Wave dodging and walking at Sennen cove, Land's End
Some of Cornwall's wildest beaches can be a hassle to access with kids and their paraphernalia. But Sennen cove provides eye-popping scenery, sandy-bottomed surf and facilities galore: bang-on-the-beach cafe, beach-side parking, surf hire, loos and seafront shops for supplies and souvenirs. While you can spend all day making footprints in the sand and dodging the shore-break, it's only a mile's stroll along the South West Coast Path to Land's End (if you've got buggy-bound children, follow the National Cycle Trail). For most, the appeal of Britain's most south-westerly point is in the rugged scenery and views to Longships Lighthouse, but for children who prefer spoon-fed entertainment, there's a crop of penny-pinching (and frankly quite tacky) tourist attractions, including a 4D film experience.
• Sennen cove, Penzance, 0871 720 0044, sennenbeach.com, sennen-cove.com, parking ?3, entry free
Bag a window seat on this branch-line that hugs the coast on its journey from St Erth to St Ives. No other 15-minute train ride serves up such generous lashings of seaside eye candy guaranteed to keep noses pressed against the windows. And with so much to pack in before the return journey there's no need for disappointment when the train comes to a halt above the white sands of Porthminster beach (pictured). Mind the swooping gulls as you lick Moomaid of Zennor ice-cream, made from local milk, and keep your eyes peeled for dolphins on a walk around the chapel-topped promontory known as the Island. You can also enjoy child-friendly culture on family art trails around Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum.
• Trains leave St Ives, St Erth and Lelant Saltings Park and Ride every 30 minutes at peak times, firstgreatwestern.co.uk, adult return ?4, family return ?8. Tate St Ives and Barbara Hepworth Museum, Porthmeor beach, 01736 796226, tate.org.uk/stives. Open daily, adult ?10 entry to both sites, children free
While Crealy with its masses of adventure rides is often name-checked as Cornwall's "big day out" for families, the lesser-known Paradise Park always comes up trumps with visitors and locals alike. It's home to the World Parrot Trust so birdlife takes centre stage, but there are all sorts of animals to see, from snakes to red pandas. Feeding times for penguins and otters are huge crowd-pullers (be warned that otters dine on dead chicks), as are the free-flying bird shows that see eagles and owls soar through the audience. With farm animals to pet, a miniature train and indoor soft play, come rain or shine this place is paradise for younger children.
• Paradise Park, Hayle, 01736 753365, paradisepark.org.uk. Open daily, adult ?8.95, child ?6.95 (aged three-15), under-threes free
While the Camel Trail is perhaps Cornwall's best-known family biking route, the web of mineral tramways criss-crossing the county is also perfect for tag-alongs and trailers. Of these the Coast-to-Coast is a firm favourite: 15 miles of flat(ish), mostly off-road trail through a world heritage mining site between Portreath and Devoran. If your glutes can go the distance, you'll tick off sea views, woodland and engine houses, yet even short sections wend through quarries harking back to the mining era. Whether you start at the top (Portreath), the tail (Devoran) or somewhere in between, there are plenty of pitstops en route for tired little legs (or whiny passengers): grab a children's activity pack from The Bike Barn (near Portreath), stop for cake at Bissoe's Bike Chain Cafe and sip local ales at Devoran's Old Quay Inn.
• Mineral Tramways Coast-to-Coast Path (tinyurl.com/cyclecoast-to-coast). A day's bike hire from Bissoe Bike Hire (01872 870341, cornwallcyclehire.com, adult from ?10, child ?8) and the Bike Barn (01209 891498, cornwallcycletrails.com, adult mountain bike ?15, child seat/trailer/tag-along from ?5)
Since kitesurfing blasted onto the watersports scene, equipment has become safer and easier to use, and fans of this high-adrenaline sport are getting younger. From the age of seven, children can enjoy an hour's power-kiting lesson on the beach, learning the basics and sliding along the sand on their feet and bottoms. For kitesurfing proper you need to be around 12 to take the theory and safety techniques on board, but within a day you could be hooked into a harness and bouncing across the waves on your tummy. Though it may sound ungainly, this "body-dragging" technique is vital for getting to grips with a kite in the water before progressing to your feet on a board.
• Mobius Kite School, Perranporth, 08456 430630, mobiusonline.co.uk. Power kiting from ?18 per hour, kitesurfing intro from ?65
Giant sand dunes, caves to explore and easy access – it's little wonder families flock to Crantock beach. Windbreaks, deckchairs, boards and wetsuits can be hired wave-side and a kiosk serves snacks and ice-cream, so all you need is bathers and towels. As well as consistent surf there's scope for more toddler-friendly rock-pooling, crabbing and paddling in the River Gannel, which trickles down the eastern flanks of the mile of sand. Cross the river (bridge at low tide, ferry at high tide, adult ?1.20, child 60p) to the Fern Pit Cafe for a scone with jam and cream (?2.05) or sandwich with freshly caught crab (?6.75). If rain stops play, spin into Newquay for an array of activities including the Blue Reef Aquarium (bluereefaquarium.co.uk).
• National Trust car park ?4 per day (members free). Fern Pit Cafe, fernpit.co.uk. Cafe and ferry open end May to mid-September
Everyone heads to Newquay to go surfing, so how about getting beyond the breakers and exploring this wild coastline on a coasteering trip? Not for faint-hearted families, coasteering will take you swimming through gulleys and caves, riding whirlpools, scrambling up cliffs and leaping seaward from rocky ledges. You might even come face-to-face with seals and dolphins. You'll be kitted up in wetsuit, lifejacket and a helmet, and be prepared for your heart to pound as you experience wave-lashed creases of north Cornwall inaccessible by any other means. Depending on your nerve and ability you can even step up a gear to a power coasteer from Polzeath, which takes you to even more remote parts of the coastline on board a powerboat.
• Pure Activities, 01637 861700, pure-activities.co.uk. Half-day coasteering sessions ?40 (Newquay), ?52 (power coasteer, Polzeath). Minimum age 10, participants must be able to swim. Surfing for kids and family groups also available
Here you can puff through the woods on one of Cornwall's oldest train tracks. With a striking engine house and mining chimney at its heart, this old mineral tramway site is steeped in history; but what kids get excited about – as well as the trains – is the crazy golf, brick-path maze, electric cars and boating lake. Take the branch line to the outdoor activity centre at Newlyn Halt, but the favourite "again, again" ride seems to be the dinky woodland railway that loops under tree canopies, making kids whoop with joy as parents snap photos from the sidelines.
• Lappa Valley Railway, St Newlyn East, 01637 510317, lappavalley.co.uk. Open April–October, adult ?11.95, child ?9.25 (aged 3-15). Family and afternoon saver fares available
With four circular trails – from the 3km buggy-accessible Lady Vale to the 5?km Lidcutt Valley Walk – Cardinham Woods serves up perfect terrain for walking, gentle mountain biking and simply mooching around by the stream. Meander along riverside paths perfect for little legs and buggies, or wend up into woodland and bag glorious views over the vale. Pick up a family Treasure Trail card (along with homemade cake) from the cafe if you want to play wildlife bingo or solve bird brain-teasers en route. However, with barbecues and benches lined up in the waterside picnic area, it's easy to while away a day grazing and playing ball without setting foot on any trails at all.
• 01208 72577, forestry.gov.uk/cardinham. Car parking ?2 per day, Treasure Trail cards ?2 from the Woods Cafe, woodscafecornwall.co.uk
These 13th-century ruins cling to the mainland by a wave-lashed granite neck. It's a staggering location, but much of the magic of Tintagel Castle also comes with conjuring up images of knights on horseback galloping through the crumbling archway, and the Earl of Cornwall feasting in the skeleton of the great hall. It's supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur, and it's impossible not to get swept away by local myths and legends as you step into Merlin's Cave. It has more than 100 uneven steps so this isn't terrain for tots, but there is a buggy-accessible footpath from the Arthurian-themed village.
• Tintagel Castle, english-heritage.org.uk, 01840 770328. Open year-round, adult ?5.50, child (5-15 years) ?3.30
• Hayley Spurway lives in Hayle, St Ives Bay and writes about family activities on her blog (seainsight.co.uk)
Have we missed your favourite family day out in north Cornwall? Add your tip to the comments below