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As summer approaches, you likely have one thing on your mind: the beach. But not all sandy stretches are created equal. Many different criteria define the perfect beach: the sand, the waves (or lack thereof), the level of seclusion, the public transportation and accessible parking, the boardwalk, the activities, and even the amount of shaded trees.
Some blissful stretches are found alongside an ocean with striking rock formations or mountains in the distance, while others sit on a picturesque lake or river. Some are surf havens with stellar waves, and others are family-friendly spots with powder-soft sand, calm swimming conditions, and a bustling boardwalk, chock-full of restaurants, shops, and water sports rentals.
Fortunately, for those in the U.S., you don't have to travel far to find an idyllic beach, no matter your preferences. From New York to California, these are the 25 best beaches in the U.S. — notable for their attractions, location, or unique amenities.
Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Located on the sunny southern shore of Kauai, Poipu Beach is actually made up of two spectacular beaches separated by a narrow sand spit called a tombolo. One side is referred to as Baby Beach, where the water is very shallow and sheltered, and the other is popular for surfing, snorkeling, windsurfing, and boogie boarding. Both sides offer breathtaking views, and if you're lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of an endangered Hawaiian monk seal sunbathing.
Ocean City, Maryland
Ten miles of white-sand beach plus a three-mile boardwalk packed with amusement park rides, bike rentals, shops, and delectable treats make Ocean City Beach a popular vacation spot. You'll find a variety of hotels, restaurants, and even a brewery on the boardwalk. Jet skiing, surf fishing, and fishing charters are popular here as well.
Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
The warm, sunny weather is reason enough to visit San Diego. Coronado Beach, a mile-and-a-half stretch of golden sand sparkling with bits of the mineral mica, is a popular family-friendly spot. Swimmers, surfers, and sunbathers flock here by day and stay to witness the gorgeous sunsets. The storied Hotel del Coronado is an elegant backdrop and a great place to enjoy a bite or sunset cocktail. Dog-friendly North Beach is an added attraction.
Pope Beach, Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, sits on the border of California and Nevada and is known for its beaches and ski resorts. Located on the south shore of the lake, Pope Beach is a nearly mile-long stretch of sand backed by shady pine trees. The beach offers excellent swimming, picnicking, and views of the Nevada mountains. Kayak rentals, picnic tables, and barbecue grills are also on hand.
Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater Beach boasts gorgeous white sand that stretches two and a half miles along the Gulf of Mexico. Pier 60, a hub for entertainment, is centrally located on the beach, and cabanas, umbrella chairs, and a well-equipped playground only add to the family fun. Visitors can rent fishing gear and drop a line off the pier for some of the best year-round fishing in Florida. Clearwater Beach also promises outstanding sunsets, and Pier 60 provides nightly entertainment 365 days a year, weather permitting.
Harris Beach, Oregon
Harris Beach, located in a state park on Oregon's south coast, is known for its miles of sandy shoreline, interesting rock formations, and incredible tide pools. Swimming, hiking, biking, and bird watching are some of the most popular activities here. Abundant wildlife, including migrating gray whales, harbor seals, and California sea lions, adds to year-round excitement. Plus, fully-equipped campgrounds for RVs, tents, and even a few yurts are located a quarter-mile from the beach.
Glass Beach, Port Townsend, Washington
Glass Beach, so named for its abundance of jewelry-quality sea glass, is a remote bluff and former town dump. Beginning in North Beach, the hike to the beach is about three miles, and it includes treasures along the way. Hikers should get a timely start to beat the high tide and enjoy the views that include sea otters, bald eagles, and whales. Leashed dogs are permitted on the trail as well.
Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois
The impressive Chicago skyline serves as the backdrop for this popular beach, located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Lounge chairs, umbrellas, and cabanas are available for rent, and there's a variety of food from local vendors. Bikers, joggers, walkers, and rollerbladers abound on the paved path surrounding the beach. Relax in the sun, people-watch, or get in on a volleyball game or chess match — the choice is yours.
Carlsmith Beach, Hilo, Hawaii
Not your average sandy stretch, Carlsmith Beach is a grassy, tree-filled park overlooking brilliant lava-ringed lagoons. The clear turquoise waters here are protected by a reef, making the area excellent for snorkeling. An abundance of friendly sea turtles adds to the uniquely enjoyable experience. Pack your lunch and take in the gorgeous views from a shady picnic table.
Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Just across a drawbridge from the mainland lies the quaint Atlantic waterfront town called Wrightsville Beach. More than just a sleepy beach town, though, Wrightsville Beach offers water sports like surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking, and kiteboarding. Rent a rod and some bait and drop a line off Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier. Meanwhile, beach bars and live music take the party from daytime into the night.
Grand Haven State Park, Michigan
Set on the shores of Lake Michigan, this 48-acre park with powdery white sand offers activities like fat-tire biking, barbecuing, sunbathing, swimming, and volleyball. There's also a playground for the children as well as scenic views of the lake and the Grand Haven South Pier and Lighthouse. Come for the beach and stay for the incredible sunsets.
Santa Monica Beach, California
This vibrant stretch along the Pacific is a prime spot for partaking in all the usual beach activities: sunbathing, swimming, surfing, volleyball, and watching sunsets. But it's the Santa Monica Pier, which features an iconic amusement park complete with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, games, and a selection of carnival food, that sets it apart from the rest. Heal the Bay Aquarium beneath the Ferris wheel offers hands-on educational fun for the kids. You can also bike, jog, or walk along the path to nearby Venice Beach.
Medano Creek, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Medano Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park is a wide, shallow river that emerges every spring and disappears every August. The creek is dependent on the amount of snow in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, since the runoff forms this annual phenomenon. Visitors can enjoy wading in the water, tubing, skimboarding, and building sand castles. Because of the limited time-frame, it's best to plan your trip for weekdays in late May or early June.
North Beach, Tybee Island, Georgia
Reachable in about 20 minutes by car or shuttle from Savannah, North Beach is a peaceful, family-friendly spot frequented by locals. The stunning 360-degree views from the top of the historical Tybee Island Lighthouse are well worth the climb, especially during sunrise and sunset. Located between the beach and lighthouse, North Beach Bar and Grill is a casual, dog-friendly restaurant with a tasty menu and outdoor patio.
Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Good Harbor Beach is a family-friendly spot with sugar-soft sand and relatively calm water. At low tide, you can walk across a sand bar and explore rocky Salt Island, while little ones get to play in warm tidal pools. Tasty snacks and water toy rentals are available at the concession stand. Note that parking is limited and fills up fast, so arriving early is suggested. Off-site parking and shuttling over are other options.
Rockaway Beach, Queens, New York
This may not be your typical palm-tree-lined beach, but for New Yorkers who can hop on a subway or bus to reach its white sand, five-mile boardwalk, and surfer-worthy waves, it's weekend heaven. The boardwalk is new, and the beach has recovered nicely following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This beach also features a skate park, volleyball and handball courts, playgrounds, spray showers, and restrooms. Barbecue areas for picnicking and eateries along the boardwalk ensure that no one goes home hungry.
Crystal Lake State Park, Barton, Vermont
Lined with about a mile of white sand and backed by scenic mountains, Crystal Lake's rich history dates back to the 1700s. The large, historic granite bathhouse with showers and a concession stand is made from rock mined from the nearby hills. It's a wonderful place to picnic, swim, and fish. Canoes and an on-site cabin are available for rent.
Gulf Shores Public Beach, Alabama
Pretty palm trees, clear water, and pristine white sand make this beach a standout. It's located close to the boardwalk, restaurants, and shops with easy access to parking. The well-kept beach is also a great place for activities like volleyball and boogie boarding in the relatively calm surf. And the $3 fee to enter the pier is worth the experience to watch the friendly fishermen, the hungry pelicans, and the occasional dolphins passing by.
Park Point Beach, Duluth, Minnesota
Located on Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, Park Point Beach is the world's longest freshwater sandbar. The beautiful sandy beach, complete with waves, has the feel of an ocean. It offers great views of Duluth and Lake Superior, and is known for its spectacular sunrises. A nearby wooden barge playground, barbecue grills, and a ball field are all popular with visitors. Leashed dogs are also welcome.
Asbury Park Beach, New Jersey
Stretching about a mile along New Jersey's Atlantic coast, Asbury Park Beach is a lively, clean, white-sand beach. Sunbathing, swimming, surfing, fishing, and people-watching are favorite activities here. It's backed by a historic beachfront boardwalk bustling with restaurants, bars, fast food, and interesting shops, in addition to a splash park and miniature golf. The Silverball Museum boasts more than 600 working pinball machines dating back to the 1930s. And just across the street is the fabled bar, The Stone Pony, made famous by locals Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
Carmel Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
This spectacular white-sand beach, located at the foot of Ocean Avenue, is a popular surfing spot. Visitors can enjoy a dip in the cool, crystal-clear waters with views of Pebble Beach to the north and Point Lobos to the south. Beach fires are permitted in supplied fire pits, and dogs may roam off-leash with conscientious owners. Pack a picnic and a bottle of local wine (also permitted), and savor a magnificent California sunset.
Coligny Beach Park, Hilton Head, South Carolina
The beautifully-landscaped entrance to Coligny Beach welcomes you to an incredibly well-maintained beach. Easily accessed by car, bike, or foot, the beach offers plenty of amenities, including showers, gazebos, benches, swings, free Wi-Fi, and a splash fountain to rinse off your sandy children. Wheelchair- and stroller-friendly matting leads to the water. To top it off, dolphin sightings are common and the sunrises are incredible.
Alki Beach, Seattle, Washington
Accessible by car or water taxi, this family-friendly beach on the Puget Sound offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountains and downtown Seattle. Sand, salt water, volleyball courts, grills, and bonfire pits are available options. Joggers, bikers, and skaters fill the two-and-a-half-mile path that runs along the beach. Tip: Enjoy a sunset dinner at one of the unique waterfront restaurants.
Ocean Beach Park, New London, Connecticut
This half-mile, golden-sand beach with gentle tides provides great views of ferries and schooners sailing past the New London lighthouse. Ocean Beach Park, located along the boardwalk, features a picnic area, playground, snack bar, mini-golf, an arcade, and more.
Coney Island Beach, Brooklyn, New York
With miles of sandy shore, this public beach is rich in history and tradition. The rebuilt boardwalk allows for an easy walk to the famed amusement park, home of the Wonder Wheel, Cyclone roller coaster, and New York Aquarium.
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