Every year Professor Stephen P. Leatherman of Florida International University ranks America's 10 best beaches based on a list of 50 criteria. This year's top pick? Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y., gets the nod. Three of the best, according to the good doctor, are in Hawaii. And the rest are on the East Coast.
No. 1: Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
Main Beach is a favorite of celebrities and a survivor of Super Storm Sandy. Along with being easy on the eyes, Leatherman gives the beach high marks for safety based on its crack lifeguard crew.
The top Hawaiian beach on the list is Waikiki's Kahanamoku, named for a gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer and surfing pioneer, Duke Paoa Kahanamoku.
This spot "is bounded by the Ala Wai small boat harbor and the Hilton Hawaiian Village catamaran pier," Leatherman says, and it's a great spot for family swimming.
Leatherman says St. George Island State Park in the Florida panhandle is "squeaky clean." But he cautions beach-goers to keep an eye out for stingrays and shuffle your feet on entering to alert them to your recreational intentions.
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Hamoa Beach on Maui is located inside a a "breached volcanic crater," Leatherman says. This destination is no quick trip -- the journey involves 50 one-way bridges and 1,000-foot drop offs with sparse guard rails.
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A locals' favorite, this state park beach is both safe and convenient, Leatherman says: "While not as stunning as some other Hawaiian beaches, it is a safe beach because big waves and dangerous currents are rare and lifeguards are present."
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Barefoot Beach is another family friendly spot that offers smaller waves and fine sand loaded with shells, Leatherman says: "The surf is gentle with waves generally being measured in inches and the water is very shallow."
"The Cape Florida Lighthouse allows for a breath-taking view of this beautiful beach," Leatherman says, which is at the southern end of Key Biscayne. "This fine, white coral sand beach is great for swimming, as waves are knocked down by a large sand shoal offshore."
Known for its fishing, water sports are another highlight of Hatteras, the first National Seashore. Leatherman says the area offers some of the best surfing on the East Coast, and of course, a famous lighthouse.
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This beach takes its name from an old Coast Guard station that "still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay," Leatherman says. Swimmers take note: Even in summer, the water rarely rises above 70 degrees.
Vacationers flock to this South Carolina beach for tennis and golf, as well as kayak trips along its inlets, says Leatherman. The beach is clean though the water isn't clear and offers some great options for low-country style seafood meals.