The Doctor is in… and his list of best beaches is out! The 2018 Edition.

Dr. Beach (aka Stephen Leatherman, a coastal science professor at Florida International University in Miami) has just released his list of beach beaches in America for 2018. Not surprisingly, a local fave is once again a top pick. The beach where my son and I hangout at least three times a week is number three on the list!

As all us locals know… Grayton Beach is “Grayt” and awfully hard to beat!

In case you’re not familiar with Dr. Beach and his famous list, here are the criteria for his picks, as well as a little background info.

Leatherman has been compiling his annual list of top 10 beaches every year since 1991. He uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, with the most important categories being water cleanliness, safety (meaning no rip currents or drownings) and management of the beach environment and its facilities. He also looks for fine, soft sand, and gives extra points for beaches that prohibit smoking. He doesn’t collect water from every beach in test tubes himself but he does use data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grade each beach for water quality.

Leatherman’s list has its origins in a class he once taught at the University of Maryland. One of his students was writing an article for a travel magazine and asked the doctor to come up with a list of the 10 best beaches based on his expertise as a coastal scientist. Once the list was born and Leatherman began producing his official annual list in 1991.

He says his goal each year is to reward beaches that maintain high quality and safety but also to encourage other beaches to do the same. So why do so many states with awesome beaches never make the list while the same favorites pop up year after year? Leatherman says it’s all about the math in his categories. Beaches lose points for water that’s too chilly, sand that’s too coarse, condo towers instead of dunes, riptides and drownings, erosion, and limited public access.

And of course our Emerald Coast beaches rank high in all those important factors! Learn more about the doctor and his research online at


10. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Photo – Kiawah Island Golf Resort

South of Charleston, Beachwalker Park is the public beach located on the southern end of Kiawah Island. This is a nature-lovers coast so visitors should bring their canoes and kayaks to paddle through the tidal inlets.  It is also fun to walk or bicycle down to Captain Sam’s Inlet to see thousands of birds. The water is not clear here, but it is clean and provides fantastic seafood for low-country cooking.

9. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California








Photo – Coronado Inn

Coronado Beach is the toast of Southern California; it is a veritable oasis by the sea, measuring hundreds of yards wide. With its lush subtropical vegetation, unique Mediterranean climate, and fine sparkling sand, beach-goers flock to this beach for great ship-watching and the summer’s warm and mild surf. The local landmark, Hotel del Coronado, was built over a hundred years ago, offering spectacular architecture and Old World elegance. Kings, sheiks, actors,, and actresses have stayed at Hotel del Coronado, where food and drinks are served on the beach, and the hotel provides a great location for celebrities.

8. Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island Hawaii

Photo – Visit Hawaii

This white coral sand beach resides in a landscape dominated by black lava flows. During the summer months, Hapuna is a perfect place to swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the crystal clean waters, but big waves during the winter can generate powerful rip currents. Fortunately, there are well-trained lifeguards at this state park.

7. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida

Photo – St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area CVB/AP

Caladesi is reached by pedestrian ferry boat, private boats or a long walk north from Clearwater Beach. The inlet is closed so Caladesi is no longer a true island, but still a great getaway. The white beach is composed of crystalline quartz sand which is soft and cushy at the water’s edge, inviting one to take a dip in the sparkling clear waters. There are boardwalk trails, but my favorite is the kayak and canoe trails through the mangroves to see the large blue herons and other birds that frequent this wonderful natural area.

6. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina

Photo – Cape Hatteras CVB

Lighthouse Beach boasts of the best surfing on the U.S. East Coast because of the large shoals offshore that focus wave energy on this beach where the Cape Hatteras Light once stood. The beach is also good for swimming because lifeguards are on duty, albeit families with small children might prefer at more gentle surf. The Outer Banks are steeped in history with the Wright Brothers making history more than a century ago with the first flight of an airplane. This coast is very dynamic and oftentimes there is a long spit just south of Lighthouse beach which is above water during low tide. This area is also famous for surf fishing, especially during the fall season.

5. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Photo – Dr. Beach

Coast Guard Beach, accessible by bicycle or shuttle bus from the Salt Pond Visitor’s Center, was formed where a sand spit attached to the glacial cliffs. The sand is fairly coarse so the beach slopes steeply into the water. The picturesque old Coast Guard station still sits atop the glacial bluffs, allowing for a spectacular view down upon the Nauset Spit barrier system and bay. During the summer, beach-goers take quick, refreshing dips in the ocean as water temperatures only reach 60-70 degrees.

4. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

Photo – AP

Coopers Beach is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York, shielded from the cold Labrador currents in the beautiful village of Southampton. As the first “Gold Coast” in the country, Coopers Beach is hundreds of yards wide, made of grainy white quartz sand. The beach is backed by large sand dunes covered by American beach grass interspersed with large and extravagant mansions. Some of the best beach access in the Hamptons exists on Coopers Beach, and a snack bar serving lunch and drinks can be found here as well.

3. Grayton Beach State Park Florida Panhandle

Photo – Rob Youngblood

This beach boasts of its sugar-white sand and emerald green water where development has been restrained so big sand dunes still dominate the landscape. At the same time, all the amenities of great restaurants and accommodations are close by in the old town of Grayton Beach, Santa Rosa Beach, or Seaside. Many people choose to camp in this wonderful state park that also features tidal lakes and freshwater ponds. Former Governor Bob Graham once told Dr. Beach that this was his favorite beach in the state.

2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks of North Carolina

Photo – Shutterstock

Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place. Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.

1. Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii

Photo – Visit Hawaii

Kapalua is a perfect beach for swimming and snorkeling in the clear, azure waters that are protected by two headlands formed long ago by lava flows into the sea. This beautiful crescent-shaped, white sand beach is bounded by these rocky anchors where good restaurants can be found. The fine coral sand beach slopes gradually into the deeper water where the rocky bottom is punctuated with corals that attract vividly-colored tropical fish. You can buy fish food and rent snorkeling gear at the concession hut on the north end of the beach.


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