Beyond Your Basic Beach

Not all beaches are created equal. Take your grandkids to the best of the best.

By Marcy Barack Black

When I was pregnant, I had a single beach requirement: a convenient bathroom nearby. Public beaches with full facilities were sufficient.

When the kids started to toddle, we bought a house with a patch of sand on a lake so we wouldn't have to share a bathroom. I spent my days passing out juice boxes, slathering sunscreen on pudgy bodies, and counting heads every two minutes.

We napped and picnicked on the beach. The kids rose early to the call of loons, and stayed up late to wave sparklers on the 4th of July. We toasted marshmallows in the fire pit and built fortresses in the sand. We waded and swam and water skied from the beach.

By the time they were teens, the charms of the lake house weren't enough to lure them away from friends, so we sold it.

When the grandchildren come, I know what I want in a beach.

Colored Sand, Castles & Kites

For brand new grandbabies, I'll look for soft sand for tender tushies. Playa del Carmen in Mexico boasts that its soft white sand never heats up enough to burn feet. The fine, white sugar sand of weathered Appalachian quartz found on beaches along the Florida Panhandle's Emerald Coast will also serve to bury Gramps when the kids get bigger.

White can get boring after a while. Hawaii offers black sand beaches where volcanic lava has weathered into tiny particles. On the Big Island of Hawaii, we'll share Punalu'u Beach with endangered green sea turtles. On Maui, we'll explore the sea caves at Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach.

Pink sands are the remains of Caribbean corals and forams, animals that live in the corals. Harbour Island in the Bahamas has three miles of pink sand beach. And, Bermuda has multiple pink sand beach choices. We'll have an impromptu science lesson at every beach based on the color of the sand.

As the kids get older, they'll want to build sand castles, by patting and molding wet sand, or dribbling a slurry of sand and water from their fingers. To see what experts can accomplish with the same raw materials — sand and water — we'll head to Harrison Hot Springs, the sand sculpture capital of the world. The British Columbia lakefront beach isn't subject to tides, which helps preserve, for a month, entries in the World Championships of Sand Sculpture.

We'll fly our kites at Long Beach, Wash., where the Washington State International Kite Festival is held the third week of August. While we're there, perhaps we'll peek inside the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame.

Beach Finds

The beaches of Florida's Sanibel Island are famous for abundant shells, more than 400 different species. They collect on the island's shallow coastline, which angles east to west, rather than north to south. Julian Hill, 6, recently took his grandmother, Susan Swain, out early in the morning to hunt for shells. A pair of dolphins with a young calf swam beside them as they combed the beach. "My mommy will be so surprised when she wakes up and finds these seashells," Julian crowed. Swain admired the imaginative ways sand sculptors embellished their castles and mermaids with the shells.

On the beach in Venice, Fla., we could rent a mesh scoop to help us sift fossilized shark's teeth from the sand. At the Shark's Tooth Festival in April, there's a sharks' tooth scramble and hands-on exhibits for kids.

In search of buried treasure, we might dig a few holes in Brigantine Beach in southern New Jersey, where Captain Kidd is rumored to have cached his pirate loot. Or, we might rent a metal detector and comb the sands around Vero Beach, Fla., for gold and silver coins washed ashore from Spanish galleons that sank offshore in 1715.

Jurassic fossils are the attraction at Charmouth Beach in the United Kingdom. We'll book a two-hour guided fossil walk with a warden at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. The sands are filled with with ammonites — coiled shell fossils about 185 million years old — eroded from the yellow cliffs above the beach.

For a thrilling ride over hills of sand, we'll rent a dune buggy that holds two adults and two kids and explore the Oceano Dunes midway up the coast of California. When the grandkids get their driver's licenses, we'll steer for Florida and the sands of Daytona Beach.

I won't be able to give my grandkids a pony, but J & J Riding welcomes "people of all ages" for horseback rides on the beach at Morro Bay in central California. When they're 13, I can take the grandkids horseback riding on the beaches of Amelia Island, Fla., at the Kelly Seahorse Ranch.

My husband grew up in Hawaii, so, of course, we'll take the grandkids to Oahu to learn to surf from a Waikiki beach boy. Then we'll swing around the island to the site of the former family beach house at Lanikai with the picturesque Mokolua Islands offshore. It's among the most photographed beaches in the state.

One final requirement for any beach I visit with my grandchildren — a bathroom nearby for me.

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