How many places are there where you can actually go to the beach in March? We South Floridians don't like to gloat, but we do have dibs on the great weather this time of year. I always try to be compassionate when I talk to people like my brother, for instance, who lives in Saskatchewan, Canada. While he is just beginning to thaw out from an icy cold winter (and still enduring temperatures that are way too low for my native Floridian blood), I've already enjoyed several chances to work on my tan.
I have learned that the trick to getting the most out of your day at the beach is knowing where to go. With some tips from South Florida Parenting readers, we have found several beaches that have that little "something extra" that make them great for family outings. Whether it is a playground, pier, proximity to restaurants, or the all-important public restrooms, the details can make the difference in your family's enjoyment of the beach. Here's a county-by-county list of South Florida Parenting readers' favorites:
PALM BEACH COUNTY
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
10900 State Road 703, North Palm Beach
(Interstate 95 to PGA Boulevard east)
If you are looking for a full day of nature that includes much more than the beach, John D. MacArthur Beach State Park is a great choice. Within the park, a 1,600-foot boardwalk takes you through a scenic estuary and brings you to a wide open, typically uncrowded 1.8-mile stretch of beach. In addition to the traditional beach activities, fishing, snorkeling, and surfing are permitted. Kids and adults can snorkel and explore around a rock reef close to shore. There are restrooms and showers at the beach. There are no lifeguards, however, so beachgoers swim at their own risk.
When you are ready to take a break from the beach, enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the picnic pavilions, take the children to the playground, take a kayak ride through the estuary, or visit the park's nature center, which features live animal exhibits. You can see fish, hermit crabs, snakes and even a baby sea turtle that was rescued last year.
The beach here is home to approximately 1,000 sea turtle nests each year. During the nesting season, between April and September, the nature center offers nighttime turtle walks. The park also offers family programs on the second Saturday of each month (call for a complete schedule or pick one up while you're there). The park is open every day of the year, including holidays. The entrance fee is $4 per vehicle.
Ocean Inlet Park
6990 N. Ocean Blvd., Ocean Ridge
(On A1A about one mile north of Boynton Beach Boulevard)
This Palm Beach County park has a little of everything for the family. On the Intracoastal side of the park, there is a jetty with boat slips, a picnic pavilion, picnic tables, a snack bar, restrooms and showers, and a playground. The beach, which is directly across the street, has lifeguards on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. "We usually park in the huge parking area and walk across the street to the beach," says Kelly Palmieri of Lake Worth. "When we've had enough, we go over to the playground until it's time to go home."
Palmieri likes Ocean Inlet Park so much that she held her daughter's second birthday there. "I had about 40 people there and there was more than enough room for everyone," she said. "It was a lot of fun because the little ones really loved the playground."