The Best Beaches in America to Visit This Summer
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Mohegan Bluffs Beach, Block Island, RI
Legend holds that the Manisses Indians once forced an invading war party into a fatal plunge over the 150-foot Mohegan Bluffs; fortunately, you can take the stairs. At the bottom you’ll find plenty of room to throw down a towel in the shadow of the cliffs and revel in the views of waves crashing over offshore boulders and distant Montauk Point. Block Island’s rambling Victorian hotels and cold beers at Ballard’s await your 140-step climb back up at day’s end.
Tybee Island, GA
When Savannah folks crave down-home country cooking, they head to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. When they want a taste of salt air, they take the 20-minute drive out to Tybee Island, a barrier beach community that has been welcoming travelers seeking the healing powers of the sea since before the Civil War. The island’s pastel Mermaid cottages are just a few flipper flaps from the beach, and you can feast like Darryl Hannah’s Madison in Splash! at the Crab Shack, famed for their low-country seafood boils and resident gators (work it off with a morning paddle to Little Tybee Island).
Island Beach, Greenwich, CT
This tiny bedroom community 35 miles northeast of Manhattan attracts out-of-towners with sophisticated dining and boutique shopping on Greenwich Avenue—it’s a little slice of Fifth Avenue in the suburbs. But few know that Greenwich is the gateway to this charming island two miles offshore in Long Island Sound, a former amusement park with a long, sandy beach, a summer snack bar, and covered picnic pavilions, including one that once sheltered a carousel. Seasonal ferry service to Island Beach runs from Roger Sherman Park in downtown Greenwich; your $6 ferry ticket also provides passage to Great Captain Island, an undeveloped speck in the sound that has uncrowded beaches of its own.
La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA
Rarely is so much fun packed into such a little space: La Jolla Cove in suburban San Diego has a tiny wedge of beach tucked between the town’s signature cliffs, and it makes up in beauty what it lacks in size. Beachgoers often share the sand with seals and sea lions basking in the sun, and the dramatic, palm-topped bluffs make the cove an Instagrammer’s delight. The calm waters and offshore reefs of the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve are excellent for snorkeling, and young swimmers at Children’s Pool Beach are protected by both a seawall and watchful lifeguards. A coastal walk that starts at the cove leads to a lookout where you can see paddlers disappear into the mouths of the Seven Star Caves.
South Ponto Beach, Carlsbad, CA
Remember those old surfer movies where kids in woodies would pull up to a deserted California beach to throw their sticks in the surf? That Hollywood vision of Surf City still exists at South Ponto Beach, a broad swath of sand separated by high dunes from an undeveloped stretch of Highway 101 between Carlsbad and Encinitas. This segment of South Carlsbad State Beach is still a surfer’s mecca known for its beach break—even local pros surf here when conditions are ideal. On the bluffs and dunes behind the beach are hiking trails and a campground.
Cannon Beach, OR
Cold water and tricky tides discourage swimming at this Oregon coast beach, but the sand is warm enough for summer sunbathing, steady breezes make the beach fun for family kite-flying, and walks to Haystack Rock—a 235-foot sea stack rising from the surf—pass tidal pools alive with sea stars, anemones, and scuttling crabs. At low tide you can walk out to the base of the monolith, whose resident seabirds include a colony of white-crowned Tufted Puffins. If a cool onshore breeze kicks in, you can warm up with a hot cup of Monastery Blend at Sleepy Monk Coffee, just off the beach.
The Long Beach Peninsula, WA
The longest beach on the West Coast isn’t in surf-crazy California but on a finger of land extending into the Pacific between Seattle and Portland, Oregon. The 28 miles of uninterrupted beach on the Long Beach Peninsula isn’t exactly undiscovered—it’s where Lewis and Clark ended their westward journey in 1806—but there’s still plenty to explore along its length. The boardwalk in the town of Long Beach levitates above the sand dunes and connects to the Discovery Trail, an 8.5-mile hiking and biking path that commemorates the travels (and travails) of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. The trail traces the shoreline past the North Head Lighthouse and Cape Disappointment State Park (bring binoculars to spot migrating whales in the winter and spring) before ending in the fishing village of Ilwaco.
Galveston Island, TX
Texas is more typically associated with tumbleweeds than palm trees, but the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and a history full of pirate lore give visitors to this barrier island a taste of the tropics, Lone Star style. Restaurants and bars shelter behind the seven-mile seawall built after the devastating 1900 hurricane that washed away most of the city, and visitors can park their cars in the sand at East Beach, Galveston’s self-designated “party beach.” Families opt for the comparative serenity of Stewart Beach and Galveston Island State Park. The Schlitterbahn water park, harborside train rides at the Galveston Railroad Museum, and the aquarium and animal exhibits at Moody Gardens add up to plenty of fun off the beach, too.
Flamenco Beach, Culebra, PR
A visit to Flamenco Beach isn’t just good for your soul, it’s a great way to contribute to the spirit of recovery in storm-battered Puerto Rico. A protective reef helped shield the beach on the island of Culebra from the worst ravages of Hurricane Maria, and Flamenco’s crystalline waters, lush surrounding mountains, a perfect sickle of sand continue to make this one of the most beautiful in the world. Even the rusting and graffiti-covered tanks, relics of the days when the U.S. military used the beach for target practice, are strangely picturesque. Day trippers can take a 90-minute ferry ride to Culebra from the coastal city of Fajardo, about 30 miles east of San Juan. A stay at Club Seabourne allows more time for leisurely exploration of this sedate island, most of which is protected parkland.
Oval Beach, Saugatuck, MI
A chain-pulled ferry carries summer visitors across the Kalamazoo River to the dramatic dunes and sunny shores of Oval Beach, the same human-powered ride that beachgoers have taken since 1838. On the other bank you’ll find Mt. Baldhead—not actually a mountain but a 600-foot sand dune with a 302-step staircase to the summit, where local Native American tribes once made ceremonial sacrifices. At the foot of the dunes is the sweep of Oval Beach, an expanse of Lake Michigan blissfully unsullied by hotels or t-shirt shops (you’ll find plenty of both, plus art galleries and B&Bs in Saugatuck’s LGBTQ-friendly downtown). Shifting sands have mostly covered the nearby ghost town of Singapore, Michigan, destroyed by fire in 1871, but you can visit what remains on a tour with Saugatuck Dune Rides.
Waimanalo Bay, Oahu, HI
Oahu has a reputation for being the most urbanized part of Hawaii, and while that may be true of Honolulu and Waikiki beach, the north shore’s Waimanalo Bay has three miles of powder-soft sand where you can easily stake out an acre all your own. The 45-minute drive from the capital keeps the Waimanalo Bay Recreation Area blissfully uncrowded, especially during the week, and on weekends it’s mostly locals coming down to the shore for picnics under the ironwood trees and bodyboarding in the moderate, azure surf. If you want to wake up to the sunrise over Makapu'u Point, book one of the 10 sites at the campground in the woods behind the beach.