, there’s lots of San Clemente things to do.
Virginia Beach, VA
They say Virginia is for lovers, but it’s especially for beach lovers! Virginia Beach is made up of seven districts and multiple beaches, including Sandbridge Beach, Chesapeake Bay Beach and Oceanfront Resort Beach. All three beaches are free and open to the public, too. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from Naval Station Norfolk.
Things to do:
On the beach
- Pose with Neptune - This impressive 24-foot bronze statue of the king of the sea brandishing his trident makes for a great family photo with the beach backdrop.
- Take in the beach views from the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, a 3-mile, 28-foot wide beachside walkway large enough for bikers and walkers alike. Take your time and stop for a bite to eat or boutique shopping along the way.
- Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum - Housed in the historic deWitt Cottage, this oceanfront museum showcases beautifully carved wooden birds every birdwatcher can appreciate. Watch artists as they whittle away on wood carvings during daily demonstrations.
- See the world’s largest private collection of World War I and World War II era aircraft at the Military Aviation Museum. This Museum offers daily tours with free admission for WWII/Korean veterans. Active and retired discounts are available as well.
- Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art - Just six blocks from the oceanfront, this award-winning museum is a must-see for art lovers. Tickets are less than $10. Check out scheduled free days for military and family.
- Take a self-guided tour of the Virginia Legends Walk, located at the 13th Street Park between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Avenue. This area honors famous Virginians.
- Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum - Dive deep into Virginia Beach’s maritime history and heritage. Located on 24th Street, this beautiful building is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Open throughout the summer, Atlantic Fun Park is great for families to experience and explore midway games and Virginia Beach’s largest Ferris wheel!
- With over 800,00 gallons and 300 different specs, the world-class Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center will impress kids and adults alike.
Insider tip: Throughout the summer, you’ll find free nightly concerts on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk. Enjoy music and oceanfront views at 7th, 17th, and 24th and 31st Streets.
Cannon Beach, OR
Named by National Geographic Magazine as “one of The World’s 100 Most Beautiful Places”, Cannon Beach is a west coast beach beauty. While it’s not close to any major bases — the closest one is the smaller Kingsley Field Air National Guard base — it’s still worth a trip. In the summertime, Haystack Rock gets crowded. Mosey on down to Chapman Point to the north and spots south of Tolovana Wayside for a more secluded experience.
Things to do:
On the beach
- The famous Haystack Rock is great for dramatic photo backdrops. It’s also an excellent bird watching location to spot puffins.
- Catch a wave - Take surf lessons with pros at Cannon Bech Surf Lessons and Rentals.
- At low tide, check out intertidal pools filled with unique sea life.
- Hug Point State Recreation Area - On your way down to explore stunning beach caves, take in a breathtaking view of Haystack Rock.
- If you’re up for a hike, the 9-mile Ecola State Park offers plenty of it. Hiking, picnicking, exploring tide pools, surfing, and wildlife watching are all popular activities.
- Take in the local hot spots - Watch local glass blowing artists in action in the hot shop and gallery at Icefire Glassworks.
- Shop, dine, and admire public art in the very walkable Downtown Cannon Beach area.
Insider tip: Cannon Beach is dog friendly! Just be sure Fido is well-behaved on a leash or under voice control.
Start Planning Your Perfect Beach Getaway Today
It’s time to get your beach vibe going on.
Start planning your summer vacation now to one of these top beach destinations. No matter which coast you visit, you won’t be disappointed by these award-winning beach cities.
Even if you tire of sand between your toes, each of these locations offers such variety in the surrounding areas that you could stay a week and still not see it all. From delicious seafood fare to festivals and culture centers, each area offers activities for all tastes and interests.
The sooner you can book your travels, the better rates, vacation packages and deals you’ll be able to find. Always be sure to ask for a military discount, too. Most restaurants, hotels and airlines offer active duty and veterans special rates.
Now, it’s time to get packing.
Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and sunglasses! Happy beach travels.