This summer my wife and I wanted to plan fun, weekday beach excursions for the kids. Since I was only taking one day off work at a time, the beaches had to be close. I was born in California and I used to think that living as I do now near Washington, DC meant giving up easy access to the beach. But not so. We were surprised to discover two good beaches within 90 minutes drive of Washington, DC.
Our first beach adventure was to Colonial Beach. It's located in Virginia's Northern Neck on the banks of the Potomac River (see map) just 90 minutes from Washington, DC. The town is small but the beach is wide and and surprisingly nice. The waves aren't anywhere near surfing size, but there is enough for kids to enjoy. The water's edge is rocky but it's not terrible if you don't have water shoes. There are a few changing rooms and a food shack at one end of the beach. There's lots of parking but during the weekend it fills up quickly. There's also a decent pier worth exploring for the views. And best of all, being a public beach, it's free.
See photos on Flickr
Sandy Point State Park
We planned another trip to Colonial Beach, but then rain threatened to derail our plans. So we quickly looked for a beach out of the path of the storm and found Sandy Point State Park in Maryland. This Maryland State Park is located along the Northwestern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, right before the Bay Bridge (see map). It's not free - admission is between $4 and $7 per person, depending on when you go and whether you are a Maryland resident (or you can buy a pass). But it's totally worth it the fee. The area by the beach has lots of facilities, including large bathrooms with showers, a snack bar, an aging but adequate playground, and even a small nature center. There are tons of picnic tables in the grassy areas near the beach, and there are even BBQ pits for cooking out.
The beach is nice and very large. I wouldn't say the sand or water is as nice as Colonial Beach, but it's not bad. It's rockier than Colonial but only slightly so. The coolest part is that the impressive Bay Bridge is right across the water.
The main thing to keep in mind is that this is a Leave no Trace park, meaning you won't find garbage cans anywhere - you're expected to pack out what you bring in.
See photos on Flickr
Overall, if you're looking for fun, one-day beach trips, I recommend both Sandy Point and Colonial Beach. Sandy Point is a little closer and has better facilities, but it's not free and the beach is a little rockier. But regardless of which you choose, you'll have fun at either beach. I recommend packing a picnic lunch and bringing lots of towels, sand toys and sunscreen.