Best beaches in the USA

Alba Regidor

written by
Alba Regidor

updated 26.04.2023

There's no shortage of breathtaking beaches in the USA. From the island paradise of Hawaii to Cape May in New Jersey, here's our rundown of the best beaches in the USA.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to the USA, your essential guide for visiting the USA.

1. Makena Beach State Park, Maui, Hawaii

One of the best beaches in the USA? 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 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

2. Poipu Beach, Park Poipu, Hawaii

Poipu, Kauai’s largest beach resort, lies on the south coast ten miles west of Lihue, where sunshine is more consistent and there’s great surfing and snorkelling. Two of Hawaii’s major scenic attractions – the gorge of Waimea Canyon, and Kokee State Parkway up at its far end – can only be reached from the west coast of Kauai.

The shoreline itself, however, is nondescript. Waimea, the largest town, is just one short street at the foot of the poorly marked road up to the canyon.

    Where to stay

  • Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa - set amidst river pools and tropical gardens, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa boasts a golf course, 7 restaurants and a spa. Each guest room includes a private balcony.

What to do

Explore Hawaii's Garden Isle with a guide and see some of the shooting locations of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters, including Jurassic Park. Visit some of the most beautiful movie sets on Kauai.

3. 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

  • Explore Big Sur in true California fashion - rent a motorcycle and take in the panoramic views of the coastline on two wheels.
Pfeiffer-Beach, California

Pfeiffer Beach in California - one of the best beaches in the USA © Rajani Chand Nair/Flickr

4. 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 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.

Also, explore our guide to the best places to stay in Miami and find your perfect accommodation option in South Beach.

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

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

5. Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida

Much of the northern section of Sand Key, the longest barrier island in the St Petersburg chain, and one of the wealthier portions of the coast, is taken up by stylish condos and time-share apartments. The island terminates in the pretty Sand Key Park, where tall palm trees frame a silky strip of shoreline.

The park occupies one bank of Clearwater Pass, across which a belt of sparkling white sands marks the holiday town of Clearwater Beach, where a condo boom has all but obliterated the small-town feel.

    Where to stay

  • Edge Hotel Clearwater Beach is located on the sparkling shores of Clearwater Beach. Guests can take a refreshing plunge in one of the hotel's 2 pools or get a workout in the fitness centre.
Clearwater beach, Florida © Pixabay

Clearwater Beach, Florida © Pixabay

6. Outer Banks, North Carolina - one of the best beaches in the USA for a family holiday

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 surfing, 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.
North Carolina, Outer Banks

Outer Banks, North Carolina © Shutterstock

7. 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 and has one of the best beaches in the USA.

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

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

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

8. Florida Keys, Florida - one of the best beaches in the USA for snorkelling

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.
Beach view with a vivid sunset at Key West, Florida USA © Shutterstock

Key West, Florida © Shutterstock

9. 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

  • 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 antique feature throughout.

    What to do

  • Discover the island of Martha's Vineyard on this Boston day trip. Admire the extraordinary gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs, the quaint shops of Edgartown, and the breathtaking Gay Head Cliffs. Enhance your trip with a fully narrated 3-hour island tour.
Brant Point Lighthouse with its wooden walkway on a sandy beach overlooking the harbor on Nantucket Island, is one of the most famous lighthouses in Massachusetts

Nantucket lighthouse © Shutterstock

10. 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 a rendering 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.

Find more accommodation options to stay with our guide to the best areas to stay in San Francisco.

    What to do

  • Explore three major US cities on this tailor-made Cross country USA trip: from the hilly streets of San Francisco to the glitzy lights of Las Vegas (and an aerial view of the Grand Canyon!) to the French Quarter in New Orleans, this tour allows plenty of time to discover hidden local gems.
Baker Beach, San Fransisco USA

Baker Beach, San Francisco © 123rf

11. 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 - a thirty-six-room boutique hotel in a restored 1881 building in Old Town Chinatown offering dorms, private rooms (shared baths) 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 of toon Beach, combining it with Haystack Rock and other spots on Oregon's coastline.
Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Ecola State Park, Oregon © Shutterstock

12. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Not all the best beaches in the USA 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

    Where to stay

  • Grand Beach Resort Hotel - featuring a private beach and indoor pool, the Grand Beach Resort Hotel is a smoke-free property and provides guests with a continental breakfast served daily. The resort is less than 1 km from Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf.
USA-Sleeping Bear dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park © 123rf

13. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod

After the bustle of Cape Cod’s towns, the Cape Cod National Seashore really does come as a proverbial breath of fresh air. These protected lands, spared by President Kennedy from the development further south, take up virtually the entire Atlantic side of the Cape, from Chatham north to Provincetown. Most of the way you can park by the road, and strike off across the dunes to windswept, seemingly endless beaches.

Displays and movies at the main Salt Pond Visitor Center, on US-6 just north of Eastham, trace the geology and history of the Cape. A road and a hiking and cycling trail head east to the sands of Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach, both of which offer excellent swimming.

    Where to stay

  • Captains Quarters Motel & Conference Center - this North Eastham, Massachusetts motel is 1.6 km from Cap Cod National Seashore and Coast Guard Beach. It offers free Wi-Fi and a seasonal outdoor heated pool.
  • Visit 4 of the most iconic East Coast cities on this tailor-made East Coast Adventure: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. Take the Amtrak trains between cities and have private local guides introduce you to each city. From foodie gems over Broadway shows - this itinerary allows you to explore greatly.
 Coast Guard Beach in the Cape Cod National Seashore in Eastham, Massachusetts © Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

Coast Guard Beach in the Cape Cod National Seashore in Eastham, Massachusetts © Danita Delimont/Shutterstock

14. Ocean City Beach, Ocean City, Maryland

With more than ten miles of broad Atlantic beach and hordes of visitors, Ocean City is Maryland’s number-one summer resort, accessible across the Eastern Shore via US-50. There’s a lively, three-mile-long one of the best beaches in the USA, along which are numerous fast-food and trinket vendors hawking their wares, and a pair of amusement parks with the usual carnival-style thrill rides.

    Where to stay

  • Grand Hotel Ocean City Oceanfront - this hotel is located off the Ocean City Boardwalk, and features shopping and dining. The Grand Hotel features a full-service salon and rooms with balconies and views of the ocean.
Ocean City, Maryland © Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock

Ocean City, Maryland © Eliyahu Yosef Parypa/Shutterstock

15. Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia

A few miles south of Brunswick, Jekyll Island was originally bought in 1887 for use as an exclusive “club” by a group of millionaires including the Rockefellers, the Pulitzers, the Macys and the Vanderbilts. Their opulent residences, known as “cottages”, are still standing, surrounded by natural habitats that are legislated to remain forever wild.

Located within Jekyll Island State Park, Driftwood Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the USA among nature lovers. Thanks to its secluded location and serene atmosphere, the beach is an ideal place to relax, meditate and enjoy the beauty of nature. More than half of Jekyll Island is undeveloped, and activities including biking, swimming and horseback riding abound.

    Where to stay

  • Jekyll Ocean Club Resort - set on Jekyll Island, 16 km from Sea Island, Jekyll Ocean Club boasts an oceanfront pool, hot tub, and fire pit. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant Eighty Ocean Kitchen & Bar.
 Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia © adifferentbrian/Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia © adifferentbrian/Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

More ideas for travelling in the USA can be found in our guide to the best things to do in the USA.

Ready for a trip to the USA? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to the USA.

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Alba Regidor

written by
Alba Regidor

updated 26.04.2023

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