The 10 Best U.S. Beaches

Health, Safety Helped Shape List; Critic Questions Standards

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 03, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

June 3, 2005 -- A beach's quality is more than sand deep. Postcard-perfectlooks aren't enough to earn a "best beach" title.

Safety was a factor in this year's list of top 10 U.S. beaches. The list iscompiled by Stephen "Dr. Beach" Leatherman, PhD. Leatherman has adoctoral degree in coastal science. He directs Florida InternationalUniversity's Laboratory for Coastal Research.

However, B. Chris Brewster, president of the United States LifesavingAssociation (USLA), questions those standards, partly because he saysLeatherman doesn't require "top beaches" to have lifeguards.


Leatherman's Beach List for 2005

Here are Leatherman's picks for 2005:

1. Fort De Soto Park -- North Beach in St.Petersburg, Fla.
2. Ocracoke Island in North Carolina's Outer Banks
3. Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii
4. Caladesi Island State Park in Clearwater, Fla.
5. Fleming Beach in Maui, Hawaii
6. Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.
7. Coronado Beach in San Diego
8. Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, Fla.
9. Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y.
10. Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii

Leatherman has listed the country's "top 10" beaches every yearsince 1991. His 50-point checklist includes "healthy beach" standards,especially those related to swimming. Only swimming beaches go on the top 10list, says Ava Reich, NHBC communications manager.

Past Winners

Leatherman also maintains a list of all the No. 1 beaches he's ever chosen.Once a beach hits No. 1, it's retired, Reich tells WebMD. "Once a beautyqueen, always a beauty queen," she says.

Here are Leatherman's previous No. 1 beaches:

  • 2004: Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii
  • 2003: Kaanapali, Hawaii
  • 2002: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Fla.
  • 2001: Poipu Beach Park, Hawaii
  • 2000: Mauna Kea Beach, Hawaii
  • 1999: Wailea Beach, Hawaii
  • 1998: Kailua Beach Park, Hawaii
  • 1997: Hulopoe, Hawaii
  • 1996: Lanikai Beach, Hawaii
  • 1995: St. Andrews State Recreational Area, Fla.
  • 1994: Grayton Beach State Recreational Area, Fla.
  • 1993: Hapuna Beach, Hawaii
  • 1992: Bahia Honda State Recreational Area, Fla.
  • 1991: Kapalua Bay Beach, Hawaii

Safety, Water Quality Standards

A healthy beach must be safe and have good water quality, says the NHBC. TheNHBC's standards include public warning systems, emergency records, ripcurrents, drownings, lifeguards, crime, water quality, and other topics.

"In my view, safety is not meaningfully considered in this ratingprocess," says Brewster. "It would be one thing if all he were sayingwas, 'Aesthetically, this is a nice beach.' But he's saying it's a safe beach,and that's the real problem here."

"Some beaches where there is very shallow, gentle water, and no waves,are not the kind of areas where you worry too much about there being lifeguardsbecause there are very few direct dangers to safety in a swimming beach,"says Reich.

"Others of course have deeper water, greater propensity towards thepossibility of there being a current, and other things that come with thebigger waves," says Reich. "So in those cases, lifeguards are moreimportant and sometimes critical to public safety."

Safety Tips for Beachgoers

"I would not recommend to anyone that they visit a beach that lackslifeguard protection," says Brewster.

The USLA maintains a list of lifeguard agencies that are certified asmeeting the USLA's minimum recommended standards. The list appears in thecertification area of USLA's web site.

The list doesn't guarantee lifeguard protection at different times of theyear or specific locations, says Brewster. He offers beachgoers these tips:

  • While planning your trip, ask about lifeguard protection. Contact thehotel, chamber of commerce, or public safety in the area.
  • Ask about lifeguards' hours of operation and whether lifeguards will bepatrolling in the area you will visit.
  • At the beach, ask lifeguards about any unusual conditions or circumstancesthat need an enhanced level of caution.

"Each beach area has its own unique hazards, and the hazards vary fromday to day," says Brewster.

USLA's Top 10 Safety Tips

  • Swim near a lifeguard.
  • Learn to swim.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Don'tfight the current.
  • Swim sober.
  • Leash your board.
  • Don't float where you can't swim.
  • Life jackets = boating safety
  • Don't dive head first; protect your neck.
  • At home, you're the lifeguard.

Show Sources

SOURCES:, National Healthy Beaches Campaign, "Ratings Criteria." B. Chris Brewster, president, United States Lifesaving Association. Ava Reich, communications manager, National Healthy Beaches Campaign. News release, Laboratory for Coastal Research & National Healthy Beaches Campaign.

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