The beach at Portarlington stands out immediately with its avenue of towering, cypress trees. It's under these, in the J. Henderson Reserve, you can leave the car, in free, shaded, beach parking and head for the sand.
At the height of summer, you'll share the water with the large number of families, staying at the nearby Bellarine Bayside holiday park. It's for good reason they have chosen this location, as this stretch of water is ideal for children. It's shallow, with sand bars for them to stand up on, there's very little seaweed or rocks and the beach has almost no waves, being part of a sheltered harbour.
Towards the end of December each year, a carnival with spinning rides and games, is set up along the foreshore. Portarlington Beach also has grass areas with enough room to fly a kite or to walk dogs, who are welcome in the reserve, provided that they stay on-lead.
There are shops and cafes nearby so fish and chips, ice-creams, a quick latte or even a sandwich for lunch is never far away. Public toilets are located at the beach as well.
Even on a day that's less than ideal for swimming, people enjoy visiting Portarlington just to stroll upon its large pier. There, many commercial fishing boats can be seen and even recreational anglers are found dropping in a line over the pier's edge.
Beneath the pier, snorkelers examine the different seaweed and barnacles clinging to the pylons. Unfortunately, they also sometimes come across examples of the noxious, Northern Pacific Seastar as well.
Portarlington is the location for the annual Portarlington Mussel Festival, which sends the tiny town into overdrive with the 15 000 visitors it attracts. As well as being able to purchase boxes of fresh mussels there are cooking demonstrations, live entertainment, vintage car displays and kids activities there also.
Of all the beaches on the Bellarine Peninsula it surprises me that you chose Portlarlington and Clifton Springs to feature. Portarlington has awful gritty sand and the mussel farms and boats in the bay ensure a foul smell most of the year. Clifton Springs is barely a beach, more of a boat ramp for locals which I certainly would not snorkel in.
The best beaches in my opinion for children is the Barwon Heads river (near the bridge - shallow safe water), best surf beach for experienced surfers is 13th Beach in Barwon Heads and a wonderful clean swimming beach with beautiful sand is Breamlea or Ocean Grove main beach is safe when patrolled by the Surf Life Savers. Best place to snorkel is Queenscliff (the marine discovery centre is located here and worth a look, they also do discovery tours) or Point Lonsdale has some lovely rockpools to observe or snorkel in - but you'll need a wetsuit unless in the height of summer.
My husband and I love to go to the beach at Ocean Grove, lot's of beautiful white sand, and there is a nice cafe there called The Dunes, plenty of parking and at certain times of the year, you are allowed to walk your dog on the beach, a big plus for us, we take our dogs most places with us, they are part of our family.