It’s one of the most anticipated weekends of the year. Memorial Day not only marks the unofficial start to summer, but it’s also when Dr. Beach reveals his picks for the best beaches of the year.
Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, uses 50 criteria to select the best beaches including safety, water and sand quality, cleanliness, and average weather conditions. It’s a list he’s been curating since 1991, and all the featured beaches are located in the United States.
A nod from Dr. Beach goes a long way in moving an undiscovered beach area to the top of travelers’ vacation lists. Without further ado, here are Dr. Beach’s top beaches for 2020.
10. Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Located near Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the only public beach on beautiful Kiawah Island. Located between the Atlantic Ocean and Kiawah River, you get the best of both worlds. Dr. Beach says the water isn’t clear, but calls this a perfect place for nature lovers, so don’t forget your canoes and kayaks. Parking is at a premium, so arrive early to get your spot, and grab your chairs and umbrella, which are available to rent.
Bonus: You can bring your pooch as long as he or she is on a leash.
9. Coronado Beach
San Diego, California
Probably the most recognizable beach name on the list, a portion of Coronado Beach has the famous Hotel del Coronado as a backdrop. Dr. Beach loves this spot for its space: hundreds of yards of fine sparkling sand.
You can play beach volleyball or just watch ships enter and leave the bay.
Bonus: Beach accessible wheelchairs are available free of charge at the lifeguard tower.
8. Coast Guard Beach
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach is quintessential Southern New England. It’s located in Eastham, just north of the elbow of Cape Cod. Set beneath beautiful bluffs, Dr. Beach warns that Coast Guard Beach does slope steeply into the ocean and never really gets that warm, although it’s the perfect temp for hardy New Englanders.
Take a shuttle to the beach from the Little Creek parking area. Visitors needing assistance can park in the lot next to the beach.
Bonus: History buffs will love that this is where the Mayflower first made landfall in 1620.
7. Hapuna Beach
Big Island, Hawaii
This is one of two Hawaiian beaches to make Dr. Beach’s 2020 list. He loves the white coral sand here amid the volcanic western coastline.
Hapuna Beach is part of a state park, and visitors love to swim, bodyboard, and snorkel here. If you’re visiting during the winter, you may also see a few migrating whales. Be aware, the area is known for dangerous rip currents during high surf.
Bonus: The area boasts ample parking.
6. Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi Island State Park is not as easy to access as others on the list, helping to keep this beach pristine for travelers willing to put in the effort. Dr. Beach says this Gulf Coast gem’s white beach, composed of crystalline quartz sand, is soft and cushy at the water’s edge.
Bonus: Bring your kayak or canoe to explore the mangroves and view blue herons and other beautiful wildlife.
5. Lighthouse Beach
Buxton, Outer Banks, North Carolina
This beautiful Outer Banks beach is named for the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that was situated here until 1999. Lighthouse Beach is located near the southern end of the island chain and part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s known for its beautiful shells and great waves, and Dr. Beach enjoys strolling down this stretch of beach because the waves come at you from both directions along this narrow string of sand.
Bonus: This is the top place to surf along the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
4. Duke Kahanamoku Beach
Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
Located on the western end of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Dr. Beach likes Kahanamoku Beach because it doesn’t have the crowds that frequent other parts of Waikiki, but you’re still able to see beautiful Diamond Head in the distance. The beach sits on Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, which is named after respected Hawaiian surfer and champion Olympic swimmer Duke Paoa Kahanamoku. The beach is the widest part of Waikiki Beach and is protected by an offshore coral reef, making it a popular swimming spot.
Bonus: Atlantis Submarines depart from this area.
3. Coopers Beach
Southampton, New York
Located near the end of Long Island, Coopers Beach boasts 500 feet of shoreline and breathtaking views of the Atlantic. Dr. Beach enjoys the large, grass-covered sand dunes that run along Coopers Beach. A daily parking permit will run you $50, but despite the steep cost, the beach does get crowded on the weekends.
Bonus: This beach is hundreds of yards wide and has grainy white quartz sand.
2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach is Dr. Beach’s favorite getaway. He loves the natural splendor this Outer Banks beach and island offer. You won’t find any large resorts here. The beach can only be reached by boat, ferry, or small plane. Kiteboarding, surfing, and snorkeling are all popular activities.
Bonus: The pirate Blackbeard frequented Ocracoke in the early 1700s.
1. Grayton Beach State Park
Earning the coveted number one spot this year: Grayton Beach State Park. Located in the heart of the Florida Panhandle, Dr. Beach loves Grayton Beach State Park’s sugar-white sand and emerald green water. An added bonus: Development has been kept to a minimum here so large sand dunes still dominate the coast.
You can do as much or as little as you want here since the town of Seaside is nearby.
Bonus: Rent a cabin or camp in the state park overnight and spend time enjoying the park’s tidal lakes and freshwater ponds as well.