From the pristine sandy shores of Sanibel Island to the calm cool azure waters of Kapalua Bay, a trip to the beach is a relaxing, peaceful way to get in touch with natural beauty. Or it should be. The United States has some of the most amazing beaches in the world, but that doesn’t mean that all of its beaches are trip-worthy. Some of these beaches aren't likely to add anything to your experience. We’ve put together a list of five of the most worthwhile beaches to visit and five that you should put towards the end of your list.
VISIT: Sanibel Island, Florida
To get away from the crowds that flock to many Florida beaches, head to Sanibel Island on the western gulf shore, just south of Fort Myers. You can walk beside the clear blue waters in search of conches and cockles washed up on the shore. For those who want to explore the amazing ecosystem of the island, head out on one of the serene, mangrove-lined kayaking trails for an afternoon of unforgettable wildlife-spotting.
AVOID: South Beach, Florida
South Beach in Miami is by far the most popular beach in Florida, but the unnerving crowds, loud music, and party atmosphere aren't always enjoyable. It may be convenient for the locals to frequent the white sandy beaches in Miami’s backyard, but if you want a peaceful and relaxing retreat, we wouldn’t recommend planning your vacation to South Florida around this beach.
VISIT: Kapalua Bay Beach, Maui, Hawaii
Even though Kapalua Bay Beach is a popular beach (for pretty obvious reasons), it somehow remains relatively uncrowded. Because the bay is protected by two reefs extending out on both ends, snorkeling here is some of the best in the world. The bay's calm waters make it an ideal place to see loads of incredible underwater life like corals, tropical fish, and sea turtles. If you want to just relax on the golden-white sandy beaches, set up your umbrella and enjoy the soft breezes while listening to the gently breaking waves.
AVOID: Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Given its location, it is no surprise that Waikiki Beach is a huge tourist destination. But for many vacationers, Waikiki is a bit of a dissapointment. The beach is littered with hordes of tourists, and it can be difficult to find a spot large enough for your towel. Waikiki continues to be enormously popular and as a result big-name chain hotels, fast food, and big chains have replaced some of the local charm. There are better beaches on the island and better ways to get in touch with Hawaiian culture.
VISIT: Key West, Florida
Key West has had a mystical feel since the days of Ernest Hemmingway. Time seems to slow down once you arrive, one that matches the pace of life the locals enjoy. Key West is really just one big nonstop beach and you can’t go wrong hitting any of them. Try Smathers Beach, which stretches two miles down Roosevelt Boulevard. There's gotfree parking and public restrooms along with great food vendors and plenty of watersport rentals. You will still have plenty of time to hit the unique shops on Duvall Street and stop by for a cold beer at a Key West landmark, Jimmy Buffett's.
AVOID: Atlantic City Beach, New Jersey
Visitors to Atlantic City in search of a casino and luxurious hotel experience, like Ceasars on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk, aren't likely to be dissapointed. But if you're looking for a relaxing beach experience, this isn't it. The boardwalk is lined with cheap souvenir shops and greasy fast food stalls. The beach is often littered with trash, and even worse are the seagulls and pigeons that relentlessly dog tourists the moment they arrive.
VISIT: La Jolla Beach, California
The coastline of La Jolla is made up of miles of sandy beaches along the Pacific Ocean and it’s nothing short of fantastic. The rugged shores of La Jolla are actually made up of several beaches, each with its own character and attractions. For those looking to catch that perfect wave, head to Windansea Beach. Just beware, this spot is for the more experienced surfers. If you are looking for a spot to take the family, try the aptly-named Children’s Pool. This spot is an amazing family seaside setting, especially for the novice swimmer. The seawall creates a calm setting without waves or a big tide that is also great for scuba diving.
AVOID: Venice Beach/Santa Monica Pier, California
If you think you need to put Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier on your SoCal itinerary, think again. It’s kind of like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a place that everyone says you should visit, but that you really shouldn’t. You won’t find that cool, easy-going beach that you envisioned here. Instead of hip artists and laid-back beach-goers you're more likely to find cheesy street performers. The street hawkers are relentless and the quaint eateries have been replaced by high-priced tourist traps. If you are in the area anyway, try Huntington Beach instead.
VISIT: Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches majestically for 70 miles. The Outer Banks have been a haven for beachgoers for generations. One of the best beaches along the barrier island is Nags Head Beach. My family and I have spent many amazing summers staying in a beach-front cottage along this stretch of scenic Atlantic shore. Along with traditional beach activities like swimming and beachcombing, the more adventurous can snorkel around several shipwrecks, go dolphin watching, or take a kayak out to explore the hidden coves. You can even hang glide at Jockey Ridge, the tallest natural sand dune in the eastern United States.
AVOID: Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores used to be the gem of Alabama beaches. It was clean and not nearly as crowded and overdeveloped as it has become. But in past years, it's drawn in the more and more people, especially college students at spring break and families at summer. These crowds mean more traffic, trash, and noise on these once-pristine beaches. With 6 million annual tourists visiting the beach, plus the nearby amusement park and zoo, the beach is difficult to navigate without stepping on someone's towel. Head south to Pensacola instead for a subdued vibe and clear sand.