Sun, surf and squeaky sand are on the docket at America's best beaches. Each year, Florida International University coastal expert Stephen P. Leatherman, better known as "Dr. Beach," ranks the cleanest, healthiest and most beautiful beaches in the country, judging them on 50 different criteria. This year's top 10 span from Hawaii to Florida, with some love for California, Massachusetts and the Carolinas as well. Read on, and dream of your next summer vacation. [Read full story on this year's best beaches]
10. East Beach, Santa Barbara, California
Palm trees sway against the horizon at Santa Barbara's East Beach, which caps off a 4-mile stretch of city-managed beaches. Leatherman describes this stretch as the "American Riviera," and included East Beach on his top 10 list for its cushy amenities. Beachgoers can play volleyball at one of dozens of courts, picnic or eat at the East Beach Grill. After a day of saltwater and sand, a 1920s-era bathhouse provides an opportunity to shower.
Nature lovers should enjoy this beach as much as amateur athletes. According to the Santa Barbara city government, walking paths connect East Beach to the nearby Andrée Clark Bird Refuge. (Photo Credit: S.Borisov (opens in new tab) / Shutterstock.com)
9. Delnor-Wiggens Pass State Park, Naples, Florida
Florida State Parks describes Delnor-Wiggins Pass beach as "one of the most pristine" in the world. Leatherman agrees. The sand there is fine, white and dotted with seashells, and an offshore reef provides good snorkeling. The park has amenities, including bathrooms, outdoor showers, concessions and rentals.
Lovers of views can climb the park's observation tower to get a look at the beach and its surroundings. (Photo Credit: Stephen Leatherman)
8. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
The only public beach access on Kiawah Island comes in at No. 8 on Leatherman's list for its clean water, fishing opportunities and wildlife; nearby Captain Sam's Inlet is a haven for seabirds. Lifeguards are on duty in the summer, and tidal inlets provide for fun paddling expeditions.
Amenities include restrooms and a picnic area, with seasonal beach rentals and outdoor showers. (Photo Credit: © Jason Tench | Dreamstime.com)
7. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The sand is coarse and the water chilly, but Coast Guard Beach can't be beat for visual impact. The beach sits along glacier-formed cliffs, upon which perches an old Coast Guard station. A shuttle bus system reduces traffic and crowding during the busy summer season.
Not only is Coast Guard Beach beautiful, it's historical. According to the National Park Service, the Mayflower first made landfall here on November 9, 1620, two days before the ship reached its ultimate destination of Provincetown Harbor. (Photo Credit: Tim Callen (opens in new tab) / Shutterstock.com (opens in new tab))
6. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida
Gentle surf, soft white sand, and clear, green water earn Cape Florida State Park's beach its place in the top 10. A historic lighthouse built in 1825 makes this beach all the more picturesque (and guided tours are available).
Amenities include picnic pavilions, two full-service restaurants and beach rentals. There is fishing here as well as sunbathing, and the swimming is top-rated thanks to an offshore shoal that keeps the waves small. (Photo Credit: C. Rolph)
5. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks stretch like a ribbon along the Carolina coast, crowned by the iconic spiral-striped Cape Hatteras lighthouse (which was lifted up and relocated 2,900 feet to save it from beach erosion in 1999). The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse beach made Leatherman's list for its prime board surfing, beachcombing and fishing. The beach was also the first-ever National Seashore, a designation it retains.
Lifeguards are on-duty seasonal at the Cape Hatteras beach. (Photo Credit: spirit of america (opens in new tab), Shutterstock (opens in new tab))
4. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
To hang out at Hamoa Beach is to enjoy an unusual geological experience — this crescent-shaped spit of sand is inside of the remnants of an ancient volcanic crater. In fact, some of the sand on the beach is actually broken-down lava. (The rest comes from wave-battered coral.)
Sea cliffs, lush vegetation and public restrooms make this beach a great place to spend the day, according to Leatherman's criteria. There is no lifeguard on duty, and the currents can be dangerous, however. Just getting to Hamoa requires a bit of gumption: The way in is the infamous "Road to Hana," which is treacherously narrow and skirts numerous 1,000-foot drop-offs. (Photo Credit: Stephanie Coffman (opens in new tab)/ Shutterstock (opens in new tab))
3. St. George Island State Park, Florida
The search for the third-best beach of 2015 takes us back to Florida. St. George Island State Park beach is at the eastern end of a barrier island off the state's panhandle. The pristine sand is so clean it squeaks, Leatherman says, and stingrays can be seen resting in the shallows (shuffle your feet when wading!).
This is a nature-lovers park, with opportunities for birding and fishing. Picnic shelters and campgrounds are available. (Photo Credit: Gennady Stetsenko (opens in new tab), Shutterstock (opens in new tab))
2. Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park, Bonita Springs, Florida
Going without shoes at Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park is a joy, given the fine, soft sand at this coastal paradise. According to Collier County, where this beach is located, Barefoot Beach is on one of the last undeveloped barrier islands in southwest Florida. Sea turtles nest here in the summer, and the protected gopher tortoise calls the preserve home.
Fishing is popular here, and families enjoy the relatively placid waters, Leatherman says. (Photo Credit: Stephen Leatherman)
1. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii's on a role. For the second year in a row, the island state can claim the best beach in America, according to Leatherman's criteria. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park is off the beaten path on the island of Oahu, in contrast to last year's No. 1 beach, Duke Kahanamoku Beach in tourist-friendly Waikiki.
The scenery here is breathtaking, with turquoise waters meeting white coral sand, all against a backdrop of rugged green coastline. More than five miles of beach greet locals and visitors who make the 45-minute drive from Waikiki. Bodyboarding is a popular activity here, and lifeguards are on duty.
The beach is on the windward side of the island, so it can get breezy, but the onshore winds make the beach great for sailing, Leatherman said. (Photo Credit: Eric Broder Van Dyke (opens in new tab), Shutterstock (opens in new tab))
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