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People relax on the beach and swim in the surf of the lifeguarded beach on Ocracoke Island, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best beach in the US is in North Carolina, according to Dr Beach

Though it's a little hard to get to.

Erika Mailman
Written by
Erika Mailman

This summer, you’ll want to hit the beach that has the most to offer: soft sand, exciting but not overly-tall waves, good weather, and a stretch of shoreline that isn’t too crowded. To help narrow that search, Dr. Beach himself has just released a list of the best beaches in the US, as reported by Travel + Leisure — and the one that tops the list is on an island you can only access by boat or plane. Maybe that takes care of the ‘too crowded’ angle?

That beach is Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The island is 26 miles from the mainland, so you have to be committed for this 70-minute ferry ride from Hatteras.

Once there, you’ll be at the home of Blackbeard the pirate and where some of the wildest beaches in the country hold big surf competitions at the end of the summer. But don't expect to find golf courses or grand hotels – Lifeguard Beach is really just for beachcombing and swimming.

Wondering who the hell Dr. Beach is? The penname belongs to Dr. Stephen Leatherman, who has been evaluating and ranking beaches for more than 30 years to create an annual listing of America’s Best Beaches. He also promotes awareness of the danger of rip currents and urges beaches to adopt no smoking policies.

His second choice for this year is Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin, Florida. This beach, too, requires a little work to get to, accessible by pedestrian ferry, private boats, or a long walk from Clearwater Beach. The crystalline quartz white sand beach is ‘soft and cushy,’ says Dr. Beach, and he recommends boardwalk trails and kayaking or canoing through the mangroves to see large blue herons.

Coming in third is Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York. It’s on Long Island’s south shore and therefore shielded from cold currents. It’s the country’s first ‘Gold Coast,’ says the physician of beachology, with a grainy white quartz sand beach that is hundreds of yards wide, backed by beach grass covered sand dunes and the grand mansions the Hamptons are known for. There’s also a snack bar, yay!

What other beaches made this year’s list?

4. St. George Island State Park, Florida

5. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii 

6. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina

7. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

8. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii

9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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