Dr Beach, aka Dr Stephen Leatherman, has impeccable seaside credentials, having studied beach erosion for 40 years and completed two national surveys of the American coast. He is the head of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University.
“I’ve been to every beach in the United States and there are around 650 in contention for the prize of top beach – all of which are swimming beaches so nothing is too cold,’ he says. “Beaches remain the number one recreational activity in America.”
Surely the only person on the shore with a clipboard, he judges beaches by an astonishing 50 different criteria from sand colour and softness, wave size and condition of the water to lifeguard protection, views and crime. If it’s too cold, has cars on the beach or just doesn’t look nice, it’s out.
This year’s list of America’s best beaches consisted of the following:
Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach Outer Banks, North Carolina
Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on Ocracoke Island is 300 yards of beach at the southern end of the Outer Banks, a thin chain of barrier islands along North Carolina’s coast, 26 miles from the mainland.
“I was born in North Carolina, so despite the fact that it’s remote, I estimate I’ve visited Ocracoke about 50 times. This place is my top getaway in the US. You’ve got 14 miles of unspoilt sand, a lovely, quaint village behind it with B&Bs and inns and perfect quiet. You don’t come here for golf or a spa and there’s no McDonald’s.”
Difficulty of access keeps it pure; the drawback is that you’ll need a boat or private plane to get there.
Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
Accessible only by boat, Caladesi Island State Park sits out in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, more than a mile from Dunedin.
“This is a super, sandy beach with crystal clear water – it’s no surprise the local town is called Clearwater – and it is very shallow with no waves. It’s only accessible by boat, which gives you a great opportunity to talk to the old salts on deck. Also, you often see dolphins.”
Despite being near an urban environment, Caladesi teems with wildlife. There are more than 300 species of bird – “you can see great blue herons and roseate spoonbills” – and rangers stage guided tours. “The only unwanted wildlife are stingrays – just splash about in the water before you go in to scare them off.”
Coopers Beach Southampton, New York
To get from Penn Station in New York to Coopers Beach, on the eastern tip of Long Island, you have to take the Long Island rail road and change at Hicksville. Upmarket and tranquil, Coopers Beach stretches for seven sandy miles, two miles from Southampton. The town itself has an American colonial feel with few shops selling everything with gingham.
“Southampton is where the billionaires are from; it’s old money. It’s expensive, but you can always stay in a B&B in Riverhead then rent a bike.”
Hanalei Bay Kauai, Hawaii
Hanalei Bay is an impressive horseshoe of white sand. Visit in the early morning to see the surrounding mountains and cliffs reflected in the calm, glassy ocean.
“Kauai is my favourite island. Hanalei’s huge crescent, with mountains and waterfalls all around, is just idyllic. It’s no surprise they filmed South Pacific here.”
Film stars still drop by – last year Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courtney Cox had a holiday here; Ben Stiller has a house on the island, as does Pierce Brosnan.
“Hanalei village is a funky little place and a real native hangout, with lots of Hawaiian culture. It’s quite rural and very friendly.”
Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod twists like a beckoning finger into the Atlantic. Playground of presidents, playboys and Gordon Brown (who spent his honeymoon here), it still has its fair share of quiet, natural beaches.
“Glacial cliffs fall away to the huge sandy spit that protects Coast Guard Beach and gives the water some extra warmth. Even so, this is the coolest beach, in terms of temperature, in the survey. It’s a great place in fierce heat – it’s known as the ‘free air-con’ of Cape Cod. That’s probably why it’s so popular with Brits.
In the 18th century, lobsters were so plentiful that a law was passed forbidding masters to feed lobster to their slaves or indentured servants more than twice a week.”
Recent wind and wave action have exposed the remains of a 4,000- year-old settlement nearby; its other claim to fame is that the Mayflower inadvertently made landfall before moving on. Twitchers can get their fill of plovers and terns while hearties will be keen on ranger-guided hikes, body-surfing and boogie-boarding.
Hamoa Beach, Hamoa Bay, Hana, West Maui
Getting to this one is pretty hairy.
“You go via the Hana Highway, which is quite an experience. It crosses the sheer side of a mountain and you don’t want to drive when it’s foggy or you’ve had a few beers. Once there, you find a pocket beach that was Hemingway’s favourite. It’s drips with vivid flowers and bougainvillaea.”
At Hamoa, also a favourite of Hawaiians, snorkelling, diving and body surfing are popular.
Tobey Maguire and Cameron Diaz have been spotted there this year; celebrity residents include Kris Kristofferson and Woody Harrelson.
Main Beach, East Hampton, New York
The south coast of Long Island comprises 100 miles of soft white sand known as the Hamptons. Despite huge desirability, there has been little development, so it remains uncrowded, and large dunes hide the green farmland behind Main Beach.
“This is where you’ll see the stars and the new money, with their huge mansions. Even so, it’s surprisingly down to earth and people don’t put on airs – possibly because it is West Coast in feel.”
Famous residents include Steven Spielberg (whose guests have included the Clintons), Puff Daddy and Martha Stewart.
It’s a far cry from the potato farms that once dominated and when visitors included Captain Kidd – hiding his booty.
Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
The first thing that grabs your attention on Coronado Beach is the Hotel Del Coronado, known as the Del. It looks like a giant red spinning top, half buried in the sand. This being America, it’s a National Historic Landmark because it was built as long ago as 1888.
“This is a world-class beach with a Mediterranean-type climate. It’s very flat – ideal for kids – and because of the mica it shines so brightly you need sunglasses. It’s as warm as you’re going to get.”
You can swim, surf, sail, body- board, fish, play beach volleyball, explore tide pools and fly kites.
Lighthouse Point Park Daytona Beach, Florida
Daytona is famous for cars on the beach but Lighthouse Point Park is an oasis in the noise and urban chatter.
“This is a lovely spot with great restaurants and a lifeguard, amid a lot of development. You can walk everywhere, and the forest goes right up to the ocean, with Spanish moss hanging from the oak trees.”
Siesta Beach Sarasota, Florida
“This beach has the finest, whitest sand in the world. I haven’t seen better – it’s like icing sugar.” The sand gets its fineness and softness because it’s made of quartz rather than coral. The beach, 300m wide, with crystal clear water, is a popular spot for water sports.
“It’s also big on volleyball. There are 20 or 30 courts. Inevitably it’s a great place for girl or boy watching – these people are really fit.”