Best beaches in the USA

written by Alba Regidor
updated 4/1/2021
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There's no shortage of breathtaking beaches in the USA. From the island paradise of Hawaii all the way to Cape May in New Jersey, here's our rundown of the best beaches in the US.

Makena Beach State Park, Maui, Hawaii

Dream beach destination? For most Americans, the answer is simple: Hawaii. For the quintessential sandy escape, spend a day at Makena Beach – also called Big Beach – on Maui, where screensaver-worthy golden sands unfold along bright blue waters. Take a dip, snorkel the offshore reefs, or go body surfing. The sloping beach has a strong shore break, which makes for ideal surf conditions.

Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace – Paul Theroux, Travel writer

Where to stay

The Mauian - Very friendly, laidback little resort, in vintage architectural style, on ravishing Napili Beach a few miles north of Lahaina.

What to do

Go on a catamaran sailing tour to discover the fascinating underwater world. Molokini is a partially submerged volcano crater offering a stunning marine life.

Aerial image of Big Beach, Little Beach and Pu'u O'lai, also known as Oneloa or Makena Beach, Maui, Hawaii © 123rf

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

Many of California’s beaches are famous for their human elements – the surfers of Huntington Beach or the sunbathers in their string bikinis at Santa Monica Beach. But Big Sur is all about the stunning natural elements, which are revealed around every bend, from the rugged rock arch that rises mightily out of the sea to the gently curving sands that sparkle under the sun.

Every time I come, I'm still amazed at the breadth California has. Big Sur, Yosemite, the desert... I love it - Theo James, Actor

Where to stay

In keeping with Big Sur’s backwoods qualities, most accommodation is in rustic lodges, with scattered affordability.

What to do

Eplore Big Sur in true California fashion - rent a motorcycle and take in the panoramic views of the coastline on two wheels.

Peeping through the keyhole at Pfeiffer Beach, California © Rajani Chand Nair/Flickr

South Beach, Miami, Florida

This is Miami in all its sun-soaked, celebrity-thronged, Art Deco glory. By day, bronzed beachgoers pose and play on the silky sands, and by night, they do the same in the thumping dance clubs.

Miami is one of these great places that is a really sensual, physically beautiful place - Michael Mann, Film director

Where to stay

Cadet Hotel - Tranquil boutique hotel, with a peaceful patio reminiscent of a Jane Austen novel, in the South Beach fashion; the fresh strawberries and chocolate in the rooms upon arrival are nice touches.

What to do

Take in the gorgeous views of Biscayne Bay in style. Take a cruise along the homes of the ultra-rich on Star Island and further on the Venetian Islands.

Miami Beach Florida, with a colorful lifeguard house © fotomak/Shutterstock

Outer Banks, North Carolina

Small-town coastal charm, wild Atlantic beaches, lighthouses – and even some wild horses: the Outer Banks is North Carolina’s version of the Riviera.

Families flock to this string of barrier islands, which is filled with kid-friendly fun.

Little and big kids will love playing in the sand and surf, as well as exploring aquariums and lighthouses.

Where to stay

First Colony Inn - Luxurious inn in a 1930s beach hotel, with wraparound verandas and a pool. The airy rooms are filled with antique furniture and have a crisp white colour palette. Continental breakfast is included, and there’s free access to the water park and exercise rooms of the nearby YMCA.

What to do

Charter your own boat and go on a full-day fishing adventure. Spot dolphins play next to the boat, whales from a distance and catch yellowfin tuna, mahi and many more.

Outer Banks, North Carolina © Shutterstock

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Cape May, New Jersey

Cape May may be right down the coast from the Jersey Shore – the land of big hair and spray tans – but it feels worlds apart. And history has a lot to do with it.

Elegant Cape May, at the southernmost end of the Jersey Shore, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic, is one of the oldest coastal resorts in the country.

Wind your way through stately Victorian homes, visit the 1859 Cape May Lighthouse, take in the fading light of day with your toes curled in the sand, and then hit the seafood shacks where you can dunk fresh lobster in bowls of melted butter.

Where to stay

The Queen Victoria - Thirty-five rooms, all named after British people and places, in four expertly restored buildings. Rates include bicycle loans, beach chairs, breakfast (in bed, if desired) and afternoon tea.

What to do

Enjoy a colourful sunset onboard a sunset cruise. Watch out for dolphins along the way and see historic sights such as the lighthouse and the Victorian homes at waterfront.

Evening light on the Cape May Point Lighthouse, Cape May, New Jersey © Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Florida Keys, Florida

In the Florida Keys, the allure is as much what’s below the water’s surface as above it. Bring the snorkel equipment and a sense of adventure: the underwater corals are populated by brilliantly coloured tropical fish, swaying sea plants, and crustaceans.

Among the top spots are Bahia Honda State Park, Key Largo, and Biscayne Bay. Toast your adventures with a beachside margarita (or three) – and stop by Key West where the nightlife rivals its sea life.

Where to stay

The Gardens Hotel - One of the swishest hotels in town, this graceful inn has just seventeen suites decked out in airy Malaysian style with flatscreen TVs, fresh flowers and enormous beds. Groves of greenery and orchids envelop the building and hide it from prying eyes.

What to do

Spot bottlenose dolphins on a cruise from Key West. An expert guide will explain the marine life to you on this eco-friendly 3-hour tour.

Key West, Florida © Shutterstock

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Nantucket is a shining example of what enthusiastic preservationists can achieve. This tiny island off Cape Cod is a bastion of beautifully maintained New England charm, with cobblestone streets, artisan shops, warmly weathered seafood joints, a handsome harbour bobbing with gleaming yachts – and most importantly, 110 miles of sandy coastline, which is entirely free and open to the public.

Where to stay

continued below

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Martin House Inn - Thirteen lovely rooms, some with working fireplaces, offer good value in this romantic 1803 seaman’s house, with inviting common areas and a spacious veranda – local art and antiques feature throughout

Nantucket lighthouse © Shutterstock

Baker Beach, San Francisco, California

Baker Beach, which unfolds on the windswept shores of the San Francisco peninsula, is most famous for what looms over it: the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sure, you’ll probably need to throw on a light sweater to stave off the infamous San Francisco chill, but the reward is hunkering down in the soft sand, while gazing up at the famously orange bridge arching against the bright blue sky.

One day if i go to heaven... I'll look around and say, it ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco - Herb Caen, Journalist

Where to stay

Queen Anne Hotel - Gloriously restored Victorian building enjoying its second life as a boutique B&B. Each room is stuffed with gold-accented Rococo furniture and bunches of silk flowers, while some have fireplaces; the parlour (where afternoon tea and sherry is served) is packed with museum-quality period furniture.

What to do

Explore the spectacular coastline with a local: from the Golden Gate Bridge this walking tour will take you to Baker Beach and further along local trails right in time for sunset.

Baker Beach, San Francisco © 123rf

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Haystack Rock, rising out of the Pacific, has become the symbol of Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast. The relaxed, stylish town of Cannon Beach is crammed with cute boutiques, wine bars, and cafés, while the offshore rocks and cliffs are home to all manner of sea birds, including the beloved tufted puffins. Cannon Beach also hosts one of the country’s oldest sandcastle festivals in June.

Where to stay

The Society Hotel - Thirty-six room boutique hotel in a restored 1881 building in Old Town Chinatown offering dorms, private rooms (shared bath) and suites, plus a street-level café and a rooftop terrace with stunning city views.

What to do

If you're staying in Portland, consider taking a day tour to Cannon Beach, combining it with Haystack Rock and other spots on Oregon's coastline.

Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon © Shutterstock

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Not all the best beaches are on the sea. Lake Michigan is lined with splendid beaches, including the sandy strips in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This lush park stretches for 35 miles on Michigan’s eastern coast, and also in the North and South Manitou islands.

Sunbathe on the beach, and then explore the rest of the park, which is filled with hiking trails, sand dunes, and bike paths.

There is a gentleness in Michigan that you just can't replicate – Jennifer Granholm, Politician

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park © 123rf

Travel advice for USA

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written by Alba Regidor
updated 4/1/2021
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