It’s that time of the year again: Summer is approaching and people have been waiting for Dr. Beach’s annual report.
If you aren’t familiar with him, “Dr. Beach,” or coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman is a professor in the Department of Earth & Environment at Florida International University in Miami. He selects the best beaches each year based on 50 criteria. They include critical factors such as water and sand quality, water temperature, beach slope, smell, and even noise and the presence of pests.
Now, just in time for you to start planning summer trips, Dr. Beach has released his 2023 Top 10 Beaches List.
These are Dr. Beach’s Top 10 picks for U.S. beaches in 2023.
1. St. George Island State Park
Sitting on a barrier island, St. George Island State Park offers miles of undeveloped beaches. Dr. Beach notes that while he enjoys swimming in crystal-clear water, the beach is also ideal for beachcombing and shelling. St. George Island was hit by Hurricane Michael in 2018, however, Dr. Beach explains that the area has recovered, especially the “sugary fine, white sand beach.”
There’s much more to the 1,962-acre park than the beach. It is especially popular with fishermen, birders, kayakers, hikers, and campers. Plus, the beach is an ideal location to watch spectacular sunsets and then stick around for stargazing.
2. Duke Kahanamoku Beach
Waikiki Beach may be crowded, but that’s not the case at Kahanamoku Beach because it sits on the western end of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Don’t worry though — you’ll still be able to see the amazingly picturesque Diamondhead Volcano in the distance. Named after champion olympic swimmer and the Father of Modern Surfing, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the beach is protected by an offshore coral reef. As a result, it is a popular swimming spot for families with children, Dr. Beach notes.
The area is a watersport lover’s paradise. Be prepared to swim, snorkel, bodyboard, surf, and kayak. You can even sign up with a local business to experience outrigger canoe wave-riding.
3. Coopers Beach
Southampton, New York
Coopers Beach in Southampton is shielded from the cold Labrador currents because it’s on the south end of Long Island. The beach — made of grainy, white quartz sand — is hundreds of yards wide. And, of course, it’s known for both its large, grass-covered sand dunes and the views of historic mansions. Its facilities include concessions, a bathhouse, and chair and umbrella rentals.
Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach but the weekends are extremely busy. Pay the daily parking permit fee so you can relax and enjoy the beach without worrying about a parking ticket.
4. Caladesi Island State Park
Caladesi Island State Park, which is a few miles from Clearwater Beach, can only be reached by ferry, private boat, or a long walk. The journey, however, is worth the effort. As Dr. Beach notes, 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.”
Anyone interested in canoeing or kayaking will love exploring the paddling trails among the mangrove trees. As an added bonus, keep an eye out for the many large blue herons and other birds that live in the area.
5. Lighthouse Beach
Buxton, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Named after the striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that was on the beach until 1999, Lighthouse Beach sits near the end of the island chain known as the Outer Banks. The beach, which does have lifeguards, is the best place in the U.S. to surf on the U.S. Atlantic Coast because Diamond Shoals — offshore sandbanks — focuses wave energy at the beach, Dr. Beach explains. This makes the beach an absolute paradise for surfers, bodyboarders, and skimboarders.
Take a walk down to Cape Point. When you walk on its long sand spit, waves will come at you from both sides, making you feel like Moses, Dr. Beach explains.
6. Coronado Beach
San Diego, California
Coronado Beach is “a veritable oasis by the sea,” Dr. Beach explains. The beach, which is hundreds of yards wide, is known for what he calls “fine sparkling sand” — making it perfect for walking. What’s more, the surf is warm and mild. The beach is also home to the area’s local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, which was built more than 100 years ago.
Since Coronado Beach is on Coronado Island in San Diego’s bay, it’s an ideal location to watch ships. Be sure to take time to relax and watch them entering and leaving the bay.
7. Wailea Beach
Interestingly, Wailea Beach is a series of what Dr. Beach calls “five pocket beaches,” which are all part of the Wailea Resort Complex. The complex is required to allow right of way for visitors who aren’t staying at one of the hotels, however, so you can still enjoy the white coral sand beach.
Wailea Beach has a mild slope offshore. When the ocean is calm, it is a great place for snorkeling.
8. Beachwalker Park
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Beachwalker Park, a public beach on the southern end of Kiawah Island, is only about an hour from Charleston. Dr. Beach explains that, although the water isn’t clear, it is clean. While the water may not be ideal for swimming or snorkeling, it is a great place to canoe or kayak because you can explore the tidal inlets. You can also walk or bicycle on the beach while birdwatching.
Make time to walk from Beachwalker Park to Captain Sam’s Inlet. You can see thousands of birds there. Plus, dolphins love the area so you may see them too.
9. Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is actually two beaches split by a tombolo, which is a narrow sand spit extending from the shore to an island. The good news, Dr. Beach explains, is that the offshore island “knocks down” the big waves, so only small waves break on the shallow sandbar. That creates an ideal place for children to play.
Be sure to visit one of the local shops to rent snorkeling equipment so you can explore the coral reef. Those who are a little more adventurous can also rent surfboards.
10. Coast Guard Beach
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Coast Guard Beach, which is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, is known for scenic views and its picturesque old Coast Guard station. The water, even in the summer, is chilly so visitors typically limit their time with quick dips. If you visit June through Labor Day, you’ll need to park a short distance away and then take a shuttle bus or ride a bike to the beach.
Seals have moved into the area in recent years so you may be able to see them swimming around.
The flip side of the coin, however, which isn’t great for humans who want to relax at the beach, is that the seals have also attracted great white sharks. Be sure to also keep an eye out for red flags with shark images on days when sharks have been spotted.
For more about popular beaches and beach experiences, be sure to also read these articles: