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Your beach is within reach

Some moments make you question your parental instincts — or your lack of them. But is it really so wrong to laugh hysterically as your cocky teenaged son gets pummelled by a wave, almost loses his bathing suit, and lands face down in the sand before your very eyes?

Whatever our son thought of our reaction to his circumstances, there was no doubt that he had been warned about the waves at Sandy Beach on O’ahu, Hawaii.

In addition to his parent’s advice which, he scoffed at and completely ignored, there were numerous yellow warning signs alerting visitors to the fact that this famous body surfing beach can have strong currents and big waves.

Fortunately, he was not injured and only had to endure one “I told you so” from his parents.

When the weather turns chilly and the snow starts to pile up, I often find myself reminiscing about my favourite family beach vacations.

When you think of an island beach getaway, it’s common to picture a far-flung destination in a foreign locale, but many of my family’s favourite winter beach destinations are found in the United States. The close proximity, combined with plenty of great local amenities, make these destinations particularly appealing for families.

There is something almost magical about leaving the frozen north and arriving a few hours later in a sunny beach destination. Submerging your toes in fine white sand while relaxing on a comfy beach bed at an ocean-front resort can almost feel like you are cheating Old Man Winter.

The best part is that a family beach vacation yields memories for years to come — especially if you are lucky enough to witness your teenager do a face plant.

Hawaiian Islands

There is no place on Earth like Hawaii and the hardest part about planning a Hawaiian vacation is choosing the island to visit. Whether you visit Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, Lanai or the Big Island, you will find wonderful beaches and distinct travel experiences to discover.

Families with older teens may enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere and attractions of Honolulu on the island of Oahu, while checking out some of its famous beaches.

A favourite winter beach for local families is Waimanalo Beach Park, which is in the centre of a 75-acre recreation area and has gently sloping white sandy beaches ideal for swimming (

Key West, Fla.

Home to the southernmost point in the continental U.S., Key West has attracted a host of colourful characters over the years including the likes of Tennesee Williams and Ernest Hemmingway.

Exploring Old Town, celebrating African heritage at Bahama Village, enjoying great seafood at Key West Bight and toasting the sunset at Mallory Square are all must-do experiences.

Popular beaches include Fort Zachary Taylor Beach Park, Higg’s Beach and Smathers Beach. Higg’s Beach is popular with younger families because it has a playground, covered picnic tables, chair rentals, watersport rentals and a full service restaurant.

Families with older teens will enjoy the manmade Smathers Beach, because of its volleyball nets, bike paths, watersports rentals, picnic tables and concession stands (

Marco Island, Fla.

Marco Island is the largest of Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands and the only one with serious development.

Located in Southwest Florida near Naples and the Florida Everglades, this island has white sand beaches upscale beach resorts, two golf courses, diverse shopping and good restaurants.

It’s also a nature-lovers’ paradise famous for its birding, fishing and the frolicking dolphins just off shore.

The laid-back lifestyle of this area has resulted in the import of a number of Canadian snowbirds (

Mustang Island, Port Aransas, Texas

Once inhabited by grazing herds of wild horses that were originally introduced by Spanish settlers, Mustang Island is the world’s longest barrier island. Mustang Island State Park encompasses the entire southern third of the island.

The island has 29 km of beaches that are ideal for swimming and is famous for its sand sculpture festival which is held at the end of April each year ( and is the largest sand sculpting contest in America.

It’s also famous for excellent birding and unrivalled fishing (

Sanibel Island, Fla.

Considered by many experts to have the best shelling beaches in North America, tiny Sanibel Island on Florida’s gulf coast is a favourite beach destination for families.

Sanibel and its neighbour Captiva Island are connected to each other and the mainland by a causeway and visitors can enjoy activities on both islands.

A sea kayak tour of J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife refuge, a ferry ride to Cabbage Key or dinner at the funky family-friendly restaurant known as the Bubble Room are must-do experiences for visitors (

Santa Catalina Island, Calif.

More commonly known simply as Catalina, this rocky island is located off the southern coast of California in Los Angeles County and is a popular vacation destination for both Californians and visitors.

The main town of Avalon is less than one km in size and although it’s easy to get around on foot, you’ll want to rent a golf cart or a bicycle to explore the hills that surround the town.

Avalon is a quaint little town with interesting shops, a movie theatre and a museum.

There’s also a golf course and a mini-golf course on the island, but water-based activities are the main attraction for most visitors.

Fishing, sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, parasailing and coastal ecotours are popular activities on this quiet island, which makes a great daytrip or weekend getaway (

Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.



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