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In Photos: The Best US Beaches of 2016

Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii
Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay was named a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. Today it’s a snorkeler’s paradise. (Image credit: Denise Chow for Live Science)

Enjoy the view

Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu.

(Image credit: Public Domain)

Each year, coastal researcher Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University rates the top 10 of America's more than 600 public beaches on 50 exhaustive criteria, including sand softness, wave height, average temperature and quality of amenities. The result is a ranking of beaches that offer clean sand, welcoming waters and summer fun. Check out the gorgeous beaches that made the Top 10 list of 2016. [Read full story about this year's best U.S. beaches]

Hanauma Bay Beach Park

Hanauma Bay Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii

(Image credit: Denise Chow for Live Science)

This year's top beach exemplifies Hawaiian paradise. Tucked into the breached cone of a volcano, Hanauma Bay Beach on Oahu is a world-class snorkeling location brimming with reef fish. "Thousands of tropical fish await your visit in shallow water and close to shore," Leatherman wrote in describing this winning beach. Shuttles from Waikiki make it easier for tourists to access this beach without having to battle traffic and parking woes.

Siesta Beach


(Image credit: © Jacek76 |

The second-place beach for 2016 is the white-sand crescent of Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida. Leatherman gave this spot top marks for its fine sand and clear, warm waters. The beach is also 600 to 800 feet wide, he said, meaning visitors have plenty of room to spread out. The sand on this beach is so soft and fine because it's not crushed coral as on many beaches, but 99 percent crushed quartz.

"It's like powder," Leatherman told Live Science. "If you wear shoes on that beach, it's almost sacrilegious."

Kapalua Bay Beach

Kapalua Bay on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

(Image credit: Karoline Cullen /

Two lava flows protect this white-sand beach on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The beach is close to restaurants, and there is a concession hut at the north end that rents snorkeling gear. That gear will come in handy, too — the rocky, coral-studded bottom off this beach is home to many brightly colored tropical fish. Lush green vegetation provides a gorgeous contrast to this beach's white sands and blue waters.

Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach

Ocracoke Island panoramic view. Outer banks, North Carolina.

(Image credit: Konstantin L /

Edward Teach, better known as the pirate Blackbeard, used to call this relatively secluded spot on the Outer Banks his stomping grounds. A free car ferry shuttles vacationers to Ocracoke Island, where the main accommodations are rustic B&Bs and two-story motels. The island mixes fabulous wild beaches with history, Leatherman said."I like to walk in the old graveyard, which has tombstones going back to the 1700s and 1800s," he said. "On a foggy night, you can almost see Blackbeard."

Coast Guard Beach

Coast Guard Beach Station in Massachusetts

(Image credit: Tim Callen /

Coast Guard Beach makes a perennial appearance on the Top 10 beach list for its picturesque views. An old Coast Guard station sits atop the bluffs abutting the beach, located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The sand here is course and the water bracing: Water temperatures hover between 60 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 and 21 degrees Celsius).

Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach in Florida.

(Image credit: Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Taylor Lyn)

Seagrass, sand dunes and emerald-green water make Grayton Beach, on Florida's panhandle, a paradise for lovers of sand and (mild) surf. Swimming is a favorite activity here, but visitors to the state park will also find fishing, canoeing and hiking through a salt marsh environment. The state park also boasts campgrounds and cabins for overnight stays.

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach

(Image credit: Brett Shoaf)

Elegant historical buildings and Navy ships mingle with natural beauty on San Diego's Coronado Island. Coronado Beach boasts lifeguards and is a nice spot for tidepool-hopping during low tide. The weather is mild and the surf calm, Leatherman said, and the beach is hundreds of yards wide.

Coopers Beach

Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York.

(Image credit: Beach Cam screengrab)

This wide, white-sand beach on the south side of Long Island, in Southampton, New York, has plenty of amenities, from showers to snack bars and umbrella rentals. A lifeguard watches over Cooper's Beach, and the waves here are generally small. A Beach Cam offers anytime views of this Top 10 beach.

Caladesi Island State Park

A beach on Caladesi Island State Park in Florida.

(Image credit: Richard Cavalleri /

Caladesi isn't a true island — the inlet that once separated it from Clearwater Beach, Florida, has closed. That means that visitors who don't mind a hike can walk to this spot, which is also accessible by ferry or private boat. Clear waters and white sands make this a great swimming beach, Leatherman wrote, but the state park also boasts kayak trails through mangrove forest, offering top-notch birdwatching.

Beachwalker Park

Beachwalker Park

(Image credit: © Jason Tench |

Birdwatching is the name of the game at Beachwalker Park at the southern end of Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Thousands of birds make their homes at Captain Sam's Inlet near the public beach. Though Beachwalker Park can't brag of clear waters like some of the Florida beaches, it does offer good fishing and unpolluted spots for swimming. This beach is potentially threatened by plans of a 50-house development, Leatherman noted.

Stephanie Pappas

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science covering topics from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. A freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, she also regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.