Finding the perfect family friendly summer beach house isn’t impossible, says Optimism TravelingMom Cathy Bennett Kopf. She shares her tips for getting what you want, where you want it. And you can have fun in the process too. There should be an upside to serving as your family’s Chief Vacation Officer, right?

Sunset on Tybee Island, a destination with excellent family-friendly summer beach house rentals.

Put on a light jacket and hang out on a restaurant deck to watch a fall beach sunset. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

You know what arrived in my email in-box this morning? An alert from Twiddy and Co. Realtors announcing that the summer rental calendar for North Carolina’s Outer Banks was up and running. But it’s October. Some of us haven’t even bought a pumpkin yet. Do I need to start thinking about my summer beach vacation?

If you’re the family’s Chief Vacation Officer, the answer is yes. When planning to rent a house in a popular beach destination next summer, autumn is the perfect time to book it. Good houses disappear quickly. If you wait too long, many of the best houses will already be taken and you might get stuck with a beach rental that’s less than prime.

Visit in the Fall

I recommend heading to the beach you’re considering for your summer vacation in the fall and booking your rental on the spot. Autumn is a great time to head to the beach. Tourists are nearly extinct. There are no waiting lines for restaurants and the locals are happy to tell you why they love their slice of paradise. The sunsets are as beautiful as those in July. You can’t swim in the ocean, but, hey, no sand in your shorts. Lose some. Win some.

Want the best summer beach house rental? The secret to finding it? Start early.

And I recommend you go solo. You’ll move quicker and you won’t be hampered by the kids whining that the vacation rental you think is perfect is too far from the beach or listening to your husband complain that the TV’s too small.

Use an Agent

Tune out public opinion advising you to rent direct from owners to save money. I recommend doing exactly the opposite; use an experienced agent. Renting a family friendly summer beach house is a serious outlay of cash and I’m willing to spend a bit more to get advice from someone who knows the destination. If you clearly enunciate your wants, needs, and desires, a good agent will pick a spot that suits you perfectly. It’s the equivalent of hiring a personal shopper to put together the right outfit. It costs, but it’s worth it.

Case in point. The branch of my family that lives in Georgia and Florida have raved for years about Tybee Island, Georgia. I’d never been, so I launched a reconnaissance mission to check out the rental scene. A quick internet search turned up several agents. They all have attractive websites and a wide-range of inventory, but I decided to contact one of the smaller agencies, Mermaid Cottages. Their homepage featured a bungalow that screamed “RENT ME!” Like impetuous Alice, I couldn’t resist.

Sometimes Smaller is Better

Sleeping porch in a family friendly summer beach house rental on Tybee Island.

It was too chilly to enjoy this sleeping porch in November, but in August? Perfect for naps! Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

It’s so nice when your intuition is confirmed. It’s like a getting a big, ol’ Official Smarty Pants medal. Mermaid Cottages is one of the smaller agencies on the island, but owner Diane Kaufman’s no virgin; she spent over 25 years with Marriott before getting into the rental business. She runs her agency with corporate professionalism and a sense of fun, offering a stock of meticulously maintained properties. Diane calls her rental agents mermaids and they drive around town in festooned golf carts. I got the sense that their primary mission was FUN and what more could you want in a vacation rental agent?

A massive summer beach house rental in the Outer Banks.

Finding the perfect family friendly summer beach house isn’t impossible, but it does take some time and research. Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/Optimism TravelingMom

Pre-trip, I quizzed my designated mermaid on restaurants, sights, and shopping. Her recommendations were spot on, particularly her suggestion that I sit at the counters and bars when eating. My other solo dining companions and the restaurant staff were friendly and I never felt that weird “wish I’d brought a book” sensation that usually overtakes me when traveling by myself.

Wants and Needs

As I mentioned, a good flow of information between you and your agent will guarantee success. After establishing contact with my mermaid, I told her I wasn’t looking for Big Mansion on the Dune, but Little Bungalow by the Sea. She recommended one of Tybee Island’s historic cottages designed by the wildly talented Jane Coslick.

If I were to assign a moniker to Coslick’s style, it would be Vintage Southern Comfort. I rented half of a duplex; shouldering my way through the screen door, I dropped my bag and immediately felt home coursing through me like a shot of brown liquor. Every touch was perfect: white matelassé bedspreads, pristine heart pine floors, twinkling chandeliers. Although the cottage dates to 1929, Ms. Coslick’s chosen a thoroughly modern color palette – turquoise, red, yellow, and pink – that charms every room.

When it was time to leave, I wanted to buy my cottage. That should be the feeling you get when you find the right summer rental for you and your family.

How to Find the Perfect Family Friendly Summer Beach House

  • It’s Never too Soon. Book early to secure a high-quality rental property.
  • Use an Agent. And find the right one for you. Ask a friend who’s been to the area for a recommendation, check TripAdvisor, send a tweet. Or simply trust your gut. You know you and your family better than anyone else.
  • Visit in the Off-Season. You’ll get to know the community like an insider. Discover the restaurants and businesses that thrive in the winter. If they can survive without seasonal traffic, they’ve got to be good.
  • Communicate. Be clear with your agent about what you want. If you’re bringing your dog, tell them or if Granny can’t climb steps, mention it. And don’t be afraid to pump them for information about the area. I would never have noticed the best restaurant in Tybee since it was tucked inside a tiny strip mall so I went for dinner. And the next day for dessert. Of course, I couldn’t button my pants afterwards. But it was worth it.

What are YOUR tips for finding a family friendly summer beach house?