From West Coast to East, Great Lakes to Gulf (plus Alaska and Hawaii), here are the very best stretches of sand in each of America's 30 coastal states.
Photo courtesy Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce
VOTED AMERICA'S #1 BEACH 2016!
Does it get more all-American than Ocean City, with its two-and-a-half-mile-long boardwalk, eight miles of pale sand, and the blue Atlantic (and beautiful bayside as well)? It's hard to find a more iconic summer destination than this resort town on the New Jersey shore that has a true family vibe (Ocean City is a dry town) and fun-loving spirit. Don't miss the Thursday family nights all summer long, with lots of free activities.
Photo: Joe Nickerson
With 10 miles of broad, sandy coastline and some of California's best waves, Huntington Beach has called itself Surf City USA for very good reason. With its iconic pier at the center of the action, Huntington Beach actually holds five beaches in its golden grip: Huntington City Beach (home of the pier), Huntington State Beach, Huntington Dog Beach (need we say more about the beachy perfection here?), Bolsa Chica State Beach, and Sunset Beach. And with more than 500 fire rings along these clean strands, it may be that Surf City is also Bonfire City. S'mores, anyone?
Photo courtesy Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism
Together with neighboring Orange Beach, Gulf Shores is part of 32 miles of white sand that edges the clear and glistening Gulf of Mexico on Alabama's southern coast. The sand itself is comprised almost entirely of quartz crystals that washed down from the Appalachian mountains, thousands of years ago. Along with that natural gift, Gulf Shores has a wonderful, old-fashioned array of shore pleasures, including water sports, golf, and even zip lines.
Photo: Corey Pedersen/Discover Kodiak
Not only does this state park on the eastern shore of Alaska's Kodiak Island have stunning sandy coves, it contains what could be called the very best of Alaska scenery: dramatic cliffs, pounding surf, deep spruce forests, meadows of wildflowers, and a trout-filled lake. In addition, the park is home to Fort Abercrombie, a World War II fortification.
Stretching for more than two miles along Long Island Sound in the town of Madison, Hammonasset Beach State Park is Connecticut's longest shoreline park and the state's most popular attraction. The charms of Hammonasset are myriad, from playing on the shore (and in the water) to strolling the park's boardwalk, to boating, biking, kayaking, camping, fishing, and getting to know the cool occupants of the Meigs Point Nature Center's touch tanks.
Photo: Scott Dunn/Getty
Located within the city limits, Rehoboth Beach is Delaware's icon of pure summer pleasures. At the center of all the action is a mile-long boardwalk lined with shops, restaurants, and old-fashioned amusements and fun. And not only are the tawny sands of Rehoboth Beach a great destination, but its offshore Atlantic waters have been named the cleanest in the nation.
Photo: Vito Palmisano/Getty
In a state with more than 1,300 miles of coastline, it's got to be a special beach that takes tops honors. And so it is with Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, a white-sand strand on one of Florida's last undeveloped barrier islands on Florida's southwest coast. Just north of Naples in Bonita Springs, Barefoot Beach Preserve is 342 acres of lush vegetation, while the beach--with fine sand and lots of tiny shells--stretches out for a pristinely perfect mile.
Courtesy of Visit Savannah
Known as "Savannah's Beach," Georgia's beautiful barrier island of Tybee has five miles of powdery sand that's as good for fat-tire biking as it is for strolling and sunning. And smart beach goers aren't the only Tybee fans--sea turtles make the careful pilgrimage to Tybee's shores to lay their eggs from May through the end of October (and locals fiercely protect this natural treasure).
Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)/Tor Johnson
The largest of the Big Island of Hawaii's white-sand beaches, Hapuna Beach State Park is on the island's volcanic western stretch of the Kohala Coast and is a paragon of golden-white sand fronting deep-blue waters. A half-mile long and 200 feet wide, Hapuna Beach is surrounded by lush vegetation and flanked by huge rocks at both ends that are perfect sunrise and sunset perches.
Photo: Bruce Leighty/Getty
In Chicago's Lincoln Park, this extraordinary stretch of beachfront that swirls into Lake Michigan like a mini Cape Cod, lures thousands of bikers, runners, walkers, and rollerbladers in addition to swimmers and sunbathers to its lakefront trail. It's also home to the North Avenue Beach House, an enormous structure designed to look like an ocean liner . . . right down to the red smokestacks and bright blue portholes.
Photo: courtesy of Indiana Dunes Tourism
On the southern shores of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park combine to offer 15 gorgeous miles of tawny sands backed by rugged and towering sand dunes, plus prairies, wetlands, and forests. Bird-lovers flock to the area to catch glimpses of more than 350 migratory species winging their way through, and hikers love the area's 70 miles of trails.
Photo courtesy Grand Isle, Louisiana
A brave and beautiful little barrier island near the toe's end of the Louisiana boot, Grand Isle has recovered from its share of hurricanes and spills, and is more glorious than ever. Renowned for its fishing as well as its bird habitat (it's first landfall for many species making the migratory haul across the Gulf of Mexico), it's a true (and little-known) treasure.
"Ogunquit" is the native Algonquin tribe's word for "beautiful place by the sea," which seems like the best name for this best of Maine beaches that stretches a full three miles from Ogunquit Village in the south to Footbridge Beach and Moody Beach to the north. With its broad, pale sands, Ogunquit Beach is perfect from one end to another, but insiders who crave a little more quiet know that the middle section sees fewer crowds.
Photo: Jerry Driendl/Getty
A full 10 miles long, Ocean City Beach is Maryland's gift to classic, seaside resort fun. Complete with boardwalk (and all the great shopping, bites, and amusements that line up along those historic treads), Ocean City Beach is great for swimming, surfing, kayaking, fishing, and even horseback riding on the beach (in winter, that is). During the summer, Ocean City has family-oriented events six nights a week, so even when the sun goes down, the fun keeps rolling.
Photo: Ronald Wilson Photography/Getty
The Cape Cod National Seashore is truly a national treasure, and Coast Guard Beach, which lies in the midst of this pristinely protected swath in Eastham, Massachusetts, is the golden-sand diamond amidst jewels. Backed by dunes and open to the Atlantic Ocean (but with generally gentle waves), Coast Guard Beach is also great for swimming and boogie boarding.
Photo: Barry Winiker/Getty
Considered one of the best-kept secret beaches, these sugar sands and clear, warm shallows of Lake Michigan include Grand Haven City Beach and Grand Haven State Park, plus two 19th century lighthouses and Rosy Mound Natural Area, which is a classic Great Lakes dunes system along the water. Known as "Coast Guard City USA," Grand Haven is home to an annual summer festival that celebrates the men and women of the USCG who serve on the nation's waters.
Courtesy Visit Duluth
It's an amazing thing: a seven-mile spit of sand that extends into Lake Superior from the Duluth, Minnesota, shoreline, and is considered the world's longest freshwater sandbar. All six miles of tawny beach have always been public, and Park Point remains a remarkable getaway with houses, a recreation area, public beach house, and open fields for all manner of playtime. Not to mention great views of America's largest Great Lake.
Photo: David Sucsy/Getty
White sands, the glistening Gulf of Mexico, and a family-friendly attitude make this Mississippi's best beach, which has returned with determination from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. A string of barrier islands offshore keep the waves smaller along the nearly seven miles of Gulfport's beaches, making them a magnet for swimmers of all ages.
Photo courtesy Hampton Beach Village District
New Hampshire's coastline may be short (13 miles), but this New England state is long on pride when it comes to all its beaches. Hampton Beach, which pairs broad sands and sweeping Atlantic views with lively mix of family-friendly activities and entertainment (including a band shell amphitheatre), crowns them all. Hampton State Beach has tide pools for exploration and a massive wall of rocks that often harbor sea urchins. Finally, you know you've got a great beach when your lifeguard chief just celebrated his 50th anniversary of service.
Photo courtesy KKMPhotos/DiscoverLongIsland
This gorgeous and broad beach is one of five that are owned by Long Island's village of East Hampton, and it's a stunner. In fact, the natural gifts--impeccably clean, soft sand and gloriously clean water--are so pronounced at Main Beach, you might not even notice the strolling, sunning celebrities who hang out here.
Photo: Driendl Group/Getty
There's no challenging the Outer Banks magic when it comes to beaches, and North Carolina's Ocracoke Island has 16 miles of pristine and undeveloped dunes and sweeps of wild sand that stretch east toward Cape Hatteras. Ocracoke lures everyone from sunbathers and sandcastle builders to shell-hunters, surfers, and surf fishermen. It's a wild and wonderful paradise.
Photo: Carl Stimac/Lake County Visitors Bureau
On the Ohio shores of Lake Erie, the 21-acre Lake Metroparks Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park is a recreation haven, with beautiful views that include the photogenic West Breakwater Light, gently sloping beachfront along a waterfront that's perfect for paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, sailing and boating. What's more, there's a swimming area here for dogs, so the entire family is poised for Great Lakes fun.
In Newport's village of Nye Beach, this glorious beach backed by sea cliffs and facing the bracing Pacific Ocean lures beachcombers and tide-pool explorers, surfers and sailboarders, crabbers and clam-diggers. And with a long history as a magnet for artists, this mid-coast Oregon beach (and village) continue to be a favorite getaway for photographers and painters.
Pennsylvania has beaches? Indeed it has, and real beauties at that. Presque Isle (French for "almost an island") State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie, creating a picturesque seashore and a gathering place for swimming, boating, and fishing. A National Natural Landmark, Presque Isle is also a favorite spot for migrating birds.
Rhode Island's nickname is "The Ocean State," but it could just as well be called "The Beach State," so varied and wonderful are its beaches. Among such riches, top honors go to Crescent Beach, a 2.5-mile, glorious and tawny stretch on Block Island, just 13 miles south of the Rhode Island coast with 17 miles of its own spectacular sands. And for day-trippers arriving by ferry, Crescent Beach starts just steps from the dock. Welcome to Block (and Rhode) Island, indeed!
Photo: Vive Media
In Charleston's backyard, Folly Beach is both near to city life and millions of miles away. In other words, this beach is funky, free-spirited, and full of surfers, sun-seekers, and quirky souls who congregate on this Atlantic-facing barrier island and enjoy the good life. Center Beach is where all the action is (including the Folly Pier, which promises excellent salt water fishing), and insiders know that Folly Beach County Park, at the island's west end, is pristine and spectacular.
Courtesy of South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
Just a dozen or so miles away from the Mexican border, South Padre Island is a gem along Texas's southernmost Gulf coast with 34 miles of powder-soft, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water. Further, no spot on this narrow barrier island is more than a mile from the water, so those miles of shoreline are everyone's for the enjoying.
There is so much beach to go around in this fun-loving, family-oriented spot on Virginia's southernmost coast, it's hard to pick a favorite. The Resort Beach area is the heart of beach life, anchored by a three-mile boardwalk (and all the fun that accompanies it), while Sandbridge is a secluded hideaway with five miles of pristine dunes and wild oats 15 miles south. To the north, Chesapeake Bay Beach is perfect for swimming and playing in calm waters.
Photo: Feng Wei Photography/Getty
With rugged cliffs, pounding surf, and 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline, this Pacific Northwest jewel at the northernwestern tip of Washington's Whidbey Island is a popular getaway for locals and visitors alike. Rosario Beach on Fidalgo Island is a stunning cove with sweeping sandy beach, cool tide pools, and great vistas (including orca spotting).
Photo courtesy National Park Service
In Wisconsin's spectacular Aspostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior, this gem of a beach on remote Stockton Island has sands that are not only beautiful, but musical. Known as "singing sands," a quality found in 10-20% of the world's beaches, Julian Bay's sand actually emits a whistling, singing sound. You hear this beach calling you? You actually do, in this case.