The U.S. is home to some of the world’s most glorious beaches. Whether you’re into turtle watching in Hawaii, surfing in California or sunbathing in the Sunshine State, there’s a lot of treasures to uncover from coast to coast. Here's our list of the top 25 U.S. beaches.
Maui is ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Reports’ Best Beaches in the U.S. list for a reason. Nicknamed the “Valley Island,” Maui is known for its beaches, majestic volcanoes and abundant marine life. Red Sand Beach, Lahaina Beach, Makena Beach and Ho’okipa Beach are among the best that Maui has to offer. Into marine life? You can swim with sea turtles and watch dolphins and humpback whales frolic in the sea. It’s also a popular destination wedding and honeymoon spot.
Waikiki Beach, on the south shore of Honolulu, is Hawaii’s most famous beach and one of the world’s top vacation destinations. Every hotel room is within two or three blocks of the beach and it’s the perfect place to learn how to surf, windsurf or paddleboard. Waikiki Beach is near two local tourist hotspots — Diamondhead Mountain and Pearl Harbor — and the Diamondhead Observation Deck gives visitors a spectacular view of the island.
“The Garden Island” is the oldest and fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands, so called for its tropical rainforests, emerald landscape and gorgeous waterfalls. Visitors flock to Waimea Canyon State Park for breathtaking views of Waimea Canyon and a panoramic view of Kauai. Stop by Poipu Beach for top dining and shopping opportunities and Na Pali Coast for magnificent waterfalls and cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Cape May, New Jersey
New Jersey’s southernmost point is one of the country’s oldest vacation destinations and is still considered one of America’s top beaches. Lined with oceanfront Victorian-style homes, Cape May’s personality shines through and sets it apart from other nearby beaches. Cape May is home to fantastic year-round entertainment, art shows and festivals; but the coolest thing about it is the Cape May Diamonds — pieces of quartz that wash up on the beach.
Panama City Beach, Florida
With 27 miles of beaches, white sand and shimmering turquoise water, Panama City Beach has become one of America’s top destinations for beach-loving tourists. It’s been named the #3 beach in America by TripAdvisor. Located in the Florida panhandle between Tallahassee and Pensacola, Panama City Beach is popular among Southerners, Midwesterners and spring breakers alike. Diving, fishing, swimming, boating, parasailing and golfing are some of the hottest activities in PCB.
The most happening place on The Big Island, Kailua-Kona has a little bit of everything — nightlife, shopping, dining, coffee farms and historic Hawaiian landmarks. Kailua-Kona’s climate is perfect — mostly sunny and dry with an occasional storm, so you don't need to plan around the weather. Kailua-Kona’s most popular attraction is Hualālai Volcano, but it’s not its claim to fame. The Kona coffee you wake up to is grown here.
Siesta Key, Florida
A tropical island off the coast of Sarasota, Siesta Key is a lesser-known but equally magnificent beach with fine white sand that never gets too hot. There’s a lot to do in Siesta Key — water sports and golf are very popular here — and it’s home to the International Sand Sculpting Festival. Widely considered one of the world’s finest beaches, it’s still somewhat of a hidden treasure; but don’t expect that to last forever. MTV now has a reality show set there.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Having been to Myrtle Beach many times — my family went nearly every year when I was growing up — one of the things that I like most is that the water is always a nice temperature, at least during the summer. It’s never too cold and even when it’s warm, it almost feels like a natural bath; but there’s more to Myrtle Beach than just water. It’s home to the famous Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing and the Myrtle Beach Grand Prix.
The name Clearwater can bring up different images for different people. For some, it might be the Church of Scientology’s World Headquarters. For others, it means white sand and warm, clear Gulf water. Its mild climate and generally sunny weather make it a great place to play on the beach or in the streets. Clearwater is home of the Clearwater Jazz Festival, spring training baseball and the National Superboat Championships.
Miami is one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations because of its diverse culture, party life and beach bodies. The food is also amazing. It’s one of the only places in the country where you can get an authentic Cuban sandwich just about anywhere. Miami may be best known for its famous South Beach neighborhood, but Little Havana really gives Miami its flair. Miami nightlife is considered among the best in the country with endless clubs and bars.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Located on Florida’s Space Coast, Cocoa Beach sits on an island just east of Viera and south of Cape Canaveral. Visitors and locals enjoy deep sea fishing, eco tours and golf; but the big deal in Cocoa is beach volleyball. Cocoa Beach often hosts tournaments and has a league dedicated to training children and teens to play. Visit Cocoa Beach Pier — its version of a boardwalk — for dining and shopping.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
The Outer Banks is a collection of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina that include Cape Hatteras, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. OBX to locals and frequent visitors, the Outer Banks has a steady supply of towns and villages, lighthouses and parks; but its tall, beautiful beachfront homes are what turn visitors into locals. Best known as the home of the Wright Brothers, a Wright Brothers National Memorial overlooks Kill Devil Hills.
Coronado is a resort city that’s been a popular destination since the 1880s. Meaning “Crowned City” in Spanish, it’s been known to see a Royal or two stay in the famous Hotel del Coronado. It’s also a popular romantic getaway. Ground mica gives the sands of Coronado its golden color while palm trees line the landscape, making it a tropical paradise.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
Hilton Head is among the quieter, more reserved beaches on our list and for good reason — it’s favored among retirees and families. It’s the perfect place for someone who isn’t into nightlife and just wants to relax. You’ll get that in Hilton Head. Most of the parks have public beach access including Coligny Beach. Tennis, hiking and golf are the preferred sports here. If you’re craving more, Beaufort and Savannah are both about a 45-minute drive away.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is a family-friendly beach located on the coast of southeastern Virginia. It’s a classic destination because of its mild year-round climate and kid-friendly activities; but it’s great for adults, too. Virginia Beach has a thriving nightlife scene including bars, restaurants, nightclubs and a 38-block boardwalk. Outdoor activities and water sports are an important part of the Virginia Beach culture.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Included in the Hollywood–West Palm Beach metro area, Ft. Lauderdale is a hit with both families and the spring break crowd. Its subtropical climate makes it appealing all year and the beachfront promenade gives visitors endless things to do when they’re dealing with a major sunburn. Sometimes called the Venice of America, Ft. Lauderdale has river cruises that run through the canal systems, showing people a side of the city they don’t often get to see.
Laguna Beach, California
This Orange County resort city put Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari on our radar, but the beach was the real star of the show. Laguna Beach lies along Pacific Coast Highway, with plenty of cliffs overlooking the ocean. There are plenty of great photo opportunities and spots for a lunch in a local park with a great view. Gallery Row offers all the shopping and dining a person could ask for. Adventure sport lovers will adore Laguna — there are lots of opportunities for scuba diving, surfing and mountain biking.
Pensacola is home to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, but it’s also home to gorgeous beaches and good times. Located in the Florida panhandle about 13 miles from the Alabama border, Pensacola prides itself on its white sands and clear, calm waters.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Formerly a retreat for some of America’s wealthiest families, this little barrier island off the coast of south Georgia is now a hot ecotourism spot. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center teaches visitors how they care for and rehabilitate sea turtles and preserve the species. Additionally, the beach itself is a protected natural habitat and is 10 miles of pristine shoreline.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Speaking from a purely selfish point of view, Rehoboth is my favorite U.S. beach. It’s a fun, quirky place that offers a lot in terms of things to do, but it’s also smaller, quieter and less crowded than most of the other beaches I’ve been to. There are endless food and shopping options on Rehoboth Avenue and its side streets. My favorite part of Rehoboth is Penny Lane — a little alleyway off of Rehoboth Avenue that looks like an old European village. You'll even find a stand there that sells authentic French éclairs. Hop on the Jolly Trolley (or in your car) for a short trip to Bethany Beach, Lewes Beach or Ocean City, Maryland.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is a fun getaway in coastal Massachusetts that’s usually thrown in with Massachusetts’ islands — Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a gorgeous location with a lot of lighthouses and is popular for its antique shops and bed & breakfasts.
Ogunquit is a bustling beach destination with lighthouses, rolling dunes and sailboats as far as the eye can see. Its white sand beaches appeal to artists — there’s a thriving artist community in Ogunquit — along with eccentrics and outdoor lovers.
South Padre Island, Texas
South Padre Island is a gem. It’s a little Gulf Coast town in Texas near the Mexico border with beautiful beaches, warm weather, a diverse marine and wildlife ecosystem and a love of adventure water sports. It’s a prime destination for spring breakers and snowbirds. Animal lovers enjoy dolphin watching and spending time at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center.
St. Augustine, Florida
St. Augustine is known for its Spanish-style architecture, hidden courtyards, bed & breakfasts and brick-lined streets. The climate is mild and you can feel good about your vacation not being spoiled — there has only been one direct hurricane hit in St. Augustine since 1871, an anomaly for Florida’s east coast. Wanna have some fun with animals? The Alligator Farm Zoological Park is your ticket to fun.
Everyone knows “the Bu” for its celebrity homes and ties to the entertainment industry, but Malibu has been an American icon for decades. There’s a Barbie, a car and countless songs dedicated to this coastal California paradise. Malibu’s climate is gorgeous year-round and it’s a fantastic location for surfing and working out. The Malibu area includes nearby Santa Monica and Venice Beach, known for its huge art scene and ferris wheel.