No, Waikiki isn't on this list. We're looking at the best beaches within an easy(ish) drive of the D.C. metro area.
The best public beaches near D.C., Maryland and Virginia have soft sand, waterparks, amusement parks, water sports, movies on the beach — there's something for every traveler. Get ready to vacuum the sand out of your car!
In order of estimated distance, from closest to farthest:
Bethany Beach, Delaware
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Bethany Beach markets itself as a "quiet resort," offering a more serene option away from the party-hardy bustle of some other spots. There's a limited number of bars, but plenty to do in the way of water sports, a farmers' market, a water park, pirate mini-golf, a boardwalk and movies on the beach. Catch free live music at the Boardwalk Bandstand on weekend nights. You can find something to do in Bethany right up until the end of summer when the town famously bids goodbye to the season with a jazz funeral.
DISTANCE: about 125 miles from downtown D.C.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
You'll find pretty much everything you need from a seaside town in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We're talking go-karts, mini-golf, hang-gliding, boardwalk games and rides for kids — plus frozen custard, obviously. Rehoboth is also home to some fantastic farm-to-table restaurants, so if boardwalk cuisine isn't your thing, you still definitely will be quite happy here. Nearby Dewey Beach offers a slightly quieter atmosphere from busier, more crowded cousin Rehoboth.
DISTANCE: about 120 miles from downtown D.C.
Ocean City, Maryland
Ocean City, Maryland, is a destination that kids (or your own inner child) will love. Go for water slides, boardwalk rides and haunted houses, or head to the water to parasail, kayak, surf or, you know, just swim. You can also catch free concerts and movies many nights during summer. Like Bethany and Rehoboth, Ocean City is among the closest beach destinations for D.C.-area residents.
DISTANCE: about 145 miles from downtown D.C.
Fenwick Island, Delaware
Situated roughly halfway between Bethany Beach and Ocean City near the Delaware/Maryland border, Fenwick Island offers laidback family fun via the Thunder Lagoon Waterpark and the unique DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum.
DISTANCE: about 132 miles from downtown D.C.
Sea Isle City, New Jersey
Sandwiched between more densely populated Ocean City, New Jersey, and Avalon, Sea Isle City is a Jersey Shore gem. The island town has a nice mix of laidback vibes, family fun and great bars — like favorite Ocean Drive — to party with friends. The town's tagline, featured prominently on the water tower when you arrive, is "Smile, You're in Sea Isle." There's a 1.5-mile promenade fronting the white sand beaches of the Atlantic coast. You'll find plenty of boating and fishing opportunities in the back bay, and Atlantic City and The Wildwoods are a short drive away via the Garden State Parkway. Sea Isle City doesn't have many hotels, so booking a summer rental is key.
DISTANCE: about 180 miles from downtown D.C.
Wildwood and Cape May, New Jersey
We're putting Cape May and Wildwood, New Jersey, together because it's easy to do both in a single weekend. On the southernmost point of New Jersey's barrier islands, Cape May is famous for its eye-popping Victorian mansions and B&Bs (and the historic tours that go along with them). Its neighbor to the north, Wildwood, offers a more typical shore experience on a larger scale than its Delaware counterparts, with a different kind of retro via its 1950s-era motels. You'll also find the requisite boardwalk, tons of rides and two water parks. Just "watch the tram car, please."
DISTANCE: about 185 miles from downtown D.C.
Ocean City, New Jersey
That other Ocean City (the one in New Jersey) offers plenty of family-friendly fun, with a boardwalk that — although often crowded — features a ton of rides and all the old faves when it comes to shore food, including pizza and fried Oreos. What else could you want?
DISTANCE: about 192 miles from downtown D.C.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Aside from outdoor activities from fishing to kayaking to dolphin watching, Virginia Beach also offers a boardwalk full of rides and restaurants, plenty of festivals, bars, clubs and breweries, plus the Virginia Aquarium and the Military Aviation Museum. Accommodations include everything from high-rise hotels to nearby campgrounds.
DISTANCE: about 210 miles from downtown D.C.
Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
The gorgeous beaches of the Outer Banks are worth the drive (and the OBX sticker you obviously want for your car). They aren't quite what you'd call close to D.C., but Kitty Hawk Beach and Kill Devil Hills are the easiest to get to since they're near the Wright Memorial Bridge. Swim, surf, charter a boat or go fishing off the Avalon Pier. There are also historic sites devoted to the lost colony on Roanoke (at nearby Manteo) and the Wright Brothers’ first flight, and you'll find plenty of accommodation options on the beach or within walking distance. The main drawback is these beaches are very developed. On the plus side, you might see wild ponies or dolphins at nearby Corolla, which also allows driving on the beach.
DISTANCE: about 270 miles from downtown D.C.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Sandy dunes open up to 70 miles of mostly undeveloped beaches at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The open-ocean waves are great for surfing or boogie boarding, or you can visit historic lighthouses. Drive to the southern end and you’ll find Ocracoke Beach, which Dr. Beach declared one of the best in the nation. Beach driving and bonfires are allowed here with a proper permit.
DISTANCE: about 290 miles from downtown D.C. to Hatteras Island Visitor Center
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