10 great American beaches

Climb a steep mountain trail to discover a view so striking that you simply can’t stop snapping photos. Take a Jeep to a deserted beach. Fly kites high into the sea breeze. Salute the setting sun as it drops into the sea. Beautiful (and fun) beaches abound in the U.S., and here are some suggestions for finding some of the best.

Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California
For: Oceanfront fun L.A. style

Three-mile-long Venice Beach, its sand perfectly kept, its Pacific Ocean water bluer than blue backed by green hills, is the place to go for a pickup game of beach volleyball or tossing a Frisbee. Seeking something more active? Rent surfboards and tackle the 5-to-7-foot waves that roll in during winter. Stroll out to the end of the recently restored Venice Pier to get a great view of the pink and orange Pacific sunsets. Walk the funky Venice Beach Boardwalk, lined with street performers and vendors. Watch a daredevil walk barefoot across broken glass, get your fortunes told, and revel in the free spirit of the place. You will be in good company. Such Hollywood names as Anjelica Huston, Eric Clapton, and Julia Roberts have lived in Venice, and Arnold Schwarzenegger built his physique on the beach there.


Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida
For: Beautiful beach walks

In 2011, Dr. Beach rated Sarasota’s broad and beautiful Siesta Beach No. 1  in the United States, and with good reason. Couples find that this strand of white-as-powdered-sugar sand is perfect for walking, on a beach so wide that it never seems crowded. Go early in the morning, when the only competition is the occasional yoga class or Frisbee game. Afternoons are prime times for swimming, snorkeling to see coral and caves, and for sand-castle building. Folks gather on the beach again in evenings to watch the sun drop into the sea, leaving behind a glorious palette of pastel colors. Nearby Siesta Key Village is charmingly low key, with good restaurants. It is possible to camp at Turtle Beach, within walking distance of Siesta Beach. The 8-mile-long Siesta Key sits between the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii

For: Two miles of spectacular beauty

Ask 10 Hawaii residents to name the state’s most beautiful beach, and you are sure to get 10 different answers—and all of them will be right. One name that keeps coming up, however, is Hanalei Beach on the north shore of the island of Kauai, just opposite Princeville. Fans of old movies will recognize it as “Nurses Beach,” in the classic musical South Pacific, which showcased the crescent of white sand backed by deep green mountains to perfection. This 2-mile long strand of sand rings the lovely bay, backed by sheer cliffs (walk the beach in the early morning and you will see the cliff wall reflected in the water). Hanalei is popular with local surfers, and it is great fun to watch them zoom into shore, but this beach might be best for strolls and snapping photos, as swimming can be hazardous due to currents and drop-offs.


Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands 
For: Breathtaking nature

If your idea of romance includes walks through wilderness, where you may never encounter another person . . . the opportunity to camp on the beach, under a canopy of glittering stars . . . some leisurely sightseeing . . . and time simply to chill out, a vacation in St. John—the least developed of the U.S. Virgin Islands—is sure to please. Two-thirds of the island is dedicated to national parkland, and visitors who book well ahead can camp on the pretty beach at Trunk Bay or at equally charming Cinnamon Bay. Grab paddles and get out on the water in a kayak. Charter a boat for some serious deep-sea fishing. At Trunk Bay, put on snorkel masks and fins to tackle the Underwater Trail, complete with signage, in waters as tranquil as a bathtub. Book a sunset or full-moon horseback ride along forest trails on the island’s east end. Rediscover one another.

Wildwood, New Jersey
For: Reliving childhood memories

Sometimes romance blooms in settings rich in nostalgia. Couples who remember cones filled with swirly Twin Kiss frozen custard, braving the Wild Mouse as it zoomed up and down tracks high above the boardwalk, and diving into just a few more waves even though your mother swore that your lips were turning blue, can find remarkable romantic nostalgia in Wildwood, New Jersey, a beach resort that has stayed true to its delightful past. Wildwood lacks gambling and mega-hotels but is rich in old-fashioned pleasures—including its remarkable 1950s-era doo-wop architecture. The incredibly wide white sand beach is perfect for flying kites, or just putting up a beach umbrella and taking a snooze. Bicycle the 38-block-long boardwalk to start the day. Return by night to ride an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster or a huge Ferris wheel, grab some cotton candy and feel like kids again.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
For: Quiet walks along a windswept beach

Cannon Beach, the loveliest in a string of Oregon beaches, is perfect for couples seeking quiet, seclusion, and long lazy walks on a windswept shore. Clearly this northern strand of sand isn’t meant for swimming, but is perfect for strolling, sharing special conversations, and daydreaming. Walk out to get the best view of the massive Haystack Rock, one of the largest monoliths in the world. Fly colorful kites in the brisk breeze. Admire—but don’t bother—the marine life that dwells in the tide pools. Save time to visit nearby Ecola State Park, with its panoramic vistas of Oregon’s rugged coast. Grab your binoculars to see picturesque Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, far out to sea. The cozy beachfront Surfsand Resort offers perfect sunset views.

Ladies Beach, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
For: Mingling with the rich and famous

For all its old-fashioned New England charm, Nantucket Island, 26 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, and accessible by air from Hyannis and by ferry from Woods Hole, is a high-end-but-worth-it destination. The beautiful people, drawn by a bevy of equally beautiful beaches, have arrived in droves, with prices rising to meet demand. That said, this romance-packed island, ringed with glorious strands of sand, is well worth a splurge. Get away from it all on pretty, ultra-private Ladies Beach. Best strategy: book into the classic, gray-shingled Wauwinet, a Relais et Chateaux hotel about 10 miles from town, rent a Jeep and drive out to catch some sun on this pretty beach, accessible only by rugged dirt road. In town, snap photos of the pretty Brant Point Lighthouse. A stroll along the graceful dunes is magic, made more so if you spot someone whose famous name you know.


Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

For: History and solitude by the sea

As North Carolina’s Outer Banks become increasingly developed, pretty Ocracoke Island, population 948, offers visitors 16 miles of utterly pristine seashore. This most southerly island in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is accessible only by ferry or private plane, keeping crowds away and frequently earning a place on Dr. Beach’s list of top ten beaches. Visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, its light visible 14 miles out to sea, and the Ocracoke Preservation Museum, to learn about everything from the local accent to the island’s role in the Civil War. Stop by the tiny British Cemetery, where four British sailors, whose bodies washed up on the island after their ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in World War II, are buried. Take a day trip to nearby Portsmouth Island, once the largest settlement along the Outer Banks, now uninhabited.


Horseshoe Beach, La Jolla, California
For: A beautiful beach in a chic setting

California’s commitment to keeping every beach public ensures that even tony Horseshoe Beach, in the upscale seafront town of La Jolla, just north of San Diego, is available to every person seeking some sun and sand. That is, of course, if you can manage to find it. Travel+Leisure magazine “outed it,” and so will we, advising readers that this tucked-away treasure can be enjoyed only by locating the understated stairwell that leads down to the sand, just off Coast Boulevard near Prospect Street. Best of all, when you have finished your swimming-bodysurfing-sun tanning afternoon, this upscale suburb of San Diego offers great shopping and excellent restaurants. For some added romance, check into the posh La Valencia Hotel, favored by Hollywood names you would know, and book a couples massage fit for superstars.

South Padre Island, Texas

For: Lazy days of summer

South Padre Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is so close to Mexico that it almost tickles the border, but it is truly all about Texas . . . and about relaxing in sun and sand. This isn’t a place for roiling roller coasters or big sticks of cotton candy. It is more about towering white sand dunes, a few laid-back beach bars, and keeping your binoculars handy to spot colorful birds, including the lovely roseate spoonbill. Watch dolphins play (you’ll bet money that they are smiling at you). The sand on South Padre is so abundant that you may well find yourselves competing for best sand castle architecture. Mind the turrets, and be aware that some competitors actually sneak glue onto their construction site. Surfing can be good, but in general, this pretty barrier island is all about lazy afternoons, spending time together, and, maybe fishing for blue marlin.