America's best beaches for swimming
Stephen P. Leatherman, professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, earned his nickname. Since developing no less than 50 criteria for evaluating beach quality 20 years ago, "Dr. Beach" has been rating shorelines all over the world. What factors does he consider when determining a beach's worthiness? Water temperature, safety, and weather are all incredibly important, but he maintains that the most important single factor is water quality. "That’s the first thing people really ask for," he says, adding that Americans are fortunate because "most of our beaches in the United States are in very good shape."
We asked Leatherman were to go to get wet and he picked out the best beaches for swimmers in the country. Just remember to bring your floaties with you.
Main Beach, NY
The water at this East Hampton beach reaches a high of around 75 degrees in the summer. "Some people say that's too nippy," says Leatherman. "To me it's still warm enough, particularly on a hot day." The Main Beach is a safe place thanks to its "great team of lifeguards" and two- to three-foot-tall waves.
It also helps that locals take care of the place. "I've seen famous people picking up litter on that beach," he says. "People there really have a high respect for their beach."
Long Beach Island, NJ
"Long Beach Island has some of the clearest water I've seen in New Jersey," Leatherman says. The 18-mile-long barrier island has several beaches and communities to choose from, and the water temperature is ideal. "It's pretty much in the high 70s, maybe low 80s," Leatherman says. "Water temperature in Jersey is good." Leatherman also recommends making a stop at Barnegat Lighthouse, a beautiful spot on the northern tip of the island.
Beachwalker Park, SC
According to Leatherman, visitors to Beachwalker Park sometimes get upset about the murky water. "This is just the nature of the South Carolina coast," he explains. "The water's clean, but it's not clear because of all the marshes and the big tides they have there." Dark as it may be, the water stays in the low- and mid-80s year round, making it perfect for swimming.
Beachwalker Park is Kiawah Island's only public beach, and lifeguards are on duty in the summer. When you're done swimming, explore the island’s wildlife on canoe or kayak.
Siesta Beach, FL
"Perfect for swimming," is Leatherman's succinct description of this Sarasota County stretch. "Absolutely perfect." The water can reach 89 degrees in late summer and remains clear year round. At the Great International White Sand Beach Challenge in 1987, Siesta was honored for having the world's whitest and finest sand.
"It's like powdered sugar," Leatherman says. "You want to feel it between your toes."
Perdido Key, FL
Perdido Key is on the Florida Panhandle, between Pensacola and Orange Beach, Alabama. Leatherman likes this barrier island because its beaches are less crowded than others in the area.
Don Pedro Island State Park, FL
Accessible only by boat, Don Pedro is worth it for the "miles and miles of beaches," Leatherman says. This Gulf Coast island in Charlotte County, Florida, is a great place to collect shells. The water is warm and clean, and crowds are never an issue. "Most people don't know about it," Leatherman says. "It's a very underutilized beach."
Coronado Beach, CA
"This is the warmest, cleanest water in Southern California," Leatherman says of Coronado. The water still isn't as comfortable as in places like Florida — high 60s is the norm — but the beach itself makes up for the inconvenience of having to wear a wetsuit. The sand contains mica, "so it shines, sparkles, in the sunlight." Nearby mansions and the famous Hotel del Coronado are gorgeous sights.
The city of Coronado is near San Diego, but the two cities are separated by the San Diego Bay. Coronado feels "a world away," according to Leatherman.
Lanikai Beach, HI
This mile-long beach in the small town of Kailua, on Oahu, is "the most picturesque beach in the country," Leatherman says. The nearby Mokulua Islands and coral reefs with tropical fish are part of the appeal. So, what makes Lanikai a great swimming spot? The water is five feet deep for half a mile offshore. That means that there are essentially no waves.
"It's a very small beach, but it's a beautiful beach," Leatherman says. "I love going there."
Waimanalo Beach, HI
Lifeguards and peaceful water make this Oahu beach a safe swimming spot. "It doesn't have big waves there, so no shore breaks, no rip currents," Leatherman says. It's also a good place to get some local flavor. "A lot of native Hawaiians like to go there," Leatherman says. "But a lot of tourists don't seem to know about this area."