Hanauma Bay, Oahu, tops Dr. Beach’s list of Top Beaches for 2016

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Hanauma Bay is the number one beach in the 26th annual Top 10 Beach List, complied by coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, professor at Florida International University. Below are Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches of 2016, including his photos and description of each:

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1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, Oahu, Hawaii. Hanauma Bay Beach Park is located on the eastern end of Oahu. There is limited parking so the best way is to reach this stunning white sand coral beach enclosed in a breached volcano is to take the Waikiki Beach Shuttle. The marine protected area, which has the best accessible snorkeling in Hawaii, is closed on Tuesdays to give the fish a chance to rest. In fact, this became the first no-smoking beach in Hawaii because of the necessity to protect the thousands of beautifully-colored tropical fish which span the rainbow. There are lifeguards along this crescent-shaped beach along with full amenities.


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2. Siesta Beach Sarasota, Florida. According to Dr. Beach: “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over. Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”


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3. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii. Kapalua is a perfect beach for swimming and snorkeling in the clear, azure waters that are protected by two headlands formed long ago by lava flows into the sea. This beautiful crescent-shaped, white sand beach is bounded by these rocky anchors where good restaurants can be found. The fine coral sand beach slopes gradually into the deeper water where the rocky bottom is punctuated with corals that attract vividly-colored tropical fish. You can buy fish food and rent snorkeling gear at the concession hut on the north end of the beach.


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4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina. Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place—it is my favorite getaway beach. Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t come here expecting to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming, shelling and enjoying a walk through the old cementery on a foggy night. This island can still be reached by a free state ferry.


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5. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Coast Guard Beach, accessible by bicycle or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center, was formed where a sand spit attached to the glacial cliffs. The sand is fairly coarse so the beach slopes steeply into the water. The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay. During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees.


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6. Grayton Beach State Park, Florida panhandle. This beach boasts of its sugar-white sand and emerald green water where development has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape. At the same time, all the amenities of great restaurants and accommodations are close by in the old town of Grayton Beach or Seaside. Many people choose to camp in this wonderful state park that also features tidal lakes and freshwater ponds. Former Governor Bob Graham told me that this was his favorite beach.


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7. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California. Coronado Beach is the toast of Southern California; it is a veritable oasis by the sea, measuring hundreds of yards wide. With its lush subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand, beach-goers flock to this beach for great ship-watching and the summer’s warm and mild surf. The local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, was built over a hundred years ago, offering spectacular architecture and Old World elegance. Kings, sheiks, actors, and actresses have stayed at Hotel del Coronado, where food and drinks are served on the beach, and the hotel provides a great location for celebrities.


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8. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York. Coopers Beach is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York, shielded from the cold Labrador currents, in the beautiful village of Southampton. As the first “Gold Coast” in the country, Coopers Beach is hundreds of yards wide, made of grainy white quartz sand. The beach is backed by large sand dunes covered by American beach grass interspersed with large and extravagant mansions. Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach, and a snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here as well.


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9. Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida. Caladesi is reached by pedestrian ferry boat, private boats or a long walk north from Clearwater Beach– the inlet is closed so Caladesi is no longer a true island, but still a great getaway. The white beach composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters. There are boardwalk trails, but my favorite is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent this wonderful natural area.


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10. Beachwalker Park Kiawah Island, South Carolina. South of Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the public beach located on the southern end of Kiawah Island. This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors should pack their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets. It is also fun to walk or bicycle down to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds. The water is not clear here, but it is clean and provides fantastic seafood for low-country cooking. There is concern about the proposal to build 50 houses and a steel revetment on the sand spit in terms of its impact on animal life and visitor access.


Starting this year, extra credit is being awarded to beaches that prohibit smoking and the list of best beaches is beginning anew so all beaches have a chance again of making the list. As “Dr. Beach” (www.DrBeach.org), Leatherman has selected the annual Top 10 Beaches since 1991.

Fifty criteria are used to evaluate beaches, which include water and sand quality as well as safety and management.

Dr. Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist who has published 20 books and hundreds of scientific articles and reports about storm impacts, coastal erosion and ways to improve beach health and safety. More emphasis is being placed on environmental management and beach safety. Bonus points are awarded for prohibition of smoking on beaches.

Oahu is leading the way as smoking at all beaches on this Hawaiian island is now banned.

Additional Online Resources:

Biography for Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman: www.drbeach.org/pressreleases/CV_Leatherman.doc

Dr. Beach’s 50 Criteria: www.drbeach.org/50criteria.htm