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14 Top-Rated Beaches in the US

Written by Shandley McMurray
Jul 15, 2019

Nothing says vacation like bright azure waters lapping the shore of a white, sandy beach. Mix in a salty ocean scent with a soft breeze tickling your face, and you've found nirvana, especially if it comes with an ice-cream stand nearby.

Whether you're a fan of kitesurfing, fishing, or beachin' (that's slang for lying in the sand of an empty beach, discussing deep life issues with friends), there's little more enjoyable than a day well spent at the beach—just don't forget your sunblock!

Our favorite beaches to visit in America help ensure your next trip is as relaxing as a float in a calm ocean. From the nicest clear water beaches to fun, family-friendly spots, plan your day by the sea with our list of the top beaches in the US.

1. Miami Beach, FL

Miami Beach

It's no shocker that Miami Beach tops the list of best beach destinations in the US. Of all the beaches on this list, it's likely the most fun. While here, you can swim, surf, Jet Ski, waterski, or participate in the number one activity on Miami Beach—people-watching. Models, celebrities, and "beautiful people" abound, strutting their stuff on the boardwalks and white-sand beach. People literally come here to see and be seen.

The closer you get to South Beach, the more interesting things get. You literally have to see it to believe it. This thriving district, best known for its Art Deco buildings (circa the 1930s and 1940s) and vibrant restaurant and shopping scenes, is a go-to for culture and entertainment. Beware: it can be a bit pricey!

Looking for live music? You'll find it here. Craving fresh seafood? You've come to the right place. Want to see a dog being pushed in a baby stroller by a Speedo-wearing man wearing roller skates? Look no further!

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Miami Beach: Best Areas & Hotels

2. La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA

La Jolla Cove, San Diego

Boasting nearly 70 miles of coastline, San Diego is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in America. La Jolla Cove may not be the most expansive, but it's one of the most photographed and top-rated beaches in California. Facing north, this small gem is tucked between sandstone cliffs, making it the perfect spot to swim, snorkel, or scuba dive.

The deep, blue-green bay is well protected, and the visibility is great (at times you can see beyond 30 feet). Another bonus: It's nestled within the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, which prohibits fishing and removal of objects from the area. The result: the bay is teeming with marine life. It truly is a diver's paradise and one of the best beaches in San Diego.

A quick jaunt north (about 12 minutes by car) will take you to La Jolla Shores. This laid-back spot offers tourists a mile-long stretch of soft sand and gentle surf. Thinking of trying your hand (and feet) at surfing? The small waves featured at this pretty beach make it ideal for beginners. Paddleboarders and families with young kids will also appreciate the calm waters.

If you're hoping to spend a day on the water, this beach is the only one within city limits to offer a boat launch.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in San Diego: Best Areas & Hotels

3. Lanikai Beach, HI

Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its beaches. With bright, sparkling blue water lapping picture-perfect seashores, it's no wonder people flock here to escape the hustle and bustle of their busy lives. Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian Islands, is also the most visited. Home to many of the best beaches, that's not surprising.

Waikiki is probably the best-known of Oahu's beaches. This ultimate Hawaiian beach destination is lined with luxury resorts and high-end retailers, not to mention delicious restaurants. The majority of visitors, however, prefer a beach that is 100 times more beautiful and much quieter than the commercialized Waikiki—Lanikai Beach.

Lanikai has been said to have the best swimming in Hawaii. It has also been voted as the "most beautiful" beach on Oahu. Not surprisingly, its name translates to "heavenly ocean." Another plus: Lanikai is more secluded than other beaches on this list and is free from crowds.

The picturesque beach is postcard worthy, featuring pristine golden sand and vibrant turquoise water. In the distance, you'll be able to spot the spectacular Mokalua Islands.

There are virtually no waves here, which makes it a perfect beach to visit with kids. Plus, the water at Lanikai Beach is warm enough to entice visitors to lounge or play in it for hours. Just meters from shore lie healthy coral reefs teeming with sea creatures. The luxuriously clear water makes it easy to get an intimate view of brightly colored fish.

It may be outstandingly beautiful, but Lanikai Beach doesn't offer facilities (i.e. bathrooms, showers, or shops). So, bring everything you need (including water, towels, a beach umbrella, and sunblock) with you. Also, we suggest grabbing lunch (and having a bathroom pit-stop) in nearby downtown Kailua.

Don't miss out on the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, a 20- to 30-minute trek that will reward you with spectacular views, especially at sunrise and sunset. Also, the beach can be tough to spot as there aren't any posted signs. Look for a large pillar with the word "Lanikai." This marks the official entrance. We told you it was secluded.

4. Siesta Key Public Beach, FL

Siesta Key Public Beach, Florida

Siesta Key Public Beach has been voted time and again as one of the country's best beaches to visit. Clear blue water is highlighted by the type of turquoise that screams relaxation at this beautiful Sarasota spot. Powdery, white quartz sand beckons beachgoers to spread out and spend the day. Being shallow for a long way from shore, this is a perfect beach for families. Plus, the quartz sand stays cool (unlike its coral-based cousin), which means little (and big) feet will stay protected from the sun's intense heat.

Not a fan of biting into sandy sandwiches? Have lunch in the covered picnic area. You'll be happy for a shady respite. Bored by lazing on a towel for hours? Siesta Key offers eight miles of luxurious sand to walk (or run) on, as well as tennis and volleyball courts to help while away the time. Water enthusiasts can swim, Jet Ski, parasail, snorkel, and boogie board until their arms give out. Or, you can head to nearby Turtle Beach (at the south end of the island) to kayak.

Concession stands, colorful bungalows, shops, and restaurants abound, especially on nearby Ocean Boulevard. If you're lucky, you can catch a free yoga class (it's BYOT—bring your own towel), art walk, concert, or performance. There's certainly no lack of things to do.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Sarasota

5. Kailua Beach, HI

Kailua Beach on Oahu

Oahu's Kailua Beach is a haven for tourists of all ages, especially if they're into surfing. At this popular vacation spot, waves are big enough to entertain experienced surfers but small enough for beginners to get a good grasp of the sport. This also makes it well-liked by paddleboarders, kitesurfers, and windsurfers.

Located a short drive from Waikiki, along the scenic Pali Highway, Kailua Beach is situated very close to Lanikai Beach and is one of the top-rated beaches on Oahu. To say this beach is beautiful is to downplay its magnificence. The calm water is both warm and inviting, while the soft, golden sand stretches for nearly two and a half miles.

In the distance lie lush, green mountains and the stunning Popoi'a (aka Flat) island, a bird sanctuary and snorkeling hot spot, especially during the summer months. Rent a kayak for an up-close view but be sure to purchase a landing permit, so you can get out to explore. It's well worth it.

Parents will be happy to know that bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables are offered here. There are also a few shops and restaurants within walking distance. Another plus: there are plenty of tall coconut palm and ironwood trees to sit under when you're in need of shade.

6. Cannon Beach, OR

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Few places can surpass the beauty of the Oregon Coast and its many outstanding beaches. Choosing the best isn't hard, though, with Cannon Beach thrown into the mix.

Sitting on the clean, soft sand overlooking Haystack Rock, you'll feel as if you are transported somewhere more exotic—like Thailand, for instance. The 235-foot basalt sea stack was created by lava flows millions of years ago.

During low tide, visitors can walk right up to the rock. That's also the best time to look for intertidal sea creatures (like crabs, limpets, sea slugs, and starfish) in its tide pools. Be sure to keep an eye out for the tufted puffins, which are best seen when they're nesting on the rock from April through July.

The charming seaside village boasts interesting shops and delectable food at its numerous restaurants. You wouldn't think you'd be eating Irish food at this West Coast locale, but The Irish Table, a short walk from the beach is a real hidden gem. The service is impeccable, as is the seafood chowder.

Families can challenge the kids to a game of "find the bunnies." It won't take long to spot one of the furry creatures hopping through the well-manicured lawns adorning the neighboring streets. This beach town is rampant with them. Legend has it a few people got sick of their pet bunnies and set them "free." Now the town is living with the consequences.

7. Main Beach, Laguna Beach, CA

Main Beach, Laguna Beach

About an hour south of Los Angeles and halfway to San Diego, Laguna Beach is one of California's premier beach destinations. Once you've had time to explore the sea caves, coves, and ocean-side bluffs, you'll understand why. Boasting seven miles containing 30 beaches, it can be tough to determine where to spend your time at Laguna Beach.

Main Beach makes that decision easy. The most centrally located (and famous) of the area's beaches, Main Beach sports soft, tan-colored sand and is situated in a broad cove. It's also a perfect spot to take a dip. The waves crash far out from shore, so you won't be slammed onto the sand. One of the highlights is the nearby grassy park, offering basketball and beach volleyball courts, as well as a playground. There's also a beachfront bike path.

Art is a way of life in Laguna Beach. When you've finished soaking up Vitamin D, stop by a gallery or take in a festival—June plays host to the Sawdust Art Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair, while July welcomes the Pageant of the Masters.

Don't plan a surfing trip during the summer. The sport is banned during these warmer months.

8. Fort Lauderdale Beach, FL

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Similar to its cousin in Miami, Fort Lauderdale Beach is also lined by an ocean-front boardwalk. Here, too, you'll find rollerbladers, sun worshippers, and beach volleyball aficionados. You'll also find a vibrant social scene complete with outdoor musical entertainment and street performers. Unlike Miami Beach, however, you won't need to fight huge crowds to find a good spot for your sun tent.

Florida is packed with beach getaways. This beautiful beach vacation destination is a list-topper featuring seven miles of pure, soft, white sand backing a vast view of the sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean. Two miles of this is staffed by lifeguards.

Popular beach sports include swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing. No wonder it's one of the main attractions in Fort Lauderdale. Las Olas Boulevard (which connects downtown Fort Lauderdale to Las Olas Beach) also tops the list, with its amazing view of the yachts and mansions that pepper the Intracoastal Waterway.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Fort Lauderdale

9. Myrtle Beach, SC

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

There's nothing boring about Myrtle Beach. With over 60 miles of amazing coastline, this popular East Coast beach offers visitors a little bit of everything, making it one of the best beaches for families. Soak up the sound of the Atlantic Ocean as its waves crash onto the shore. Throw a frisbee, play beach volleyball, or head out on a surfboard.

When the kids get bored, you can spice things up at WonderWorks, a 50,000-square-foot complex that contains rides, obstacle courses, a glow in-the-dark indoor ropes course, and over 100 hands-on educational exhibits. Or, spend a few hours at Ripley's Aquarium before riding the Myrtle Beach Skywheel, which offers impressive views from almost 200 feet above the boardwalk.

While Myrtle Beach can often feel crowded and busy, Southern hospitality abounds at local shops and restaurants like Thoroughbreds Chophouse & Seafood Grille. Their NY Strip steak is not to be missed.

To avoid the crowds, which can be quite intense, head to the quieter South Myrtle Beach.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Myrtle Beach for Families

10. Del Mar City Beach, Del Mar, CA

Late afternoon at Del Mar City Beach

Searching for one of the best family beaches? Look no further than Del Mar City Beach. Located in the small city of Del Mar (a 30-minute drive north of San Diego), the main part of the beach begins at Powerhouse Park and runs north to the San Dieguito River. Powerhouse Park is a perfect family picnic spot. This grassy venue is peppered with picnic tables and benches offering beach views. Plus, it's a stone's throw away from stores and restaurants.

Del Mar City Beach runs about two miles in length and provides excellent swimming areas for kids of all ages. Plus, there are lifeguards on duty, which can help keep your parental worries at bay.

Itching for a run? Jog on the beach or head to the dirt trail lining the bluffs at the south end. At the north side of beach, you'll find Del Mar North Beach. Locals call it "dog beach" because dogs pretty much own this place, running around at all times of day.

When the weather is perfect, parking becomes a challenge, so aim to arrive early.

11. Santa Monica State Beach, CA

Lifeguard tower on Santa Monica State Beach

This famous Pacific Coast beach ticks off all the boxes, making it one of the best beaches in the Los Angeles area. Soft, white sand? Check. Clear blue water? Check. Boardwalk and bike trail? Check. Playgrounds? Check. Deliciously good restaurants? Check. People-watching? Double check!

Spanning 3.5 miles, Santa Monica State Beach has made good use of its space. The famed and highly photographed Santa Monica Pier is the number one reason for visiting this sunny spot, and those who stop by won't be disappointed. Situated smack in the middle of the wide beach, it boasts an aquarium, amusement park, shops, and restaurants.

South of the pier, you'll find large, open green spaces; a carousel in Carousel Park; and gymnastics equipment on "Muscle Beach." This is also where many of the city's best hotels and resorts lie. And you can bike all the way to Venice Beach (or farther to Redondo Beach) if you're feeling up to it. North of the pier, you'll be faced with miles of beach (aka Will Rogers State Beach) to wander.

The city itself has loads to keep you entertained. Don't miss a visit to nearby Palisades Park. It offers tourists 26 acres worth of spectacular ocean views and the most gorgeous gardens to walk through.

12. Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, FL

Henderson Beach State Park

The unique color of the ocean bordering this amazing beach is all kinds of spectacular. Located on Florida's Emerald Coast, the water here is clear, emerald green, and utterly inviting. While visiting, tourists will have four other beach parks to choose from: June White Decker Beach Park, Norriego Point Beach Park, Shore at Crystal Beach Park, and James Lee Park (a county beach park). Each boasts soft, sugar-white sand that's perfect for walking on or building sandcastles with your kids.

James Lee Park is perhaps the most family friendly, as it boasts a playground, as well as picnic tables and three pavilions. Henderson Beach State Park, however, is also great for families. It, too, boasts top-notch facilities (like bathrooms, picnic tables, outdoor grills, and a pavilion). Plus, it's roomy, less crowded, and plays host to a great play area for kids (including a tight rope obstacle course).

A little-known fact: Destin is known as the "world's luckiest fishing village." If you're into that sort of thing, grab a fishing rod and head out to try your luck in the deep sea.

Worked up an appetite with all that swimming? Head to one of the town's numerous restaurants. Don't judge Mimmo's Ristorante Italiano by its underwhelming exterior. Inside, the atmosphere is great and the food even better. Tip: Don't miss the garlic rolls.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Destin

13. Easton's Beach (aka First Beach), RI

Easton's Beach, Rhode Island

Easton's Beach doesn't deliver all the pomp and circumstance of other, more high-profile beaches (we're talking about you, Miami Beach). One of many highly rated beaches in Rhode Island (like Crescent Beach on Block Island and East Matunuck State Beach in South Kingstown), Easton's is the largest public surfing beach in Newport.

Tourists of all ages love the 1950s carousel and the amazing views of Newport's cliff-top mansions. Located at the start of the Cliff Walk, Easton's is a perfect spot to base yourself for the day. Grab lunch at the snack shack and park yourself on a towel. Forgot to pack a beach umbrella? No worries, you can rent one (along with a boogie board or beach chair) at the local beach store.

Later in the day, head to the small yet interesting Exploration Center and Aquarium operated by Save the Bay, a non-profit devoted to protecting and improving Narragansett Bay.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Rhode Island

14. Headlands Beach State Park, OH

Headlands Beach State Park

Bet you've never heard someone say, "I can't wait for my romantic beach getaway in Ohio." When we think about the best places to visit for a beach vacation, the obvious contenders include Florida, California, and Hawaii – not the Buckeye state!

Just because it's not widely known for its beaches, doesn't mean this state doesn't have something great to offer beach lovers. In fact, there are some fantastic beaches in Ohio, all along the Lake Erie shoreline.

Topping the list is the mile-long Headlands Beach State Park—the largest natural beach in the state. And it's by far the most popular. Located beside Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, this is one of the nicest places to spend a day.

In addition to the traditional water sports, sandcastle-building, and relaxing offered at all the beaches on this list, Headlands boasts a bevy of animal-watching. Flanked by natural dunes and American beach grass, you'll find yourself sharing the beach with monarch butterflies, gulls, and migrating songbirds, among other native creatures.

Another bonus: you won't have to worry about salt stinging your eyes or sharks laying in wait at this freshwater beach.

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