The USA is brimming with beautiful sites and fun things to do. From small towns to epic weekend getaways to underrated destinations, there’s always a new corner to explore in the USA. Plus, it’s no surprise that you can add “exploring the best beaches in the USA” to your USA bucket list as well.
Beach vacations are always my getaway of choice. With the sun, the sand, and the sea, what more could you ask for?
Whether you’re looking for a beach with picture-perfect turquoise waters or a shoreline filled with stunning seashells, this list has 16 of the best beaches in the USA.
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16 Best Beaches in the USA
1. Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Hawaii is known for having some of the best beaches in the USA. As a matter of fact, this Pacific archipelago has some of the best beaches in the entire world!
One of the best beaches in Hawaii is Lanikai Beach. Situated on the island of Oahu, this shoreline was kept as a local secret for a long time. Then, a couple of decades ago, the secret got out, and Lanikai Beach started to gain popularity with tourists as well.
Lanikai Beach boasts golden sand and beautiful turquoise waters. To add to the picturesque image, the view from Lanikai Beach has two small green islands, known as the Mokulua Islands, in the distance.
While you can simply enjoy a day swimming in the calming waters, you can also experience a little bit of adventure by kayaking to these islands.
2. Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida
Everyone has a few things that they like to do when they go to the beach. Some people like to suntan, many like to swim, and others like to throw a football around. Bowman’s Beach on Sanibel Island in Florida is perfect for those who like to search for shells.
Sanibel Island is known as one of the best shelling spots in the entire country, and it’s one of the best small beach towns in Florida. While there, you can find everything from conch shells to Wentletrap shells to cone shells. Basically, you’ll have a whole bounty of shells to take home with you!
When shelling, remember to check the shells for animals living inside. If an animal is still using the shell as its home, be sure to put it back where you found it.
3. Pohoiki Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Pohoiki Beach holds the special title of being the newest beach in the USA. When the Kilauea Volcano erupted in October 2018, it wiped out huge swaths of land – including the old Pohoiki Beach. But once the lava rock hardened and the large waves broke the rocks down into black sand, the new Pohoiki Beach was created!
One of the most important rules to follow when visiting a colored-sand beach is to leave all the sand there! Many visitors like to take a jarful of sand home with them as a souvenir. And while that may seem harmless, there are actually beaches that have lost their color because too many people have purposefully taken the colored sand home with them!
4. Papakolea Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
While this list of the best beaches in the USA already has a black sand beach, Papakolea offers a new sand color: green sand!
Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, Papakolea Beach is one of just a handful of green sand beaches in the entire world. The green sand actually comes from olivine crystals that are naturally present in lava rock. If you look closely, you can actually see some of these crystals at black sand beaches as well.
That said, it’s very rare to find a large amount of these green olivine crystals in the same location, as they are at Papakolea Beach.
It is important to note that the ecosystem at Papakolea Beach is very fragile. After all, if green sand beaches were not as delicate, there would be more than just four of them in the world!
To help to preserve Papakolea Beach, it’s important that you hike the designated two miles to the beach instead of taking one of the illegal shuttles that you’ll likely come across.
5. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California
Located around fifteen minutes away from one of the best coastal towns in California, Big Sur, Pfeiffer Beach is a must for any avid beach lover!
On this list of the best beaches in the United States, we’ve already included beaches with golden sand, black sand, and even green sand. But so far, none of the other beaches on this list can boast what Pfeiffer Beach in California can: purple sand!
The purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach can only be found at the north end of the beach. This fun purple color comes from the manganese garnet gemstones found in the cliffs in the area.
And while you might be tempted to spend all your time appreciating the rare purple sand, you can also admire the Keyhole Arch rock structure, take a few pictures of McWay Falls, and look for little creatures in the tidepools.
6. Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Kiawah Island is one of the most beautiful beach destinations in South Carolina. And Kiawah Beachwalker Park is the only public beach on the entire island.
With its ten miles of shoreline, there are so many things to do at Kiawah Beachwalker Park. You can soak up the sun, enjoy the water, or take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk.
But what really sets Kiawah Beachwalker Park is its location. Not only is it situated on the stunning Kiawah Island, but it’s also where the Kiawah River and the Atlantic Ocean meet. This unique landscape is ideal for dolphins, so keep an eye out for them while at this amazing beach.
7. Zuma Beach, Malibu, California
Zuma Beach is situated in the famous California beach town of Malibu. This nearly two-mile stretch of shoreline is perfect for any beach activity that you’d like to enjoy. It’s packed with great spots to suntan, swim, and surf. Basically, Zuma Beach is the perfect beach for your Malibu beach day.
And you won’t be the only one enjoying Zuma Beach. Keep an eye out for dolphins and the occasional sea lions that like to visit every now and then.
8. Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, Florida
Clearwater Beach in Clearwater, Florida has long established itself as one of the best beaches in the USA. With 2.5 miles of bright white sand and calming blue waters, there’s no question of why.
Since Clearwater Beach has held its place as one of the best beaches around for so long, it has become a bit commercialized. And while this might seem like a downside at first, there are actually quite a few upsides to it.
Now, you can enjoy just about any water activity you have in mind – from parasailing to jet skiing to going on a dolphin watching tour to taking a ride on a pirate ship!
9. Cannon Beach, Oregon
Most people think the best beaches in the USA are situated in places with year-round warm weather. But some of the colder states have breathtaking beaches as well, including Cannon Beach in Oregon. In fact, Cannon Beach is touted as one of the most unique places to visit in Oregon!
The most famous feature at Cannon Beach is Haystack Rock. This unique rock formation is actually part of a state-protected marine environment. This is mostly due to all of the lovely nearby tidepools that are filled with brightly colored starfish!
And don’t forget to stay for the sunset! Between the beautiful pastel colors and the towering rock structures, it is quite a sight to see.
RELATED: 14 Unique Places to Visit in Oregon
10. Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii
Many of the best beaches on this list boast ideal conditions for suntanning and swimming. As one of the world’s premier surfing destinations, Banzai Pipeline offers a little something different.
Rather than getting in the water at Banzai Pipeline, you’ll simply sit on the shore and watch the best surfers in the world in action. With waves that are consistently 40 feet or more in the winter, it’s definitely a sight to see. If you’re extra lucky, you might even get to watch a world-renowned surf competition, like Billabong Pipe Masters.
11. El Matador State Beach, Malibu, California
While there are quite a few prime surfing spots in Hawaii, the continental US has a few that aren’t too shabby either, including El Matador State Beach in Malibu, California. The waves at El Matador typically hover around 10 feet, and, for a while, it managed to remain a top-secret surf stop.
But El Matador State Beach is simply stunning to remain a secret, especially with its crashing waves, soft sand, and stunning rock formations. It’s no surprise that word eventually got out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit!
If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, be sure to visit in the middle of the day. The flocks of people come out at sunrise and sunset to snap a few Insta-worthy photos.
12. Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico
The beaches of Puerto Rico are often forgotten about when talking about the best beaches in the USA since Puerto Rico is a US territory. And that’s definitely a shame because Puerto Rico has some of the most stunning beaches in the country!
It’s widely believed that Flamenco Beach is the best beach in Puerto Rico, thanks to its crystal clear waters and sparkling sand. While there, you can simply enjoy a relaxing beach day of suntanning and swimming. And if you’d really like to extend your time at Flamenco Beach, you can actually camp there overnight.
13. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Buxton, North Carolina
There are just ten national seashores in the US, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina is one of the most noteworthy.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore boasts 70 miles of gorgeous shoreline. It’s actually part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks area (yes, like the Netflix show, Outer Banks).
And while you likely won’t experience the dramatized version of Outer Banks life that’s depicted in the Netflix show, there are still tons of things for you to do at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
You can trek to the top of sand dunes, surf a few waves, or scour the sand for shells.
14. Shi Shi Beach, Clallam Bay, Washington
In order to reach the beautiful Shi Shi Beach in Washington, you’ll have to go on quite an adventure. After making your way into Olympic National Park, you’ll then have to hike at least two miles through gorgeous greenery to reach this secluded beach.
And while that might seem like a lot of effort to reach Shi Shi Beach, it is definitely worth it.
First and foremost, you’ll likely have a large chunk of the beach all to yourself. After all, not many people will be willing to put in the effort to find this hidden gem.
Second, Shi Shi Beach is absolutely breathtaking. With towering sea stacks, crashing waves, and colorful starfish, it looks like it could’ve been pulled straight out of a Pixar film!
15. Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Surprisingly, not all of the best beaches in the USA are on the ocean. One example of this is Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe.
As the largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is certainly a sight to see. The landscape of sparkling teal waters dotted with gray stones and framed by snowcapped mountains is just picture perfect.
But Sand Harbor isn’t just beautiful. It’s filled with fun too! You can swim, kayak, waterski, sail, and even fish at this awesome beach.
16. Kalalau Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
If you thought the hike to Washington’s Shi Shi Beach was a challenge, the trek to Kalalau Beach on Kauai, Hawaii takes things to a whole different level. Instead of hiking just two miles, you’ll need to hike all eleven miles of the famous Kalalau Trail, one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.
You’re probably thinking that no beach could be worth all that effort. But, Kalalau Beach just might be. Not only will you be rewarded with a slice of sunny Hawaiian paradise all to yourself, but you’ll also have unobstructed views of the stunning Na Pali Coast.
Do you have any suggestions to add to this list of the best beaches in the USA? Let me know in the comments below!
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Disha Smith is the founder of Disha Discovers. She quit her job in 2017 to travel the world to explore new cultures and experience new adventures. She has since been to 95+ countries and counting and has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Croatia, and Australia. She has done all kinds of travel ranging from luxury to budget backpacking, and her mission is to inspire others to discover their own sense of adventure and to help them plan a life full of meaningful experiences through travel.