Who hasn’t lovingly dragged beach toys, gear, chairs, umbrellas, and coolers to the perfect spot on a beautiful beach to feel instantly relaxed after the most exhausting walk? That’s the effect an amazing beach can have.
Dr. Beach, aka Stephen Leatherman, has selected the best of the best beaches for the past 32 years. He uses 50 criteria to evaluate each beach, including the softness and color of the sand, water color, and temperature, number of sunny days, smell, amount of wildlife, number of rip currents, whether there are lifeguards — you get the idea.
The beaches selected are loved by locals and several haven’t been best-kept secrets for quite some time thanks to nods in previous Dr. Beach Best Beaches lists, but each year is special. Without further ado, the top 10 best beaches of 2022…
1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Famous for its once infamous resident, Blackbeard, Lifeguarded Beach has a fan in Dr. Beach for its connection to nature, where “the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.” Accessible only by air and ferry, it’s a true getaway. Ocracoke Island is part of the 75-mile Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is beloved for its remote, laid-back feel and adorable historic village. Dr. Beach notes the surf can be rough later in the year, so families with children may want to visit early.
When hot days turn into star-filled nights, a bonfire on the beach is the perfect way to end a day, enjoy s’mores, the crashing surf, and maybe even a few ghost stories.
2. Caladesi Island State Park
Located just a few miles north of Clearwater Beach, visitors to Caladesi Island State Park must take the passenger ferry, a private boat, or walk from Clearwater Beach to access the area. Spend the day shelling, hiking, paddling, and swimming. The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown every day of the year, but if you snag a reservation at the marina, you can try boat camping. You will need your own boat.
While you could spend all day lounging on the beautiful, soft, white sand, Dr. Beach’s favorite activity on Caladesi Island “is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent” the area. Rentals are available in the park.
3. Cooper’s Beach
Southampton, New York
Best known for the tony residents who call the area home, Cooper’s Beach is a wide, beautiful beach facing the Atlantic and backed by large grass-covered dunes on the southside of Long Island. Enjoy a live look at the beach here. Parking is pricey with a daily parking permit costing $50. Chairs and umbrellas are available to rent for the day. If you’re spending a bit of time in the area, check out our town-by-town guide to The Hamptons and get ready to explore.
Relaxing at the beach works up an appetite. Fuel up with breakfast or grab a late lunch at Sip’n Soda, a Southampton staple for more than 60 years.
4. St. George Island State Park
Located in the lesser-populated area of the Florida Panhandle, St. George Island State Park can still be considered a hidden gem. Dr. Beach loves the “sugary fine, white sand beach” and the “crystal-clear water” perfect for a dip, and our writers agree it’s worthy of high praise.
The area is also popular with fishermen, birders, kayakers, hikers, campers, boaters, and pretty much anyone who makes the outdoors their playground. The park was hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018 and park staff and community volunteers have worked hard to bring it back to its glory.
Go for the sunsets, stay for the stargazing. St. George Island State Park offers amazing opportunities for both. While the park closes at sundown, there are several ways to gain after-hours access.
Places to Stay In The Florida Panhandle:
5. Duke Kahanamoku Beach
With views of Diamond Head and its location on the west end of the famed Waikiki Beach area, it’s no wonder Duke Kahanamoku Beach makes this list. Dr. Beach likes this area of Waikiki Beach because it’s less crowded, it’s protected by a coral reef, and the beautiful lagoon is nearby, making it a great pick for families. While the lagoon is on the Hilton Hawaiian Village property, it is open to the public.
Follow in the footsteps of the beach’s namesake, an Olympic gold medalist and the father of modern surfing, and take a surf lesson or experience outrigger canoe wave-riding with one of the several businesses that offer these experiences in the area.
6. Lighthouse Beach
Buxton, North Carolina
The former location of the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, this beach is the number one spot on the U.S. Atlantic coast for surfing. Dr. Beach loves to walk south to Cape Point, the easternmost piece of land on the 75-mile Cape Hatteras National Seashore, “where a long sand spit often exists…and the waves are coming from both directions as you walk along this narrow string of sand in the ocean.”
Other great activities in the area include kiteboarding, windsurfing, fishing, and hiking. While it’s only about 30 miles north of the number one spot on the list (see Lifeguarded Beach
Ocracoke, North Carolina, above), you will need to take a ferry if you want to travel between the two.
While Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is no longer located on Lighthouse Beach, be sure to visit its new location, which is just a short drive or walk away. The lighthouse is being restored, so you may not be able to climb the 248 stairs to the top, but the views are amazing if it’s open and you’re able to make the climb.
Places To Stay In The Outer Banks:
7. Coronado Beach
San Diego, California
With the most notable backdrop on the list, Coronado beach is a Southern California gem. Dr. Beach loves its “subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand.” Visitors also describe it as clean, spacious, and not very crowded. Bicyclists love the area’s bike paths. Plan to bring your own bike, or rent one, to discover the rest of Coronado Island once you’re tired of relaxing on the beach.
Places To Stay In San Diego:
8. Wailea Beach
At the risk of playing favorites, this may be the most beautiful beach on the list. TravelAwaits’ Cindy Barks describes Wailea Beach as a “full sensory experience.” Beautiful views, the smell of flowering hibiscus trees, delicious poke bowls and cocktails, wind rustling through the trees, all with ukelele music playing nearby. Dr. Beach notes that Wailea Beach is made up of “five pocket beaches…part of the Wailea Resort Complex…and is great for snorkeling when the ocean is calm.” If you’re not staying at one of the resorts, public access is available.
Experience an authentic luau and learn to hula at the Grand Wailea Maui.
9. Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
On an island where many beaches are private, Beachwalker Park welcomes everyone and makes for the perfect day trip from Charleston, which is less than an hour away. Dr. Beach says Beachwalker Park is perfect for nature-lovers, so bring your “canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets.”
The beach is also great for riding bikes or a nice long stroll. Kiawah Island is a yearly destination for some families with plenty to do when you need a break from the beach.
Walk a mile from Beachwalker Park to Captain Sam’s Inlet. Dolphins love this area, and if you’re lucky, you may see them strand feed. The inlet is also popular with birders.
10. Coast Guard Beach
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
This beautiful beach on Cape Cod may not be the best for swimming, unless you’re a hearty New Englander who likes the chilly waters, but it’s an excellent spot to relax, enjoy the amazing views, and see plentiful wildlife. In the spring and summer, you’ll spot plovers, terns, and gray seals. Harbor seals visit in the winter. The occasional great white shark lurks in the area as well. Watch for the flag warnings to alert you if one is around.
If you visit June through Labor Day, you’ll need to take a shuttle or ride your bike to the beach since parking is only available to Eastham residents and vehicles with handicap placards.
Don’t leave the Cape without enjoying fried clams, a lobster roll, a stuffie, or all three. Or, spend the week and beach hop through the Cape with recommendations from TravelAwaits’ writer and Massachusetts local Sandi Barrett.