Whether your beach vacation involves clamming, flying kites, or just sitting on your bum in the sun, we’ve found the best beach destinations in the U.S. for you.
TravelAwaits readers voted in our Best of Travel Awards to help us determine everything from the friendliest small towns to the best national parks. Our readers have spoken. Here are the best beaches to visit in the U.S.
Winner: Siesta Key Beach
It’s not surprising that one of the best beaches in Florida according to U.S. News & World Report received the most votes for best beach in our Best of Travel Awards. Siesta Key is a barrier island, situated on the west coast of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Minutes from Sarasota and Bradenton, this gorgeous eight-mile-long island getaway offers pristine beaches, plentiful outdoor attractions, great dining options, and fun for the entire family.
Finalist: Black’s Beach
San Diego, California
This hidden gem is tucked beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla. Known as “the jewel” of San Diego, La Jolla is one of the seven most romantic Southern California destinations for mature couples. Black’s Beach fits right in because this secluded spot is clothing-optional. In addition to birthday suits, Black’s Beach offers stunning coastline scenery and sexy surfers who are drawn to its infamous surf break. Ho Chi Minh Trail, which leads down to the sand, can be quite treacherous, so be sure to wear proper shoes and be prepared for the challenge.
Finalist: Hilton Head Island Beach
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Located along the coast in the southern portion of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island is a couple of hours away from Charleston and only 35 miles from Savannah, Georgia. Covering 69 square miles, its 12 miles of uninterrupted beachfront are expansive, with soft sand and warm water.
Spend the day fishing, dolphin-watching, kayaking, surfing, sailing, or waterskiing. You may even run into a mermaid (thanks to the Mermaid of Hilton Head boat tours and mermaid experiences, that is)! Bike to the beach and around the island’s 60-plus miles of paved trails.
In no particular order, here are the rest of our reader’s top picks for the best beaches in the U.S.
Anna Maria Island Public Beach
Anna Maria Island, Florida
A Gulf-side slice of serendipity, this barrier island is about 45 minutes outside of Sarasota. Resisting corporate development has preserved this quaint beach town’s idyllic feel of old Florida. In addition to stunning white-sand beaches, Anna Maria Island is famous for its beachside horseback riding.
Double Bluff Beach
Freeland’s largest waterfront park, Double Bluff Beach is located on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. In addition to 24,354 feet of sandy beach, it features a picnic area, an off-leash dog area, and restrooms. Wide at the access point, the beach narrows to the west, where it gets rockier with cobbles and large boulders.
The eponymous bluffs are actually on private property, but you want to steer clear either way as landslides along the cliffs are common. Beachcomb, swim, clam, watch kiteboarders (when it’s windy), and take in stunning views of Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.
Gulf Shores Public Beach
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Alabama’s Gulf Coast area features 32 miles of pristine, soft, white beaches near Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Unlike other waterfront Spring Break destinations, this beach is family-friendly. In case you need more reasons to visit Gulf Shores, the local food scene is to die for, and there are tons of outdoor activities. It’s also a great place for camping in an RV.
Lincoln City Beach
Lincoln City, Oregon
This charming small town offers seven miles of soft, sandy beach, which is more than any other Oregon coastal town can boast. This and the rest of the state’s 363 miles of coastline are all public. Lincoln City Beach may not be warm enough for a swim, but there’s plenty of other stuff to do. Whale watching, seeing the sun set, surfing, flying a kite, and roasting marshmallows over a bonfire are all popular activities. Search for agates, shells, and Japanese fishing floats on the beach and discover sea creatures amongst the tide pools. Lincoln City Beach also hosts several annual events, including not one but two kite festivals!
Walton County, Florida
Idyllic sugar sand beaches are just one of the reasons to make Rosemary Beach, Florida your next getaway. Like many Floridian beaches, the luxuriously soft sand is made up of quartz. Explore the rare coastal dune lakes at nearby Deer Lake State Park and you’ll find the rosemary plants for which the area is named.
For those who are not the biggest fans of the wild, wild Southeast, this Gulf Coast locale has been called the “least Florida place in Florida.” The narrow streets and paths of South Walton are meant to be experienced on two feet or two wheels. It’s a great place to rent a house and bike to the beach.
St. Pete Beach
St. Pete Beach, Florida
Set on a barrier island just west of St. Petersburg, this aptly named Florida resort city is known for its beaches, from Treasurer Island to Tierra Verde. Sun-worshippers flock to St. Pete Beach, which sees an average of 361 days of sunshine per year. What’s that big pink hotel? Why, that’s the 1928 landmark Don CeSar resort.
St. John, US Virgin Islands
Snorkelers are drawn to St. John Island’s most famous beach for its self-guided Underwater Snorkeling Trail. In addition to exploring the coral reefs offshore, Trunk Bay is popular for its breathtaking views above water, which make it one of the most photographed beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The quarter-mile of white sand is actually part of Virgin Islands National Park, which was donated by a Rockefeller over half a century ago. Make a weekend getaway of this tropical paradise — no passport required!
Wildwood Crest Beach
Wildwood Crest, New Jersey
With five miles of wide, clean, safe (and free) beaches, The Wildwoods offers everything you could ask for from the Jersey Shore. Relax or walk on the beach or play volleyball or frisbee. Kids will go crazy for the seaside amusement park’s 100+ rides and attractions.
Asilomar State Beach
Pacific Grove, California
If you ever find yourself in Steinbeck country, stop by Asilomar along Monterey Peninsula’s scenic 17-Mile Drive. This narrow one-mile strip of sandy beach and rocky coves is located in Pacific Grove near Point Pinos Lighthouse.
Take a scenic oceanside walk along the cliffs and sandy stretches of Asilomar Coast Trail. The path winds its way through grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers. Keep your eyes open for the plentiful deer that feed on the plant life and the seals and sea lions that rest on the rocks in the water. Extend your walk by exploring the quarter-mile boardwalk through Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve, a 25-acre restored sand dune ecosystem. Dogs are permitted in this area as long as they are leashed.
Coast Guard Beach
Not to be confused with Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, Massachusetts, Coast Guard Beach in Truro is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. This oceanside beach is the perfect spot for those who enjoy a good stroll. You can walk for miles along the beautiful shoreline hemmed in by dunes and surf. Since Coast Guard Beach is on the ocean, the surf can be rough, but if you love bodysurfing or playing on your boogie board, this is a great beach to visit. Parking is very limited, so arrive early — or consider biking to the beach.
Hanauma Bay State Park
Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
Located about 10 miles east of Waikiki Beach, Hanauma Bay has always been a must-see location for both tourists and locals in Honolulu. Formed within a volcanic cone, this Oahu gem is home to some of the bluest waters in the world.
Hanauma Bay’s pristine marine ecosystem offers some of the best snorkeling in the world. Marine life has grown and flourished here, and the coral reefs have had time undisturbed by human activity since it was closed to tourists during the pandemic. The first Marine Life Conservation District in the state is home to hundreds of tropical fish (about a quarter of which are exclusive to Hawaiian waters) as well as sea turtles and monk seals. Be sure to reserve a ticket, as only a few hundred visitors are allowed entry a day.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Hatteras Island, North Carolina
One of the best places to buy a vacation home, Cape Hatteras is a barrier island tucked in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore near Kill Devil Hills in the Outer Banks. Not only was it the first U.S. national seashore, but it’s also one of the six most incredible beaches in national parks. The 70-mile stretch of beach has a diverse range of wildlife, including seals, birds, and sea turtles.
Visit the Bodie Island Light Station and set up camp at one of the four campgrounds within the park. Take the ferry over to the quaint, laid-back fishing village of Ocracoke Island to take advantage of its exotic, remote, and pristine beaches.