Fun In The Sun: Family Friendly Beaches In Essex

Whether you are looking for the perfect place to cool down on a sunny day, the best location for champion sandcastles or cheesy arcades and thrill rides Essex has beaches for every mood. Essex has one of the longest coastlines of any County in England so if you are on the lookout for some new seaside spots to explore, here are my top 10 Essex beaches to visit.

The Best Beaches In Essex For Families

children walking along the beachfront in Southend, Essex, eating ice cream
Essex has family friendly beaches for every mood

An outline map of Essex with family beach locations marked on it
Where to find the best family friendly beaches in Essex

1. Brightlingsea, CO7 0HH

Kicking off the list with this beautiful, unspoilt location: Brightlingsea has tonnes to offer including a marina, harbour, multi-coloured beach huts and a lido too. For the little ones there is a big walled area on the beach where they can play safely as well as plenty of opportunities on the seafront for crabbing.

There are a variety of car parks available, so you won't have to walk too far lugging all that beach equipment. The toilet facilities are great which is something that was never a real consideration for me until I became a Mum and the beach is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies.

Pawsons Playground is a stone's throw from the lido and has a fantastic array of beach and nautical themed play equipment including a ship climbing frame for any wannabe pirates.

-Top Tip -

Brightlingsea Regatta will be taking place on the 6th to 7th July 2024 with activities, live entertainment, stalls and a spectacular firework display- definitely a date for the diaries.

A view of Brightlingsea Beach from the air (Canva Pro Image)
Brightlingsea Beach

2. West Mersea Beach, CO5 8BH

This beach has a real secluded feel. It is a combination of sand and pebbles and it's an excellent spot for crabbing and birdwatching. Whilst you are not inundated with activities here it is a great option if you want some old charm and to check out the beautiful pastel coloured beach huts.

The toilets are clean and well maintained and there are a couple of cafes for refreshments. There is parking at Victoria Esplanade Car Park which is nice and close to the beach too.

-Top Tip -

Your feet may appreciate some beach or water shoes as the mix of sand, stones and shells can be a little sharp to walk on.

A row of beautiful pastel beach huts on West Mersea Beach (Canva Pro image)
Beautiful beach huts at West Mersea Beach

3. Walton On The Naze Beach, CO14 8QD

The recently upgraded pier (which is arguably the third longest in the UK depending on how it's measured) offers your standard arcades as well as bowling, fairground rides and even Escape rooms. The beach itself is nice and clean and has lots of great sand for making sandcastles plus you are spoilt for choice for places to grab lunch from.

There are ample loos and parking options nearby too.

-Top Tip -

Book one of the colourful beach huts if you have young children. This will give you some shelter out of the sun or rain as well as somewhere to store your bags when you are making a day of it. There are lots of different providers so do a quick Google search and follow them on Instagram for last minute availability

An empty beach at Walton On The Naze in Essex (Canva Pro image)
A sandy beach and plenty of entertainment at Walton On The Naze Beach

4. The Naze Beach, C014 8LE

Still in Walton On The Naze, but round the coast slightly is a lovely, quiet and clean beach famed for fossil hunting and bird watching- hours can be spent here seeking out interesting shells and sharks' teeth. Keep an eye on tide times and plan your visit accordingly as the beach can virtually disappears at high tide.

The Naze Tower (an 86ft navigation tower built on the cliffs at the Naze) is well worth a visit whilst you are there for the stunning panoramic views of the coastline. Spread across five floors there is a museum, an art gallery and tea rooms serving freshly prepared hot and cold food from 10-5pm. Entry is £4.50 per adult and £3.50 for children with under 4's free.

There is a pay and display car park (£1.20 for an hour to £5 for all day parking).

-Top Tip-

The Naze Discovery Centre offers some great beach-based activities for children during the holidays, including fossil hunting, beach craft, kite flying and shell necklace making. 

A crumbling cliff at The Naze Essex (Canva Pro image)
Fossils, views and education at the Naze

5. Clacton On Sea Beach, CO15 1QX

Clacton will forever hold a nostalgic place in my heart as I spent most of my summers as a child walking there from Jaywick. You really will find something for everyone at Clacton Beach with its pleasure pier, eateries, arcades, shops galore, theatres, and a golf course. There is also a lovely gated splash park for little ones open in the Summer months (book online).

There are plenty of parking amenities nearby and multiple access points for wheelchair users and prams so everyone can enjoy the sandy beach.

Whilst anywhere on the beach is perfectly fine for children, to the right of the pier is sandier and has a gradual slope to the sea. This is also where you will find Martello Lounge which has lovely interiors and delicious food and drink.

-Top Tips-

Clacton Pier regularly has a free firework display in the Summer, check out their website for dates and other events. 

If you are not exhausted from a day of fun and frolics on the beach, a 5 min drive from Clacton is Hasty's Adventure Farm, in addition to the farm animals they have pedal go karts, a wooden adventure zone and giant lego bricks.

Clacton Air Show is a hugely popular event and is taking place on 22nd and 23rd August 2024 with day time and evening entertainment.

A view of Clacton pier (Canva Pro image)
There is plenty of entertainment for little ones in Clacton

6. Holland On Sea, CO15 5TZ

If you want to avoid the crowds at Clacton, Holland on Sea is the perfect alternative. Much less developed and quieter but with plenty of charm, clear waters and lots of space for the kids to run around.

There are several pay and display car parks available and ramps down to the beach so accessible for wheelchairs and buggies although note that the ramp is a little steep.

-Top Tip-

Why not take advantage of all that extra space on the beach and take a kite to fly?

Holland on Sea beach at sunset (Canva Pro image)
Holland On Sea is a quieter spot between Clacton and Frinton beaches

7. Maldon, CM9 5JQ

Cheating slightly with this one as Maldon is located on the estuary of the River Blackwater rather than on the coast. While you can't swim here there is so much to offer that I couldn't miss it off the list. The picturesque Promenade Park has an ornamental lake and a good size sand pit for making sandcastles. There are kiosks serving fish and chips, ice-cream and refreshments but a short walk into the high street gives plenty of other options if you want a sit-down lunch. We couldn't rate Mrs Salisbury's Tea Room more and have always had incredible service and food when we have visited. If you love seafood then enjoy a pot of prawns or cockles from Blackwater Seafood while your children play in the sand pit on weekends.

Crabbing enthusiasts can fish for crabs or shrimp in the boating lake, along the estuary or at Hythe Quay and if the kids still have energy to burn there are skateboarding and BMX ramps nearby.

The children's Splash Park is open during the summer months but make sure you book online in advance to avoid disappointment. Adjacent to that is a large children's play area including a large pirate ship, sand pits and zip wire.

There is also a miniature golf course (Pirates Bay Adventure Golf), panning for gold and the lovely Maldon Promenade Petting Zoo (where my daughter held a tarantula on our last visit!).

Parking is plentiful with the large Promenade Park car park located next to the splash park.

-Top Tip-

Keep an eye out for events taking place in Maldon as there is always plenty going on, the famous Maldon Mud Race is great fun to watch and looks fab for over 16's to take part in. This year it is taking place this year on Sunday 2nd June. 

View across Maldon lake towards the town
Maldon has sand, water and play areas (but not an actual beach)

8. Leigh On Sea, SS9 2DN

I love the vibe at Leigh on Sea with it's eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques. I will always make sure to nip into the charity shops there as have found some amazing bargains on my visits.

We normally park at the top of town and wander past the shops down to the beach from there, although be warned there are some steep hills on the journey back up. It is worth noting that the train station is very conveniently located right by the sea front too. Parking on the sea front can be difficult at peak times.

When the tide is low my daughter loves to sink her toes into the mud flats and build little sandcastles. When you have worked up an appetite there are ample food places to choose from on the main stretch. There is also a fab little park with incredible views over the estuary at Leigh Library Gardens, plus if you venture down the path there is a great tunnel slide and climbing ropes.

-Top Tip-

Route 68 is an open top bus tour which cruises along the seafront from Southend, Westcliff, Chalkwell and Leigh with fares around £3 return for a child- a nice way to enjoy the scenery if the weather is on your side. It runs everyday in the Summer and weekends April to September.

Leigh On Sea beach (Canva Pro image)
Leigh On Sea has a great atmosphere

9. Southend on Sea, SS1 1EE 

Whilst the seafront won't be mistaken for the Maldives any time soon you cannot deny that Southend has a lot to offer. With an array of shops, restaurants, arcades, the pier and the Adventure Island theme park for the thrill seekers amongst you (it also has a big soft play for little ones).

The Sealife Adventure Aquarium is also very reasonable for an annual pass at only £18 per person for unlimited visits for the year.

There are splash fountains if you want to avoid the shingle/sand completely, but the beach is nice and safe for little ones and the kids can paddle in the shallow waters. There is also the lagoon just outside Adventure Island which is filled with water even when the tide is out. 

We tend to park at the Seaway Car Park as it's a nice short stroll to the sea front and there are plenty of lovely places for a spot of lunch- we really rated the brunch at Molo Lounge last time we visited although it's a bit of a walk from the beach.

-Top Tip -

It is worth subscribing to the Adventure Island newsletter via their website for offers and promotions- I managed to bag my daughter's annual pass for £30 out of season. Plus, as she is under 120cm's an accompanying adult can ride with her for free.

If you are visiting Southend we have lots more posts about what to do in Southend with children.

View of Southend on Sea from Adventure Island
Southend On Sea has plenty to keep the whole family busy whatever the weather

10. Frinton On Sea, CO13 9DN 

With it's long and mostly flat, golden sands and clear, calm waters Frinton on Sea is a must visit in summer. Unlike Southend or Clacton there is a distinct lack of refreshment stands along the beach front so bring along a picnic or take the short walk along Connaught Avenue to grab a bite to eat.

Aside from the charming Victorian style beach huts one of highlights of Frinton Beach is how well-maintained it is and its excellent facilities- including free parking (Greensward Road), public toilets (free by the beach or 20p in town) with disabled toilet facilities, showers, and ramps for buggies and wheelchairs making it accessible and convenient for everyone.

Like neighbouring Walton On The Naze there isn't a lot of beach at high tide so check the tides before you visit.

- Top Tip-

Poppins Frinton the 1950's Ice cream parlour has some deliciously indulgent options (Biscoff Waffle anyone?) and Bird & Bean cafe is a cosy spot for lunch too.

Wide sands of Frinton on Sea beach (Canva Pro image)
A beautiful beach without the modern commercial trappings

So, there you have it, my top 10 Essex beaches. Will you visit any of these destinations this year? Is your favourite Essex beach missing from this list?  Please share any recommendations or hidden treasures you may have below.

Written by Sarah M, a mum in Essex (with edits). Postcodes given provide guidance on the rough area only to provide guidance for visiting.

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