Top 10 US beaches for 2021 from Dr. Beach

Summer is unofficially here, and many Americans are ready to get back to flying, driving cross-country and soaking up the sun after the pandemic hammered travel plans for basically all of 2020.

With an increase in vaccinations and a decrease in travel restrictions, that summer vacation in the sand is much more feasible this year.


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If you’re looking to make your travel debut at the best beach in America, the Island of Hawai’i is where you need to go, according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach.

That’s where you’ll find Hapuna Beach State Park, which tops his list of best US beaches for 2021.

Leatherman is professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. He has reviewed beaches across the country since 1991.

His 50 criteria include sand softness, water temperature, number of sunny days and size of breaking waves. While he has traveled to beaches throughout the United States over the years, Leatherman relied heavily on his contacts at different beaches for updates on their condition during the pandemic.

White sand, blue water, green attitude

Hapuna Beach is one of the island of Hawaii’s most expansive white sand beaches, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority.

“We’re honored Hāpuna beach on Hawai’i Island has been recognized on ‘Dr. Beach’s Best Beach in 2021’ renowned list, as it’s a favorite of residents and visitors alike,” Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaiʻi Visitors Bureau, told CNN.

Hawai’i bans the sale of any SPF sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, Birch said, “so please use only reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens to help keep our ocean and marine life thriving.”

Leatherman told CNN Hapuna Beach earned bonus points for Hawaii’s ban on smoking at its beaches as well as its lifeguards’ safety record.

“I’ve got to give those bonus points to the states that do the right thing,” he said.

Last year’s winner was Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. But Hawaii commonly tops Leatherman’s list. Kailua Beach Park on Oahu and Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui took the top spots in 2019 and 2018.

Besides Hawaii, the other states included on this year’s Top 10 are New York, North Carolina, Florida, California, South Carolina and Massachusetts.

The top 10 beaches for 2021

1. Hapuna Beach State Park, Island of Hawai’i

2. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

3. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

4. St. George Island State Park, Franklin County, Florida Panhandle

5. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina

6. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

7. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

8. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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