Ranked: 10 Best Beaches In America In 2023, According To Dr. Beach
Now that summer is here, everyone is looking for the best beaches in the U.S. The person who has the answers: Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach.
Every year, Leatherman ranks the top U.S. beaches along the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts. He uses 50 criteria scored on a five-point scale, including sand softness, number of sunny days, cleanliness and more.
A geoscientist and coastal ecologist, Leatherman got his nickname when he was a professor at the University of Maryland, teaching a course on waves and beaches. His students nicknamed him “Dr. Beach.”
This year, St. George Island State Park—on a barrier island near the Florida Panhandle—was named the number 1 beach in the United States in Dr. Beach’s annual Best Beaches awards, which is published just in time for Memorial Day Weekend.
What Leatherman loves about St. George Island State Park: “It has the finest whitest sand in the world, made of crystal—there’s nothing like it,” says Leatherman. “In the bright sun, it is so blinding white you need to wear your sunglasses.”
The winning beach is fringed by clean, clear emerald-green water and is set on St. George Island, which stretches for 20 miles along the coast of Florida at the mouth of the Apalachicola River. “It’s known for oysters and other shellfish,” says Leatherman.
The town of St. George has seafood restaurants and mom-and-pop motels, unless you prefer to go camping in the park itself. There’s also a beautiful lighthouse. “It gives you a great view of the whole area—a panorama of the state park and the nine miles of pristine beach,” says Leatherman.
The 2023 list had many of the same beaches that appeared in 2022 and 2021, but in different positions. There was also an exciting newcomer for 2023: Poipu Beach on Kauai, the Garden Island. The unique thing about Poipu: It’s a double beach separated by a tombolo, an isthmus created sand that has grown out to meet an offshore island. “It protects you from the waves, so you have very shallow water, a sandy beach and no waves—perfect for children,” says Leatherman.
From Florida to Hawaii, here are Dr. Beach’s 10 best beaches for 2023.
1. St. George Island State Park – Florida Panhandle
Why it made the list: “This long barrier island, far from urban areas, is a favorite destination for beachgoers, anglers and bird watchers as nature abounds,” says Leatherman, who loves the sugary fine, white sand.
A tip: Besides swimming in the crystal-clear water, Leatherman recommends going beachcombing and shelling.
2. 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. “It is the widest beach on this world-famous stretch of sand.”
A tip: Check out the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, which is protected by an offshore coral reef—“ideal for families with children,” says Leatherman.
3. Coopers Beach – Southampton, New York
Why it made the list: On the south shore of Long Island in New York is the first “Gold Coast” in the U.S., lined with mansions and shielded from the cold Labrador currents. “Coopers Beach is hundreds of yards wide, made of grainy white quartz sand,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach; a snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here as well,” says Leatherman.
4. Caladesi Island State Park – Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
Why it made the list: On a onetime island, Caladesi is accessed via a pedestrian ferry boat or a long walk from Clearwater Beach. “The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand, which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters,” says Leatherman.
A tip: Leatherman recommends taking a kayak or canoe trip through the mangroves to spot large blue herons.
5. Lighthouse Beach – Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Why it made the list: “This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U.S. Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sand banks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach,” says Leatherman.
A tip: Stroll down to the Cape Point where you’ll often find a long, narrow spit of sand with waves coming from both directions. Walking along it will make you “feel like Moses,” says Leatherman.
6. 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 beach is great for surfing, ship-watching and hanging out at the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which was built over a hundred years ago.
7. Wailea Beach – Maui, Hawaii
Why it made the list: “Wailea Beach is a series of five pocket beaches, which are part of the Wailea resort complex that is mandated to provide a public right-of-way for visitors,” says Leatherman.
A tip: Check out the snorkeling here when the ocean is calm.
8. Beachwalker Park – Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Why it made the list: “This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors can bring their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “It is fun to walk or bicycle down the fine-grained sand beach to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds,” says Leatherman.
9. Poipu Beach – Kauai, Hawaii
Why it made the list: “Located on the sunny, dry side of this island is Poipu Beach, which is actually two beaches in one,” says Leatherman. “A tombolo, which is a narrow sand spit that extends from the shore to an island, separates the two pocket beaches.”
A tip: “You will find a large open area behind the beach as well as parking, snorkel rentals to explore the coral reef and surfboard rentals,” says Leatherman.
10. Coast Guard Beach – Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Why it made the list: In Eastham, Coast Guard Beach is a Cape Cod classic—“located where a sand spit extends southward from the glacial sea cliffs,” says Leatherman.
A tip: “Note the red flags with shark images on days when these predators are around and follow the advice of lifeguards,” says Leatherman.