The 13 best beaches in Essex for families and groups

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If you’re planning a staycation on a sunny beach with blue skies, great food and plenty of fun, heading to one of these gorgeous Essex beaches should be top of your list. You may be surprised to discover that Essex has the longest coastline in the UK (350 miles to be exact), meaning there is an Essex beach for everyone’s tastes. Nicknamed the ‘British sunshine coast’, it just so happens the best beaches in Essex are some of the sunniest spots in the UK too.

These sunny Essex beaches range from bucket-and-spade beach towns to secluded rural sands, fisherman nooks and seafront resorts, making a staycation in Essex a top pick for 2021. Plus, thanks to its abundant coastline, Essex boasts a wide choice of delicious seafood restaurants (many making this excellent list of the most popular restaurants in Essex). Whether you want rustic and relaxing or colourful and carefree, find out which Essex beach is best for you in our guide to the 13 best beaches in Essex for 2021.

Our pick of the best beaches in Essex to visit in 2021

Cover image: Helen Wright
Related post: 32 essex days out to plan in 2021

CLACTON-ON-SEA

Where to find it:
The most easterly tip of the Tendring peninsula on the coastline toward the top of the county.

best beaches in essex family
Sunny, sandy Clacton (Image: Alex Liivet)

Clacton-on-Sea: the sunniest beach in Essex

2021 marks the 150th anniversary of Clacton-on-Sea as a holiday beach in Essex. The destination was founded in 1871 along with a series of (now sadly demolished) historic buildings. It’s not the prettiest beach in Essex, but what this town lacks in character it makes up for in ‘characters’, with a lively and cheerful promenade, decorated with colourful souvenirs, rock shops and ice cream cafes, attracting millions of visitors every year.

For a fun family Essex beach day out, you can’t ask for much more than Clacton-on-sea. It has a great pier (Pier of the Year 2020 in fact!) packed wall-to-wall with amusements, including a classic Helter Skelter. The beach is sunny and sandy and budget friendly prices from local businesses and shops make it an affordable day out for families. Swimming in the sea at Clacton is not recommended, as water quality around the pier is poor, but a short walk along the seafront leads to areas marked safe and clean for a dip.

In peak season, a Dotto train transports tourists from outside the pier to neighbouring Holland-on-Sea beach (featured below). Or, if you fancy a proper cruise down the coastal road with the wind in your hair, the Clacton Breeze open top bus has 24 stops along the coast with hop-on and hop-off tickets allowing you to explore more of the best beaches in Essex (£4).

Getting to Clacton-on-Sea:
Trains from London Liverpool Street take 90 mins). For driving navigation, use postcode: CO15 1QX

Thorpe Bay

Where to find it:
A laid back sand-and-shingle beach, close to Southend with spectacular views of the Thames Estuary.

best essex beaches
Blue huts under blue skies (Image: Brian Snelson)

Thorpe Bay is one of the best beaches in Essex for relaxing

One beach in Essex where you can swim in the sea is at Thorpe Bay. The water here is Blue Flag certified from mid-May to the end of september. This shingle beach has less on offer in terms of family seaside entertainment, so is quieter and less crowded. Think beach huts and fishing boats bobbing around serenely in the gentle waves. Thorpe Bay is one of the best beaches in Essex because it also boasts some of the most sunshine in the UK. The favourable weather and calm water makes it a popular with swimmers, young families having a chilled out afternoon, older sunseekers and those just looking to enjoy a quiet life and sea breeze.

Getting to Thorpe Bay:
Trains take just over one hour from London Fenchurch Street (1hr 5 mins). For driving navigation, use postcode: SS1 3BA

Holland-on-sea

Where to find it:
Holland-on-Sea is a small seaside town in east Essex, directly north of Clacton-on​-Sea

days out essex beaches
Essex is the sunshine coast (Image: Cozy61)

gets the locals vote for one of the best beaches in Essex

This sandy spot is walking distance from Clacton-on-Sea but is a much calmer, less crowded beach in Essex. It has a great picnic area, wide, sandy beach and is surrounded by a nature park. There isn’t much in the way of shops and cafes, (there are toilet facilities), so bring your own food and drink, a bucket and spade and relax in front of the rainbow beach huts that line the water. This Essex beach can often be a little windy so keep your sun sun cream topped up and packing a windbreaker is a good idea. However, this does make the sea here ideal for windsurfing if you want to give that a try.

Getting to Holland-on-Sea:

Trains from London Liverpool Street to Clacton-on-Sea. Then take the Dotto Train for five minutes (or you can walk in 10 minutes). For driving navigation, use postcode: CO15 5TZ

Martello Beach / Jaywick Beach

Where to find it:
Martello Bay is a popular spot one mile from Clacton-on-sea, adjacent to West Beach.

best beach in essex
Sandy and not crowded (Image: Steve Graby)

Jaywick beach is another much quieter spot along from the Clacton crowds, but the area is popular and does get busier in high season. The lovely, sandy beach is one of our favourite beaches in Essex. It backs onto wild grasses and a line of cute, residential houses. Martello Bay is easy to spot by the epic WWII defence bunker slap bang in the middle of the beach inlet. You can no longer tour the structure but small businesses and holiday conveniences (boat hire, beach shops etc) have set up around it, so stock up on bits before you head north along the shore. Some also call Martello the ‘art gallery beach’ as local artists sell their creations along the sea wall.

Getting to Jaywick Beach:
Again, trains from London Liverpool Street to Clacton-on-Sea (1hr 30 mins). For driving navigation, use postcode: CO15 2HJ

Continues below: The 13 best beaches in Essex

Cudmore Grove, Mersea

Where to find it:
Cudmore Grove Country Park is a 102 acre, unspoilt nature reserve on Mersea Island, Essex.

best beaches in essex beach
Get back to nature (Image: 19andy76/Flickr)

Cudmore Grove is a really beautiful place and if you can cope with the slight faff of getting there, it’s one of the most unique beaches in Essex. The rural nature reserve is along the coast where the Colne Estuary meets the Blackwater Estuary on Mersea Island, a estuary island to the south-east of Colchester. Here you will find wild grasses, wildlife-attracting meadows, sandy beaches and salt marsh.

Mersea’s lively tourist hub is on the other side of the island, where the annual West Mersea Oyster Festival is held (see our post on the best places to go in Essex), but this beauty spot offers a completely different beach experience. Kids can hunt for fossils, paddle in sand pools (affectionately known as the Mersea Mud) and explore the remains of a 16th century fort. Adults looking for a quiet spot can relax and enjoy the view and there is even a small fish and chip shop.

Getting to Mersea Island:
Trains to Colchester from Liverpool Street take 1hr 20 mins), then you need to take a taxi or bus number 67 toward Mersea. Total journey time 1hr 50 mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: CO5 8UE

West Mersea

Where to find it:
An estuary island close to Colchester, well known (since Roman Times) for its delicious local Oysters.

family days out essex mersea island
Rainbow beach huts (Image: ultraBobban)

Mersea is one of the best beaches in Essex for families!

Now, West Mersea is super cute – lined with candy coloured beach huts and charming little shops and restaurants, it’s the seaside village of dreams. However, with that also comes the crowds and West Mersea is definitely one of the most popular beaches in Essex. However, the island is seven square miles, so if you have a car, you can explore the whole island and choose your preferred spot as the day goes on. Watersports are the activity of choice here, with boating, SUP and kayaking popular with locals and day trippers. The beach is a mix of sand and grass, making it ideal for picnics.

Getting to West Mersea:
Trains to Colchester from Liverpool Street take 1hr 20 mins), then you need to take a taxi or bus number 67 toward Mersea. Total journey time 1hr 50 mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: CO5 8AT

Brightlingsea

Where to find it:
Across the water from Mersea Island, but on the mainland a few miles from Colchester.

day out southend essex
Find your sea legs (Image: Mark Grant-Jones)

One of the best beaches in essex for sea swimming

Brightlingsea is a blue flag Essex beach (15th May – 1st Sept), meaning swimming, watersports and dipping your toes in are all highly recommended. As far as the best beaches in Essex go, this one has a sandy beach and stunning views across to Mersea Island. Less commercial than Clacton or Southend, Brightlingsea has a local feel, although it does host annual international sailing events, bringing in lots of visitors and a great atmosphere. Usually though, it’s one of the more serene Essex beaches with a range of sports and leisure activities on offer along the promenade and a nature trail along the old railway line to Alresford Creek. Look out for Batemans Tower, a historic local landmark built in 1883. If the sea isn’t your cup of tea, Brightlingsea also has an open-air swimming pool along the promenade.

Getting to Brightlingsea: Trains to Colchester from Liverpool Street take 1hr 20 mins, then you need to take a taxi or bus number 62 toward Brightlingsea. Total journey time 1hr 50 mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: CO7 0HH

Three Shells Beach, Southend

Where to find it:
Three shells Beach is a 10 minute walk from Southend Central station. It’s a small sandy beach with a Lagoon and play area that’s good for young children

best beaches in essex beach
Less crowded and accessible (image: Jakob Hürner)

So, guess what? You *can* swim in the sea at Southend. Three Shells Beach, to the west of the Pier, is a small, sandy beach ideal for swimming and paddling. It’s a Blue Flag Beach from 15th May-30th Sept and the sand slopes gently into the water, meaning you can paddle and swim at all times of the tide. This also means that Three Shells is one of the more disabled-friendly beaches in Essex, making it safer for less abled beachgoers to experience the water. Get there early to bag your spot, for obvious reasons, this is a top Essex beach for families and when the sun comes out, everyone wants to come and play.

Getting to Southend-on-Sea:
Fast trains from London Fenchurch Street take one hour. Southend also has its own International Airport. For driving navigation, use postcode: SS1 1EE

Southend City Beach

Where to find it:
Southend is a large coastal town in the south east of Essex. Fun fact: Southend has the longest pleasure pier in the world!

family days out essex kids beach southend
A day in sunny Southend (Image: Adrian Scottow)

To most people this *is* Southend Beach. The stony beach is always packed with families due to the surrounding amenities such as toilets, cafes, amusement arcades, Adventure Island fairground and the famous Southend Pier. At 1.3 miles long, Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, with its own train taking tourists to the end and back. A ride (or walk) to the longest point will give you fantastic views of the Essex coastline and you may even be able to spot three (maybe four) of the beaches on this list if you have really good eyesight! Ultimately, a city beach beside a pier is what it is; convenient and rowdy, but a beach nontheless. The sea here isn’t recommended for swimming or paddling, so families with little ones might want to venture further down the coast. For an easy day trip or a quick plonk on the pebbles with all the classic seaside thrills surrounding you, Southend City Beach is a no brainer.

Getting to Southend-on-Sea:
Fast trains from London Fenchurch Street take one hour. Southend also has its own International Airport. For driving navigation, use postcode: SS1 2EE

Walton-on-the-Naze

Where to find it:
Walton-on-the-Naze is a Sandy beach located near Colchester in Essex.

day out southend essex
The sunsets are great (Image: Andi North)

As a child, we often visited Walton-on-the-Naze, so I have a lot of fond memories and not much has changed. This very family-friendly, Blue Flag award-winning beach is one of the more peaceful and chilled out sandy beaches in Essex. There is a seal colony nearby and in late summer / autumn, you can go on seal spotting excursions. The historic, 86ft Naze Tower (built in WWII) is now an art gallery, tea room and museum. From the top you can get spectacular panoramic views of up to 30 miles on a clear day. To the north you can actually see Orford Ness lighthouse in Suffolk and, of course, the Kent coast to the south. Nature lovers can also appreciate the wide range of wildlife and birds that frequent the Naze and it’s a top spot for twitchers (bird watchers).

Getting to Walton-on-the-Naze:
Walton-on-the-Naze is the furthest away (from London) in our pick of the best Essex beaches, on the uppermost tip of the county before you reach Suffolk. Trains don’t go direct from London. Take the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester and then change to the Great Anglia railway to Walton-on-the-Naze. Total journey time is 2hr 15mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: CO14 8LG

Frinton-on-Sea

Where to find it:
A quiet spot on the Essex coastline, between Walton-on-the-Naze and Holland-on-Sea.

family days out essex mersea island
Serene scenes in Frinton (Image: Herry Lawford)

Frinton is one of the best beaches in Essex for a quiet life

Of all the lovely spots on our list of the best beaches in Essex, Frinton-on-Sea is beautifully untouched and uncommercialised, offering a chance to enjoy the simple life – and we love it. With free parking on, or near, the esplanade, it’s ideal if you’re visiting by car as you can return back to stash any unwanted stuff, rather than carry it around all day. This long stretch of sandy beach has lazy, hazy, sunny day vibes. Enjoy fish and chips on the sand and count the beach huts as you wander along the seafront. Frinton Beach used to have a Blue Flag but is not currently recommended for swimming, so enjoy the horizon with your toes in the sand.

Getting to Frinton-on-Sea:
Trains don’t go direct from London. Take the train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester and then change to the Great Anglia railway to Frinton. Total journey time is 2hr 10mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: CO13 9DN

Bradwell-on-Sea

Where to find it:
A secret Essex beach on the Dengie peninsula around 9 km northeast of Southminster and 30 km east from Chelmsford.

best beaches in essex beach
The mud flats at Bradwell (Image: Andreas-photography)

Bradwell-on-Sea is a village and civil parish in Essex that also happens to have a wonderful, unspoilt beach (which is somewhat of a local secret). The area was shunned by holidaymakers in the past due to its industrial and military history and the, now decommissioned, Bradwell Nuclear Power Station is nearby. However, this stretch of coast is popular with walkers following the Saltmarsh Coastal trail, spanning 75 miles of stunning coastline in the Maldon District. The underrated beach is actually one of the only sandy beaches in Essex on this part of the coast. Look out for St Peters on the Wall – one of the earliest chapels still in use in this country – built in 654 AD! The coastal landscape is a mixture of mud flats, salt marsh, farmland and beaches and is well worth checking out if you’re looking for somewhere a bit different.

Getting to Bradwell-on-Sea:
To be honest, visiting by train is a bit of a mission. The journey from London takes two hours and 20 mins and requires a train and two different buses… Probably one for the car, if you have one. For driving navigation, use postcode: CM0 7HW

Shoebury Common Beach

Where to find it:
Three miles from Southend on the Eastern Esplanade.

best essex beach
Sunsets for days (Image: alwaysmnky)

Shoebury Common beach is a really popular family beach in Essex, only three miles from Southend but offering a completely different day out. You can park right beside the beach, making it easy to bring picnics, deckchairs, kids toys and buggies etc. There is an on-site cafe, grassy area and launching facilities for boats and jet skis (but no places to hire electronic water sports equipment, so you have to bring your own if you’re lucky enough to have them). The beach is disabled friendly and there are good bathroom facilities adjacent to the seafront. Shoebury is a shingle beach, so water shoes are recommended. You can swim in the sea here and Blue Flag season is 15t May to 30th Sept.

Getting to Shoebury Common:
Trains go direct from London Fenchurch Street in 1hr and 20mins. For driving navigation, use postcode: SS3 9HG

Find more fun things to do in Essex:

The best pumpkin patches in Essex

Where to go strawberry picking in Essex

Our pick of delightful afternoon tea in Essex

The Essex restaurants everyone wants to eat in

Want to move to Essex – these are the most popular places to live

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