Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan, USA

The best beaches in the USA

Avatar Image
By Zora O'Neill
View Comments

America’s varied wilderness is reflected in its coastline as well inland, so holidaying on an American beach can be as good as the Caribbean. Whether you want fine sand and clear blue water or surf crashing against boulders, you’ll find it somewhere around the edges of this vast country. Alternatively, you can have an equally wild time at some famous city beaches. Here are 10 of my favourite beaches in the USA:

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

Fifty-six kilometres of Lake Michigan are lined with dramatic sand bluffs, a fine point from which to admire America’s third-largest lake, which contains 58,000 square kilometres of fresh water. Camping is popular here so you’ll have to book ahead, or stay further inland in Traverse City, the country’s cherry capital – delicious in early summer.

Miami Beach, Florida

On this iconic stretch of Florida water, the powdery white sand beach would be the main attraction – were it not for the fabulously cool Art Deco architecture and the over-the-top human parade on the streets. Campy, flashy, and just plain skimpy fashions rule. Do a few crunches – or get a boob job – before you arrive.

Miami Beachfront, Miami, Florida

Lost Coast, California

In the far northern reaches of the Golden State, the highway veers away from the rugged coastline, and the water can be reached only on rutted mountain roads or on foot. The Lost Coast Trail is two segments, totalling 85km, through orange wild poppies, dense fog and towering redwoods – some of the most wild and isolated coastline south of Alaska.

Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois

The water stretches to the horizon, which might make you think you’re looking out at the ocean. But behind you is Chicago, America’s booming second city, and the water is what locals just call “the lake.”  The water can be chilly until late summer. Warm up on 40km of bike paths that line the edge of the water while you can take in Lake Michigan’s deep blue and the city’s tall towers.

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay, California

To be precise, Mavericks is not a spot on the sand, but a patch of water about two miles offshore from this small Northern California town. With waves reaching some over seven metres high, it’s a destination for the hardcore surfers who seek out the biggest action around the world. Go in the winter to watch from the safety of the beach bluffs when there’s an invitation-only contest. Or get in the water yourself about 80km down the coast in Santa Cruz, with its own good (and less life-threatening) surf.

Big waves at Maverick, Half Moon Bay, USA

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon

Maybe because they don’t spend a lot of time lying on it or frolicking in the water, Oregonians don’t call their waterfront a beach, they call it the coast.  Even so, the Oregon coast – and in particular, this 64km protected stretch of rolling, wild sand dunes – is a beautiful and restful area. Zip on a wetsuit to go surfing, or get warm over a meal of rich Dungeness crab, a regional treat.

Jersey Shore, New Jersey

Hammered by Hurricane Sandy and, before that, stereotyped by TV personalities Jwoww and The Situation, this stretch of coastline is nonetheless a national treasure. New Jersey’s shoreline has a combination of beautiful blue-green waters and lively beachside culture. In the larger towns, bustling boardwalks are where you can lick an orange-and-vanilla twist cone, snack on a slice of pizza, or watch fireworks on the weekends – all to a soundtrack of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi.

Trunk Bay, St. John

If you do still want to jet off to the Caribbean, you can – and you can still use American dollars when you arrive. The U.S. Virgin Islands are a small group of isles in the Antilles, and almost 60 percent of the island of St. John is a national park, centering on the fantastically picturesque Trunk Bay. Offshore in the calm water is a snorkeling “trail” through the coral reef.

Trunk Bay, St John, Virgin Islands, USA

Siesta Key Beach, Sarasota, Florida

No need to jet to the Caribbean for these crystalline white sands and dazzling clear turquoise waters. They can be had on the Gulf coast of Florida as well, complete with palm trees rustling in the soft breezes. About a two-hour drive from Orlando, it’s the perfect place to rest up after a Disney binge.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Barrier islands edge the Tar Heel State, forming a skinny strip of sand that covers almost two hundred miles. The beaches are built up in such famous spots as Hilton Head and Kitty Hawk, and impressively wild along Cape Hatteras, where you have to pack all your supplies and ride a short ferry over for the day. It’s hard to believe this was the so-called “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” where so many ships sank in centuries past. On a calm day, looking at the clear, glass-green water, it feels like heaven.

To explore more of the USA buy the Rough Guide to the USA. Book hostels for your trip here, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance