These 11 beaches are the best-kept summer secrets in the military
(Photo: US Marines, Cpl. Shaltiel Dominguez)

By Lizann Lightfoot

If you or your spouse is in the Army, you may not have many opportunities to be stationed near the beach. But if you are in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, getting orders near the water is almost guaranteed.

Some coastline military bases have their own beaches that are open only to military and DoD families with base access. Most have small cabins available for rent, and some also have tent or RV campsites to reserve.  The good new? You don’t need to live there to visit the beach or make reservations. If you want to vacation at a beach but aren’t stationed near one, you can call and get a vacation rental at a very affordable price. The bad news? These sites often book months in advance, especially for holiday weekends. That means it is time to book your summer vacation now!


Bellows Beach on the  windward side of Waimanalo has military discounted cabin rentals, clear blue water, and soft sand. There is a military mini-mart, volleyball court, and playground.

White Plains Beach, near the USS Arizona, has cabin rentals for military families. It is not the most picturesque or stunning beach in Hawaii, but it is a good place to learn to surf.

Pokai Bay in Waianae has cabins that military members can rent at a discounted military rate. It has a reputation for being in an area for locals, but the affordable cabins and gentle surf make it a perfect location for families, especially if you like paddle boarding. Reserve a cabin and enjoy a family staycation.

One public beach that is not military-affiliated, but still convenient for military families, is Ko’Olina Lagoons near the Disney Hotel. These are four different lagoons on the west side of the island of Oahu. Parking is limited, but if you go in the evening, you can witness some of the best sunsets on the island.


Naval bases Coronado and San Diego, located directly across from each other, are arguably some of the most beautiful military destinations in the Continental US. The island of Coronado is a popular tourist town, containing the famous Hotel Del Coronado. You can walk (or jog) from the military base along the beach to the public beach in front of the Hotel Del, where there are often professional sand castle sculptures. On-base camping is located on the bay side of the island at Fiddler’s Cove Marina.

A little further north at MCB Camp Pendleton, the San Onofre beach is the site of the Hurley Pro each year. The nearby state park charges for daily entrance, but the on-base beach offers military families small vacation cabins, RV spaces, or tent spaces. From there, you can walk to the surf competition. The beach has eroded from past storms, so parking and rental sites are in high demand.


There are several beaches surrounding NAS Pensacola, which is located on the Gulf of Mexico near Alabama. The best vacation destination is at the base campground, called Oak Grove. This family-friendly campground on base offers tent and RV campsites in a shaded campground that is walking distance to the beach and the Pensacola Lighthouse. Because it is on Pensacola Bay, the waves are gentle and the water is generally warm.


JEB Fort Story, just north of Virginia Beach, offers on-base rentals and campsites for military families. The unique rentals are townhouse-style properties. There are also tent and RV campground sites available.  The beach is on the Atlantic Ocean at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, and walking distance from the Cape Henry Lighthouses.

Dam Neck is located just south of the popular Virginia Beach tourist locations.  The beautiful beach requires base access, so it is very quiet. There are two- and three-bedroom cottages available for rent or campsites that include grilling areas.

If you are stationed in Virginia and want to get off base without encountering too many tourists, Sandbridge Beach is the best “locals” beach. It is quiet, pretty, and has a variety of good restaurants. For a longer adventure, take the ferry to North Carolina. It is free for cars to drive on. You can pack up the car and the family, let the kids play all day at the Outer Banks, then put them in PJs for the ride home.


Want to visit a military beach overseas? Naval Station Rota is an easy Space-A flight from Virginia Beach. Here’s an interesting fact you should know: All Spanish public beaches are topless beaches. If you aren’t too keen on seeing old grandmothers walking around with everything hanging out, then the only “American-style” beach is on base. Called Admiral’s Beach because it is located just behind the admiral’s house, this quiet beach actually requires regular bathing suits to be worn at all times. It has gentle waves and great views of the Bay of Cadiz. The beach is open year-round, as long as it is not being used for military training.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at