Ahh… the beach! Maybe just the mention of the word has you daydreaming about soft sand between your toes and the sound of the surf from your balcony. America has some pretty outstanding and diverse coastlines. The following 13 beaches are our readers’ favorites. Which ones have you already visited?
1. Waikiki Beach
Aloha, Hawaii! Is it any surprise that Honolulu’s famous Waikiki Beach topped our readers’ list this year? Every year, more than 4.5 million people visit this stunning beach community on Oahu, enjoying the tropical climate, white sand, and turquoise water.
If this is a romantic getaway, stay at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, and you can renew your wedding vows for free! And every Friday night at 8 p.m., add a little spark of magic to your stay with the weekly fireworks display over Waikiki Beach.
During the day, there’s no shortage of activities. Snorkel in the pristine waters and come face-to-face with sea turtles and other sea life; learn to surf (or just watch others conquer the water); and book a sunset sailing expedition, taking in the beautiful skyline and iconic Diamond Head Crater. Whatever you choose, you’ll make unforgettable memories!
Pro Tip: Stop by Lahaina Shave Ice on a hot afternoon to cool down. This locally-owned hidden gem is a short walk from the beach.
2. Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key, Florida
Siesta Key Beach drops to the number two spot on this year’s Best Beaches in America list, but it’s still a heavy favorite! This beautiful gulf coast barrier island just 20 miles south of Sarasota, Florida, offers some of the softest sand in the world. Made from crushed quartz, it’s cool and refreshing on the hottest of days.
Start your day off right with yoga on the beach. In the evening, take in a world-class sunset while listening to the magical rhythms of the night. Siesta Key Beach offers three drum circles.
A mile up the road from the beach, enjoy Siesta Key Village for shopping, art galleries, and dozens of restaurants. Visit the Sunday farmer’s market. Get breakfast or lunch at Sun Garden Café, and for dinner, head to Siesta Key Oyster Bar for live music, great food, and a fun atmosphere.
3. La Jolla Cove
San Diego, California
The beach at La Jolla Cove in San Diego is small but delightful. Whether you walk along the path above the sandy beach or climb down the stairway to the water’s edge, the beauty of this coastal landscape will take your breath away.
La Jolla Cove is a popular launch point for a variety of water activities such as scuba, snorkeling, kayaking, or open water swimming, but you don’t have to get into the cold water to find something to explore! Tidepools dot the coastline with diverse marine life, and the large groups of sea lions are quite entertaining to watch as they sunbathe and fight for territory.
Nearby rental companies offer 90-minute kayaking tours and will take you into coastal caves!
Downtown La Jolla offers a number of fantastic rooftop restaurants where you can take in the view. For something more casual, our family loved Duke’s.
4. Coronado Beach
San Diego, California
Home to the historic Hotel Del Coronado, you’ll love the rich culture and history of Coronado Island. A popular destination for celebrities and U.S. presidents, Coronado Beach reflects all the glitz and glamour with its mica-speckled sand that sparkles under the California sun.
The year-round Mediterranean climate offers perfect weather for cycling, roller-skating, walking along the 16-mile bay shore pathway, or just hanging out on the spacious beach to watch the surfers, boats, and sunset. Dogs are welcome year-round on the north end of the beach.
Just south of Hotel Del Coronado, keep an eye out during low tide for a rare siting of the storied gambling ship, SS Monte Carlo. The ship sank just offshore in 1937.
Stop into Moo Time Creamery for a local, handcrafted ice cream cone on a hot afternoon while you shop and stroll along Orange Avenue.
5. Poipu Beach
A trip to Poipu Beach should be at the top of your list if you’re visiting Hawaii’s beautiful island of Kauai. Poipu Beach is actually two crescent-shaped beaches separated in the center by a long sandbar called a “tombola.” Visitors frequent this area to catch a glimpse of endangered monk seals who love to hang out here. Chances are high that you’ll also spot sea turtles and other amazing marine life.
Because of its shallow, calm surf, Poipu Beach is the perfect spot to snorkel or learn how to surf. The nearby reef provides shelter for thousands of brightly colored fish, corals, and other creatures.
Swing by Little Fish Coffee for a morning kickstart. Delicious local coffee, smoothies (try the Banana Colada), and treats are served daily until 1 p.m.
Pro Tip: Include the storybook “Tree Tunnel” road on your route to the beach. Lined with about 500 century-old eucalyptus trees, the roadway adds a touch of romance to your trip.
6. Trunk Bay
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
If you buy an annual beach calendar for your desk, chances are you’ve seen Trunk Bay. It’s one of the most photographed beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The inviting deep turquoise blue water and white sand beaches juxtaposed against the bright green tropical vegetation feels like a dream. Getting here does take a little work since most visitors fly into St. Thomas. Take a ferry or helicopter to St. John Island, then a taxi to the beach.
Trunk Bay is famous for its one-of-a-kind Underwater Snorkeling Trail. Signs and arrows guide you along the way as you swim through warm, clear, calm waters along a 650-trail. You’ll see vibrantly colored schools of fish, beautiful corals, turtles, and more. Bring your GoPro!
The heart-shaped Trunk Bay may be the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen, and we think it will capture your heart.
Pro Tip: Visit in the morning for smaller crowds and a spectacular sunrise.
7. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Buxton, North Carolina
Managed by the National Park Service, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a 70-mile-long stretch of coastline on North Carolina’s outer banks. Along the beautiful coastal drive, enjoy three iconic lighthouses. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. The lighthouse visitor center is a great location to learn all kinds of information about the beach, area history, turtle nests, and more. You can tour the grounds and climb the lighthouse for epic views.
Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo would each make a great basecamp for your trip, providing plenty of beach activities, restaurants, and shopping. Further north, you’ll find Bodie Island and another lighthouse to explore. Nearby Coquina Beach offers visitor’s a memorable day of swimming, fishing, body boarding, and kite surfing. This is also one of a handful of places you can drive a 4×4 on the beach, but you will need to apply for a license ahead of time.
8. Anna Maria Public Beach
Anna Maria Island, Florida
Anna Maria Public Beach offers 7 miles of pristine powdery sand beaches with no shortage of things to do just across Tampa Bay. The relaxing “old Florida” feel of this small town sets it apart from the other beaches on our list.
The island has three main public beaches (Bayfront Park, Manatee Public Beach, and Coquina Beach), and parking is free but limited. Playful bottlenose dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles will captivate you from the shoreline or the water, so don’t forget to bring your binoculars. Fishermen love the variety of fishing opportunities on the island.
Because of its small size, Anna Maria Island is a great place to get around by bike or foot. The Monkey Bus also offers no-cost, stress-free travel across the island (tips are encouraged).
Pro Tip: Find more parking available on the south end of the beach.
9. Gulf Shores Public Beach
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Florida isn’t the only destination for a state-side vacation featuring white sugar sand and views of the Gulf of Mexico! Gulf Shores, Alabama, is a gorgeous beach with plenty to do and fantastic places to eat!
Fish from shore or book a chartered expedition and enjoy the variety of sea life here including red snapper! Several area restaurants will also prepare and cook your catch.
Visit the infamous FloraBama bar for great live music (family-friendly until 6 p.m.) and write your name on the wall for posterity. Made out of old shipping containers, The Gulf is a fun beachside restaurant featuring fresh seafood. Arrive early, however, because on a busy evening you will easily stand in line for hours to order.
Keep an eye on the skies, and you may catch an impromptu performance by the Navy’s Blue Angels!
10. Grayton Beach
Grayton Beach, Florida
Tucked away in Florida’s panhandle, Grayton Beach is home to the largest community of working artists along Highway 30A. It’s no wonder. Filled with inspiring scenery, quirky shops, and fun, this beautiful stretch of white sugar sand beach has some of the largest sand dunes along the coast and is home to an annual sailing regatta.
Located midway between Panama City Beach and Destin, Grayton Beach is the first developed community along this stretch of the 30A, but it’s managed to keep its smalltown charm. Nearly half of south Walton County is comprised of protected state forests and parks, and Grayton Beach is in the middle of it. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can find dune lakes and kayak or paddleboard through the brackish waters of the Grayton Beach State Park’s Western Lake to the outflow that leads you right into the turquoise Gulf!
Pro Tip: Scuba divers should visit the Underwater Museum of Art.
11. Pawleys Island
Pawleys Island, South Carolina
Locals call Pawleys Island “arrogantly shabby.” This classic old Southern community with Spanish moss draping ancient trees is one of the oldest resort communities on the East Coast. Prior to the Civil War, wealthy rice plantation owners visited frequently for their summer holidays. The residents have done an excellent job of preserving this area and its history.
Pawleys Island is about 25 miles south of Myrtle Beach and is home to the loggerhead turtle. Along the beach, watch out for turtle nesting signs from May through July. These incredible turtles weigh about 300 pounds and can lay five nests of 120 eggs per season! Book a kayak or canoe tour to explore the island with a knowledgeable guide, or if you want to get a little further from shore, join a dolphin cruise or charter a fishing boat.
In town, step back in time as you explore the beautiful old neighborhoods in the historic district and check out some of the shops where you can watch local artisans weave rope hammocks.
12. Driftwood Beach
Jekyll Island, Georgia
It’s easy to see how Driftwood Beach got its name — the beach is littered with the remains of an old maritime forest. Photographers love this location for unusual and interesting opportunities to capture the natural beauty of centuries-old trees and their gnarly trunks, branches, and exposed roots. Dubbed by some as one of the most romantic beaches in America, Driftwood Beach is a popular location for wedding photography.
You can find Driftwood Beach on the north end of Jekyll Island, which is a state park. Passes are required to visit, and you can purchase them ahead of time. Despite its popularity, the location at the far end of the island makes Driftwood one of the quieter stretches of beach on the island. Catch a sunrise, take a stroll, or visit at night for fantastic dark sky stargazing.
13. Coast Guard Beach
Coast Guard Beach is perhaps the most popular beach within the Cape Cod National Seashore. If you are visiting during the peak of tourist season, walk about a mile to the main access point for lighter crowds and softer sand. The water here is cool year-round but feels quite refreshing in the summer heat. In the evening, set up a beach bonfire while the sun sets behind you and the crowds thin out.
A trolly service provides easy access from the parking lot to the beach. You can also access Coast Guard Beach from the Cape Cod Rail Trail, an easy 22-mile-long paved trail that offers gorgeous scenery through the salt marshes to the beach. You’ll travel through several little towns, providing ample opportunities to rest, refresh, and catch a meal along the way.
History buffs enjoy this area for all it has to offer, beginning with the November 9, 1620 Mayflower landing on Coast Guard Beach!
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