Nothing puts you in the vacation mindset faster than a trip to the beach. It’s pretty impossible to be stressed when you have your feet in the sand, salt in your hair, and sun on your face.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to find your own little slice of paradise—there are some incredible beaches right here in the U.S. if you know where to look.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach,” Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, releases his rankings of the best beaches in America every year.
Dr. Beach evaluates contenders on 50 categories, including sand softness, water temperature, and the number of sunny days to determine the top beaches in the country.
This year, he named St. George Island State Park in the Florida Panhandle as his top pick, saying, “This long barrier island, far from urban areas, is a favorite destination for beachgoers, anglers, and bird watchers as nature abounds.”
These are the best beaches in America, according to the list.
St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle, Florida
This remote barrier island is perfect for vacationers looking to get away from it all. Crystal clear water invites swimming, and the powder white sand only adds to the picturesque appeal.
Dr. Beach says he enjoys “beachcombing and shelling” at St George Island.
Where to Stay: There are no hotels located within the state park, but Buccaneer Inn is one of the closest places to stay—and it overlooks another lovely beach.
Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Waikiki Beach is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it draws a big number of visitors accordingly. Find some peace and quiet on the west end of Waikiki Beach at Kahanamoku Beach, which is the widest beach around—offering plenty of empty space to spread your towel.
According to Dr. Beach, “This is one of the most picturesque beaches in the USA with the iconic Diamondhead volcano in the distance.”
Where to Stay: The luxurious Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki sits on 22 acres of prime oceanfront property and even features its own saltwater lagoon overlooking Waikiki Beach.
Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
Located in the famously tony town of Southampton, Coopers Beach earns high praise from Dr. Beach for its “grainy white quartz sand” backed by imposing sand dunes.
This beach won’t be cheap to visit—a daily parking permit costs $50 per car—but the scenery makes it worthwhile.
Where to Stay: Accommodations along Coopers Beach are primarily private homes, but the quaint 1708 House is an easy bike ride away.
Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
Accessible only by boat or a 3-mile walk from Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island State Park is a truly remote escape. “The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters,” says Dr. Beach.
If you get bored sunbathing on the beach all day, there are also boardwalk paths to stroll and kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to paddle.
Where to Stay: Sandpearl Resort is one of the closest hotels to the state park. This beachfront hotel sits on Clearwater Beach, a pretty stunning beach even if it’s not on the top ten list.
Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Lighthouse Beach is no longer home to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that it was named for (it moved inland due to beach erosion in 1999).
According to Dr. Beach, “This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the US Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sandbanks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach.”
Where to Stay: Don’t let the motel part of the name deter you—Cape Hatteras Motel, located about a mile from Lighthouse Beach, has a high 4.5-star rating from reviewers, along with its own private beach.
Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
In a state that’s full of beaches, it’s hard to pick the best one in California, but Coronado Beach is something special.
“With its subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand, beach-goers flock to this beach for great ship-watching and the summer’s warm and mild surf,” extols Dr. Beach.
Where to Stay: The famous Hotel del Coronado is without a doubt the best place to stay on Coronado Beach. Even if you can’t afford the pricey nightly rates, it’s worth stopping in for a meal or a drink at this historic property.
Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Thanks to Hawaii’s right-of-way law, all beaches in the state are open to the public below the high tide line. This benefits visitors to Wailea Beach, access to which might otherwise be restricted to guests of the Wailea resort complex along the shore.
Wailea Beach is classic Hawaii, described by Dr. Beach as a “white coral sand beach that gently slopes offshore and is great for snorkeling when the ocean is calm.“
Where to Stay: Admire the beach from the adults-only infinity pool at the five-star Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea.
Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
In contrast to Hawaii’s egalitarian beach access policy, South Carolina’s Beachwalker Park offers entry to the only public beach on Kiawah Island. The family-friendly beach is fully equipped with lifeguards, beach chair rentals, bathrooms, a snack bar, and a boardwalk.
Dr. Beach recommends that visitors “Bring their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets.”
Where to Stay: When it was built, the site of the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Resort was raised 20 feet to allow unobstructed ocean views from the ground floor, so you’re guaranteed to have a great panorama from practically everywhere on the property.
Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
If you’re looking for the ultimate beach vacation, head to Hawaii, which dominates the top ten list with three of the best beaches in the US. Poipu Beach takes the ninth spot on the list, thanks to its unique geographical features, like the natural ocean wading pool that draws families to its shores.
Poipu Beach, says Dr. Beach, is “actually two beaches in one. A tombolo, which is a narrow sand spit that extends from the shore to an island, separates the two pocket beaches.”
Where to Stay: Villa-style accommodations at Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club offer plenty of space (and important beach amenities like a washer/dryer and full kitchen) for guests to spread out.
Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach features a stretch of sand that was named “The Great Beach” by Henry David Thoreau. “The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs,” says Dr. Beach, “allowing for a spectacular view of the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay.”
Great white shark sightings aren’t uncommon here, so keep an eye out for red flags with shark images to see if you should stay out of the water.
Where to Stay: In peak season (mid-June to Labor Day) beach parking is restricted to Eastham residents and vehicles with handicap placards. Other visitors can ride their bikes, walk, or take a short shuttle from Little Creek. The charming Inn at the Oaks is just a few minutes down the road from the shuttle pickup point.
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