Best American Beaches

Summer is nearly here and with it, the nation’s collective thoughts turn to the very best reward one could possibly imagine after a long cold winter and spring: the beach.  But where to go?  There are as many fine beaches on this planet as grains of sand on the uh, well…, beach.  Narrowing down the very best is a difficult and subjective task.

Personally, my favorite beaches are those which no one knows about yet, including myself.  The reasoning behind this is simple; by the time I learn about a secluded strand of white sandy beach, it’s already too late.

With this catch-22 in mind, take a moment to check out the following list of America’s Best Beaches.  While you may not agree with all the selections, you’ve survived the off-season and should therefore treat yourself to at least a couple on the list. 

Ditch Plains, Montauk, Long Island, New York
This gorgeous stretch of sand is unique amongst Long Island beaches for its large waves and unpretentious attitude.  Residing on the southeastern end of the island and partially capped with a row of scenic cliffs, Ditch Plains is an ocean facing beach (instead of facing the sound). This is great news for surfers, but unfortunately the wonderful breaks this creates often means crowded conditions. On the other hand, the town of Montauk, where Ditch Plains is located, is a quaint little oasis of tranquility peppered with bed & breakfasts, charming inns, and a simple, down-to-earth atmosphere–certainly a far cry from the nearby, trendy Hamptons. 

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur, California
For pure rugged beauty, few beaches can match the classic gem which graces the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur, California.  Hemmed in by granite cliffs and hillside groves of redwood trees, this half moon of soft sand and driftwood is magically punctuated by an 80-foot waterfall spilling directly on to the beach itself.  People don’t come here to swim so much as gawk at the mesmerizing nature and, if lucky, migrating gray whales just off the coast. 

Caladesi Island State Park, Clearwater, Florida
Located just off Florida’s Gulf Coast, Caladesi Island is practically a different planet from the Spring-Break infused beaches which have sadly come to epitomize parts of Florida.  Beachgoers who tote binoculars and cameras come here to spot wild birds, not Girls-Gone-Wild.  This is because Caladesi Island is blessed with three miles of nature trails, wonderful fishing spots, mangroves, kayaking, and most importantly, white sandy beaches.  It is reachable only by boat and is perfect for the sunbathing ornithologist in all of us.

Moorea Beach, Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas?!??!  Yes, indeed.  One of the hottest beach scenes going on right now is at the Moorea Beach Club at the Mandalay Bay hotel.  11 acres of pools, rivers, waterslides, tropical gardens, palm trees and sandy beaches awaits hotel guests (only).  The entrance is a steep $50 for men but only $10 for women.  Why the big discrepancy?  The Moorea Beach Club permits “European Bathing.” If you’re not sure what this means, the fact that no one under 21 is allowed might help you figure this out. 

Venice Beach, California
There is no stretch of sand on this planet as eclectic and bizarre as Venice Beach.  After Disneyland, it is the most visited tourist destination in Los Angeles.  The appeal of Venice, however, is not the water or the sand, it is the people.  The boardwalk is where all the crazies who came to California ended up after even California found them a little too weird.  But, it’s a good kind of crazy.  Street performers, artists, roller skaters, body builders, henna artists, and chainsaw jugglers, all co-exist in a menagerie of mankind that takes a full day of strolling to fully absorb.

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Old pirate haunts and a sleepy fishing village are only part of what makes North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island, the most remote of the barrier islands, so alluring. This peaceful, 16-mile-long split of land is ringed with numerous beaches and not much else.  The mostly undeveloped coastline is owned by the National Park Service and will hopefully remain that way for a very long time.  This means that miles of windswept beaches and shifting sand dunes will continue to pamper the tired and weary with waves of restful respite. 

Laguna Beach, California
You can’t speak about beaches without acknowledging the O.C.  Orange County is the Flavor of the Month these days on television, and rightfully so.  The coastline below Los Angeles is extraordinarily rich with fantastic beaches that are both beautiful and family friendly.  The upscale community of Laguna Beach-already overflowing with artists, galleries, and fine restaurants-is further blessed with the area’s best beach.  Bursting with Southern California sunshine, plenty of volleyball courts, and that comforting air of safety which tends to accompany affluent communities, Laguna Beach is it.  Plus, it stars in its own MTV realty show, so the kids will dig it.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
The constant battle over which of Hawaii’s beaches is the very best, often sees picturesque Hanalei Bay rise to the top of the list.  This two-mile long, crescent shaped sliver of paradise is nestled amongst soaring cliffs and majestic, mist-enshrouded mountains so beautifully green they’ll make you forget what concrete looks like.  The water itself is perfectly accommodating for swimmers and surfers as well as kayakers, windsurfers, and other lovers of buoyant devices. 

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Translated as “heavenly sea,” Lanikai Beach more than lives up to its name with a dazzling performance of Mother Nature’s greatest hues.  Just as Eskimos have 50 different words for snow, so too should the Hawaiians for shades of blue-and they’d all be found here.  Although the waters of Lanikai are crystal clear when snorkeling, they erupt in dazzling shades of azure when viewed from the powdery sands of Lanikai Beach.  Combine this with a healthy smattering of swaying palm trees and perfect golden sunrises and you’ll understand why Lanikai Beach is one of the world’s top destinations for model shoots.  This is indeed what postcards are made from. 

Hawksnest Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
To narrow down just one great beach on St John is like trying to settle on the best painting in the Louvre.  The entire island is awash with gorgeous sands, turquoise blue coves and an overwhelming tropical abundance that will make you weep with joy. Since two-thirds of this island paradise is protected national parkland, it also remains pure and underdeveloped.  One can’t go wrong with any of the post-card-perfect beaches here, but if I had to choose just one on which to wile away my days, it would have to be Hawksnest Bay.  Amen!