There’s more to a day at the beach than buckets and spades. Here’s our pick of great ideas for family trips to the seaside
Make a sand sculpture
Brighton is hosting its first Sand Sculpture festival this summer (brightonsandsculpture.co.uk, adults £6, kids £4, until 30 Sept). More than 20 world-class artists have transformed a neglected stretch of the seafront at Black Rock, near Brighton Marina, into a sandy wonderland. Sand sculpture workshops for older kids and a sand pit for toddlers should keep all ages happy. It’s organised by the people behind the popular Sand Sculpture festival at Weston-super-Mare (westonsandsculpture.co.uk, adults £3.50, kids £2, family £10, until 30 Sept), where this year’s theme is Hollywood.
Camp on the beach
Pitch up at a beachfront campsite and fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. Scotland has some of the best seaside camping spots (if not the weather to go with them). Traigh na Beirigh campsite (01851 672265) on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides has pitches among the sand dunes, while Camusdarach in Inverness-shire (01687 450221, camusdarach.com) is a stone’s throw from three white sandy beaches. Elsewhere, Bryher Campsite in the Isles of Scilly (£10pppn) and the 300-acre Shell Island in Gwynedd, north Wales (adults £7.25 a night, kids £3) both have pitches with sea views. And there are dozens more coastal campsites at guardian.co.uk/travel/camping
Hire a beach hut
The first beach hut appeared on Bournemouth beach in 1908 and the seafront is still lined with more than 250 of the cute cabins, many of which can be hired out for the day (0845 055 0968, bournemouthbeachhuts.co.uk, from £35 a day). Children will adore the dinky proportions and the adventure of having a beach base camp, while parents will appreciate having somewhere to relax with a cuppa or shelter from the, ahem, blistering British sunshine. Choose between traditional wooden huts or a slick new “beach pod” (weekly hire only) near the artificial surf reef at Boscombe (from £260 a week, 01202 451781, bournemouth.gov.uk).Nungwi Village
Poking around in a rock pool is one of the great beach pastimes. If you want some help identifying sea creatures, sign up for a Rocky Shore Safari run by the Thanet Coast Project around Broadstairs and Margate in Kent (thanetcoast.org.uk, small charge per person). On the Gower peninsula in Wales, you can go on a free pond-dipping and porpoise spotting trip with marine biologist Judith Oakley (07879 837817, oakleyintertidal.co.uk).
Watch a Punch and Judy show
Take your children back to a simpler age – when watching an angry puppet beat his wife and baby with a stick was considered rollicking good fun. The finest purveyors of the art of the Punch and Judy show will gather on the world’s longest pleasure pier, at Southend-on-Sea (visitsouthend.co.uk/whats-on, pier admission from £2 adults, £1 kids, 2–4 Aug), for its annual puppet festival. As well as regular puppet shows, there will be a display of Punch memorabilia and puppet-making workshops for children. The Yorkshire resort of Redcar ( redcar-cleveland.gov.uk, 2–8 Aug, free) will also be taking a nostalgia trip with a week of Punch and Judy shows, retro beach games and free donkey rides .
Watch a regatta
You don’t have to be into sailing to enjoy a regatta: the racing element tends to play second fiddle to the onshore entertainment. One of the best for families is Falmouth Week in Cornwall (falmouthweek.co.uk, 9–18 Aug), which boasts a packed programme of live music, carnival parades, hog roasts, games and fireworks. Also worth checking out are Ramsgate Week Regatta in Kent (ramsgateweek.com, 12–17 Aug) and the daddy of all regattas, Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight (aamcowesweek.co.uk, 3–10 Aug).
Walk with dinosaurs
The Isle of Wight has launched an augmented reality app (visitisleofwight.co.uk/dinosaur-island) that allows visitors to search for prehistoric remains and then take a photo of their family walking with the dinosaurs that roamed the island millions of years ago. The trail visits six coastal locations, including Blackgang Chine, Ventnor and The Needles, all connected by a hop-on/hop-off bus service (adults £10, kids £5). For a more hands-on experience of prehistory, join one of the ever-popular fossil-hunting walks run by Chris Pamplin (£5, fossilwalks.com) at Charmouth on Dorset’s Jurassic coast.
Try out the latest surf craze at the new Croyde Surf Academy in north Devon. Adults and over-fives can sign up for tuition in hand-planing, which is like bodysurfing but you hold a small hand-board to achieve a longer ride. Family-friendly lessons are available, with prices from £35. Hand-planing lessons are also available at the Extreme Academy in Watergate Bay, Cornwall .
See an air show
The skies over Britain’s coasts will be buzzing with vintage aircraft and precision flying this summer. The Airbourne International Airshow in Eastbourne (eastbourneairshow.com, 15–18 Aug, free) will feature four displays from the Red Arrows, plus parachute teams, wing-walkers and the chance to see classic fighter planes, such as the Spitfire, being put through their paces. Similar events will be held in Clacton (clactonairshow.com, 22–23 Aug) and also in Cleethorpes (cleethorpesairshow.co.uk, 27–28 July).
The seaside village of Anderby Creek, Lincolnshire, is home to the UK’s first – and only – purpose-built cloud-viewing platform. Tucked among the sand dunes of this unspoilt stretch of sand, the “Cloud Bar” doesn’t serve alcohol but it does have Cloud Menus, which identify different formations, mirrors that can be swivelled to reflect different parts of the sky and cloud-viewing seats, on which visitors can recline and enjoy the view.
• bathingbeauties.org.uk. Free
Visit an urban beach
It’s nowhere near the coast, but Oxford isn’t going to let a detail like that spoil its fun. The university town has thrown off its gown and pulled on a pair of budgie smugglers to mark the arrival of its own beach, in the historic Oxford Castle Quarter (thebigbangrestaurants.co.uk, until early Sept, entry free), complete with 23 tonnes of sand, deckchairs and palm trees. Punch and Judy, petanque, and beach volleyball complete the picture. Not to be outdone, the Southbank Centre in London has a pop-up beach as part of its Festival of Neighbourhood (until 8 Sept. Free).
Go seal spotting
The charming village of Blakeney on the Norfolk coast is the launch point for boat trips to the seal colony at Blakeney Point. Beans (adults £10, kids £5), a family business, has been running trips to the sandbanks at the far end of the harbour for more than 50 years. In Scotland, one of the best places to spot seals (and dolphins too, if you’re lucky) is Loch Carran, a sea loch in the Highlands. So confident is Calum Mackenzie (01599 544306, calums-sealtrips.com, adults £10, kids £6) that you’ll spot seals, that he runs his boat trips out of Plockton harbour on a no-seal no-fee basis.
Learn to kayak
Be among the first to check out a new watersports facilities at the Black Rock Beach Club, Cornwall, which opens this weekend in the Cornish resort of Millendreath. The new beach club, offering tuition in kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and surfing, is part of a huge regeneration project of the coastal valley near Looe. A cool new beach cafe serves Cornish produce.
Try to catch your own fish supper
Teach your kids that fish doesn’t come out of the sea covered in breadcrumbs on a fishing trip from the ruggedly beautiful harbour town of Staithes in North Yorkshire. On a new trip for this year, fisherman Sean Baxter (01947 840278, realstaithes.com, £10 per person per hour) will take you out in his boat and show you how to catch and clean a mackerel before cooking it on a barbecue . Mackerel fishing trips are also available from West Bay harbour in Dorset (07967 944781, westbayfishingtrips.co.uk, £10ppph).
Ride a horse on the beach
Few things are more exhilarating than splashing through the surf on horseback. Kimmerston Riding Centre (two-hour trip: adults £90, 13-15-year-olds £80, under-12s £70) in Northumberland offers experienced riders the chance to gallop along the golden sands of Holy Island, with the option of a bareback swim in the North Sea for the brave. Marros Riding Centre (over-16s only, £60 for two hours) in Carmarthenshire also offers beach rides on nearby Pendine Sands.
Watch theatre by the sea
Watching an open-air performance at cliff-top Minack Theatre (adults £4, 12–15-year-olds £2, under-12s free) against the stunning backdrop of Porthcurno Bay in Cornwall should be on everyone’s must-do list. Family-friendly shows on Tuesday and Thursday mornings are included in the normal daytime admission. In Margate, Kent, Richard III will be replacing donkey rides on the Main Sands for one day as the Theatre Royal puts on its Shakespeare on the Beach event (20 July. Free).Nungwi Village
Be a pirate or mermaid for the day
Here’s a perfect excuse to raid the dressing-up box. March of the Mermaids is a new event in Brighton (facebook.com/mermaids.march, 27 July, free) in aid of the Marine Conservation Society. The parade starts in Hove and makes its way along the seafront to Marine Parade, where there will be prizes for best mermaid or prawn costume . Along the coast, Hastings will be attempting to break the record it set last year for the world’s largest gathering of pirates (hastingspirateday.org.uk, 21 July. Free). So put on your eye patch and your best wooden leg and head to the seafront for sword fighting displays, sea shanties, stunts, hog roasts and dancing.
Vamp it up
Nowhere does gothic kitsch quite like Whitby. The Dracula Experience (adults £3, kids £2.50), with its trailing cobwebs and dangling rubber bats is the ultimate, slightly rubbish rainy day seaside attraction. Follow it with a visit to Whitby’s ruined cliff-top abbey (adults £6.40, kids £3.80, english-heritage.org.uk). At weekends throughout the school holidays the site will be bringing Bram Stoker’s tale to life with a cast of actors and time-travel-themed events.
Visit a traditional ice-cream parlour
For a taste of seaside nostalgia, nothing beats tucking into a strawberry sundae at a traditional ice-cream parlour. Classic examples include Morelli’s in Broadstairs, Rossi’s on the Esplanade in Weymouth, where the ice-cream has been made from scratch on the premises since the 1930s, and Ives on Aldeburgh High Street, where unusual flavours include rhubarb and lemon curd.