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Coronado Beach | San Diego, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best beaches in the United States

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

By Sarah Medina and Time Out contributors
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After a year spent indoors, we're ready to be (safely) outside and soaking up the sun this summer. If you're feeling us, gear up for some serious snorkeling, surfing, swimming or even just chilling out—we’re all in need of some much-needed taking-it-easy time—at the very best best beaches in the United States. This roundup spans the country, from East Coast gems and West Coast favorites to beautiful Hawaii coasts and even an essential respite in Chicago. Thirsting for more travel inspiration in 2021? Don’t miss our rundowns of the best places to visit in the USA, hiking trails in the United States and the best road trips in America

RECOMMENDED: Your ultimate guide to the great outdoors

Best beaches in the United States

Hanalei, Hawaii
Hanalei, Hawaii
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Hanalei Bay | Kauai, HI

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 in 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.

Discover the best things to do in Kauai

El Matador State Beach, Los Angeles, California
El Matador State Beach, Los Angeles, California
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. El Matador State Beach | Malibu, CA

Small and dominated by rocky outcrops, El Matador my not fit your typical idea of an afternoon on the sand—but it’s far and away SoCal’s most beautiful beach. Wear shoes and don’t bring too much gear; the western Malibu spot is only accessible via a steep gravelly path. Spread your towel in the cupped hands of the rocks—just watch out for high tide. Arriving early or staying late should reward you with a memorable dawn or sunset. El Matador and nearby El Pescador and La Piedra beaches collectively form the Robert H. Meyer Memorial Beaches. — Michael Juliano 

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Siesta Key
Siesta Key
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3. Siesta Beach | Siesta Key, FL

As its name implies, 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 magazine. 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 

Coronado Beach | San Diego, CA
Coronado Beach | San Diego, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Coronado Beach | San Diego, CA

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 shorebreak, while a vast sandy expanse—which never feels crowded—invites sandcastles and kite-flying. The beach was immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot, and you can play the role of starlet with a stay at "The Del" which gains you access to retro, candy-striped loungers and swanky cabanettes on the sand. 

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Kaanapali Beach
Kaanapali Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Kaanapali Beach | Maui, HI

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 a nightly torch lighting ceremony with cliff divers reenacting King Kahekili’s tradition. 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 pepper the destination.

Discover the best beaches in Maui

Moshup Beach, Aquinnah
Moshup Beach, Aquinnah
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Moshup Beach | Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Martha’s Vineyard fills up with vacationers in the summer, but most stay on the northern edge of the island. Down south, or “up island” as the locals call it, 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 was officially reinstated), the white sand beach is a sanctuary from the horde.

Discover the best things to do in Martha's Vineyard

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Seaside Beach | Seaside, OR
Seaside Beach | Seaside, OR
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Seaside Beach | Seaside, OR

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. 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 also popular pasttimes. 

Discover the best things to do in Oregon

Ocracoke Island | Outer Banks, North Carolina
Ocracoke Island | Outer Banks, North Carolina
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8. Ocracoke Island | Outer Banks, NC

At the southern tip of the Outer Banks sits Ocracoke Island (pronounced like the southern vegetable and the cola), a onetime 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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Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock

9. Shi Shi Beach | Olympic National Park, WA

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 its 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. 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. 

Discover the ultimate guide to Washington

Aerial view of Oak Street Beach, Chicago
Aerial view of Oak Street Beach, Chicago
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Oak Street | Chicago, IL

Things to do Lincoln Park

Beaches aren't just for coastal towns. One of Chicago's most popular places to sunbathe, Gold Coast beach has volleyball tournaments, a restaurant and a spectacular view of the skyline. On your way to this stretch of sand, seek out Jeff Zimmermann's colorful mural "You Know What You Should Do" by the Oak Street Beach underpass. — Zach Long 

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