The coast with the most: why Bournemouth could save you a long-haul flight
Bournemouth is the California of England” a friend had told me. “Miles of unspoilt sandy beaches and lots to do for families - you really should go”. So, we packed up our two kids and did just that, although admittedly slightly sceptically.
It took all of about five minutes of arriving at Bournemouth Beach Lodges to understand my friend’s West Coast reference. Less than two hours from London on the train and then a quick sprint in a taxi, and we were soaking up views of the golden sands of Boscombe Beach, with surfers dotting the horizon and a couple of hardy types braving an evening swim; all enjoyed from the wooden deck of our chic beach-fronted-home-for-the-weekend at Bournemouth Beach Lodges.
Checking in at Bournemouth Beach Lodges
These contemporary lodges were recently added to Boscombe Beach, a quiet stretch of natural beauty tucked away from the bustle of the main town. Inside, there’s room for four adults and two children. It's compact but contemporary and well-designed, with a small kitchen, bathroom with shower, mezzanine floor with beds, a downstairs pull-out sofa bed, plus a dining table and relaxation area which opens up onto the deck and communal BBQ area.
The real beauty of the smart row of lodges is their location, backing onto rugged woodland cliff tops and looking out over unspoilt sands and the silhouette of Boscombe Pier. As you’re a little out of the action, getting to Bournemouth’s centre requires either a scenic stroll of about a mile, or there’s a little train that chugs between Boscombe and Bournemouth Pier, which is free for guests of the lodges – just show your key as you step onboard. >> Read here for more information
Where to eat in Bournemouth with children
Tucked away in the heart of Bournemouth’s centre is Urban Garden, which makes a great spot for a family brunch. Outside there’s a terrace garden strung with lights, which flows into the interiors of this funky, independently-owned hideaway. Alongside the traditional full English breakfast, the brunch menu also serves health-conscious avocado on sourdough and superfood plant balls, alongside banana bread and pancakes, sure to keep kids happy. Woodfire pizzas are also available throughout the day.
Just steps from Urban Garden are Bournemouth’s manicured Lower and Upper Gardens, which make an ideal spot for little legs to run free. The Jurassic-themed public play park is also worth a pit stop to let off steam.
For a memorable lunch, head to the Prom Diner, to the west of Boscombe Beach. This American-themed diner brings all the Happy Days vibes but also boasts a tranquil beach patio area, complete with cabanas and sand-between-your-toes flooring. The menu has all the diner staples you’d expect, from burgers and milkshakes to ice cream sundaes, plus a children’s menu with fish and chips and veggie sausages.
Soak up the sunsets with dinner at the Aruba Restaurant and Bar, situated on Bournemouth’s main pier. The extensive menu has something for everyone, from New York style pizza and tacos, to fresh fish and chargrilled strip steak, finished off with comfort classics including crumble and sticky toffee pudding. For younger guests, there’s crispy fish goujons, burgers in brioche buns and a selection of sorbets and delicious brownies. Things get lively after dark, so this one is probably best as an early evening dinner spot, or better yet, a date night if babysitters are on hand.
But the real star of Bournemouth’s culinary scene has to be its latest addition - The Nici, which is the coastal resort’s only 5-star hotel. This gorgeous little slice of Miami, with its Art Deco interiors and terrace overlooking landscaped gardens and a sparkling pool, feels a million miles away from the traditional English coastal hotel. Stylish it may be, but it also welcomes kids with open arms, with family suites and a dedicated toy room.
Even if you’re not lucky enough to stay in the hotel’s design-savvy bedrooms, be sure to stop by for a meal at the relaxed South Beach style restaurant onsite. The menu is packed with delicious options, including fresh-out-of-the-sea sushi rolls, squid ink tagliatelle and if you happen to dine on a Sunday, an outstanding roast, with children’s portions available. Be sure to round things off with the banana split, which comes topped with a sparkler if you’re celebrating.
What to do in Bournemouth with kids
Bournemouth has been welcoming holiday makers for generations, so keeping children entertained here is an absolute breeze!
First stop should be a visit to RockReef, a lively indoor climbing and adventure centre situated at the end of Bournemouth Pier. This was by far the highlight of the weekend for our kids, who spent countless hours scaling increasingly challenging climbing walls. And the good news for parents is that there’s an onsite café with peaceful seaside views. Dare-devils can also test their nerves on the vertical slide or delve into a ball pit cave, which is best avoided for claustrophobics as it’s a tight squeeze.
A short walk from the pier is the Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf, an outdoor pirate-themed minigolf course. This sweet little activity is perfect for kids of all ages. Working its way around a shipwrecked lake, this 18-hole course takes around two hours to complete, after which it’s time for a photo opportunity for the winners, me hearties!
And of course, there’s the beaches, which run for seven glorious miles, offering endless sandcastle building opportunities for younger children and water sports for older ones, including surf lessons and body boarding over gentle waves. Throw into the mix some ice cream huts, pier entertainments and year-round festivals and outdoor entertainment, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a great family mini-break. All that’s missing is the guarantee of some Californian sunshine - although minus the long-haul flight, Bournemouth is starting to look like a surprisingly serious beachside contender for families.