Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor and coastal research director at Florida International University known as “Dr. Beach,” has released his annual list of the country’s top 10 beaches. Read on to find out what beach claimed the top spot for 2017.
The ranking looks at 50 criteria including sand color, number of sunny days and presence of oil and tar balls. In recent years, Leatherman has given bonus points to beaches where smoking is banned.
Leatherman releases a list of America’s Best Beaches every year on Memorial Day weekend. He started ranking U.S. beaches in 1989 and, in 1991, he issued his first officially scored list. The winning beach each season is retired from his ranking system and holds a permanent spot on his website.
Kiawah Island, just south of Charleston, is home to Beachwalker Park, a public beach with inlets that are prime paddling territory for canoers and kayakers, a small part of the island’s natural appeal that caught Dr. Beach’s eye. Captain Sam’s Inlet provides a breezy walk or bicycle where beach lovers can see thousands of birds.
Kiawah Island is about an 11.5 hour drive up I-65 from New Orleans.
Dr. Beach described this Southern California beach as “an oasis by the sea.” Coronado simultaneously offers a Mediterranean climate and subtropical greenery. The beach, a 26-hour drive or four-hour flight from New Orleans, offers ship-watching in the calm surf. History lovers can also indulge in a stay at the national landmark Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888.
This state park highlights Hawaii’s contrasting landscapes, with its black lava flows and shimmering white beaches. Visitors get to enjoy a white coral sand beach. During the summer its waters provide perfect snorkeling. The beach is prepared with lifeguards to keep swimmers safe during the strong winter currents as well.
Visitors can make their way to Caladesi Island from Clearwater, Fla. on a pedestrian ferry, private boat or even on foot if they’re prepared for a long walk. The beach’s quartz sand is softest near the water’s edge, but nature lovers will be drawn to both the boardwalk and kayak paths through the trees.
Dr. Beach noted the blue heron and other birds that mingle in the mangroves. The island is an roughly 10-hour drive from New Orleans though the Florida panhandle, along I-10 East.
Coast Guard Beach is a highlight of Cape Cod. The beach itself is accessible by a bicycle or shuttle from the visitor’s center and juts out from a range of glacial cliffs. Fairly coarse sand means the beach slopes steeply down to the cold, 60-70-degree water, but Dr. Beach claims the destination’s main draw is a spectacular view offered from the cliffs over the bay.
Coopers Beach offers some of the best beach access in the Hamptons, according to Dr. Beach. Southampton’s beautiful white sand beach is hundreds of yards wide and backed by a pattern of sand dunes and mansions.
The country’s first “Gold Coast” is a 20-hour drive north from New Orleans. Dr. Beach also recommends trying the beach’s snack bar, which serves lunch and drinks.
This state park, located on the Florida panhandle, has committed to limiting development in order to maintain its natural sugar-white sand and massive sand dunes. Indeed, former Florida governor Bob Graham told Dr. Beach Grayton is his favorite beach.
The old town of Grayton offers restaurants, coffee shops and a bit of night life. (Dr. Beach encourages a visit to the Red Bar.)
Grayton is a nearly 5-hour drive East along I-10, between Destin and Panama City, Fla. Many visitors choose to camp near the state park’s tidal lakes and freshwater ponds.
Distinguished by its truly wild beaches and big surf, Blackbeard the pirate made this beach a famous getaway. Visitors shouldn’t expect to spend much time at a resort or on a golf course.
Dr. Beach vouched for the excellent beach combing and swimming on Ocracoke. He noted families should visit earlier in the year to hit the mild surf conditions, but the beach is lifeguarded as well.
Ocracoke is an 18-hour drive Northeast along I-20 E to the coast of North Carolina.
Dr. Beach notes the ancient lava flowing into the sea formed the premiere snorkeling conditions off the shore of Kapalua Bay’s white beach. Its clear, blue water is home to brightly colored corals that attract even more colorful fish.
The crescent-shaped beach is bookended by two rocky formations, now home to restaurants and concession huts where visitors can rent snorkeling gear and fish food.
Dr. Beach said Siesta Beach’s claim to have the finest, whitest sand in the world is warranted; he takes a bag full home each trip he makes. The soft beach — about 200-300 feet wide — is seemingly always packed with people, but never too crowded.
Siesta’s clean restrooms and ample lifeguarding put it over the top to take this year’s crown. As a bonus, the beach offers a free trolley from the center of town to manage car traffic.
Siesta Beach is a 10-hour drive from New Orleans along I-10 East and down I-75 South near Sarasota, Fla.