- Written by Victor Block Victor Block
A stretch of golden sand lies against a backdrop of colorful Art Deco architecture. Further north, people stroll, jog, and pedal bicycles along a boardwalk that parallels an oceanfront beach and passes amusement parks, fast-food eateries, and gambling casinos.
On the other U.S. coastline, sun worshipers alternate working on their tan with checking out their surroundings for sightings of seals and sea lions, elk and deer, and migrating whales.
When people think of a beach vacation, they often picture relaxing on soft sand, soaking up the sun, and cooling off in salty surf. As inviting as these scenes are, they only scratch the surface of what awaits those who would like to exchange the coming winter cold for the welcome warmth of a beach destination.
Take that Art Deco destination. Miami Beach boasts more than 7 miles of palm-tree-shaded sand. Atlantic City offers enjoyment and entertainment options that make up for its somewhat narrow, if inviting, shoreline.
When visitors to the northwestern peninsula of Washington state aren’t relaxing on an Olympic National Park beach, they’re often keeping their eyes peeled for the abundant wildlife that frequents the area.
Along with their differences, these places share something in common. They’re among strands of sand that have been recognized and lauded by the leading expert in beach lore.
Dr. Stephen Leatherman is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. His decades of research, which includes creation of a “50-criteria evaluation list,” have earned him the unofficial, but very fitting, nicknames of “Dr. Beach” and “Doctor of Beachology” (drbeach.org).
If you’re thinking of taking a respite from Mother Nature’s winter-white snow in exchange for the milky froth of waves crashing on a sun-drenched beach, be aware that the choice of inviting alternatives is long, varied, and, in some cases, surprising.
It’s no wonder that one-half of Dr. Beach’s top 10 choices for 2023 are located in Florida and Hawaii.
Leading the list is St. George Island Park in the Sunshine State, which has “some of the whitest, finest sand in the world” and water that is “crystal clear and clean.” Nature trails, birding, fishing, and boating add to the appeal, along with limited nighttime light pollution, which makes it a prime spot for stargazing.
Second place goes to tongue-twisting Duke Kahanamoku Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, which is named for a swimmer who popularized the sport of surfing. Ironically, an offshore coral reef keeps the water calm, and Diamond Head Volcano rises in the distance, adding to the magnificent setting.
Third on the list is, to some, an unlikely choice. Coopers Beach in Southampton, Long Island, offers white-quartz-sand shores backed by large dunes. Overlooking the setting are imposing mansions that serve as summer retreats for wealthy Manhattanites.
Other surprises around the country also wait to welcome visitors. Despite its name, about half of the surface of Sand Beach consists of crushed bits of mussel and crab shells and parts of other sea creatures.
However, this natural pocket coastline, tucked into a cove in Acadia National Park in Maine and backed by a pristine setting of evergreen trees, has been described as a “saltwater gem.”
The gradually sloping sand and gentle swells that wash up on Carpinteria State Beach in California, 12 miles south of Santa Barbara, make it one of the safest on the West Coast. Tide pools often teem with starfish, crabs, and other sea life, and seals, sea lions, and an occasional gray whale may be spotted during winter and early spring.
For many people, the word “beach” conjures up images of islands in the Caribbean Sea. Palm-fringed bays, clear water, and year-round summer temperatures combine to make this a sun and sand magnet. While the challenge of choosing where to plop down a blanket can be daunting, it’s almost hard to go wrong.
The 17-Mile Beach on Barbuda is famous for its exceptional, pink-hued sand that sets off the blue-to-gray-to-green color of the water offshore. This epic stretch of silky-smooth beach separates the ocean from the Condrington Lagoon.
The white dunes of Aruba’s secluded Boca Prins Beach contrast with the rocky shoreline of Arikok National Park, which is home to ancient Arawak paintings and plant and animal species that live nowhere else. The compact beach overlooks a bay known for strong currents and high waves and is named for a former plantation.
For those who want more action than vegging out in the sun, there is hope. Along with best beaches for swimming, walking, and simply soaking up the rays, sandy enclaves can offer a surprising variety of choices.
Looking for sand volleyball, beach biking, or parasailing? Wild about wildlife, or wish to wander through wilderness? Are you a beachcomber on the lookout for semiprecious minerals or multicolored shells?
Whatever your beach preferences, it’s likely there are stretches of sand that can fill your longing and many hours of oceanfront pleasure.
After gallivanting around the world, Victor Block still retains the travel bug. He believes that travel is the best possible education. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Victor loves to explore new destinations and cultures, and his stories about them have won a number of writing awards.