See every winner of Dr. Beach's best US beach since 1991

TylerRooke / iStockKapalua Bay Beach, Hawaii.
  • Every year, Dr. Beach releases a ranking of the top 10 beaches in the US. He’s been doing this since 1991.
  • Every beach on the list is assessed according to 50 criteria, including sand softness, water temperature, water colour, size of waves, smell, safety, and views.
  • Siesta Beach in Florida has won twice in the last 28 years, and so have Hawaii’s Kapalua Bay Beach and Kailua Beach Park.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories

Not all beaches are created equal.

Dr. Beach – formally Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman – has been taking this sentiment to heart since 1991, which is when he first started releasing a ranking of the top 10 beaches in the US.

Leatherman is the director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, and assesses every beach according to 50 criteria, including sand softness, water temperature, water colour, size of waves, smell, safety, and views. He looks at 650 public beaches along the US coast.

Here’s the best beach in the US according to Dr. Beach every year since 1991.


2019: Kailua Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii

ShutterstockKailua Beach Park.
With powdery white sand and mostly calm waters, this picturesque 2.5-mile beach is a beloved spot for kayaking, which many people also do at the nearby Popoi’a Island. It last won in 1998.


2018: Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

ShutterstockKapalua Bay Beach.
This small, crescent-shaped beach was formed by lava flows. It’s protected by rocky headlands on either side, giving it a wonderfully private feel, and its clear azure waters are perfect for snorkelling.


2017: Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

This beach is famous for its super soft sand, which is 99% pure crushed quartz. It tops lists of the world’s best beaches annually, and in 2017 even won the number one spot on both TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards for best beach in the US and Dr. Beach’s ranking of the top 10 beaches in the US.


2016: Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

ShutterstockHanauma Bay.

Hanauma Bay is a former volcanic crater that became a protected marine life conservation area in 1967, and is now a snorkelling hotspot. While the nature reserve charges a $US7.50 entrance fee to all visitors, it promises a plethora of marine life (more than 400 species of Hawaiian fish, in fact), and even has snorkelling equipment rentals on-site.


2015: Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii

ShutterstockWaimanalo Bay Beach.

Nicknamed “Sherwood” by locals thanks to the pine forest visitors have to traverse between the parking lot and the water, this beach doesn’t get as crowded as many other Oahu beaches, and even offers camping opportunities.


2014: Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii

ShutterstockDuke Kahanamoku Beach.

Smack-dab in the middle of Waikiki, this is the beach to visit if you want to see and be seen. It’s crowded but high-energy, with lots of beginner surfers, paddleboarders, and kids with inflatable toys.


2013: Main Beach East Hampton, Long Island, New York

ShutterstockMain Beach East Hampton.

Main Beach East Hampton is the epitome of an East Coast beach: wide, flanked by dunes, and inscrutably clean. Of course, it’s also the summer playground of the rich and famous, and encircled by enormous mansions.


2012: Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

Courtesy of Dr. BeachCoronado Beach.

This stunning beach is hundreds of yards wide, and surrounded by unique, subtropical vegetation. Its sand is said to literally sparkle, thanks to a mineral called mica, and it’s a favourite among surfers.


2011: Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida

ShutterstockSiesta Beach.

Siesta Beach was named No. 1 on Dr. Beach’s list in 2011 and again in 2017.


2010: Coopers Beach, Southampton, Long Island, New York

Courtesy of Dr. BeachCoopers Beach.
This super wide beach – the summer playground of New York City’s elite – is backed by enormous sand dunes, which shrink only in comparison to the massive mansions behind them.


2009: Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii

Vogue called Hanalei “the hippest town in Kauai” but its 2-mile, crescent-shaped beach surrounded by lush green mountains is a stunner in its own right. In the winter, it becomes a surfing hotspot thanks to a huge swell and massive waves.


2008: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

rcgtrrz / FlickrCaladesi Island State Park.

With bright white sand and clear, Evian-like water, the shores of Caladesi Island State Park are basically picture-perfect. The isolated barrier island beach is only accessible by boat, and features tons of marine and wildlife.


2007: Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, North Carolina

ShutterstockOcracoke.
Ocracoke features 16 miles of wild, untouched beach: no hotels, no condos, no high rises – just sea, surf, and sand. Waves can get pretty big at the end of summer, which is great for surfers, but families with younger children should check it out earlier in the year. The lifguarded section is about half a mile long, and can get crowded.


2006: Fleming Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii

ShutterstockFleming Beach Park.

Backed by a forest of ironwoods, this half-mile beach has ample shade for those wanting to get out of the sun. The beach, which is a famous spot for surfers and boogie and body boarders,was named for the man who introduced pineapples to West Maui.


2005: Fort DeSoto Park – North Beach, St. Petersburg, Florida

Flickr/pinellascountyFort DeSoto Park.

Fort De Soto Park actually covers five islands, which are connected by bridges or causeways. Once used for military fortifications, the park still features historic remnants, as well as a museum.

North Beach is known as a family-friendly beach, probably due to its large playground and calm tidal pool.


2004: Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Hanauma Bay won the No. 1 spot on Dr. Beach’s list in 2004 and again in 2016.


2003: Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii

The three-mile shore is said to have once been a popular retreat for Maui royals. The beach butts onto Puu Kekaa, or Black Rock, which features a nightly sunset cliff diving ceremony in honour of Maui’s former King Kahekili, who first jumped off the 30-foot cliff “to prove his spiritual strength.”


2002: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Florida

ShutterstockSt. Joseph Peninsula State Park.

The St. Joseph Peninsula boasts white sandy beaches that stretch 20 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, and is known for its abundant wildlife, from nesting birds to sea turtles.

The beach is currently still recovering from Hurricane Michael in October 2018, though the south end of the park reopened in January 2019.


2001: Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Poipu Beach consists of two strung-together bays, separated by Nukumoi Point, and is known for the many endangered Hawaiian monk seals that hang about.

Small waves make it a great spot for beginner surfers, and unusual reefs make it a favourite among snorkelers.


2000: Kaunaoa Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

ShutterstockKaunaoa Beach.

Also known as Mauna Kea Beach, this white-sand beach is famous for its calm waters and snorkel-able coral reefs.

At night, it becomes a haven for manta rays, which are visible thanks to plankton-attracting floodlights set up by the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. There’s even a lookout called “Manta Ray Point.”


1999: Wailea Beach, Wailea, Maui, Hawaii

With calm waters and lined by palm trees, this beach is less rugged than many of Maui’s other shores, and perfect for lazing and tanning. It sits among many resorts, and even features a paved walkway that connects it to them.


1998: Kailua Beach Park, Kailua, Hawaii

ShutterstockKailua Beach Park.

Kailua Beach Park won in 1998 and again in 2019.


1997: Hulopoe, Lanai, Hawaii

ShutterstockHulopoe.
On Lanai’s southern coast and fronting the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Hulopoe is known for its many tide pools, which are carved out of volcanic rocks and tend to be filled with interesting creatures to observe.

The protected marine preserve is teeming with fish, making it great for snorkelling, and visitors are asked not to take any shells or stones, leaving its shores practically untouched.


1996: Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii

ShutterstockLanikai Beach in Oahu, Hawaii.

Lanikai translates roughly to “heavenly ocean,” which is fitting considering its stunningly white sands and turquoise waters. The beach is also a favourite among photographers thanks to two islands off its shores, lovingly referred to as “The Mokes.”


1995: St. Andrews, Panama City, Florida

ShutterstockSt. Andrews.

This former military reservation sits on a peninsula bordering the Gulf of Mexico and the Grand Lagoon, and boasts over 1.5 miles of beaches. Snorkelling, scuba diving, and fishing along the jetties are all popular pastimes.


1994: Grayton Beach, Grayton Beach, Florida

Flickr/goldenticket76Grayton Beach.
The turquoise blue waters and smooth, white sand are some of the prettiest you’ll find in Florida. And it doesn’t hurt that the nearby town of Seaside is a perfect place to grab a bite once you’re done on the beach. Camping is also available in this state park, which also features tidal lakes and freshwater ponds.


1993: Hapuna, Big Island, Hawaii

Anna Abramskaya/ShutterstockHapuna.
Winter provides Hapuna with powerful waves, while summer brings calm, clear water that’s excellent for snorkelling and swimming.


1992: Bahia Honda, Big Pine Key, Florida

ShutterstockBahia Honda.

This remote island only became accessible thanks to Henry Flagler’s railroad to Key West in the early 1900s. Today, the pristine beach is unique thanks to a historic bridge that provides a photogenic backdrop.


1991: Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

This was the first beach to win the prestigious Dr. Beach award, and so far the last: it won in 1991 and again in 2018.

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