The United States boasts more than 12,000 miles of coastline, so you’re sure to find a beach that suits you. But how can you find the best beaches amongst all 50 states? Coastal expert “Dr. Beach” has done the hard work for you.
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman has a doctorate in environmental sciences and is currently a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. Every year, he ranks the best beaches grading them based on a list of 50 factors.
How soft is the sand? Will you find seaweed or jellyfish on the beach? What are the amenities like? Is the beach overcrowded? Will there be dangerous marine life? What is the pollution level? Is the beach plagued by red tide?
Dr. Beach considers all these factors and more. His labor of love results in a top ten list of the most pristine beaches in the United States.
After much consideration and research, here is his 2019 list for the best beaches in the U.S. Did your favorite beach make the cut?
10. Beachwalker Park – Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Located south of Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the only public access beach on Kiawah Island. The park is between the Bohicket River and the Atlantic, and features a boardwalk that weaves through Spanish-moss-covered oak trees, pines and palmettos. Kayak through tidal inlets, or bike to Captain Sam’s Inlet to spot a variety of birds.
9. Coronado Beach – San Diego, California
No, you’re not seeing things: this beach is actually sparkling in the sunlight. The reason? The sand contains flecks of the mineral mica, hence the nickname “Silver Stand.” The most recognizable icon on the beach, located just a short ferry trip or car ride across San Diego Bay, is the Hotel Coronado, featured in the Marilyn Monroe film Some Like it Hot.
8. Hapuna Beach State Park – Big Island, Hawaii
Most Hawaii beaches are beautiful, but the conditions are not suitable for swimming. Hapuna Beach, on the Kohala Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, is the largest white-sand beach in the state and offers ideal swimming conditions. (Plus, there are well-trained lifeguards on duty.) Ample parking, food vendors, picnic areas, restrooms and showers make this top beach in the U.S. an ideal spot for families.
7. Caladesi Island State Park – Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
One of the best beaches in the U.S., Caladesi is an uninhabited barrier island off the coast of Clearwater. The protected state park offers visions of how Florida’s west coast may have looked before rapid development. There are pine and palmetto forests and 3 miles of pristine Gulf of Mexico shoreline. Catch the ferry here from Honeymoon Island.
6. Coast Guard Beach – Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore in Eastham, Massachusetts, this beach is only accessible via bicycle or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center. (The small main parking lot is reserved for staff and disabled guests.) Bring your wetsuit: the water rarely rises above 70 degrees, even in the summer.
5. Duke Kahanamoku Beach – Oahu, Hawaii
The next time you visit Oahu, head to the west end of Waikiki Beach to find this spot, located near the Hilton Hawaiian Village. (All beaches in Hawaii are public, so feel free to park your towel wherever you please.) Named for the Hawaiian surf hero, this beach is less crowded than Waikiki, and also features a family-friendly swimming lagoon. Be sure to snap a selfie with the iconic Diamond Head volcanic crater in the background.
4. Coopers Beach – Southampton, New York
Although there’s a $50 parking fee for non-residents (this is The Hamptons, after all), visiting this beach is worth the dough. As one of the best beaches in the United States, the wide stretch of white-quartz sand was dubbed the first “Gold Coast” in the country, and just over the dunes you can spot the extravagant mansions that front the shore.
3. Grayton Beach State Park – Florida panhandle
Along Florida’s northwest Gulf Coast, this state-park beach boasts sugar-white sand and emerald-green water. The nearly 2,000-acre park features 4 miles of hiking and biking trails through pine flatwoods, and a nature trail through a coastal forest. Kayak or paddleboard through tidal lakes to spy the wildlife that frequents the marshes.
2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach – Outer Banks, North Carolina
You won’t find mini-golf courses, ice cream shops, waterslides or other typical touristy beach offerings here. Instead, you’ll find a well-preserved beach, perfect for long walks, scouting for shells or building a sandcastle. Fun fact: Ocracoke was once home to Blackbeard the pirate.
1. Kailua Beach Park – Oahu, Hawaii
Kailua Beach Park, a 3-mile windward stretch of beach on Oahu’s eastern shore, ranks number one as the best beach in the United States. Located a 30-minute drive from Honolulu, the beach is beloved for its soft sand and impossibly clear water. You’ll also find family-friendly amenities, including lifeguards, free parking, picnic tables, barbecue grills and freshwater showers. Because of all the extras at this park, this beach is popular with locals, especially on weekends. It’s also a favorite among windsurfers and kitesurfers for the steady breezes.