One of the reasons the west country is a firm favourite for families is its spectacular coastline. Discover the 11 best beaches in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.

View of St Ives Harbour behind purple flowers

1/11 St. Ives Harbour Beach – Cornwall

Best for... exploring a working harbour

St Ives Harbour Beach is one of Cornwall’s most popular tourist destinations. There is sand here even at high tide, so plenty of sunbathing time and during low tide you can walk across to Porthminster beach. Sitting on the doorstep of St Ives town, this beach is surrounded by lovely gift shops and galleries, as well as a plentiful supply of cafes and restaurants. This working harbour will entertain the kids for hours as they watch the local fishing boats delivering their catch. Take a stroll along Smeaton’s pier and check out the lighthouse at the end that has been there since 1890. There's parking available in town, but the spaces fill up fast, so also try St Ives Leisure Centre which has able spaces. The beach is just a 15 minute walk from St Ives train station. Dogs are restricted during the summer season between 8am and 7pm.

porthgwidden beach bay with cliffs

2/11 Porthgwidden Beach, St. Ives – Cornwall

Best for... a real sun trap

Recommended by the Marine Conservation Society Good Beach Guide in 2015 for its excellent water quality and a recipient of the Blue Flag award for its high seaside standards, Porthgwidden beach, St Ives, will satisfy even the highest expectations for a safe and clean family beach. Smaller than others in St Ives, the beach is often overlooked, but is benefits from its sheltered location that makes it a real suntrap.

Enjoy a meal or afternoon tea at the Porthgwidden Beach café which specialises in Mediterranean and Asian seafood and has unrivalled views across the bay to the lighthouse. The cafe also offers beach chalets which can be hired daily. These come with two deck chairs and offer the freedom to store your buckets and spades and come and go from the beach as you please. Remember to book in advance, however, as demand is high.

Dogs are welcome, with the exception of the first Sunday before Easter and 30 September.

waves crash against the rocks at kynance cove

3/11 Kynance Cove – West Cornwall

Best for... natural beauty

With turquoise water and white sand, Kynance Cove beach, was once an isolated and inaccessible paradise on the West Cornish Coast. Having recently undergone a National Trust transformation, however, the coastal gem is now accessible by car via a toll road and there is access to a large car park. National Trust efforts have also improved the water quality and protected the local environment, employing renewable energy sources. The cove is home to a number of interesting rock formations, including the stunning serpentine rock, whose unique shaping creates the impression of a snake’s head protruding from the water. At low tide it is possible to explore these rock stacks, as well as the caves with names such as ‘the drawing room’.

Located above the cove, with superb views of the bay is the Kynance Café, set in an environmentally-friendly cottage that serves locally sourced food & drinks and also offers accommodation. Plus, with nine flavours of Callestick Cornish ice cream, it’s the ideal place to treat the kids!

Dogs are restricted during the summer season.

sunset over the yellow cliffs at hive beach

4/11 Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock – Dorset

Best for... finding fossils

A seaside treasure nestled on the West Dorset Coast, Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock, is an ideal destination for keen fossil hunters. Known as the gateway to the Jurassic coast, kids will love searching for prehistoric remnants in the limestone boulders. Fishing and surfing are available but simply swimming in the sea is a real treat as the water is so clear.

Head to Hive Beach Café and restaurant, right on the beach, where you can enjoy fresh, locally sourced seafood and ice cream after a tiring day on the sand. When the skies are clear, beach-goers are treated to fantastic views and can see all the way to the East Devon coast.

The beach is restricted for dogs between 1 June and 30 September.

waves crash onto the beach at Broadsands beach

5/11 Broadsands Beach, Exmoor – South Devon

Best for... accessibility

Broadsands Beach lies on the South Devon coast between Paignton and Brixham and is the ideal destination for families who love water sports. The Broadsands Beach Watersports Centre offers paddle boarding, kayaking and canoeing for up to three hours with a trained lifeguard present at all times, and safe spaces to keep your belongings while on the water. A special Canadian canoe promises fun for the whole family, with space for two adults and three children to enjoy rowing together in one boat.

Broadsands' calm waters are perfect for paddling, and as a recipient of the Blue Flag Award, you can rest assured that they are safe and clean. Take in the stunning views from the Southwest coastal path that is just a ten-minute walk away. This beach is accessible for wheelchairs and buggies and has disabled toilet access.

No dogs are allowed on the beach during the summer season.

Torre Abbey Sands beach and bay: credit Picture: English Riviera Tourism Company

6/11 Torre Abbey Sands Beach, Torquay - South Devon

Best for... building sandcastles

A long, sandy beach west of Torquay Harbour, Torre Abbey Sands is located in the heart of Torbay on the English Riviera, South Devon. A short walk from local car parks and the train station, the beach is situated under the promenade and has easy access to all facilities you may need for a beach trip, including shops to buy buckets and spades. The waters are shallow so kids can paddle safely and deckchairs are available to hire.

Torre Abbey Meadows is a garden and grass area above the beach, ideal for picnicking. Hot air balloon rides are available, providing stunning views of the local coastline.

Dogs are restricted during the summer season.

Photo: Adam Gibbard, Visit Cornwall: credit Photo: Adam Gibbard, Visit Cornwall

7/11 Gyllyngvase Beach,  Falmouth – Cornwall

Best for... paddle boarding

Home to Cornwall’s first dedicated stand up paddle boarding centre (WESUP), Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth is the perfect destination for any watersports fans keen to practice and improve their skills. The buggy-friendly, sandy beach is the largest in Falmouth with nearby toilets and a sizeable car park for anyone arriving by car. Enjoy food with a view at Gylly beach café, a great spot to enjoy meals throughout the day, or to just relax with a coffee and cake. There's also a small shop where snacks and ice creams are available – perfect for pleasing hungry little ones.

Just a short walk from the beach are the Queen Mary Gardens, opened in 1910, home to species of tropical plant such as Agapanthus and perfect for keen gardeners. Walk along the southwest coast path to the Swanpool Nature Reserve, great for wildlife lovers who may be able to spot kingfishers and the secretive water rail bird. The town of Falmouth is just a 15 minute walk away, hosting a wider range of restaurants, shops and accommodation.

Dogs are restricted on the beach during the summer period.

Sand dunes at Studland bay

8/11 Shell Beach, Studland Bay – Dorset

Best for... a good walk

A four-mile stretch of golden beaches on the coast of Dorset, Studland Bay has an assortment of activities to please the whole family along with breath-taking views to the Old Harry rock formation and the Isle of White. Take part in sports including volleyball, tennis and cycling. In addition there are plenty of water based activities. Check out the boat hire options at Studland watersports, options include pedalos, canoes and paddle boards.

The main attraction are a number of self-guided walking trails around the National Trust Estate, where you can explore the nature reserve and heathland. Kids will love exploring the sand dunes and woodlands which are a haven for dragonflies and even the odd deer!

Other beaches in the area include Knoll Beach, Middle Beach and South Beach but be careful to avoid the area inbetween Shell beach and Knoll Beach which is a nudest beach.

Dogs are restricted during the summer season.

Photo: Adam Gibbard, Visit Cornwall / credit Photo: Adam Gibbard, Visit Cornwall

9/11 Summerleaze Beach, Bude – North Cornwall

Best for... surfing

A great destination for keen surfers due to the large Atlantic waves, Summerleaze and Crooklets beach are situated in the charming seaside town of Bude on the North Cornwall coast. A number of surf schools take lessons for all abilities and are more than welcoming towards families and children. The Big Blue Surf School has specialist teachers who are trained to teach children with disabilities and autism, so everyone can have a go.

The beach is great for swimming and when the sea is too powerful you can retreat to the Sea Pool, a salt-water swimming pool that fills with the tide. Away from the beach, the town of Bude is home to a wide range of tourist and surf shops, galleries and restaurants. Book a round of crazy golf just a short walk away from the sand or head to the Life’s A Beach Restaurant sits above the water and sells a delicious range of sea food and all day breakfasts. Coastal walks over the surrounding cliffs provide stunning views of the Atlantic and across the bay.

Dogs are allowed all year but must be on a lead during the summer season.

swanage bay with beach huts and cliffs

10/11 Swanage Bay – Dorset

Best for... brilliant water quality and cleanliness

In 2016 Swanage Beach was awarded both a Blue Flag and the Seaside Award for the 15th consecutive year, so you can certainly rely on its excellent water quality, services and safety. A designated swimming area is sectioned off with buoys to ensure the safest swimming experience and this summer, for the first time ever, the beach will have the protection of RNLI lifeguards, allowing the ultimate security for the family as they swim.

Beach huts are available to hire all year round, giving you the much-needed freedom to store buckets and spades and come and go as you please. The town itself was particularly popular in the Victorian era and it has retained this traditional seaside charm through its remaining architecture from the era, including the pier.

Dogs are only allowed between 1 October and 30 April each year.

Boat on east portlemouth beach

11/11  East Portlemouth Beach, near Salcombe – South Devon

Best all-rounder 

East Portlemouth beach consists of a number of small beaches − Mill Bay, Fishermans Cove and Smalls Cove that look west across the bay towards the popular holiday destination of Salcombe). A 35-40 minute drive from the town, the East Portlemouth beaches are quieter than those in the surrounding area and shallow waters and safe bathing awards mean kids can paddle peacefully. The beach has easily accessible toilets and access for wheelchairs and buggies.

Check out the spectacular views from the National Trust coastal path or explore the sea life in the rock pools on the beach. Eat lunch at the Venus Café, a restaurant run by an eco-friendly, ethical company serving locally sourced food at beaches around Devon and Cornwall.

Dogs are welcome on the beach.

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