Best Beaches for Families in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is famous for its miles of coastline along both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. While most visitors want to experience the country’s tropical beaches, many don’t realize how diverse the choices are. Along the central and southern Pacific coast, for example, you’ll find mostly surfing beaches with bigger waves. In contrast, the very northern Pacific coast is carved into calmer coves. Finally, on the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find little development along the beach, except for a few specific towns. There’s also a lot of differences in how beach towns are set up and what activities they offer.

We live in Costa Rica with two kids. In this post, we’ll give you our recommendations for some of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families. We’ll let you know about some destinations that are safe for swimming with children and also have family-friendly activities.

Beaches for Families in Costa Rica

Samara

Located along the Pacific coast, Samara is one of the best beach destinations in Costa Rica for families. This light gray sand beach has a wide cove with smaller waves that are perfect for swimming. Just a five-minute drive away is another tranquil beach, Playa Carrillo, a favorite spot among locals.

Samara is set up with a main town center along the sand, making it very walkable. For activities, in between the rows of tall palms are surf shops offering lessons on the small waves. You’ll also find horseback riding, boat or kayak tours to see wildlife, turtle-watching tours, a hike through the tropical dry forest, and a visit to a macaw parrot breeding center.

To learn more about Samara, read our separate post Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Destination.

Samara Beach
The beautiful Playa Samara

Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

Tamarindo is Guanacaste’s most well-known destination, but for families looking for a quiet beach escape, we recommend Playa Hermosa. This beach town on the northern Pacific coast has a gorgeous wide cove with gentle waves, making it ideal for young children. From Playa Hermosa, you can also access other beaches with calmer water like the nearby Playa Penca, Playa Panama, and Playa Ocotal.

While most people visiting Hermosa spend the majority of their time at the beach, there are also some fun things to do with kids. A nearby eco-adventure park offers zip lining, a nicely maintained animal sanctuary, and cultural tours. You can also do a boat tour of Palo Verde National Park to see wildlife like monkeys, crocodiles, and a lot of birds. Catamaran tours are available locally or you could explore the bay in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard.

Playa Hermosa Guancaste Province
Gently lapping waves at Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste

Playa Conchal

The last beach in Guanacaste on our list is Playa Conchal. This is our favorite in this region because of its turquoise-hued water and unique sand made of shells. Another notable feature is that you can snorkel right off the shore. Along the rocks at the northern end, we’ve seen puffer fish, eel, snapper, and many other colorful fish.

Playa Conchal is isolated and harder to access. If you are a guest at the Westin Playa Conchal or one of the other resorts on the beach, you will already be right there. Otherwise, you’ll have to walk about 10 minutes along the sand from the town of Brasilito. Read our post Playa Conchal: The Allure of Shell Beach for up-to-date details on how to arrive.

Playa Conchal Costa Rica
Clear water and snorkeling at Playa Conchal

Manuel Antonio

For those looking for lush rainforest, there’s Manuel Antonio on the central Pacific coast. This is one of the most popular beach towns in the country. It not only has a beautiful beach, but also thick jungle filled with wildlife. In and around town, you can see three types of monkeys, sloths, deer, lizards and iguanas, and birds like toucans, trogons, and hummingbirds. It also has a huge restaurant selection and lots to do with kids. You can go zip lining, hiking, waterfall rappelling, whitewater rafting, and do boat or kayak tours, night tours, surf lessons, and much more.

Although the main beach in town, Playa Espadilla, can have rip tides, it’s still decent for wading. Those looking for calmer water will find it at Playa Biesanz. This sheltered cove has gentle waves that are great for kids. There are also some calmer beaches inside Manuel Antonio National Park.

For more information about visiting Manuel Antonio, read our post Manuel Antonio Trip Planning.

Playa Manuel Antonio in the National Park
Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the beaches in the national park with calm water

Jaco

Jaco, also on the central Pacific coast, is another good spot for families. Although it has a reputation as a party town, this is mostly late at night. During the day, you’ll see a mix of people, including lots of kids. Jaco has one main street with plenty of family-friendly restaurants, some with play areas for children. There’s also a community playground, and from time-to-time, you can find activities like painting workshops and puppet shows. At only about one hour from San Jose, it’s also a good option for those not wanting to spend much time in the car.

The main beach in town isn’t the most scenic, but Jaco is close to some stunning beaches. Playa Blanca to the north is a calm cove with clean white sand and aquamarine water. To the south, there’s Playa Esterillos Oeste. This is a surfing beach, but at low tide, you can access the amazing tidepools that are perfect to explore with kids. Those looking for an off-the-beaten-path beach town would love Esterillos Oeste.

Jaco also has a lot of activities that are good for families, including zip lining, ATV tours, catamaran tours, crocodile river tours, horseback riding, and the NeoFauna wildlife center.

For all the details about visiting, read our post Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town.

Tidepools at Playa Esterillos Oeste
The tidepools at Esterillos Oeste, a beach about 20 minutes south of Jaco

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Last on our list is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the southern Caribbean coast. The highlight of Puerto Viejo is its beaches. They are some of the most beautiful in the country, with dramatic backdrops of lush green and clear, calm water. Here, you’ll find the Jaguar Rescue Center, one of the most well-known wildlife rehabilitation centers in Costa Rica. There’s also a great chocolate tour, surfing, horseback riding, SUP and kayak tours, and hiking. Lots of wildlife like monkeys and sloths is visible around town as well.

Although we do recommend Puerto Viejo for families, the area does have some crime, making it not right for everyone. Most visitors do not have any problems, but if you are nervous about traveling with your kids, we’d recommend one of the other destinations. For tips on visiting and to learn more, read our post Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Caribbean Cool in Costa Rica.

Playa Negra Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Serene water at Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Over the past few years, we’ve explored many of Costa Rica’s beaches with our boys. We know how important finding the right destination is when you’re traveling with kids and hope that our recommendations have helped narrow your family’s itinerary.

Have a question about traveling to Costa Rica with kids? Ask us below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Family Travel: Why Costa Rica is the Perfect Destination – Learn why Costa Rica is a great option for a first international family trip. Covers culture, safety, water, and more.

Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica – We’ve had two kids here so have done this twice now. Read our post for tips on what to expect.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens: Wildlife Up Close – La Paz is a highlight for many families visiting Costa Rica. Learn all about this wildlife sanctuary near San Jose and how to plan a visit.

Rental Car Discount – Check out our discount through one of the reputable rental car companies in Costa Rica to save 10% and get free extras like car seats.

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Manuel Antonio Hotel Guide: Where to Stay for Ocean Views, Rainforest, and Wildlife
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Vacation Rentals in Costa Rica: Safety and What to Look for
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40 Comments

  1. Also on the Caribbean side are Cahuita (swimming at the beach in Cahuita National Park), which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Kelly Creek Inn is an interesting little hotel right at the North entrance of the park. There are some very good restaurants in Cahuita, too. Further south, Punta Uva is great, too.

  2. Hi Jenn and Matt, we are two families traveling to Costa Rica for the first time with four kids (ages 4, 3, 1 and 1). We’d like to visit a young-kid-friendly beach that isn’t too hard/far to get to and spend about five days there. We’ll be coming from Sarapiqui. Do you have a recommendation for which beach might be best/most accessible? Thanks!

  3. We are thinking of visiting Los Suenos Marriott Resort in June. Is that a nice beach for playing in the water and on the sand? What activities/excursions should we do around there with our two kids (ages 10 & 12)? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Natasha, Playa Herradura is a rocky cove but the water is nice and calm so good for swimming. It’s not the prettiest beach in Costa Rica but is nice. You can do any tours that are available out of the Jaco area from Los Suenos. Here’s a link to our Jaco post with more information. Feel free to contact us through our Tour Booking Service if you’d like personalized recommendations for your family.

  4. Thank you for the detailed and helpful information. We are planning on traveling to Costa Rica this summer. The month of July. We have 3 children under the age of 8, and will be flying in and out of San Jose. We prefer a quieter and more authentic experience. Language isn’t a problem. Ohh, and we won’t have a car. Which beach town would you recommend? It seems like I am torn between Samara and Playa Hermosa. What would you recommend? Or maybe another?

    1. Hi Matthew, Either option would work but Playa Hermosa might feel a little busier during the first weeks of July because it’s popular with locals and many will be there on vacation during that time. Samara might be a little busy too right in town. Usually we’d recommend staying outside the main area of town to avoid that, but this is harder without a rental car. In general, both towns are good without a car. Hope that helps!

  5. Hi, my wife, two kids (age 4 and 7) and I are currently planning a trip to Costa Rica for the beginning of May. But I am having trouble finding a location that will be suitable for all the things we want to see and do.

    I was hoping that you could suggest a place that is close or on the beach that is safe for kids to swim. But not in a “touristy” town. We had nearly booked an Airbnb in Jaco until we found some YouTube videos of the area. We’d love to get the kids to the Monteverde Cloud Forest or something similar. And I had hoped to run a trail race in the El Castillo area that’s scheduled for May 2nd.

    It could be that I’m just looking for too many things to be available in one relatively easy to travel area of Costa Rica. I would really appreciate any help you could offer.

    Regards,

    Rob

    1. Hi Rob, For something less touristy we’d recommend Samara or you could look for a vacation rental near Playa Blanca. This is near Jaco but set on its own farther to the north so not very busy aside from the resort that is there. Keep in mind too that early May won’t be very busy since it’s low season. You could do a day trip to Monteverde from Playa Blanca or Samara, but it will be a long day. For the race, El Castillo is too far from just about any beach so you would need an overnight in that area. Hope that helps!

  6. Hi we are looking for a beach area to base ourselves for a few days to relax with our toddler at the end of our holiday. We will be coming from Monteverde and flying out of San Jose. We love quiet places with a little shops/ infrastructure etc and calm waters for our daughter to paddle

  7. Hi there!
    We have 9 and 10 year old boys and are interested In Visiting costa rica this summer. They are good swimmers (not great) and love riding waves. What is your recommendation for an intermediate type of beach with waves and a cute town? Thank you!!

  8. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    I have toddler twins, and I am hoping to visit friends near Montezuma, what do people do for carseats, or keeping toddlers strapped in cars there?

    1. Hi Cory, Rental car companies all have car seats – they are for free or there may be a daily charge. The company that we recommend gives them for free to our readers, so check them out if you are planning to rent a car. Here’s the link to our rental car discount page. If you’re planning to take shuttles instead, shuttle companies provide car seats for free. We’re actually coming out with an article all about car seats in Costa Rica in about 2 weeks. If you want to get the article in your email, just sign up for our mailing list here. There’s no charge.

  9. Thanks for the article! I’m traveling solo with my 3 year old this June (?) and looking for beach and also lots of wildlife for her! Samara looks great but where would you recommend for jungle with monkeys and sloths etc? Do you think 2 weeks is enough or should we do 3 weeks? The idea of lots of moving around and 5 hour drives with a toddler sounds awful! Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Evangeline, For monkeys and sloths, we’d definitely recommend Manuel Antonio. It’s one of the best places to see wildlife and a great spot with kids. You could easily spend a week there and not have to move around at all.

  10. Hi! Thanks for your helpful site! I’m planning a trip for our family for April. We’re staying 4 days in LaFortuna, and then we want to come to the coast and stay on the beach for 3 days. We were thinking of the Margaritaville resort or maybe Dreams Las Mareas (but that one is a little pricey for us). Can you recommend a place to stay or a beach for our home base that has nice sand and some waves for my kids to boogie board? (We have a 17, 15, 11, and 8 year old.) We weren’t planning on renting a car, but we might if we don’t stay at a resort. We’re flying out of Liberia. Thank you!!

    1. Hi Catherine, The Margaritaville would work. That’s on Flamingo Beach. It doesn’t have great waves for boogie boarding but is very close to other beaches that do. Here’s a link to our Flamingo post with lots more information about that town.

      Another option is staying in Potrero, just 5 minutes from Flamingo. This is super close to lots of different beaches, including some that have nice small waves for boogie boarding. Our Potrero post covers all the area beaches so be sure to check that out. You would probably still want a rental car for Potrero to explore all the area beaches. If you decide to rent a car, be sure to check out our rental car discount as you’re shopping around. Our readers get 10% and other benefits.

  11. Thank you so much for your thorough post on traveling with families. We are planning to bring work & school to Costa Rice in mid February (come on passports!!!) & staying for a month. I have 3 boys (4, 9 & 11) and would love to stay near a beach but also within driving distance of great places to explore & hike around (Manuel Antonio is a must based on this post!). Do you recommend this area : Playa Tivives, Provincia de Puntarenas? I’ve found a great vacation rental but I read one comment on another site that left me questioning & would love another local opinion. Thank you.

    1. Hi Jennifer, We don’t know much about Playa Titives specifically but it’s not a popular beach. It’s not in the best location really for getting to activities, restaurants etc. The closest large town is Puntarenas, which is a port city that’s not very scenic. You could visit Carara National Park from there though. That’s not to say that the beach itself isn’t nice, but it just might not be the best location for a family trip since there’s not much around. One plus is that it is centrally located so you could get to places like Monteverde fairly easily. I hope that helps with your question! Personally, I think I’d rather be closer to the Jaco area. There are some small towns south of there that are quiet and peaceful, and you could easily do day trips, go out to eat, etc.

  12. Hi Jenn and Matt, I was just wondering whats the best way to get from San Jose to Guanacasta Playa Avellana. Is there a bus system or rent a car.

    1. Hi Raffaele, You could take the bus but that is a long trip so you would need to switch buses many times. We recommend a rental car anyway for the Playa Avellanas areas since it is rural, so a car would be your best option. If you decide to get a car, be sure to check out our discount with Adobe to save 10%. If you are going for surfing, you can also request a free surf rack. Here’s a link to our rental car discount page with more info: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/costa-rica-rental-car-discount/

  13. Thanks so much for the advice. So nice to be able to talk to someone who actually lives in Costa Rica. My wife and I were planning a family vacation there for about two weeks but we were not sure where to go. We have 2 teens one 16 and the other 13. My question to the both of you is if were to divide the time to discover the culture and explore the wilderness and then have fun on the beach (thats a family beach) what would you think an exciting itinerary would look like.Hope thats not asking to much.
    In conclusion I hope you and the rest of family be safe and healthy during during these challenging times. God Bless Raffaele

    1. Hi Raffaele, Our family itinerary (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/family-itinerary-costa-rica-rainforest-beach-volcano/) may be what you’re looking for. It goes to La Fortuna where you can experience a lot of the culture and do activities, and ends with beach time. Samara is a good beach town with teens. Or if you prefer more off the beaten path travel, check out this post (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/off-beaten-path-destinations-costa-rica/) with some more destinations to maybe replace with La Fortuna, which some people find touristy. Hope that helps!

  14. Hi Jenn and Matt
    Thanks for responding and I would definitely rent a car now after getting your advice. Its wonderful to be able to correspond with a family that actually lives there and is from the US. It sounds like you are having a wonderful life in Costa Rica. My wife and I were planning a 2 week trip to Costa Rica with our 2 teenage kids one 13 and one 16, my question to you is if we were to divide the time to discover the culture and explore the nature and finally a zipline adventure and family beach time what do you think the itinerary would look like ( I know its a lot to ask so its up to you ).
    In conclusion hope your family is safe and healthy during these challenging times. God Bless Raffaele

  15. I’m planning to spend 2 weeks in CR with husband and kids (4-7) late June. We want to do Airbnb/cook some meals at home type of trip. What cities do you suggest me to look for Airbnb’s? I would love to stay in a place that is walking distance from a nice beach, to restaurants and groceries. Thanks for your help .

    1. Hi Natalia, For a good beach with young kids and amenities in walking distance, take a look at Samara (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/samara/) and Potrero (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/potrero-home-base-beaches-guanacaste/). Samara has a nice centrally located downtown along the beach. Potrero is a little more spread out but it’s still possible to stay within walking distance to the beach. Potrero has a lot of different beaches nearby but you do need a car to access them. Both towns have many choices for Airbnbs.

  16. Hi! Thank you for your post! We are considering going to Costa Rica next winter and spending a couple of months there with little kids. Can you please recommend 3 different places that are suitable to be used as a base, that have some things that we might need like grocery stores, medical attention, calm beach, etc.., but that are not too touristy/expensive.
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Cathy, There are many destinations in Costa Rica that would meet these parameters. For proximity to good medical care, the central Pacific coast is a good option as it is a reasonable drive to San Jose and has good local clinics for smaller things. It can be harder to find calm beaches in that area, though, as many of the beaches are better for surfing. The Guanacaste region has the calmest water, but it is farther from private hospitals. It is fairly close to Liberia, though, which has some medical facilities.

      If you’d like to talk more about this since it’s so specific to you and your family, we do offer a Video Chat Service where we could talk one on one. Here is the link with more information.

  17. Hi – We are looking to spend the next year in CR. We have some friends who live in San Jose that recommended Jaco because my husband does travel quite a bit and they said it has a big ex pat community. I have done the research on Jaco, but found a neighborhood in Playa Bejuco I really like. My kids love body boarding so I want to be close to the beach (ages 9/11). I read mixed reviews about that Beach (and Jaco)? Can you tell me anything about Playa Bejuco?!? Last time we went to CR we stayed a month in Playa Flamingo and loved it. Playa Hermosa is also on our list since Liberia is close by. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Melissa, I have been waiting to respond to this because we were working on an article about Playa Bejuco. I think it will answer your questions. Here is the link: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/playa-bejuco-puntarenas/

      We actually lived in Bejuco and still live nearby. If you want to talk about any specifics about the area or your family’s plans, feel free to reach out through our video chat service: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/video-chat-service/.

  18. We can’t decide between samara (villas kalimba) and playa lagartillo (drift away eco lodge). We have 3 kids 10,8,5 and want to be able to swim off the beach, fish, boogie board and have some meals in the beach with the kids.. what are your thoughts?

    1. Hi Katie, Both are nice spots but the beach in Samara is much better for swimming. Another big difference is the size of the towns. Playa Lagartillo is very small and more remote. There’s still a decent number of restaurants, though, but they’re spread out. In Samara, most everything is in one area and you can walk to get around.

  19. Hi, we are a family with five children (9,7,7,3,nb) comming to CR for 5 months at the end of May. We are looking to situate ourselves in a quite, safe, local, authentic non-touristic community that is right on a beach. We speak Spanish, so language is not a problem. We would perhaps like to enroll the kids into a spanish speaking program/school/camp, if possible. We want to live right on the beach, walking distance. We have a 4*4 car. Are we looking for too much? Got any recommendations?
    Thanks very much

    1. Hi Anat, Samara (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/potrero-home-base-beaches-guanacaste/) may be a good option for you. It is somewhat touristy but small. You could live to the south near Playa Carrillo for a quieter, more authentic location. Another option is Potrero (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/potrero-home-base-beaches-guanacaste/) in northern Guanacaste. It is close to busy tourist towns but Potrero itself has a nice mix of Costa Ricans and foreigners.

  20. We are looking to vacation in nov for thanksgiving. It would be 3 family’s kids ranging from 5 to 18. We want to stay on a beach and travel to see sloths and the adventure park. Any suggestions where to stay?thaks

    1. Hi Sandi, Manuel Antonio would be a good option. It’s on the beach and you can see wildlife like sloths and monkeys in the rainforest around town. It also has a lot of adventure activities nearby.

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