The 13 Best Beaches in the United States

Every square inch of beach is striking in its own way

kaanapali beach resort, Maui
M Sweet / Getty Images

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. There’s never been a better way to beat the heat than to head to the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about the biggest beach party you might not have heard of, how swimwear impacts climate change, the remote Tahitian village preparing for the world stage, and the best beaches in the United States.

Just how many miles of shoreline does the United States have? About 95,471, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—and while every square inch is striking in its own way, certain regions of the country are blessed with the most beautiful sands and surf. We’ve zeroed in on the absolute best options from coast to coast, so all you have to do is decide which beachy vibe speaks to your sea-loving soul. 

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Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Fort Walton Beach

Domenico Convertini / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Flickr

For a passport-free vacation that oozes Caribbean vibes, head to Destin-Fort Walton Beach. Located along the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico, this beach boasts sugar-fine sand made of pure quartz crystal. The result? Twenty-four miles of pristine, soft white powder that doesn’t get hot underfoot but reflects the sunlight through the ocean to create an emerald hue in the crystal-clear waters. 

If you like to spend your time in the water instead of on the sand, there are plenty of opportunities for surfing, along with SCUBA and snorkel excursions. County lifeguards watch over the beach but look for daily beach flag updates for the latest on the water currents and recommendations for swimming that day.

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Poipu Beach, Kauai

A couple watches the sunset from Poipu beach.
Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Even when it’s raining on the rest of the island, you can almost always count on a sunny day at Kauai’s Poipu Beach on the South Shore—and this can make the perfect backdrop for the most spectacular rainbows. This crescent-shaped beach is two beaches in one, separated by a tombolo. To the left of the sandbar is a shallow area protected from waves and dotted with lava rock, perfect for young families wishing to play in the water. And to the right, you’ll find the ideal spot for body boarding, snorkeling, and surfing.

You’ll no doubt find a few endangered Hawaiian monk seals napping in the sand (please stay at least 100 feet away from them and avoid flash photography), and during the winter months, you may even see humpback whales in the distance. There are lifeguards on duty and facilities with restrooms and showers. Bring a cooler to enjoy a bite to eat at the picnic tables.

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Arcadia Beach, Oregon

Arcadia Beach, Oregon Rock Formations.
Edmund Lowe Photography / Getty Images

Sure, the Oregon Coast is nearly synonymous with Cannon Beach because of its iconic Haystack Rock, but another gorgeous beach lies just 2 miles to the south: Arcadia Beach. “Breathtaking” is the only word that can truly capture the moment you first step onto Arcadia Beach, especially if you’re lucky enough to visit during low tide. On any given day, you’ll find families bicycling on the mile-long beach, children flying kites and dogs catching frisbees, and people playing in the surf or exploring the rock formations and tidepools. In the distance, you’ll still get to see a glimpse of Haystack.

The parking lot is small but often has room, even on sunny summer days—from there, it’s just a short walk down to the beach (you’ll encounter a section of steps). There are picnic tables and facilities. Keep an eye on the ocean levels, as the tides can change quickly.

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Emerald Isle Beach, North Carolina

Sanderling with ocean in background
Doris Rudd Designs, Photography / Getty Images

North Carolina’s Crystal Coast offers 85 miles of sandy beaches—while it’s all stunning, make your way to Emerald Isle Beach for its 12 miles of pristine shoreline and views of the Atlantic Ocean. Here, the average temperature hovers around 80 degrees with more than 100 feet of visibility in the crystal-clear waters.

The sand here is a beachcomber’s paradise, littered with seashells of various sizes and colors, while the entire Crystal Coast is known as a wreck diver’s dream due to all of the sunken vessels in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Be sure to visit The Point at the end of the Isle, as this tailed-off sandbar offers panoramic views of Bogue Sound, Bogue Inlet, and Bear Island, along with spectacular sunsets. Lifeguards are on the beach stand during peak season (April to September, also when paid parking is in effect), and most beach access points have a bathroom.

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La Jolla Cove, California

Scenic view of sea against sky during sunset,La Jolla Cove,United States,USA
Goutam Chakraborty / 500px / Getty Images

Snorkelers looking for a protected area that’s teeming with marine life—read: bright orange garibaldi, purple sea urchin, sea cucumbers, anemones, and starfish—should put San Diego’s La Jolla Cove high on their bucket list. This small golden crescent beach is tucked between dramatic sandstone bluffs, and it’s one of the most photographed beaches in SoCal due to its beauty (no surprise, considering La Jolla means “the Jewel”). You’re also sure to find many sea lions and seals sunbathing, as these calm waters are protected from ocean swells and currents.

Since the beach is only a 20-minute drive north from downtown San Diego, it gets pretty crowded in the summer; consider visiting in the fall instead (temps will still average 75 degrees). Parking can be difficult, though there is limited street parking if you’re lucky enough to nab a spot.

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Ka'anapali Beach, Hawaii

Rainbow over Black Rock
Scotty Robson Photography / Getty Images

Is chilling on a beach on Maui’s West Shore your idea of the perfect day? Kaanapali is a three-mile stretch of white sands and crystal-clear waters and one of the best beaches in Maui. One of the most famous attractions here is the nightly cliff-diving ceremony, held at sunset off the beach’s most northern cliffs (Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock)—it’s a reenactment of a feat by Maui’s revered King Kahekili, in which he tested his warriors’ loyalty and bravery.

The shallow waters here are great for snorkeling, and it’s common to see whales off the coast during winter. Some beachgoers might not like the crowds or the fact that this beach is near so many resorts and a shopping mall, but this beach remains one of the best in the country.

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Scenic View Of Beach And Buildings Against Sky
Hollie Davenport / EyeEm / Getty Images

As one of the longest beaches in the world—clocking in at 60 miles long—Myrtle Beach spans several communities and two state parks. There’s a wide variety of access points, each with a different atmosphere as you travel along the coast, from busy spots packed with action to the laid-back sections perfect for relaxing, depending on your preference. Refreshing year-round ocean breezes make this beach pleasant even in the heat of the summer.

If you pay to enter either state park (Myrtle Beach State Park or Huntington Beach State Park), you can park for free; otherwise, you’ll find paid parking at meters and in garages or lots. Most segments offer public bathrooms, and there are more than 2,000 restaurants along the coastline to ensure your belly stays full during a long day at the beach.

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Coronado Beach, California

Coronado Beach Sunset 2
Claude LeTien / Getty Images

Take a little tour across San Diego Bay via the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, and you’ll arrive at Coronado Beach. Here, you’ll find fine golden sand that sparkles with flecks of the mineral mica against the iconic backdrop of the historic Hotel del Coronado. There are several different beaches, including Coronado Central Beach, dog-friendly North Beach, Silver Strand State Beach, Glorietta Bay Beach, and Coronado Shores Beach.

Because the ends of the beach butt up against military property, it’s not uncommon to see the Navy Seals training and fighter jets flying drills in the skies above. Most of the beaches offer restrooms and shower facilities. Look for free parking on Ocean Boulevard and at Ferry Landing Marketplace.

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Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Sunrise on Padre Island from High Drone View with waves crashing along Beach
RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images

Looking for the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world? Look no further than Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi, Texas. The park protects 66 miles of coastline,  providing a haven for sea turtles and nearly 400 species of birds. Malaquite Beach on the Gulf of Mexico side is the main beach visitors frequent because this is where the visitor center is located (restrooms, showers, and picnic tables are available) and where the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle releases take place from mid-June through August. Bird Island Basin, a smaller beach on the Laguna Madre side, is a popular spot for windsurfers.

No matter which side of the beach you choose, both are pet-friendly. But because this is a protected seashore, amenities are limited, so you’ll need to plan accordingly—the nearest food, gas stations, and hotels are located 12 miles from the entrance. Five campgrounds are open year-round, and spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis (though there are no RV hook-ups in the park).

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Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach
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Some beaches feel inaccessible, but not Virginia Beach—this 35-mile stretch is located within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the nation’s population. Its popularity is partly due to its three-mile Oceanfront Boardwalk, the perfect place to bike, blade, or stroll while gazing out at the Atlantic shoreline. Of course, with a beach this size, it’s broken up into several beaches, including the quieter Croatan Beach, swimming-friendly Chesapeake Bay Beach, The Oceanfront (where you’ll find the Boardwalk), kid-friendly Grommet Island Park, and secluded Sandbridge Beach. Honestly, there’s something for every beachgoer style within Virginia Beach.

During peak season, lifeguards are posted along the shoreline. Virginia Beach welcomes your four-legged fur babies year-round, with some seasonal restrictions. Parking is plentiful via city garages, lots, and metered street parking (free from Nov. 1 through March 31). Virginia Beach also serves as a flight training zone for the U.S. Navy's East Coast master jet base, so don’t be alarmed if you hear the roar of jet engines as pilots practice maneuvers.

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Bowman's Beach Park, Florida

Sanibel Island, USA Bowman's beach with landscape view of Bayou from bridge and wooden boardwalk with nobody on river bay
krblokhin / Getty Images

There’s no shortage of shells for visitors to comb through at Bowman’s Beach Park, one of the most stunning and popular beaches on Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida. The beach is about a quarter-mile or so from the parking lot ($5 an hour), and you’ll walk along a footbridge to get to the white sands. The picturesque stretch of beach has calm, serene waves perfect to swim in, plus there’s a playground for children, a sand volleyball court, short hiking trails, and great fishing spots. Bring your kayak if you’re so inclined, as there’s a launch pad.

Bowman’s Beach has everything you need facilities-wise, including restrooms and an outdoor shower, picnic tables and charcoal grills. Many visitors prefer to wear water shoes instead of running around barefoot, because of all the shells.

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Coligny Beach, South Carolina

A sunset is reflected at low tide at Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Rachid Dahnoun / Getty Images

It doesn’t get much more idyllic than Hilton Head Island’s Coligny Beach—the white sands are perfect for frolicking in the surf and soaking up some sunshine. From the end of Pope Avenue, follow the boardwalk down to the pristine sand and straight into the Atlantic. You can walk for miles, dip in the shallow waters, or bike along the hard-packed sand. You may see some tidal pools at low tide, and turtle nesting season runs between May and October.

Coligny Beach is fully equipped with outdoor showers, changing rooms, restrooms, Adirondack chairs, swings, water fountains for kids to run through, and shaded pavilions. There’s even free Wi-Fi. The shopping plaza is packed with dining and shopping options to round out your perfect beach day.

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Driftwood Beach, Georgia

Driftwood sunrise
Brad McGinley Photography / Getty Images

There’s a reason scenes from "The Walking Dead" were filmed on Jekyll Island: Driftwood Beach is almost otherworldly, in a hauntingly beautiful, strangely romantic, graveyard-of-dead-trees sort of way. This barrier island has the feel of a secluded, remote getaway. Yet, it’s only about an hour from Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. Driftwood Beach is a particularly secluded spot nestled between cool blue water and majestic live oaks—and it gets its name from the gigantic and gnarly driftwood branches adorning the sands. Don’t forget your camera, as you’ll want to do an impromptu photoshoot in this Instagram-worthy spot.

Public parking is available, and leashed pets are welcome, but visitors looking for restrooms and picnic facilities will need to visit one of the island's other beach parks.