If you need help planning the perfect beach vacation this summer, Dr. Beach has the spot for you.
Stephen Leathermen, aka Dr. Beach, has rounded up his favorite U.S. beaches for 2015—with some tried and true sandy locales and a few soon-to-be favorite family finds.
Leatherman, professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, is considered a world authority on coastal storm impacts, beach erosion and has been ranking the nation’s beaches since 1991.
The doctor uses 50 criteria to select his spots, including water quality, safety, available activities and environmental factors.
Many of 2014’s top picks made the new list but we were excited to see a great California beach crack the roundup. A whopping four out of ten beaches are in Florida, so if you’re looking for a sure-bet, head to the sunny keys. Leatherman also recommends a few things to do at many of these special sites.
Pack up your towels and chairs—and don’t skimp on the sunscreen. Check out country’s best beaches below.
1. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
This beach on the windward side of Oahu is off the beaten path. Waimanalo Bay boasts of the longest beach in Oahu with the best beach along this five-mile beach being Waimanalo Bay Beach Park. The white coral sand is bathed by the turquoises blue waters. The Ko’olau Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop view. Hawaiians who live on Oahu frequent this area.
2. Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, Bonita Springs, Florida
This beach in Southwest Florida is 8,200 foot long and located in a 342 acre park. The surf is gentle with waves generally being measured in inches, and the water is very shallow, making this a great beach for bathing and swimming for families. The sand is fine and contains many small shells.
3. St. George Island State Park, Florida
The Florida panhandle beaches are known for their powdery, super white sands. The sand here is squeaky clean (just rub your feet on the dry sand and hear it squeak). The State Park beach is on the eastern end of the island. Pathways take you across the “walking” dunes to the bayside. Stingrays are sometimes resting in the shallow waters so shuffle your feet when entering. Birding and fishing are very popular activities.
4. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
This pocket beach is rimmed by cliffs covered with palm trees and beautiful flowering vegetation. This crescent beach, which is a mixture of coral and lava sand, is the most famous of Maui’s Hana beaches. The beach is actually inside a breached volcanic crater. To get to Hamoa Beach, one has to take the “Road to Hana”, the treacherous road with drop-offs of over 1,000 feet and sporadic guardrails, which can be an adventure in itself! Taking it slow on this road, with over 50 one-way bridges, is the safest bet.
5. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Bulging far offshore of the mainland coast as a barrier island, Cape Hatteras was the first National Seashore. Providing some of the best board surfing along the East Coast, as well as the most famous lighthouse in the United States, Cape Hatteras attracts beachgoers to its historic fishing villages. Nature lovers adore the excellent beachcombing and superb fishing.
6. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida
Cape Florida State Park, located at the southern tip of Key Biscayne, provides clear, emerald-colored waters and gentle surf. This fine, white coral sand beach is great for swimming, as waves are knocked down by a large sand shoal offshore. In addition, the Cape Florida Lighthouse allows for a breath-taking view of this beautiful beach.
7. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Coast Guard Beach, accessible by bicycle or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center, was formed where a sand spit attached to the glacial cliffs. The sand is fairly coarse, so the beach slopes steeply into the water. The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay. During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees
8. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
South of Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the public beach located on the southern end of Kiawah Island. This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors should pack their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets. It is also fun to walk or bicycle down to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds. The water is not clear here, but it is clean and provides for fantastic seafood for low-country cooking. There is concern about the proposal to build 50 houses and a steel revetment on the sand spit in terms of its impact on animal life and visitor access.
9. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, Florida
This 166-acre beach park is characterized by sea oats on the sand dunes, backed by cabbage palms and woodlands that provide shaded picnic areas. The beach is composed of fine white sand and millions of seashells. An observation tower within the park allows visitors a good view of this natural enclave within an urbanized area. There are bathrooms, changing stalls, and outside rinse showers. Head to the beach early in the morning or late afternoon in order to avoid the crowds and traffic backups during the prime vacation season.
10. East Beach, Santa Barbara, California
East Beach is located on the eastern end of the four-mile stretch of beach parks. There are a dozen volleyball courts, picnic tables, playground, bathhouse with showers and full-service restaurant at this beach. Santa Barbara beaches are considered the American Riviera.