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There’s a Real ‘Dr. Beach,’ and These Are His 10 Best US Beaches in 2024

News Beaches and Islands
by Matador Creators May 28, 2024

With a nickname like Dr. Beach, it’d be easy to think Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman made a living selling coastal timeshares or running a series of cheesy beach gift shops, selling tacky magnets and t-shirts.

But Dr. Beach is very much a real Ph.D, with a doctorate in coastal science from the prestigious University of Virginia. Now, Dr. Beach — a nickname given to him by students at the University of Maryland — is a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. He’s also the author of several books on climate change and ocean health, and in 1991, created a 50-point rating system to assess the best beaches in the US.

His first beach assessment of more than 650 coastal destinations came out in 1993, and since then, he’s released ratings every Memorial Day, just ahead of summer travel. Using a highly scientific process, he assigns as a value between one and five 50 criteria for each beach. Values are assigned for factors relating to the physical characteristics of the beach (like sand softness and shore material), ocean characteristics (like wave size or the presence of rip currents), cleanliness and environmental health (considering factors like red tides or sand and sea pollution), and infrastructure, considering whether there are amenities like lifeguards or clean restrooms. And those are only a few of the considerations.

Dr. Beach just released his list of the best beaches in 2024. Here’s where you may want to consider visiting in 2024 and beyond.

#10: Coronado Beach, San Diego, CA

best beaches in 2024 - coronado san diego

Photo: Chris LaBasco/Shutterstock

Dr. Beach gave high praise to San Diego’s large beach on Coronado Island, calling it “the toast of Southern California.” Unlike the energetic surf scene of Pacific Beach or the party atmosphere of Mission Beach, Coronado is more laid-back, with a huge swath of sand that always allows ample space to stretch out. While the historic Hotel del Coronado provides a touch of grandeur, the beach itself steers clear of commercialism, offering a serene escape within easy reach of downtown San Diego. Reliably calm waves make it popular with families, and the entirety of Coronado Island is an excellent spot for a leisurely shoreline bike ride.

#9: Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, MA

best beaches in 2024 - coast guard MA

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Dr. Beach rates Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod as one of the best beaches in 2024 partially for its views, stating “the picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay.” It sits inside Cape Cod National Seashore, with swaths of fine sand that make the beach ideal for swimming, sunbathing, or beachcombing. Lifeguards patrol the waters during peak summer months, while a seasonal shuttle ferries visitors from the off-site parking area, minimizing car congestion on the popular shoreline.

#8: Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, FL

best beaches in US - florida state park

Photo: Paul Harrison/Shutterstock

Florida’s beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have long been popular with beach goers, and Naples has long been one of the most popular towns around the Gulf Coast. But among them, Dr. Beach recommends Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park Beach in Naples, not just for the white sand and warm water, but also the park’s resident wildlife, including bald eagles, ospreys, and manatees. In addition to the usual beach draws, visitors to the park can explore the tidal creeks and mangrove swamps that separate the island from the mainland. Shelling is popular after storms, and operator Naples Beach Adventures runs paddle tours through the park.

#7: Poipu Beach, Kauai, HI

poipu behc hawaii

Photo: George Frankiv/Shutterstock

It’s no surprise to see a beach in Hawaiʻi on the list of the best beaches in 2024, but Dr. Beach says this one is actually a two-for, with a small stretch of sand separating Poipu Beach into two different sandy stretches. It’s easy to reach from many Poipu-area Airbnbs and hotels, but is popular with visitors and locals alike. It’s been ranked highly by outlets like The Travel Channel and Travel and Leisure, too, probably due to the naturally shallow wading area, excellent nearby snorkeling reef, and good odds of spotting larger creatures like monk seals and sea turtles. Just be sure to give them lots of space if you spot one near you.

#6: Main Beach, East Hampton, NY

main beach east hampton ny

Photo: cnicolestudio/Shutterstock

Dr. Beach notes that the beachy enclave of the Hamptons has been popular among New Yorkers for hundreds of years — first by the who’s-who of early New York society, and now, by the rich and famous who flock to its shores every summer. Dr. Beach picks Main Beach as one of the best beaches in 2024 for easy, active vacations. Unlike some of the more remote beaches in the Hamptons, Main Beach boasts convenient access and a vibrant atmosphere between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Waves are usually calm, lifeguards are on duty all summer, and the beach stretches for miles, offering ample space to relax.

Fun fact: there’s a beach livestream available online in case you can’t make it to the coast.

#5: Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, SC

best beaches in 2024 - kiawah island sc

Photo: Jack Siman/Shutterstock

Beachwalker Park isn’t the best for swimming, but it tops the list for everything else you could want in a beach. It’s clean, big, and fairly untouched, with some of the best birdwatching in South Carolina near the beach’s inlet. It’s a popular (and easy) place to put in a kayak or paddleboard, and an escape for the development that lines many other areas of the state’s coastline. There’s a seasonal snack bar and boogie board/beach chair rentals, but aside from that, the landscapes are as nature made them. Fishing is popular, and you can often spot egrets around the northeastern tip of the island.

#4: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin Clearwater, FL

south carolina state park beach

Photo: Joke van Eeghem/Shutterstock

Dr. Beach praises Caladesi Island State Park’s “soft and cushy” “crystalline quartz sand,” but another major draw of this park are the trails — paddling trails, that is. You can choose from a one-mile or three-mile paddle trail and, if you’re lucky, could spot animals like dolphins, roseate spoonbills, or even manatees. You can bring your own vessel, rent kayaks nearby and paddle over, or rent them from the park shop/welcome center. One of the reasons this is one of the best beaches in 2024 is also how clean it is, mostly due to the park’s location: It’s only accessible via the Caladesi Island Ferry. Fortunately, it’s only a 20-minute ride.

#3: Wailea Beach, Maui, HI

wailea beach hawaii - best beaches in 2024

Photo: Ivan_Sabo/Shutterstock

No one should be surprised to see a beach in Maui on any list of best beaches in 2024, but Wailea Beach is especially non-surprising. It’s in Maui’s upscale resort area and easy to reach from most Wailea-area home rentals and beach resorts, with a crescent-shaped bay and underwater lava rock formations that create healthy ecosystems for snorkeling.

Public access points are plentiful, and the water is reliably calm, though the afternoons can sometimes bring small enough waves to allow for boogie boarding. The beach is also lined with palm trees and beach rental stands, and because it’s downright huge, you won’t have to worry about being elbow-to-elbow with your beach-going neighbors.

#2: Cooper’s Beach, Southampton, NY

coopers beach ny long island

Photo: Joe Trentacosti/Shutterstock

For a beachy escape from NYC, Dr. Beach rates highly Cooper’s Beach on Long Island, backed by rolling dunes and fronted with wide, soft sand. Coopers Beach strikes a good mix between development and natural beauty, with a concession stand, seasonal lifeguards, restrooms and showers, and on-site chair and umbrella rentals — but no mega-condos or expensive private beach clubs. It’s the quintessential Long Island beach and has made many appearances on past top 10 lists from Dr. Beach, including 2023’s list.

#1: Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oʻahu, HI

best beaches in 2024 - dukes waikiki

Photo: Levy Wiener/Shutterstock

You can’t go wrong with any beach on Oʻahu, but Dr. Beach thinks Duke Kahanamoku Beach on the west end of Waikīkī Beach is the best of the best. At the beach is a large lagoon separated from the ocean and perfect for little kids and families. And close to shore is a coral reef; it’s ideal not just for snorkeling, but for protecting the rest of the beach from large waves and currents. The beach is named for surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, and sometimes just called Dukes Beach. You’ll find plenty of places to eat and buy beach toys nearby, since Waikīkī is one of the most famous (and popular) places among visitors to Hawaiʻi. That also means there are plenty of convenient beachside hotels within walking distance of the popular sandy shore.

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