Parents and children visiting Martha’s Vineyard flock to Joseph Sylvia State Beach. Waves are minimal and the beach slopes gradually into the water, so kids can play without getting in over their heads. The beach stretches about 2 miles between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and there’s parking along the road that connects the two — just try to arrive before 10 a.m. on a hot summer day to get a spot. Of all the swimming beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham (lot parking available) is the most popular with families. There’s plenty of room to spread out, even on the busiest day.
For seeing seals
Seals have been basking on the barrier island beaches off Chatham for at least as long as people have been there to watch them. Thousands of the pinnipeds swim in the shallows and “haul out” to bask in the sun on sand bars and (when people are far enough away) along the beach. Swimmers often spot them congregating on sand bars off Chatham Lighthouse Beach; haul-outs on the beach occur farther south where the sands continue toward Monomoy. They are wild animals, so keep your distance. There’s limited parking at Chatham Lighthouse Beach, but the entrance to the beach is only a half-mile walk from downtown Chatham
The 480 campsites at the 521-acre Salisbury Beach State Reservation (978-462-4481, reserveamerica.com) in Salisbury are some of the most popular in Massachusetts. The beach is a lot rockier (and the water a lot colder) on Penobscot Bay, but Searsport Shores Ocean Campground (207-548-6059, campocean.com) in Searsport, Maine, makes a perfect base for exploring the coast and taking day trips to Acadia National Park. The campground has a quarter mile of beach. It’s hard to beat the combination of dense woods and 1,500-foot sandy beach that wraps around the pond at Lakeside Camping on Island Pond (802-723-6649, lakesidecamping.com) in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
For carousel rides
If your kids never ride a carousel, they will never understand what it means to go for the brass ring. The Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, is one of the oldest (built between 1867 and 1876) still operating, and the outside circle of horses swings out on secure chains. Riders must be younger than 12, and preferably under 100 pounds and less than 5 feet tall. Anyone can climb aboard the restored 1911 carousel at Lighthouse Point Park in New Haven, Connecticut. With 72 animals on its 60-foot-diameter platform, it is one of the largest classic carousels still operating. The carousel at Easton’s Beach in Newport, Rhode Island, only dates from the 1940s, but it still gives a good spin.