From stretches of pink and white sand to pristine lakefront shorelines, the best beaches in and around the United States are often the ones you've never heard of. Below is our list of 24 favorite sandy spots, plus local tips on what to do (and where else to go) once you get there.
For a glimpse of what Charleston's coastline looked like pre-development, steer your boat or kayak to this three-mile-long isolated barrier island. Free camping permits are available year-round so stock up on overnight essentials, like a Jacob Bromwell copper flask from The Commons, before you skip town.
Scenic Route 30A is a quick 19 miles long, but it passes through some of the most epic bits of Panhandle landscape: salt marshes and wetlands, mountain-high dunes, big-blossoming Magnolias and the kind of turquoise water glassbottom boats were built for cruising. Pitstop through any of the 12 villages that dot the route, including Rosemary Beach, Watercolor and cottagey Seaside, where you'll find plenty of beach reads courtesy of Sundog Books. One of our favorites, Saints of Old Florida, is about as beautiful a dissection of the timeless appeal of coastal Florida life as you'll ever come by.
THE REAL JERSEY SHORE
"Our hometown, Spring Lake, is a quaint suburb right on the beach: lots of green grass and trees, good waves and huge beaches, no traffic lights. The Parker House in Sea Girt is one of the best beach bars in the world. The outdoor back porch is a local haven, with $9.99/lb lobsters all day everyday. There's also Asbury Park, the summer home of Bruce Springsteen, which was the best spot on the Jersey shore in the 1950's and 1960's and then fell on hard times. It's had a huge revival over the past few years. The new Asbury Hotel is one of the best in the state. In the next few years, we predict it will start competing with the Hamptons as the place to be seen at the beach." - Alex Faherty and Mike Faherty, FAHERTY
Manchester by the Sea, MA
You'll find a mix of respite-speaking Boston-area college students and day-tripping beachcombers at this old-school beach an hour outside of Beantown. A 1920's bathhouse and charming snack bar cement the timeless New England beach vibe. And then there's the unique crunch of the sand, which resembles something akin to a musical squeak at low tide (hence the name).
THE BEST OF NANTUCKET
Hit up Murray's Toggery or Chubbies in town for swim and vacation gear, then start beach crawling. Galley Beach is the spot for drinks and a sunset perch. For a more expansive DIY experience, set up camp at Smith's Point in Madaket. You'll need to bring your own cookout supplies, but the haul is worth it for the view of the sky when day turns into night. Cisco Beach boasts big surf, plus proximity to Bartlett's Farm and Cisco Brewers, both great places to refuel after a day in the sun. In town, you'll find Children's Beach, which is exactly what it sounds like: a park for kids that just happens to be a beach, complete with things to climb on, bathrooms and a French-fry-and-grilled-cheese-stocked concession stand. Steps Beach has almost no surf, but what it lacks in breakers it makes up for in curb appeal: This is where you go to pick out your dream house.
Ditch Plains may get all of the glory Out East, but there's something to be said for the calm waves lapping this sandy slice of shoreline along the Block Island Sound. No surfers or summer-sharers to crowd the beach; just a wide carpet of clean sand on which to spread out your towel. Still, you don't have to forego the scene entirely. Suit up in summertime vintage—clothing, kikoys, beaded rope necklaces—from Melet Mercantile; then refuel at one of the bayfront picnic tables at Duryea's Lobster Deck.
Roughly two hours north of Bar Harbor, Jasper Beach is a wild wonder tucked at the end of a country road. It's known for its abundance of smooth, round stones, buffering bluffs and lagoons, but the seclusion is the real draw here—and it extends to the surrounding town, too. Machiasport is a classic quiet Down East fishing village, but head back down to Bar Harbor and you'll find plenty of activity.
near Juneau, AK
From Juneau, head north on Glacier Highway until you reach this remote state park, a 570-acre expanse known for its abounding views and awesome wildlife sightings. Come at the height of summer, when flocking salmon attract bears and the beach's namesake eagles, who hunt during low tide. For a $15 campsite fee, the park is yours to roam. Stock up on last-minute camping supplies at the 40+ year old Foggy Mountain Shop before taking off from downtown Juneau.
PIER STREET BEACH
"Coastal dwellers may tell you the ocean provides easy escape, but we Midwesterners know that true heaven lies in that first ripple on the glassy surface of a Great Lake. At the tail end of Pier Street in Lakeside, Michigan, there's a small stretch of freshwater beach, where the minute my toes touch the sand, I'm transported. Tim Allen is narrating my own private Pure Michigan commercial. It's relatively unpopulated no matter the day of the week, nor the time of year. The locals refer to it as Pier Street Beach; you'll want to call it home. And down the street is one of my other favorite places in the world, AP Shop." - Max Wastler
LAKE COEUR D'ALENE
Coeur d'Alene, ID
A destination since its days as a lumber town, the bottom of Lake Coeur d'Alene (pronounced "core-duh-lane") is the final resting place for a few Model T's, whose unlucky owners misjudged the winter freeze. During warmer months, the idyllic Idaho Panhandle lake stretches 25 miles, offering plenty of room to pontoon in peace. For lunch, follow the locals to Hudson's, a family-owned favorite prized for its griddle-cooked burgers.
Just two hours west of Portland rests an undisturbed stretch of rugged beauty. The beach is best known for Proposal Rock, where, as legend has it, a nineteenth-century sailor proposed to his homesteader love. While many couples have followed suit, it's best to get the heart pounding on a hike up the Cascade Head trail, where the coastal views never fail to stun.
San Francisco, CA
A challenging coastal terrain of sand dunes made this an optimal military lookout spot during World Wars I and II. Today, the shifting landscape is part of the now-public recreation area's allure. Trails weave throughout, offering paths for hikers, mountain bikers and runners. And good news for pups in tow—Funston is the only off-leash park in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On your way, drop in at Mollusk for a surf report... or maybe just a hat.
Big Sur, CA
Cutting off from the west side of the PCH is the unmarked Sycamore Canyon Road, a narrow passage leading to this rarely crowded Big Sur beach. Watch closely or you'll miss the turn. This sandy gem is not to be confused with the southerly neighbor, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and her oft-Instagrammed McWay Falls. Here, Pacific waves crash against rocky sea stacks and beachcombers stick around for an incredible sunset before trekking out for Ambrosia burgers at nearby Nepenthe, which offers a prime lookout of the surrounding Big Sur landscape itself. Note: Recent wildfires in the area have caused closures of many places in Big Sur, including Pfeiffer Beach. Check here for updates.
ON THE BEACH: EYEWEAR DESIGNER GARRETT LEIGHT
How would you describe California beach life?
"There's a different energy here, a mix of locals and tourists. People go to beaches every day. They are like our watering holes. In California, many people's schedules revolve around the beach. There's always something going on. It's an every-hour-of-the-day thing. You see the same people at the same spots. Kids grow up on the beach here."
Can you describe an early memory of going to the beach?
"My dad was a surfer and we'd go every weekend. Zuma, Malibu, Seal Beach. I'd get an Egg McMuffin and sit out and watch. It was mesmerizing. One time a guy stole my dad's keys and robbed his car."
You've lived most of your life in Venice. How do you describe the neighborhood?
"Venice has always led with originality. Artists set up shop here. The Dogtown guys, they changed skateboarding. Snapchat. Every 10 or 15 years there's been a significant creative endeavor that's changed things. It's that clash of high and low that makes Venice. Creativity is at the core."
What's your beach vendor in Venice?
"There's a taco truck called La Isla Bonita. It's been at 4th and Rose for 30 years. Order the ceviche tostada."
Last question: What is the ultimate California surfing beach?
"None is more iconic than San Onofre. California beach boy style—in and out of the water—developed here and in Malibu, and you can still paddle alongside generations of influencers on any given day. Waves break gently for long stretches, providing a forgiving environment for anyone just giving it a try, and a venue for others to showcase some seriously stylish traditional surfing."
BIG BEACH AND LITTLE BEACH
If you want to watch big wave surfers in action—or test your boogeing skills against some of the best swells on the west coast—head to Big Beach (Hawaiian name: Makena) in Maui. It's not far from the resort beach crowds, but it feels like hidden Hawaii. On Sundays, climb over the hill to Little Beach to witness free-spirited locals perform fire dancing rituals—occasionally in the nude, since LB is known for its exhibitionist nature.
If you want pink sand, wild vegetation and a destination with just the right amount of comfort and amenities without the tourist population that usually accompanies that kind of hospitality, Eleuthera is the place. Stay at The Cove, a former hippie lodge in a pineapple field that New Orleans developer Sidney Torres rebooted a few years ago. It's pretty much paradise. The best part: At any given moment, you might find yourself hanging with frequent (and super-friendly) regular, Lenny Kravitz.
Quintana Roo, Mexico
Like a proto-Tulum, Isla Holbox is a two-hour, backcountry drive from one of Mexico's prime party hubs, Cancun, but it's worlds away in terms of the remote, bohemian vibe it gives off. And it's separated from the mainland by a postcard-perfect shallow lagoon, enhancing the distance between the solitude-minded folks here and anyone amped for Spring Break up the coast. Stay at the charming boutique hotel, CasaSandra, and take long roams down the barely developed beach morning, noon and night.
British Virgin Islands
Uninhabited Sandy Cay is pretty much the closest thing to having your own private island beach. Owned by a member of the Rockefeller family until 2008, this tiny Caribbean gem is a virgin destination. Accessibility is limited to boaters, but it's worth the extra effort to make the trek. In addition to white sand beaches and incredible snorkeling spots, there's a short hiking trail and a salt pond smack in the center of the island.
Now that Cuba is fair game for U.S. travelers, it's worth rediscovering some of the preserved-in-time places that have been off-limits to outsiders for decades. First up: Cayo Coco, a tropical hotspot located off the mainland in the Jardines del Rey Island chain. Stay at the just-opened Accor Pullman which, though large, blends in with the natural landscape surprisingly well thanks to its location in the center of the island's eco park. Settle in, then set out: You'll find optimal diving waters, coral reefs, lagoons worthy of any movie set and a record-breakingly large colony of pink flamingos.