Florida Paradise Nabs Top Spot on 2017 Best Beaches List

dr. beach top beaches 2017
Siesta Beach in Florida won the top spot on Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman's list this year for its white-sand beach and warm, clear water. (Image credit: Courtesy of Stephen Leatherman)

Searching for sun and sand this summer? Siesta Beach in Sarasota, Florida, may be just what you're looking for. This crescent of fine white sand takes the top slot on a beach list that's been ranking America's coastlines since 1991.

Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman, a professor of geomorphology at Florida International University, releases his list of the top 10 public beaches each May. His ranking system takes into account sand quality, water quality, amenities, safety and management. Last year, a snorkeling paradise on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu took the top spot, while Siesta Beach came in a close second. This year is the second time that Siesta Beach has won the No. 1 spot on the best beaches list; it also earned that distinction in 2011.

"With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over," Leatherman wrote in his description of the winning beach. "Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south." [See Photos of the Best Beaches of 2017]

Ranking beaches

Leatherman uses 50 criteria to rank beaches, including their size, the softness of their sand, the temperature of the water, and the safety for swimming. In recent years, he's weighted environmental management more heavily and awarded bonus points for beaches that prohibit smoking. (Cigarette butts are one of the most prevalent types of litter found on coasts and waterways.)

Following Siesta Beach on the top 10 list for 2017 are Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui in Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in North Carolina; Grayton Beach State Park in Florida; Coopers Beach in New York; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Caladesi Island State Park in Florida; Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii; Coronado Beach in San Diego; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

Each beach on the list stands out for its own particular reason. Kapalua Bay Beach is a prime location for snorkeling. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks is peaceful and undeveloped. Coast Guard Beach in Massachusetts is chilly but beloved by surfers. Coronado Beach in San Diego is wide and level, and is surrounded by charming restaurants and amenities such as the Hotel del Coronado, a sprawling resort built in 1888, Leatherman said.  

A beloved beach

Siesta Beach took the top spot thanks to its gentle slope and warm, clear waters without many dangerous currents. The sand is soft, and the beach is wide. The 99 percent quartz sand makes the beach a popular place for sand sculpture contests and beach volleyball.

Sarasota County recently expanded the parking area at the beach and also operates a free trolley to the beach to cut down on automobile traffic. Lifeguards patrol the beach, and there are picnic tables and a recently constructed playground. Smoking is not banned on the beach, and Florida law prevents local governments from banning smoking, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The beach is also accessible, with free beach wheelchairs available for no charge and ADA Beach Access Mats that can be rolled out over the soft sand to provide a pathway for wheelchairs or strollers. According to the Sarasota County government, the top spot on Leatherman's list is far from the beach's only accolade. It also has been recognized by the Great International White Sand Beach Challenge for having the finest, whitest sand in the world, and it has appeared at least twice on TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards.

Original article on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and 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.