Text and photos ©Jeff Aguilar
Who doesn’t love a day at the beach? Where land meets ocean is a fun, relaxing place, and there is a world of variety in these coastal environments.
Not all beaches are made equal. Some are scenic wonders with warm surf, palm trees, and soft sand, while others are crowded, dirty and overbuilt. So where do I go to find the best of the beaches? Well, pretty much everywhere.
15. Crystal Cove, Newport Coast, California
California beaches are not great for swimming since the ocean water is typically between 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit depending on where you are in the state (surfing is another story). Closer to San Diego the summer water temps may hit 70 degrees F in August. With that in mind, there are some great sandy beaches in Southern California and Crystal Cove State Beach is among the best. The beach is in the heart of Orange County but is surrounded by natural cliffs.
14. La Jolla Cove, California
I lived in California for ten and a half years and got to know a great many beaches in the state. La Jolla Cove was my favorite. It’s a sheltered bay with reasonably warm water in the summer months, has nice sand, is quiet, and even if it’s backed by hotels, it is calm and relaxing.
13. Bahia Honda State Park Beach, Florida Keys
This is the nicest beach in the Florida Keys and the sandiest. The Keys are coral atolls so they don’t typically have much sand, but this one is the sandiest to be found there. The water is clear and fairly warm making it pretty good for snorkeling too.
12. Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii is the only state in the US in Polynesia and the only place in Polynesia that I have been to. Having said that, Hapuna Beach on the leeward side of the Big Island is a long stretch of beautiful sand surrounded by rugged lava flows.
11. Medano Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Ok, so this one violates the built-up rule a bit with restaurants and hotels behind the beach. For a vast stretch of sandy beach, sheltered warm water, and scenic value with the end of Baja California’s arch visible in the distance (usually with a cruise ship in the distance) this beach deserves a place. Heck, I am sure that if I had spent more time in Baja I would have found many beaches that are better.
10. Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
This one is a challenge for me. As you can see it is undeniably very pretty with white sand and mostly a verdant backdrop, and fairly warm water (and playful crabs). But it also has the condo/resort backdrop we all dislike in a country where many beautiful beaches are free of these signs of human development. Also the surf is a bit rougher at times and the water isn’t always the clearest as we found. But can I really not put it in this list with its sunsets? I need to travel to more beaches in Costa Rica and Central America.
9. Siesta Key, Florida
This beach wins the best sand award. It’s the softest, whitest sand I’ve ever set foot on. Many beaches in Florida are backed by towering condos and hotels, and this one is too. But for warm water and soft sand, this is a great choice.
8. Kiawah Island Beach, South Carolina
Of the Atlantic coast beaches that I have been to, this is my favorite. No high-rise condos here, just the beautiful and wild coastal land of South Carolina. The water is warm and swimmable. Quiet, calm and relaxing.
7. Kee Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
The north shore of Kauai has some gorgeous beaches with some of the best scenery in the entire state. Kee Beach which is the starting point of the Na Pali coast is my favorite. Kayak tours start here as does the Kalaulau Trail. You won’t want to miss Hanalei and Lamahai beaches either.
6. Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
Hopefully you rented a 4×4 on your visit to Kauai. Because if you did you can take a rough road to a special beach on Kauai’s southwest shore. The Na Pali cliffs take on a reddish hue as sunset begins and the entire scene takes on a sublime quality that you won’t find in too many places. You’ll be alone on the west coast of Kauai without a sound but the waves. The waves might be a bit rough, but you won’t mind.
5. Magens Bay, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Magens Bay is the most swimmable beach you can find. The water is fairly warm and very calm. The beach is very crowded at times and the water clarity isn’t great making it less than ideal for snorkeling. The surrounding mountainous hillsides are scenic as well.
4. Playa Grande, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
I have many more beaches to explore in Costa Rica, but this was our favorite of the three we visited including Playa Flamingo and Playa Hermosa (the northern one). The water is crystal clear and warm, the vistas vast and unspoiled, and the surfing here was great.
3. Makena Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Hawaii has shown up four times in this list, but let’s be honest, it’s for a good reason. The best beach that I have been to in Hawaii is on the island of Maui. On the southwest shore Makena beach is a vast, sheltered stretch of golden sand without the overbuilt feel of condos from more well-known locations. This is the place to go on Maui to watch the sunset. Sorry Kaanapali.
2. West Bay Beach, Roatan, Honduras
So yes, West Bay Beach has annoying vendors trying to sell you things. But it also has a great backdrop, warm swimmable and clear waters, and the easiest quality snorkeling I’ve ever seen.
1. Tulum Beach, Quintana Roo, Mexico
There has to be a number one, and this is my easy pick. Gorgeous surroundings with Mayan ruins above. Warm, swimmable water. Soft, white sand. Astounding is what this spot is on the Mexican coast.