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Top kid friendly beaches

Fancy a beach day out in Cornwall with the kids? With more than 200 beaches to choose from it can be hard to decide where to try first. Muddy to the rescue with our handy guide, divided up into areas (the north Cornwall coast, west Cornwall coast, and the south Cornwall coast) and by beach activity – and of course, we’re all ears for your suggestions too.

NORTH CORNISH COAST

Cornwall’s north coast is the Atlantic coast, starting at Bude and stretching out west all the way down to just above Hayle – this is where you’ll find some of the most rugged coastline and consistent waves for bodyboarding and surfing but also plenty of sandy shores and even some hidden swimming coves too.

Best for buggies and wheelchairs

First up, if you’ve babies and toddlers in tow you’ll want beaches that are easily accessible with facilities (although in these strange Covid times, not all toilets are open, so we recommend stashing your own folding potty in the car or under the buggy).

Level access from the carpark and toilets (including disabled facilities) are essential if you’re reliant on wheels – some of our favourites include Summerleaze and Crooklets Beach in Bude, Polzeath, Porth and Fistral in Newquay, and Perranporth all with vast stretches of golden sand at low tide.

Best for sandcastles

Firm wet sand makes the best castles, so head for these beaches about two hours before low tide, giving you roughly a four hour building window. On the north coast of Cornwall we think Trebarwith Strand, Daymer Bay (pic below), Trevone, Perranporth and Trevaunance Cove (St Agnes) are among the best for sand castles – just don’t forget to check the tide times, as the best sandcastle sand gets covered again at high tide.

Best for rockpooling

The experts suggest rockpooling on a low spring tide (roughly every two weeks, when the sun & moon are pulling together so you get the lowest low tides – but also the highest high tides) but even on an ordinary low tide kids love a poke around a rockpool searching for sea life.

We like Greenaways (near Polzeath – it’s a bit of a walk down the coastpath with some steep steps), Treyarnon and Mawgan Porth. Top tip – take a white bucket or pot and it makes observing your finds much easier.

Best for crabbing

Is it even a Cornish holiday if you haven’t spent several hours with bacon tied to a string in an attempt to lure crabs into a bucket? You need a quayside or a pontoon, ideally at high tide, a crabbing line and a couple of pieces of bacon as bait, plus a whole boat load of patience. Shore Crabs aren’t edible though, so don’t try chucking them on the barbie – release them back into the water when you’re done.

On the North coast you can try Port Isaac, Padstow or Newquay harbours (below) – on any sunny afternoon at high tide you’ll find yourself in good company.

Best for bodyboarding & surfing

For bodyboarding you want soft waves on a gently sloping beach so that you can get the hang of catching the wave without getting dumped onto the shore – so we like Polzeath and Constantine, but pretty much all the beaches we’ve mentioned so far have bodyboardable waves. Remember to bodyboard between the red & yellow flags.

For surfing, Polzeath (below) is also great for beginners (and lifeguarded too) and has a designated surf board area between the white and black checkered flags.

Other good spots are Harlyn, Watergate Bay, Mawgan Porth, Perranporth and Trevaunance Cove at St Agnes. All of these have surf schools where you can hire boards and organise lessons and RNLI lifeguards so you can surf in confidence.

For the teenage surfers who like bigger waves, Fistral at Newquay is the UK’s most famous surfing beach, hosting – in normal times – big surfing comps and festivals. Further down the coast try Chapel Porth (mid to low tide only, when a vast golden beach appears) and Porthtowan. Keen, teen, bodyboarders will enjoy the challenge of high tide at Portreath, where the harbour wall creates a reef for big dumpy waves.

Best for swimming

Pretty much all the wide sandy beaches are good for swimming (just watch out for rips and tides) but if your kids just want to swim without dodging bodyboarders and competing with the waves, you’ll want to find somewhere a bit more sheltered. Port Gaverne (just near to Port Isaac) is one of my fave north coast spots with beautiful clear waters for swimming, and at high tide usually has one or two teens jumping off the wall. Daymer Bay on the Camel Estuary is also nice for swimming without too many waves – but watch out for boats at low tide as the channel is super narrow.

Trevone and Treyarnon both have natural swimming pools carved into the rocks (head to Trevone to find the one that was featured in the recent BBC adaption of Mallory Towers) and Summerleaze beach in Bude is home to Cornwall’s most well-known sea pool (below).

Bude Sea Tide Pool Cornwall

Best off the beaten track

If you’ve older kids, make a day of it and head to somewhere which takes a bit of a walk down the coast path – these are where Cornwall comes in its own with some serious hidden gems, some of which are a bit of a scramble or have steep steps. Always check the tide times though as often the most compelling choices have sand only at low water.

Some Muddy favourites are Bossiney Cove near Tintagel, Porth Joke (below) near Newquay (15 min walk) and Whipsiderry Beach (steep access), between Porth and Watergate Bay.

WEST CORNWALL

West Cornwall is roughly the area west from Truro, starting on the north coast at Gwithian and includes St Ives, Lands End, Sennen, and then back round to Mousehole, Penzance, the Lizard and up to Falmouth. This stretch of coastline is super varied, from wild moorland to busy fishing harbours, through to sandy beaches and tiny coves. Something for kids of all ages.

Best for buggies/wheelchairs

Gyllyngvase and Maenporth in Falmouth, Marazion near to Penzance (where you’ll find the causeway to St Michael’s Mount), Poldhu Cove, Porthmeor in St Ives (above) and Sennen all have level access easily reached from the nearby carpark. In high summer you’ll need to park early, as the easy access also usually means they’re very popular choices.

Best for sandcastles

Praa Sands has a lovely sandy stretch and Porthmeor and Porthgwidden in St Ives both make great days out with the kids. Time it right and you can have lunch or dinner in the beachside cafe, before heading down to the best sand which appears at low tide.

Best for rockpooling

Castle Beach in Falmouth is not the most child friendly Falmouth beach (Gylly is better) but it does have good rock pools – and swimming. Kennack Sands on The Lizard makes a great beach day out and despite the remoteness it’s often full of families. Don’t forget to wear shoes, as the rocks can be sharp.

Best for crabbing

You need a bit of height for crabbing, so it works best off a quayside, harbour wall, or even a slipway at high tide, so Mousehole, Mullion Cove on The Lizard and the harbour in St Ives are all decent and popular places to try your hand at catching a couple.

Best for bodyboarding and surfing

Godrevy near Hayle, and it’s neighbour Gwithian are wide sandy beaches with plenty of waves (beginners might find the waves a bit heavy at low water) but they can be quite windy. Porthmeor at St Ives is a perennial favourite – and good learner spot with a nice surf school – but it can get super crowded in the summer season. Sennen near Lands End is another gorgeous stretch of golden sand with reasonable swell and good surf schools, and in the right conditions, Praa Sands has a nice wave.

Generally speaking though, the good spots below Sennen only work well in big swells and you’ll find the best of the gentler waves on the north coast.

Best for swimming

For paddling and a quick dip with little ones, you’re better off sticking to sandy beaches like Porthmeor in St Ives, Sennen, Marazion, or Longrock in Penzance, as they’re easily accessible with facilities and cafe, or you could do worse than a tidal pool, like Priests Cove and Portreath.

For older kids, there are some great swimming coves to be found in West Cornwall including Pisky Cove and Porthgwarra – but they are a bit of a walk.

Find pebbly spots galore along the Helford River which make a lovely swim or a day messing around in the water’s edge- Helford Passage is one of our favourites (and then grab a bite at The Ferryboat Inn).

Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most photographed beaches, is also a popular beach, but be warned it’s a bit steep getting down to it, and it’s only really suitable strong swimmers (keep an eye on the tides!).

Best off the beaten track

Gwenver (10 minutes) round the corner from Sennen Cove, Nanjizal, a stunning walk from Land’s End and Fishing Cove near Godrevy (steep access) are all great options.

If you and crucially, your kids, are good climbers with a head for heights, you could try Cornwall’s most famous ‘secret beach’ at Pedn Vounder near Porthcurno – it’s the current poster child for Cornwall’s version of a tropical beach, only emerging at low tide. It’s also a naturist beach, so you’ve been warned!

SOUTH CORNISH COAST

Starting with The Roseland just south of Truro, the south coast of Cornwall tracks up the mostly sheltered coast past St Austell and the Cornish Riveria, Fowey and back along to the border with Devon at Plymouth. The coastline is more wooded with some beautiful rivers and big natural harbours, as well as pebbled coves and picturesque fishing harbours – but if you know where to look, there’s plenty of sandy beaches to keep everyone happy.

Best for buggies/wheelchairs

Talland Bay and Cawsand Bay both have carparks right next to the beach so nice and accessible – but also busy in summer. The deep sea harbour at Charlestown also has a nice pebbly beach to the south side which is accessible by a gentle slope – bonus, find steaks and seafood for dinner at The Longstore afterwards.

Best for sandcastles

Gorran Haven is both easy to access and has lovely sand for castles at low tide, plus is a sweet sheltered harbour. At Carlyon Bay near St Austell you’ll find 2 miles of sand and Porthcurnick near Porthscatho (below) has not just sand but rockpools and is good for swimming (with the added benefit that Muddy fave cafe The Hidden Hut is just above the beach for refreshments – it is however a short walk from the carpark). Just round the corner is Pendower, and adjoining that, Carne Beach which is a lovely stretch of golden sand.

Best for rockpooling

Talland Bay, Hannafore, and Gerrans Bay at Porthscatho (below) are all famed for their great rockpools at low tide, and also make a great day out as there is plenty of sand too. Polridmouth has some excellent pools – but it’s a bit of a walk and easy to get cut off, so one for low spring tides.

Best for crabbing

Looe is one of the go-to crabbing spots on this coast – choose from East Looe, along the harbour (either side of the fish market) or West Looe from the ferry steps towards Pennylands. Other spots to try include St Mawes and Polkerris – but basically any harbour along the coast will work well.

Best for bodyboarding and surfing

The best of the bodyboarding beaches are not on the south coast (see north coast beaches above if you’re dead set on a day on the waves). If you’ve adventurous teens and you’re on the south coast, have a go at stand up paddle boarding (SUP), kyaking or sailing instead. Polkerris has a great watersports centre, offering all three. Try sailing in Fowey, and SUP in Saltash.

Best for swimming

Duporth (below) and Lansallos are well reputed for a peaceful swim, as is the beach just in front of the harbour at Porthscatho. Also on The Roseland, if you’re happy to walk, there are plenty of little coves either way from St Anthony Head – but be warned, its a bit of scramble. Ready Money Cove near Fowey is a pretty shingle beach that you can walk to quite easily from the town.

Best off the beaten track

Lantic Bay above Fowey is another of Cornwall’s so called ‘secret beaches’ and great if you’ve adventurous teens who like climbing (as always, check tides, and watch out for the rips if you swim). We also like the walk to Polridmouth (below) through the woods – park at the farm.

FYI – tides

A lot of Muddy readers ask about tides, so we’re adding this para – obvious once you know, you know, but every day is for learning new info!

Always check tide times before you head to the beach – generally speaking there will be sand around two hours either side of low water.

Some beaches have sand even at high tide, so make a good all-day-er (like Fistral, Polzeath etc) but not all, so it’s def worth checking tides before you set out.

It takes nearly 25 hours for there to be two low tides and two high tides, so you’ll find low tide roughly every twelve-ish hours.

Tide times vary from beach to beach, so low tide in Penzance will not be the same as low tide in Newquay and the both the time and height (measured in metres, but means how high up the beach the water comes) vary each day.

Roughly every two weeks is when you’ll find the lowest low tides (springs) when you’ll have the most beach exposed and can explore the best rockpools.

The opposite two weeks are called neap tides and that’s when you get the least water movement, so essentially less sand exposed at low tide.

Any other favourites that we’ve missed out? Let us know in the comments.

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