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The best beaches in the USA

Soak up some rays at the best beaches in the United States—ace for shredding waves, snorkeling and more

Scott Snowden
Written by
Scott Snowden
Sarah Medina

With spring now well and truly in the air, we owe it to ourselves to get (safely) outside and once again feel the sun on our skin, the sand between our toes and the refreshing splash of cool ocean water on our feet. If the thought of some serious snorkeling, surfing, swimming or even just some much-needed take-it-easy time spent listening to the ASMR-like sound of waves crashing on the sandy shore appeals, then you're definitely going to need our guide to the very best beaches in the U.S. 

We like to keep our lists current and, as such, this crucial countdown might not contain some of the beaches you're expecting to find. So, what's the nicest beach in the USA right now? Well, this essential index spans the country, from East Coast gems and West Coast favorites to beautiful Hawaii coasts and even an essential respite in Chicago.  

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Best beaches in the United States

The combination of endless, wide beaches stretching to the horizon in either direction, the iconic magnificence of the Santa Monica Pier, the sheer number of restaurants within a three-block radius, what's not to worship about Santa Monica, California? Not only is the sand soft, but the views are amazing, especially as the sun sets to the west, directly over the Pacific Ocean. In fact, on a good day—which is actually almost every day in Santa Monica—the yellows, reds, pinks and blues of every sunset are the stuff of dreams. It's time to stop kidding yourself, this is the best beach in the US.

If you're a history buff and sun worshiper in equal parts, Cocoa Beach is a close second place to Santa Monica, albeit, 3,000 miles on the other side of the country. This is where the Mercury and Gemini astronauts used to hang out in between training and preparing for their various missions. Not only that, but you get a heck of a view from here of a big launch from nearby Cape Canaveral, so that's a big plus! This part of the country is home to a truly unique chapter in US history and like the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, here you can lie on the sand and watch our humble G-type main-sequence star slowly inch its way over the horizon to start a brand new day. Melbourne is also worth exploring and there are some great places to eat and hang out not too far away.

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One of Hawaii's lesser-visited islands, Kauai is home to stunning beaches. Located on the island's north shore, Hanalei Bay is the largest bay on Kauai and offers more than two miles of soft white sand, a calm bay and a mountainous backdrop. The beach is rarely crowded, which means families will have plenty of room to spread out, and in the summer, the bay offers excellent mooring for sailboats, stand-up paddle boarding and swimming.

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You don't have to be a big wave rider—and let's face facts, few of us are—to appreciate watching the death-defying stunts of these incredible surfers. Mavericks wasn't supposed to exist and prior to being discovered as a big wave surf spot that rivaled Waimea in Hawaii, Half Moon Bay was previously only known for its annual pumpkin festival. But then Jeff Clark introduced the world to what this unassuming beach 20-something miles from San Fransisco and the rest is history.

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Another Atlantic-facing, sand-covered sight to see is Rockaway Beach located on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, NY. And there is a lot of history connected to this area, so a pleasant saunter should absolutely be factored into a visit. There is a multitude of bars and restaurants to choose from, plus the nightlife is equally as plentiful. Attracting a younger, hipper crowd, the restaurant and bar scene has followed suit, with crowded tiki bars and wallet-friendly Mexican restaurants

Discover: The best things to do at Rockaway Beach

As its name suggests, Siesta Key is the place to relax. The expansive beachfront rarely feels overcrowded and the fine quartz-crystal white sand stays cool to the touch, so be sure to dig your feet in whilst reading your favorite book. Pack your cooler with your adult beverages—no glasses allowed—and should you feel the need to exert yourself, kayaks and paddleboards are available for rental.

Discover the best beaches in Florida 


Anchored by the grand Hotel del Coronado, this iconic white-sand beach is a SoCal gem that literally sparkles (it's flecked with the gold-like mineral mica). Gentle waves encourage frolicking in the breakwater, while a vast sandy expanse—which never feels crowded—invites sandcastle-building and kite-flying. The beach was immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot and you can play the role of a starlet with a stay at "The Del" which gains you access to retro, candy-striped loungers and swanky cabanettes on the sand. Navy SEALs can also sometimes be seen training at the north end.

Discover the best beaches in San Diego

Martha’s Vineyard fills up with holidaymakers in the summer, but most stay on the northern edge of the island. Down south, or 'up island' as it's known, locals and island veterans head to Moshup Beach in the community of Aquinnah. Located below the sandy cliffs, at what was once called Gay Head (before its Native American name Aquinnah was officially reinstated), the white sand beach is a sanctuary from the horde.

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Cannon Beach, home to the iconic Haystack Rock, might be the most well-known beach in Oregon, but we're partial to this seaside enclave better known for its sweet waves and literal sweets like local saltwater taffy. (This is also where some of The Goonies was filmed.) There's plenty to do here, with shops, restaurants and an oceanfront promenade all boasting great views of the Pacific. Surfing, hiking, biking, kayaking and kite-flying are all popular pastimes. 

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Small and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador my not fit your typical idea of an afternoon on the sand, but it's a beautiful beach in an area of Los Angeles that offers some superior, sandy coastline, with Zuma and Point Dume just a few miles south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Shoes will definitely be required and don’t bring too much gear as the western Malibu spot is only accessible via a steep gravelly path. The beach itself isn't particularly wide, so you'll need to keep an eye on the tides, plus it features blufftop parking and offers some impressive and sizable rock formations. Arriving early or staying late should reward you with a memorable dawn or sunset.

Discover the best beaches near Los Angeles


Vacation like royalty at Kaanapali Beach, where Maui’s monarchy once enjoyed waves and sunsets. This popular stretch of white sand is home to surf schools, cocktail bars and an amazing nightly torch-lighting ceremony that dates back to the late 1700s when King Kahekili ruled Maui and Oahu for 45 years. Visit the Maui Ocean Center kiosk on the beach before a snorkeling session to help identify the colorful marine life you encounter. Then walk along the boardwalk and revel in the eateries and luau performances that take place all around.

Discover the best beaches in Maui

At the southern tip of the Outer Banks sits Ocracoke Island (pronounced like the southern vegetable and the cola), a one-time pirate haven that’s now one of North Carolina’s premier beaches. Blackbeard and his boys hid out and partied on the beaches here and if you don’t mind a ferry ride, you can also play pirate for a week. Find stress-free beaches and locals who don’t mind sharing their turf. 

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Let's face facts, Venice beach is among the most well-known in the country and for good reason. Nestled snugly next to Santa Monica Beach, Venice couldn't be more different. It's famously liberal and all about free speech and freedom of expression. Imagine Camden in North London during the 90s, or the Mission District in San Fransisco at around the same time, sure, they used to be a bit rough around the edges, but they were so very interesting and great places to tap into the zeitgeist of the time. Venice has cleaned up its act and thankfully it hasn't lost any of its charms. And during the summer, most of Los Angeles flocks here.

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Perhaps the most dramatic-looking beach on the West Coast, Shi Shi Beach features dozens of arches and rock pyres jutting abruptly out of the water. While it's not the best spot for sunbathers, science geeks will rejoice. The rocks create hundreds of tide pools, which house an ornate ecosystem of starfish, crabs, kelp and fish. Be sure to bring your shoes: reaching the beach requires a 3.3-mile hike through dense forest. But the payoff is worth the walk, and overnight camping is allowed. 

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