In the United States, there's a good chance of being less than a day's drive from an excellent beach outing. From the sandy shores of popular Florida beaches to smaller lake beaches, there are many shores to enjoy this summer and year-round. Here's a peek at 50 of the best beaches waiting to be explored – most with no entry fee.
50 of the Best Beaches in America
It can get incredibly hot in Puerto Rico, so it's a good thing Balneario Luquillo in Luquillo has palm trees for much-needed shade. The calm waters, courtesy of shore reefs, appeal to body surfers, and sunrises over the water appeal to early risers. Recent visitors note that damage from last year’s storms was still visible but that the beach had been cleaned up nicely. This beach is one of just six in Puerto Rico that have been Blue Flag certified by the Foundation for Environmental Education as meeting stringent standards for water quality, safety, environmental education, and information.
It's no secret that Hawaii has an abundance of beautiful beaches, but one standout is the Big Island's Beach 69 (also known as Waialea Beach) on the Kohala Coast. The beach has calm, crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling, as well as tide pools for viewing sea life on land. Trees lining the beach provide shade on toasty days. Parking is just $5.
The Diamond State might not be the first to come to mind when planning a beach vacation, but Bethany Beach in the Delaware town of the same name more than fills the bill. The town is small and quiet, but the beach is expansive and has a boardwalk for picking up souvenirs or grabbing lunch. The waves can get big enough for surfing.
This scenic shore of Cannon Beach features the impressive and distinctive Haystack Rock, which is said to be the third-tallest intertidal structure in the world and has shown up in movies such as "The Goonies" and "Kindergarten Cop." It's particularly striking (and photogenic) at sunset. The city of Cannon Beach is also worth visiting for its wide variety of shopping and dining spots.
Another great spot on the coast of Oregon is Cape Arago State Park in Coos Bay. The rocky shores are perfect for spotting sea lions and whales, finding fossils, and fishing. The views are stunning (and entry is free), but don't expect soft white sand here. Instead of sandals or bare feet, opt for sturdy shoes for clambering over the rocks.
The biggest draw in the resort town of Clearwater is the amazing Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. The beach can get very busy year-round, so be prepared to share the pristine sand. Parking at the beach is metered, so bring change, too. The waterfront Clearwater Marine Aquarium gives visitors a chance to meet the real-life stars of the "Dolphin Tale" movies, including Winter the dolphin, who swims with a prosthetic tail.
Cape Cod has long been a favorite summer vacation destination, and Coast Guard Beach is one reason. Spacious with powdery white sand and nearby trails for hiking, the beach has free but limited parking. In summer, the lot is closed to everyone but staff and people with disabilities, and a shuttle bus transports visitors to the beach from another lot.
What's not to love about Coney Island Beach? The historic destination has 3 miles of sandy beach, a boardwalk, a Ferris wheel, vintage rides, and lots of classic, New York street food. This beach gets extremely busy in summer, but people watching is part of the appeal. It’s also one of New York’s best cheap places to enjoy.
Coopers Beach in Southampton has sparkling blue water, sand dunes, and waves perfect for body boarding -- all straight out of a postcard. The downside is beach parking that's some of the most expensive in the country, at $50 a day May 15 to Sept. 15. Consider taking a taxi to the beach to skip the fee (or visit the Southampton beach that doesn’t require a parking permit, Road D Beach).
One of the best things about Cove Beach in Cape May is the lighthouse. The historic structure still lights up the beach to create oceanside enchantment each evening. It's a charming footnote to a full day of swimming, hunting seashells, and exploring the dunes. Daily admission is $6 for those 12 and older.
Crane Beach in Ipswich has pristine sand and clear water, but the biggest draw may be the wildlife. This beach is a nesting site for the threatened piping plover. Avoid fenced nesting areas and the wrack, a debris-lined area where the birds hide. Parking is $25 to $30 for non-members in summer, so find out if a pal has a parking sticker.
Crystal Cove State Park, near Laguna Beach, is a step back in time. The Historic District was built in the 1920s to be part of a South Seas movie set, with cabins now available to the public to rent. The beach is a great place to find crabs and other creatures in tide pools.
Surfers in the Northeast can catch a wave at Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk. Rugged cliffs make for a memorable stroll, but for many visitors, the lure is that Ditch Plains is a point break, which creates ideal conditions for surfing.
East Beach in Santa Barbara has more than a dozen volleyball courts and rents out balls to anyone who wants to play. A weight room, restaurant, and lockers can also be found at the Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse, built in 1927 and marked for a $16.7 million restoration. Parking is free.
Travelers have called Flamenco Beach in Culebra, Puerto Rico, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It's easy to see why, with sparkling white sand and no chain hotels or stores to spoil the charm. Recent visitors note that facilities there were damaged by last year’s storms but that the beach was clean and that waters are clear.
The beautiful dunes and white sand of the public beach in Gulf Shores are only part of the appeal. Wildlife aficionados will appreciate the chance to hike through the Bon Secour National Wildlife Reserve, and the historic Fort Morgan State Historic Site is a must for history buffs. Visitors can explore a fort that was active during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and both World Wars. Plan to spend the day, since parking is $5 for up to four hours but just $10 for the entire day.
Hanalei Bay on Kauai has an awe-inspiring backdrop of waterfalls and mist-covered mountain peaks just beyond the beach. The coral reefs are perfect for snorkeling, and water sports from windsurfing to kayaking and boating are available. Serious surfers, though, are some of the most devoted fans. Following severe flooding earlier this year, Hanalei beach has since reopened and is as popular as ever with locals and visitors. The local community and businesses could also use the support following the historic flooding.
Hulopoe Beach on Lanai, on the coast of Maui, stands out among Hawaii's many beautiful beaches for its large tide pools carved out of volcanic rock. Visit to see how hermit crabs, sea stars, and small fish weather the changing tides, but don't take home any stones or shells. The beach is a protected site, and the marine life need those souvenirs more than humans do.
For a quieter beach in Hilton Head away from the crowds, Islanders Beach Park attracts fewer people than nearby Tybee Beach but is no less charming. It has white sand, tree-lined playgrounds, walking paths, and, visitors note, immaculately clean bathrooms. Parking is by permit only, which requires an application and a $30 fee.
If headed to Jacob Riis Park Beach in Far Rockaway, New York, plan to make it a full day outing. There are lots of great restaurant and snack options for a midday meal. The waters can get rough, so it's not always the best choice for a swim, but the beach doesn't get too crowded. Parking fees are $10 a day Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, or purchase a season pass for $65.
Jones Beach on Long Island isn't just a beach; it's more like a swimming park. In addition to the beach, there are two swimming pools, as well as frequent air shows and volleyball tournaments. The state park entrance fee is $10 a vehicle when the beach is open. Visitors say the beach and bathrooms are clean and the boardwalk is great for families.
Go early to beat the crowds at Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui. The beach is considered one of the island's best, and has activities for all ages. Try snorkeling to see tropical fish and even turtles in the crystal-clear water, which is also calm enough for stand-up paddle boarding.
When vacationing in South Carolina, plan an excursion to Kiawah Island's Beachwalker Park. Dogs are welcome at this white sandy beach, and anyone can get a fishing permit to cast out a line. Parking is $10 per vehicle in the summer, and chairs (umbrella optional) are available to rent.
La Jolla Shores is a mile-long stretch of sand that has some of San Diego's gentlest waves in summer. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy between sunning, swimming, surf lessons, snorkeling, or paddle boarding. The beach's parking lot gets packed by midday, so it's best to show up early. But don't bother with the lot if you see a free spot on the street.
Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and Lake Harriet in Minneapolis stands out for more than swimming. Enjoy watersports and watercraft rentals, biking or rollerblading around the paved path in the park, a playground, and a rose garden. Stay long enough to end the day with a free concert at the band shell.
The water at Lanikai Beach in Kailua, Oahu, is warm, shallow, and calm in the summer months, making it the perfect beach for long swims. The spectacular view is marked by nearby islands. Lanikai Beach doesn't get as crowded as some other local beaches, so a visit here promises to be a tranquil experience.
Located 26 miles off the North Carolina coast on Ocracoke Island, Lifeguard Beach is one of many gems on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Supposedly once frequented by Blackbeard the pirate, Lifeguard Beach is now a favorite for present-day vacationers. Hop a boat or ferry to access the island's beach for a day in the sun.
Main Beach is sunny, sandy, and beautiful, and the nearby boardwalk features arcades, food vendors, and carnival rides. The boardwalk has a nostalgic appeal for many adults, and kids get a kick out of all the rides and games. You can park in the pay lot, but it's more fun to spend a quarter to take the Santa Cruz Trolley to the beach.
Visitors to Malaquite Beach in Corpus Christi, Texas, can enjoy the white sand and search for sand dollars during the day, then pitch a tent on the south beach in the evening and let the ocean waves lull them to sleep. The campground has 48 semi-primitive, designated sites. Each can host two tents and up to eight people. Starting June 1, it will cost $20 for a weeklong pass (up from $10), and $14 to camp (up from $8).
Block Island's Mansion Beach is a bit less crowded than others on the island, but visitors may still want to bike to it instead of struggle to find one of the limited parking spaces. The secluded spot is called Mansion Beach after the great house that used to stand on the property but burned down in the 1950s. Now the beach is known for its impressively big waves.
The perfectly transparent waters of Miami Beach are just one reason this destination is so immensely popular. The pastel-colored Art Deco buildings along the water, as well as the possibility of spotting a celebrity catching some sun, are even more compelling. Forget searching for parking – look for one of the many Citibike self-service bike rental stations instead and enjoy cheap transportation to this Miami attraction.
The remote location of Moshup Beach is often overlooked by visitors to Martha's Vineyard. It's partially surrounded by beautiful cliffs but has an unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. A lighthouse makes for dramatic photos, and while some use the colorful clay from the Aquinnah Cliffs for mud baths, removal of the clay is actually illegal as the cliffs are an Endangered National Landmark. Better to just enjoy the view. Parking tops out at $20 for an entire day in summer.
Scenic views of the city skyline can be spotted from Myrtle Beach, but kids (and the young-at-heart) may have eyes only for the Ferris wheel and roller coaster. Anglers will want to join the many fishermen who frequent the Springmaid Pier to cast a line. Bring change, credit cards or cash for the metered parking.
North Avenue Beach near downtown Chicago has scenic views in both directions, with Lake Michigan kissing the sand and the dramatic city skyline behind. Ride a bike down the Lakefront Path to bypass the crowded, metered summer parking.
When visiting Ocean City Beach, be sure to make time for the boardwalk, with all its shops, rides, and places to eat. Bring the dog, too -- pets are allowed on the beach and boardwalk. Visitors may even spot a few dolphins. Consider the West Ocean City Park Ride for $3 all-day parking and transportation.
Park Point in Duluth, Minnesota, is the world's longest freshwater sandbar (more than 5 miles long), so be ready for a full day of exploring at the Western edge of Lake Superior. In summer, the Great Lake can get warm enough for swimming. There are no concessions or restaurants nearby, so bring a picnic lunch.
Pfeiffer Beach is known for a remarkable, one-of-a-kind feature – purple sand. Beaches in Big Sur can be hard to find or access, due to the steep terrain, and many are on private property. But few regret making the effort to reach Pfeiffer Beach, and the drive through Big Sur is breathtaking. Entry is $10 a car.
Point Dume State Beach in Malibu attracts fitness buffs eager to climb its moderate-pitch rock climbing routes, most of which have ropes attached to fixed anchors for safety. Less than an hour's drive away from Los Angeles, Point Dume State Beach is a quick getaway from urban stresses.
Plan to visit Ruby Beach in Washington's Olympic National Park during low tide to best appreciate the sea stacks and tide pools. Driftwood is scattered across the sand, and the imposing and jagged rocks will wow any nature lover.
Located in Maine's Acadia National Park, Sand Beach on Mount Desert Island is a bit chilly for swimming, but the setting is magnificent and the sand sits in contrast to the area's rugged coastline. While just 290 yards long, this little beach is surrounded by an abundance of beautiful hiking trails.
Sandbridge Beach is popular with locals, while tourists crowd the nearby Virginia Beach boardwalk. Leave the French fries and crowds to them. With 5 miles of sandy beach, clusters of sea oats, and the marshes and open waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, Sandbridge Beach is a serene site for kayaking, hiking, fishing, or just relaxing.
Schoolhouse Beach on remote Washington Island in Lake Michigan is not the standard beach. It has smooth rocks instead of sand – considered one of only five such beaches worldwide – and offers a unique beach day of skipping stones and observing stone sculptures in addition to great swimming. (Note: It's not permitted to remove even one of the beach's glacier-polished rocks.)
Sea Camp on Georgia's Cumberland Island National Seashore is a must for beachgoers who also love to camp. Visitors who take the ferry can hike and spy wild horses and other wildlife in addition to traditional activities on a wide, often uncrowded beach.
The soft, powdery white sand at Siesta Beach on Siesta Key is one reason why the beach keeps appearing on best-beaches lists. The setting also scores points for cleanliness and amenities, such as showers, snack bars, and grills.
The water at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is so blue visitors may feel like they're at the ocean instead of Empire, Michigan. Scenic drives, wildlife, towering bluff views over Lake Michigan, hikes (including a challenging hike of the dunes), and well-done ranger exhibits at the visitor center make this national park well worth a visit. It's $20 for each car to enter, good for seven days.
Smathers Beach in Key West is a half-mile of man-made beach that invites visitors to relax with a good book (chair rentals are available) or try one of a number of watersports, such as jet skiing, parasailing, or windsurfing. Whatever visitors choose to do, they will appreciate the ample free parking, picnic tables, and concession stands.
Stinson Beach is narrow but long, so it can accommodate a good crowd. Visitors enjoy sightings of sand dollars and sea lions while hiking into neighboring Mount Tamalpais State Park, fishing, or taking part in all sorts of beach sports (with rental equipment available in the nearby town). Parking is free, but Stinson Beach – only slightly more than a half-hour from the Golden Gate Bridge – can also be reached by public transportation. Flooding in April, however, prompted the closure of one parking area.
Surfside Beach in Nantucket is all about the views. The waves are often strong, making the beach a beautiful one but not the best for a leisurely swim. A shuttle bus takes visitors to local points of interest, and the beach sells concessions (including a beloved burger), so there's plenty to keep visitors busy.
At Tybee Island Beach on Tybee Island, outside Savannah, beachgoers should keep their eyes peeled for seashells, dolphins, and historic sights. Visitors can seek out the 1736 lighthouse and Fort Screven Historic District fortifications from the late 1800s – and contemplate the 7,000-pound nuclear bomb lost offshore in 1958.
In addition to a sandy beach where beachgoers can lay out and sunbathe, Whitefish City Beach in Kalispell offers boating, water skiing, fishing, and a stunning view of the mountains. Cool down with a dip in Whitefish Lake. The entrance fee is $6 for non-residents.
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