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Aunt Rona has messed up our travel mojo in 2020, but that doesn’t mean we should admit defeat. US beaches are just as great for sun and surf as others around the world and summer is hardly over! Whether you’re hitting the road in search of sand, surf and sun, or planning a beach retreat in 2021, these stretches of sand represent the best of their kind.
Best Family Beach
Many of America’s best family beaches are in Florida and the Southeast—two regions that are warm and sunny for much of the year. Wanna for sure put a smile on your kids’ faces? Plop them down on the famously white sands of Destin, Florida where they can build sand castles, splash around in a surf that never gets too choppy and even wave to dolphins if they’re lucky. Bonus: This family-friendly region includes waterparks and kid-friendly waterfront restaurants.
Runner up: Hilton Head Island, SC
Most Romantic Beach
Don’t yet have babies, but want some inspiration for making for them? El Matador Beach in Malibu will get your heart pumping. El Matador is a wedding photos favorite thanks to its jagged rock formations and also because this West Coast beach guarantees that after a day spent frolicking in the water, you can smooch your bae as the sun sets into it. (Additionally, since it’s Malibu, there’s always the chance of a celeb sighting, which might create another moment of adrenaline!)
Runner up: Treasure Island, FL
Best Adults-only Beach
When we say “adults-only” beach, we make no assumptions—but we do invite you to use your imagination. With this being said, Texas’ South Padre Island makes no secret of the fact it’s a hot spot for dancing, drinking and all manners of 18+ fun in the sun. This is especially true if you visit during spring break, when the entire island becomes one giant dance party. Note: South Padre Island doesn’t have its own airport, so plan on renting a car at Valley International Airport and driving from there.
Runner up: Fire Island, NY
Best Urban Beach
Who says beautiful beaches have to be far out in nature or even on the ocean, for that matter? North Avenue Beach in Chicago couples views of Lake Michigan’s cobalt waters with easy access to one of America’s most dynamic and exciting cities. Anchored by iconic Castaways beach bar and grill, picture millennials by the hundreds playing beach volleyball, strolling the nearby Lakefront Path, and slathering on sunscreen and working their tans during the all too brief summers.
Runner up: Carson Beach, Boston
Best Off-leash Dog Beach
Talk about doggie heaven! Jupiter Beach, about 30 minutes north of West Palm Beach on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, offers 2.5-miles of off-leash roaming for Fido fun for BOWs (behaved, obedient and well-socialized dogs). In nesting season, Jupiter Beach is also a great place for families to watch sea turtles hatch—but keep Fido at the hotel for that one.
Runner up: Rosie’s Dog Beach, Long Beach, CA
Best Fresh Water Beach
Salt water is not a prerequisite for an amazing sun and surf destination. Lake Michigan’s Silver Lake Sand Dunes on Michigan’s West Coast between Muskegon and Ludington, for example, is downright otherworldly, to say nothing of how gleaming and majestic the water looks from a bird’s eye. Note: While it’s possible to climb these sand dunes on your own, plenty of companies operate wild and crazy buggy tours as well!
Runner up: Lake Tahoe
Best Chilly Beach
Many of the best US beaches are hotbeds for sun and surf—others are downright cold! The part of America where you find beaches best strolled while swaddled in a sweater and with a cup of coffee in hand is definitely the Oregon Coast, where dreamy (and, yes, sometimes gloomy) seascapes contrast with dramatic mountains and pine forests. In particular, Cannon Beach lives up to its sterling reputation and is oft recognized from the film The Goonies.
Runner up: Sand Beach, Bar Harbor, Maine
Best Beach Boardwalk
Amazing beaches aren’t only about sand and surf, but also the ocean-facing culture they produce. Brooklyn’s Coney Island, whose hot dogs and Cyclone rollercoaster are as much a part of the American tapestry as the flag itself, definitely takes the cake—funnel cake, that is. Whether you come to Coney Island on a Manhattan day trip or stay nearby, you’ll quickly see why this place is the stuff of boardwalk legends.
Runner up: Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, SC
Most Instagrammable Beach
An obvious choice is McWay Falls within California’s Big Sur scenic area. It’s literally a waterfall that splashes onto the beach below! The best part is that Pacific Coast Highway (the road that runs through Big Sur, and along the entire California Coast) runs quite close to the beach, meaning you can get that Insta-perfect angle with minimal effort. Getting a selfie—well, that will take a little more creativity!
Runner up: Hamilton Pool Preserve, Austin
Best Beach for Colorful Sand
Everybody loves a white sand beach, but the world would be boring if only white sand existed. If you’re in Hawaii (in which case, we’re all very jealous), consider visiting Kaihalulu Beach along Maui‘s Hana Highway, where the rusty vermillion sands will stop you in your tracks. If you’re stopping here during a Hana Highway Road trip, it’s the perfect place to chill out before (or, if you don’t mind backtracking, after) your hike into Haleakala Crater.
Runner up: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Big Island
Best People-watching Beach
Social distancing will be with us for a while, but you can still people-watch from six feet away. Venice Beach in Los Angeles is the obvious choice for people-peering, whether you cheer on street performers (or, depending on your luck, street preachers), or simply gawk at muscles and bikini bodies. After you’ve gotten your fill of human delights, walk along Venice’s namesake canals, or stop at any number of restaurants for outdoor dining or takeout and to enjoy sunset cocktails.
Runner up: South Beach, Miami
Best Beach for Wildlife
Even if you’re a people person, beaches with plentiful wildlife are plenty appealing. Assateague Island National Seashore, which is split between Maryland and Virginia, is home to hundreds of wild ponies—yes, we said “wild ponies.” Note that most of the best hotels nearby are on the Virginia side, such as Hampton Inn & Suites in Chincoteague.
Runner Up: Turtle Beach, Oahu
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