Who says you have to fly across the world to visit a postcard-perfect beach? Even more, who says you have to leave the US? The country is home to thousands of miles of coastline dotted with picturesque towns. From the rocky shores of the Pacific coast down to the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic, there’s enough variety to make any beach lover happy.
Not only that, but we also have some stellar lakeshore spots that give the seaside a run for its money.
Ready to discover the best beaches in the United States? These are my top 16, from sea to shining sea (and even in between!):
1. Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawai’i
Considering that Hapuna Beach is the largest white-sand beach on the Big Island, it’s no wonder why it’s one of the best in the United States, let alone Hawai’i. It’s a half-mile long, and the calm waters are perfect for snorkeling or swimming. If you visit during the early months of the year, you might even be able to spot whales in the distance.
Hapuna has ample facilities; bathrooms, showers, food stalls, lifeguards, and more. It’s one of the more popular beaches on the Big Island, so try to get there early in the morning to avoid midday crowds. It’s $5 to access, plus an additional $5 to park.
If you’re heading to the Big Island of Hawai’i, don’t miss out on this epic list of things to do and this guide to spiritual experiences on the island.
- Where to stay: If you want to be as close as possible to Hapuna, the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort is the place to stay. This is luxury accommodation, but there are more affordable places to stay on the Big Island, just not nearly as close as this location.
- When to visit: April and May (avoiding Memorial Day weekend and spring break) are both great months to visit the Big Island, especially if you want to spend some time at Hapuna. Temperatures are warm and there isn’t much rain during this time, so you’ll be able to enjoy some of the Big Island’s best weather.
2. Hideaway Beach, Kauai, Hawai’i
This small cove on Kauai is a beautiful place to relax in the sand, go for a swim, go snorkeling, or watch the monk seals from afar. Hideaway Beach isn’t as popular as others on Kauai, so it’s a great place to escape the crowds.
Getting down to the beach can be tricky. For starters there’s not much parking at the entrance, so plan to get there early to secure a spot. The steps leading to the beach can be slippery when wet, but there are ropes you can hold onto.
- Where to stay: Puu Poa is the closest hotel to Hideaway Beach, so staying here means you won’t have to worry about parking and you’ll be steps away from this gorgeous little slice of heaven.
- When to go: During shoulder season in Kauai is the best time to visit this beach (September to November and April to May). That’s when there are fewer visitors on the island and accommodations are cheaper.
3. Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawai’i
Popular among kite-surfers because of the big gusts of wind here, Tunnels Beach is a must-visit on Kauai. It’s the ideal spot to spend a breezy afternoon hanging out on the sand under a palm tree or snorkeling over the reef close to shore.
Tunnels Beach is shaped like a crescent, with towering palms and a backdrop of vibrant green mountains. Coupled with the golden sand and blue hues of the ocean, this spot has the exact kind of beauty you came to Hawai’i to see. To top it off, you’ll get an amazing sunset view. What’s not to love?
- Where to stay: One of the closest accommodations is Haena Place, a three-bedroom holiday home only 250 meters from the beach.
- When to visit: From September to November, the crowds from summer are mostly gone and the weather is warm, although there’s more of a chance of rain. This is a great time to get a deal on accommodation and flights. The same goes for April and May, and there’s less of a chance of rain, so that’s the best time to visit.
4. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California
If you’re only into white sand and baby-blue water, you might be missing out on some unique beaches, like this one. Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California, is perhaps one of the most underrated in the Golden State.
This small patch of California coast actually used to be a dump, which is why there’s so much sea glass there today. When it washes up onto the shore around sunset, the setting sun creates a radiant effect, which is what makes this beach so special. Plus, with a pygmy forest (more on that here) and Jug Handle State Natural Reserve nearby, Glass Beach is just the beginning of your Fort Bragg adventure.
- Where to stay: One of the best places near Fort Bragg and Glass Beach is Noyo Harbor Inn, which also has one of the best restaurants in town. If you want to be even closer to the water, Country Inn Guesthouse is just a 10-minute walk away and has a sweet vintage feel.
- When to visit: To get the most out of the beach, aim to visit from mid-June to August. It’s peak season, so expect plenty of other people, but being able to take a dip in the Pacific makes it worthwhile.
5. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
Have you ever been to a beach with purple sand? Yes, purple! Erosion from manganese garnet that washes down from the mountains is responsible for Pfeiffer Beach’s unique color. The sunsets here are breathtaking as the purple hues contrast with the fiery oranges and pinks in the sky. Sometimes when the sun sets just right, it shines through the keyhole in the large rock pictured above, which is why this place is such a favorite amongst photographers.
Pfeiffer is the ideal California beach for the adventurous soul, as it is one of the most remote on this list. The nearest place to buy any food, water, and supplies is around five miles away, in the Big Sur Valley area. The journey to get here is most definitely worth it, though. You can find out how to find it, along with other helpful tips, in this quick guide.
- Where to stay: One of the closest places stay is Big Sur Lodge, a cozy getaway nestled in the mountains.
- When to visit: The best time to visit is in late spring or early summer (early May to mid-June), after the heavy rains. The sand is the most vibrant during this time, due to the rain washing more minerals from the mountains to the sea.
6. El Matador Beach, Malibu, California
Part of Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach, which includes three distinct beaches, El Matador in Malibu is the most popular and for good reason. Not only will you find sugary soft sand and delightful ocean views, but there are gorgeous sea stacks and rock formations galore.
The north end is home to a few sea caves and rock arches that you shouldn’t miss out on. Just make sure to check out the caves at low tide, when the entrance is accessible.
El Matador definitely deserves a spot on your California bucket list.
- Where to stay: The best part about staying near El Matador is that most hotels have incredible ocean views due to their being higher up on the bluffs. Sebastian by AvantStay is about as close as you can get and has some amazing amenities, including a private pool.
- When to visit: Aim for the very beginning or very end of summer (early June or early September), when the water is warm and there are sunny skies. The beach is at its most crowded from mid-June to August.
7. Hidden Beach, Lake Tahoe, Nevada
This is the first lake beach on the list (but it certainly won’t be the last). Sure, this means you won’t have endless views of the ocean, but the calm lake offers a unique experience that definitely deserves the same hype as the seashore.
Hidden Beach on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is a rocky wonderland that is the perfect place to swim or sunbathe. You can find it close to Sand Harbor off Highway 28. Park along the highway and climb down to the water to enjoy this peaceful, boulder-filled resting point.
- Where to stay: Fool Around House near Sand Harbor is only about a 20-minute walk from Hidden Beach, so staying here means you can avoid having to park your car on the highway. This unique, dome-shaped house is perhaps one of the most quirky spots on Lake Tahoe.
- When to visit: It’s no secret that summer at Lake Tahoe is particularly magical, so why not visit during the warm season? If you want to avoid the crowds as much as possible in the summer, aim for the end of August or the first week of September.
8. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach deserves a top spot on your Oregon road-trip itinerary, especially if you’re an outdoorsy traveler. The massive 235-foot Haystack Rock towers over it, claiming its title as one of the state’s most recognizable landmarks.
There are four state parks near Cannon Beach to explore: Ecola State Park, Arcadia Beach Recreation Site, Hug Point State Recreation Site, and Oswald West State Park. Make Cannon Beach your base for all of your adventures in the pristine nature of Oregon’s Pacific coast and you won’t be disappointed.
- Where to stay: Surfsand Resort is about as close as you can get and has a direct view of Haystack Rock.
- When to visit: Although Cannon Beach is easily one of the most beautiful places in Oregon, it doesn’t see huge crowds the way other seaside destinations in the US do. Visit during peak season (July through September) and enjoy the warm weather by taking a dip in the ocean. This is truly the best way to enjoy this place.
9. Rialto Beach, Washington
Part of Olympic National Park, Rialto Beach is a dream to visit. It has everything that makes a PNW beach spectacular: moody coastline with gnarly salt-coated treelimbs, towering rocky cliffs, and tons of marine life.
One of the best things about Rialto Beach is that you can hike along its shore for several miles, observing the scenery the whole way. This is one of the best hikes in Olympic National Park, as you’ll be able to see interesting rock formations and sweet tide pools along the way.
- Where to stay: There is ample camping available in Olympic National Park. I also found this ultra-unique inn where you can stay in an old railway car. It’s just a 10 minute drive from Rialto Beach, too!
- When to visit: The summer months grant optimal weather for enjoying the scenery of Rialto Beach, but it can get crowded. Opt for spring or fall instead, as there are fewer people there and the hike is just as enjoyable.
10. Lime Kiln Point, San Juan Island, Washington
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, rocky Lime Kiln Point in the San Juan archipelago is one of the best places in the world for whale watching from the shore. Although you won’t find sand for lounging and sunbathing, this beach has plenty of characteristics that make it stand out: a jagged shoreline that fades into a thick forest, a historic 1919 lighthouse, and an abundance of wildlife to keep an eye out for.
In the calm sea below, you’ll have the chance to see orcas, minke whales, sea lions, seals, porpoises, gray whales, and even the occasional humpback whale. Besides wildlife viewing, you can also explore the 32-acre state park, which has miles of hiking trails to enjoy.
- Where to stay: Snug Harbor Resort and Marina is just a few miles away and has its own small, private beach. The elevated chic cabin vibe is perfect for a cozy getaway.
- When to visit: Prime whale-watching season is from May through September, but there are pods of orcas and other wildlife here all year round. If you want to get in the water to swim or kayak, visit during the peak summer months (July and August) or else the water may be too cold to enjoy.
11. Oak Street Beach, Chicago
When it comes to Chicago beaches on Lake Michigan, there are few that are as impressive as Oak Street Beach. Some might say it’s overrated and crowded, but I still think it’s one of the coolest places in the city and one of the best things to do in Chicago. Like other beaches, it’s free to visit (and one of the many free things to do here).
However, what sets Oak Street Beach apart is its location. It’s right downtown, next to the city’s most bustling shopping district, the Magnificent Mile. When you visit Oak Stree Beach, you’ll have beautiful Lake Michigan in front of you and towering, glittering skyscrapers behind you. As far as urban beaches go, Oak Street is one of the best in the country, hands down.
- Where to stay: The closest neighborhood to Oak Street Beach is the Magnificent Mile, where you’ll find Freehand Chicago, an upscale hostel with cool amenities an a social atmosphere. Get more ideas on where to stay in Chicago here.
- When to visit: To get the most out of Oak Street Beach, you have to visit in the summer months. It gets crowded in the afternoons, so get there early in the morning to secure your spot in the sand.
12. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Another stellar lakeside beach destination, Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan is a Midwestern paradise waiting for you to visit. The sand dunes are perched over 400 feet above the shores of Lake Michigan, creating a landscape unlike any other.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a massive natural area that encompasses around 111 square miles, with access to both Lake Michigan and Glen Lake. Both shores are ideal for a picnic, kayak adventure, or afternoon swim. With a total of around a hundred miles of hiking trails, this beach paradise is another great pick for outdoorsy travelers.
- Where to stay: To get the most out of Sleeping Bear, you can camp near the lakeshore or opt for quaint and cozy Arborvitae Point right on the lake.
- When to visit: Summertime is optimal if you want to partake in any water activities, but fall is less crowded, and the autumn colors in the surrounding forests are breathtaking. Either season is a spectacular time to visit.
13. Coney Island Beach, New York
Coney Island is a classic beach spot that native New Yorkers likely have fond memories of from childhood. Sure, it can be a little rough around the edges, but Coney Island is a must-visit destination in NYC.
The best thing about visiting Coney Island is getting to visit the carnival and the beach in the same day. If anything will make your inner child squeal with glee, it’s skipping around Coney Island, cotton candy in hand.
- Where to stay: One of the best places to stay in Brooklyn is the Liberty View Brooklyn Hotel, which is chic and inviting, while also being affordable for the area (rooms as low as $100/night). It’s a few miles away from Coney Island, but it’s easy to get there via subway.
- When to visit: Summertime is the best time to visit Coney Island. Otherwise, parts of the boardwalk will be closed and it won’t be nearly as fun.
14. Bar Harbor, Maine
If your idea of a vacation involves finding that perfect rocky clifftop to sit upon and ponder the world, Bar Harbor is for you.
There are a few beaches here, and a couple of them are part of Acadia National Park. First there is Boulder Beach, which you can see in the photo above. This is a great place to get some peace and quiet and doesn’t tend to get crowded even in the summertime. Then there is Seal Harbor, which has a sandy shore and lots of beachgoers in the summer. Sand Beach in Acadia National Park is very similar to Seal Harbor but has more amenities, like bathrooms and lifeguards on duty.
Although each of these has a different vibe, they all have the same green mountainous backdrop of Acadia National Park, creating a dreamy atmosphere you’ll want to come back to every summer.
- Where to stay: One of the best places any time of the year is Chiltern Inn, which has an old-school feel and features an indoor pool and sauna.
- When to visit: It’s no secret that Maine winters are freezing cold, so consider visiting in the summertime if you want to take advantage of the warm weather with a dip in the sea — otherwise forget about getting in the water. Sure, it’s high season, but if you don’t mind sharing the beach with other tourists and book your accommodation well in advance, it’s totally doable.
15. Nags Head, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Part of the sliver-thin islands of the Outer Banks, Nags Head is a sleepy beach town with just over 3,000 year-round residents. This quaint destination is practically made for a relaxing getaway, as simply taking in the natural beauty of the shore is the main activity in town. Nags Head Beach itself is about 12 miles long, giving you plenty of turf to find some peace and quiet.
The Outer Banks have a fascinating history, and many places close by offer visitors a glimpse into it. Check out the Bodie Island Lighthouse, a relic from 1872, where you can see the original keeper’s quarters and get a bird’s-eye view of the shore and marshes below.
- Where to stay: There are plenty of seaside accommodations to choose from in Nags Head, like the gorgeous holiday home Island Trader, which is a great option if you’re traveling with friends.
- When to visit: The Outer Banks get very congested with tourists in the summer months, so opt to visit in May before the crowds begin, or September after the start of the school year. This is when you’ll get the best deals on accommodations and still-spectacular weather.
16. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island calls itself “America’s Favorite Island” because of its overall prestige as a top oceanfront destination in the country. Until the 1960s, when tourism boomed on Hilton Head Island, it was relatively unknown — just another sleepy Atlantic coastal town. Nowadays, you’ll find world-class golf courses, ritzy hotels, and incredible restaurants with beachfront seating.
Spend your days on Hilton Head Island taking a bike ride along the oceanfront bike path, kayaking through beautiful low-country marshes, or learning about playful bottlenose dolphins. There’s plenty to keep you busy, but also feel free to just kick back and enjoy the scenic ocean views on America’s favorite island.
- Where to stay: Get into the Hilton Head Island spirit at the boutique hotel Inn and Club at Harbour Town, just steps from the beach.
- When to visit: Summer is the most popular time to visit — prices go through the roof from June through August. Since the island is warm all year round, plan a late spring or early fall trip to save on accommodations while also taking advantage of the sunny weather.
17. Tybee Island, Georgia
Low-key and bursting with Southern charm, Tybee Island is a favorite among Savannah locals, who only have to drive about 30 minutes to get there. The no-frills vibe of Tybee Island is a breath of fresh air, making it a peaceful place to dip your toes in the sand. There’s no wonder why it has a spot on our best East Coast beaches list.
There are three parts of the shore at Tybee Island, each with its own distinct atmosphere. North Beach is home to a picturesque lighthouse and the most laid-back of the three, although the waves can be too rough to swim in. Mid Beach has a similar scene but is more difficult to access because of limited parking. South Beach is the most popular and has the most attractions, hotels, and restaurants.
- Where to stay: Want to wake up and step out onto an oceanside terrace? Stay at DeSoto Beach Terraces and treat yourself to a gorgeous sunrise every morning of your stay.
- When to visit: Like many other places on this list, consider avoiding peak season in the summertime if you want to save on accommodation. Aim for April, May, or September through November for the best weather, fewer tourists, and lower prices.
18. Fort Myers, Florida
This is the ultimate place to kick back and relax. Fort Myers is just right for anyone dreaming of a restorative beach getaway. The powdery white sand and pastel-colored sunrises (and sunsets) here create a scene that looks like it’s straight out of a magazine.
Fort Myers is home to several small islands that you can sail to, which is a truly incredible experience for anyone who wants to learn to sail. If that’s not your thing, you can also stay on land and explore the multicolored streets of the city, stopping at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates to peek into Florida’s past.
- Where to stay: Just a 5-minute walk to the beach is the peaceful Lighthouse Resort: Inn & Suites, which features two pools and delightful outdoor spaces for barbecuing and picnicking.
- When to visit: Visit between March and May, making sure to avoid spring break if you want a quiet and relaxing trip. Spring lends itself to sunny days and warm temperatures with low humidity, perfect for hanging out on the beach. Plus, it’s still low season, so you can enjoy lower prices.
19. Miami Beach, Florida
If you want a Caribbean vacation without leaving the continental US, Miami Beach is as close as it gets. Known for its glorious sunshine and cultural vibrance, there truly is nowhere else in the country quite like it. The most famous stretch of sand is South Beach, where you’ll find people either relaxing on a lounge chair or working out in the outdoor gym. Prime people-watching if you ask me!
Miami Beach is a technicolored wonderland of brightly painted lifeguard towers, cool art deco architecture (which you can check out on this bike tour), and incredible seaside restaurants serving the best Latin American cuisine in Florida. Also, if you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance salsa, this is certainly the place to do it.
Find more ideas on what to do in Miami Beach here.
- Where to stay: Find art deco charm that’s just six minutes from the beach at Esme Miami, which is not only drop-dead gorgeous but also a travel-sustainable property!
- When to visit: Like Fort Myers, visiting Miami Beach is ideal from March to May (with caution to avoid spring break) because of the endless sunshine and reasonable prices on accommodation.
20. Luquillo, Puerto Rico
Luquillo in beautiful Puerto Rico is easily one of the most photographed beach towns on the island, so it’s no wonder why this makes the list. With towering palm trees decorating the white sand and subtle waves lapping the shore, this is the purest definition of paradise.
There are a few beaches to choose from in Luquillo, aka the “sun capital,” each boasting something different. Playa Azul is the best spot for swimming and snorkeling, while Playa Fortuna and Costa Azul are ideal for relaxing and taking the occasional wade into the water. Then there is La Pared, a popular surf spot and the only beach in Luquillo that has big waves.
No matter which you choose to hang out at, you’ll find the best that Puerto Rico has to offer here.
- Where to stay: Casa Coral is a travel-sustainable property and is right on La Pared Beach. It’s also next to a lagoon where you can paddleboard or kayak.
- When to visit: Summertime is the most popular season, even though the temperatures can be scorching. Avoid the crowds and enjoy cooler weather by visiting in April, May, September, or October.
Now that you know what the best beaches are in the USA, which one will you choose? If we missed your absolute favorite one, let us know!
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