The 12 Best Beaches To Visit in the U.S.
There’s really no such thing as a bad beach, right? Sand, sun, and glistening, refreshing water to play or cool off in – what’s not to love? Thinking about what makes a beach exceptional, though, is a whole different story. It’s a very subjective thing, as the best beach might mean calm water and powdery white sand to some, while to others it may mean excellent surf and plenty of opportunities for adventure.
Whatever your personal definition of the best beach is, America has lots (and lots) of them to choose from. With two very different coasts and three major bodies of water, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, there’s a beach for everyone here.
Do you prefer iconic, broad, sandy, palm tree-dotted beaches, hidden ones requiring a hike to access, or maybe even beaches where wild horses live? Whatever your beach style, you’ll find the perfect one for you on this list of the best beaches in the U.S.
1. Secret Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
For most people, Hawaii immediately comes to mind when they think of the best beaches in the U.S. Kauai’s Secret Beach, which is officially named Kauapea Beach and often referred to as simply “Secrets,” is the epitome of a pristine Hawaiian beach. It’s exceptionally large in terms of both length and width and features golden sand, shimmering turquoise water, and lush green rainforests.
To get to Secret Beach, you’ll need to find the unmarked, steep trail between Kilauea Point and Kalihiwai Bay. You can actually see the beach from the Kilauea lighthouse, so if you get stuck searching, try visiting there first. Secrets is large enough that it’s always easy to find a secluded spot for yourself to layout and relax.
Note that the far eastern end of the beach has a reputation for being a go-to spot for nude sunbathers. There’s also a waterfall toward the east end of the beach and at the west end, there are a few lagoons that form natural calm swimming holes. The strong ocean current here makes it difficult to swim at Secret Beach most of the time, so stick to these lagoons for swimming and enjoy simply relaxing on one of the best beaches in the U.S.
2. Miramar Beach, Santa Barbara, California
Technically five miles from Santa Barbara proper in Montecito, Miramar Beach is somewhat of a hidden gem. This beach is very quiet and calm, with gentle, clear waters and sugar-fine soft sand, making it ideal for everything from surfing and swimming to sunbathing and walking the shoreline.
Miramar Beach’s calm waters are attributed to the fact that it’s situated in a south-facing cove. It’s pretty well-sheltered, which also allows for leisurely exploring the crystal-clear water. At low tide, several tide pools are also revealed. Thanks to its location just outside Santa Barbara, Miramar Beach is rarely crowded, yet it’s less than an hour from Los Angeles. Talk about the best of both worlds!
3. Crescent Beach, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Fun fact: Maine has more coastline than the entire state of California. It’s true! So it comes as no surprise that some of the best beaches in the U.S. are in Maine. Located about eight miles from Portland in southwestern Maine, Crescent Beach is a classic, postcard-perfect New England beach.
The beach itself, as you may have guessed, is a one-mile crescent-shaped swath of soft sand. It’s surrounded by saltwater coves, sand dunes, woods, and granite rock ledges. Swimming and sunbathing are popular activities at Crescent Beach, of course, but there are also plenty of opportunities for fishing and paddling, plus several hiking trails.
4. Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Alabama
Orange Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Gulf Shores, and for good reason. The superfine, sugar-white sand is so soft that it’s said to squeak under your feet and the calm waters are an almost unbelievable turquoise blue.
Adjacent to Perdido Key in the Florida panhandle (which is another spectacular beach), Orange Beach spans eight miles. It’s also fairly wide, so even on the most crowded days, it’s not difficult to find a patch of sand to make your own and stretch out comfortably. There’s a waterfront park, plenty of opportunities to fish either from the pier or aboard a boat with a guided outfitter, and even a shipwreck, The Lulu, to explore on a scuba diving expedition.
5. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, California
Part of Hearts San Simeon State Park and situated just off the world-famous Highway 1 (aka the Pacific Coast Highway) in central California, Moonstone Beach is one of the best beaches in the U.S. The coastline here is punctuated by rocky cliffs and several coves with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the beach. Spend some time combing the beach for several varieties of beautiful sea glass and impossibly smooth stones, including jade, jasper, agate, and of course, chalcedony – also known as moonstone.
Up above the beach, a boardwalk spans exactly one mile between the Santa Rosa Creek and Leffingwell Landing day-use areas, both with plenty of parking. A lookout near the boardwalk is perfect for spotting gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, and otters.
6. Siesta Beach, Siesta Key, Florida
Since 2015, TripAdvisor has named Siesta Beach America’s #1 beach a whopping three times on its annual Traveler’s Choice Awards. The soft, fluffy white sand is cloud-like, with hardly a shell or other debris in sight. And thanks to its composition of nearly all quartz-crystal, the sand doesn’t get hot on even the sunniest days – an impressive feat on the Gulf of Mexico in Florida summers.
The largest of Siesta Key’s beaches, Siesta Beach has shaded playgrounds, volleyball courts, picnic areas, and plenty of free parking. Dolphins are frequently seen playing in the turquoise waters just off the shore, and the sea here is calm, shallow, and clear, making it one of the best U.S. beaches for families.
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7. Jack’s Bay Beach, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Often overlooked, the U.S. Virgin Islands are a group of three main islands nestled into the Caribbean. Each of the islands – St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix – is stunning and, interestingly, very different from one another.
One of the best beaches in the U.S., Jack’s Bay Beach, happens to be on St. Croix and it’s well off the beaten path, which means you’ll likely have it all to yourself. Located near the far eastern end of the island, Jack’s Bay Beach is directly below Point Udall.
Fun fact: Point Udall is the easternmost point in the United States and sees America’s very first sunrise every morning. You’ll need to hike downhill from Point Udall to get to Jack’s Bay Beach and while it’s not a long hike, it is steep. The reward is well worth it, though, as there’s rarely more than just a few people at the beach.
8. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina
North Carolina has dozens of fantastic beaches to choose from, but one of the best is Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Technically a narrow, 72 mile long strip of several barrier islands between Nags Head and Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a little something for everyone.
Enjoy broad sandy beaches dotted with seashells and framed by towering sand dunes, lots of water and beach activities, and a couple of lighthouses. In fact, the tallest lighthouse in the United States is here, 196 foot tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Standing just 40 feet shorter, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is also nearby. Both date back to the 1870s and visitors can (and should!) climb both. Allow a full day for visiting the beach and lighthouse, and keep your eyes open for sea turtles sunbathing on the beach.
9. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
No list of the best beaches in the U.S. is complete without a mention of Big Sur. Arguably one of the most iconic stretches of coastline anywhere in the world, the Big Sur area is defined by dramatic rugged sea cliffs, crashing waves, and pristine beaches. Because of the rugged cliffs, Big Sur beaches aren’t necessarily the most accessible and visiting many of them requires a bit of effort.
That’s actually not the case with Pfeiffer Beach – it doesn’t require a hike or even an admission fee, but it is somewhat hard to find, thanks to the unmarked road connecting it to Highway 1. Once you do manage to find it, you’ll be treated to large unique rock formations (including Keyhole Arch, a natural rock arch) just offshore, tide pools at the north end of the beach during low tide, unbelievable sunsets, and sand that’s unmistakably purple, thanks to manganese garnet in the cliffs above.
10. Assateague Beach, Assateague Island, Maryland & Virginia
In the heart of the east coast, Assateague Island is truly unlike any other. The barrier island sits in both Maryland and Virginia and features a rugged landscape dotted with wind-swept sand dunes, grasslands, and warm, shallow bays. Oh, and it’s also home to hundreds of wild, free-roaming horses. Legend holds that they’re descendants of a handful of domesticated horses that survived a shipwreck sometime in the 17th century.
The horses are, of course, one of the main reasons that Assateague Beach is one of the best beaches in the U.S. However, it’s far from the only reason. Each side of the island is unique, with 12 miles of quiet sandy beaches on the Maryland side and the interior bayside being more recreation-oriented.
Here, there are numerous opportunities for kayaking, clamming, and crabbing, plus the waters are warmer and calmer – perfect for swimming. If you want to go for a horseback ride, head to the Virginia district.
11. Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia
Situated on one of Georgia’s four Golden Isles, Driftwood Beach is widely considered one of the best and romantic beaches in the country. Due to years and years of erosion on the northern end of the island, hundreds of weathered, warped, and bleached trees dot the beach.
It may sound a little odd if you’ve never seen it in person, but it’s strikingly beautiful and truly memorable. In fact, Driftwood Beach is one of Georgia’s most photographed landmarks!
Aside from being picturesque, Driftwood Beach has tons to do. Georgia’s coastline is notorious for its excellent fishing, there’s a great network of bicycle trails, and you can even camp on the beach here. Another must-do activity at Driftwood Beach is visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, an interactive experience for every member of the family!
12. Wai’anapanapa State Park, Hana, Hawaii
Wai’anapanapa State Park, along the famous Road to Hana, is the epitome of a Hawaiian beach. Its black sand was created by basalt lava flow several centuries ago, and it’s framed by lush green rainforest and indigo blue ocean.
The dramatic scenery is postcard-perfect and absolutely pristine. Being a stop along the Road to Hana, Wai’anapanapa State Park takes a bit of effort to reach. Those willing to put in the work are rewarded with a big payoff, as the beach is rarely crowded – something increasingly hard to find anywhere in Hawaii.
In addition to the beach itself, Wai’anapanapa State Park features large black boulders, sea caves, a natural sea arch, a blowhole, several small swimming holes, and a blowhole. Visitors can cliff dive, explore the sea caves, or hike to explore the boulders and inlets.
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