The best beaches in the US—that’s what everyone is looking for now that summer is finally here. The man with the prescription: Dr. Beach, a.k.a. Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, who is professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University and earned his nickname when he was a professor at the University of Maryland, teaching a course on waves and beaches. Every year, this renowned geoscientist and coastal ecologist ranks the top 10 beaches in the US based on 50 criteria, including safety, sand quality, and cleanliness. He has been ranking the best beaches in America for more than 30 years, sharing the best Florida beaches, the best North Carolina beaches and more.
This year, Dr. Beach has crowned Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in North Carolina as the best beach in the US in his annual Best Beaches awards, which is published just in time for Memorial Day Weekend. Ocracoke—often called the pearl of the Outer Banks—is an idyllic island 26 miles off the North Carolina mainland, and the beach is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “Ocracoke has what people are looking for,” says Leatherman—which includes beautiful sand, soft light, clean and clear water, 16 miles of undeveloped beach and sand dunes covered in beach grass. Another perk: “It has a quaint little village with B&Bs and small, wonderful restaurants,” says Leatherman.
Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach is also recognized for its iconic 1823 lighthouse—the nation’s second oldest lighthouse—plus the pony pens, a herd of once wild ponies believed to be descended from Colonial Spanish mustangs. A great eco-friendly way to explore the area is to come here on the Ocracoke Express Passenger Ferry. “I enjoy riding a bicycle or renting a golf cart,” says Leatherman.
Another North Carolina beach also made the list: The Old Lighthouse Beach at Buxton, which ranked No. 6 on this year’s list.
From North Carolina to Florida, here are Dr. Beach’s 10 best beaches for 2022. And come back later today, when Dr. Beach will be sharing what should someone look for when they’re picking a beach for a summer vacation, Ocracoke’s famous pirate connection and more.
The 10 Best Beaches in the US
1. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach – Outer Banks of North Carolina
Why it made the list: “Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place—it is my favorite getaway beach,” says Leatherman. “Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country.
A tip: “Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year,” says Leatherman.
2. Caladesi Island State Park – Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
Why it made the list: “The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand, which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “Caladesi is reached by pedestrian ferry boat, private boats or a long walk north from Clearwater Beach; the inlet is closed so Caladesi is no longer a true island, but still a great getaway,” says Leatherman.
3. Coopers Beach – Southampton, New York
Why it made the list: “Coopers Beach is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York, shielded from the cold Labrador currents in the beautiful village of Southampton,” says Leatherman. “Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach.”
A tip: “A snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here,” says Leatherman.
4. St. George Island State Park – Florida Panhandle
Why it made the list: “While St. George Island suffered a big hit in 2018 by Hurricane Michael, the area has substantially recovered, especially the sugary fine, white sand beach,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “There is much to explore on this serene 2,023-acre park,” says Leatherman.
5. Duke Kahanamoku Beach – Oahu, Hawaii
Why it made the list: “Kahanamoku Beach is located on the west end of Waikiki Beach, far from the large crowds elsewhere,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “It is the widest beach on this world-famous stretch of sand and protected by an offshore coral reef, making it a good beach for families with children,” says Leatherman.
6. Lighthouse Beach – Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Why it made the list: “Lighthouse Beach is where the old spiral-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse once stood until it was moved landward in 1999 because of beach erosion,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U.S. Atlantic Coast,” says Leatherman.
7. Coronado Beach – San Diego, California
Why it made the list: “Coronado Beach is the toast of Southern California; it is a veritable oasis by the sea that is hundreds of yards wide,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “The local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, was built over a hundred years ago; kings, sheiks, actors, and actresses have stayed at this iconic hotel,” says Leatherman.
8. Wailea Beach – Maui, Hawaii
Why it made the list: “The white coral sand beach gently slopes offshore and is great for snorkeling when the ocean is calm,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “The swanky hotels are set back far from the beach, providing a beautiful-landscaped park, adorned with tropical vegetation and flowering bushes and trees,” says Leatherman.
9. Beachwalker Park – Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Why it made the list: “South of Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the public beach located on the southern end of Kiawah Island,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “The water is not clear, but it is clean and provides fantastic seafood for low-country cooking,” says Leatherman.
10. Coast Guard Beach – Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Why it made the list: “The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view of the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “During the summer, beachgoers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water is chilly. In recent years, seals have moved northward from Monomoy Island Wildlife Refuge into the populated beaches, which has attracted great white sharks,” says Leatherman.
• The 22 Best Places To Travel In The U.S. In 2022
• The 9 Best Places For Solo Female Travel In 2022