Jessica Schwartzberg

The best U.S. beaches—from tranquil to clubby, and from terrestrial marvels to watery wonders.

January 27, 2011

See our list of 20 Great American Beaches.

It’s no surprise that this summertime, American travelers are planning to stick close to home. But that’s no cause for disappointment: the United States has 95,000 miles of shoreline, including plenty of spectacular beaches in a range of flavors to suit every sun-and-sand fan.

Some U.S. beaches are secluded enough to rival island oases in the Caribbean, with sparsely populated stretches of sand and remote points of entry. Horseshoe Beach, in La Jolla, California, is only accessible by a single, unmarked stairway; getting to Ladies Beach on Cape Cod’s Nantucket island requires four-wheeling along a series of dirt tracks.

For those who prefer community rather than isolation, there are plenty of U.S. beaches that function as social hubs-on-the-sea. Some are glamorous hotspots—like Santa Barbara’s Butterfly Beach, common for celebrity sightings. Others, like Fort Lauderdale’s city beach, attract all walks of local life, and are simply great places to get a feel for local culture.

Related: America's Best Warm-Weather Resorts

Nature lovers have lots of choices for getting their fix, too; some of America’s beaches double as wildlife preserves (or just fabulous landscape photo-ops). Among them are Big Sur’s Pfeiffer State Beach, framed by looming bluffs and dramatic rock outcroppings; and Meyers Creek Beach, in Oregon, where the beachside dunes are carpeted with wildflowers every summer.

Of course, what happens on land is only half the fun of beaches; for many of us, jumping into the water is the real point. Those who like splashing as much as sunning head to spots like Gooseberry Beach, in Newport, Rhode Island—with calm, protected waters and lots of tidepools for exploring. There’s also Malibu’s Zuma Beach, where the easy swells are perfect for bobbing and bodysurfing.

Related: America’s Best Little Beach Towns

Yes, American beaches run the gamut—from tranquil to clubby, and from terrestrial marvels to watery wonders. Some are so different it’s hard to fathom they’re part of the same country. But in the end, what’s greatest about beaches in the U.S. is what they all have in common: their closeness. True shore hounds could hit several of the beaches on our list in a single summer if they wanted—no passport or plane travel required.

Makes us feel downright patriotic.

Beach Buzz

  • There are seven quintillion, 500 quadrillion (7,500,000,000,000,000,000) grains of beach sand in the world
  • Wherever you are in Florida, you can't be farther than 60 miles from a beach—the state has 1,350 miles of them
  • In July, Key West has the country's warmest water, at 87 degrees. The coldest, 50 degrees, is found off Eastport, Maine

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