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8 Best Beaches for Summer

'Dr. Beach' picks the hottest places to cool down in the steamy season

  • North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, boardwalk to beach with sand dunes.
    Jeff Greenberg / Contributor

    Top Summer Destinations

    Stephen Leatherman, a professor of coastal research at Florida International University in Miami who has been studying oceans and beaches for decades, was dubbed "Dr. Beach" by his students ages ago. He announces his list of best beaches every year, including winter escape favorites such as Florida’s beautiful Siesta Beach. We asked Dr. Beach to pick his top summer beaches — destinations that are wonderful and not-too-steamy during the hottest season. 

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  • Sunset over the coastline near Cannon Beach, Oregon
    Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo

    1. Cannon Beach

    Cannon Beach, Ore. “This is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen,” says Leatherman. Most people find it too cold for serious swimming, but especially at low tide the beach is beautiful and wide, and it's a treat to walk far out onto the sand flats. The most dramatic part of the landscape is the iconic Haystack Rock, a massive, 235-foot sea stack jutting out of the water and included in countless tourists’ photos. Among the area's other charms are the restaurants, coffeehouses and shops in the small town of Cannon Beach, as well as the natural wonders in adjacent Ecola State Park, which hugs nine miles of spectacular coastline.

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  • Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
    nobleIMAGES / Alamy Stock Photo

    2. Coast Guard Beach

    Eastham, Cape Cod, Mass.
    Think rolling dunes dotted with seagrass, light summer breezes and no development to mar the view, thanks to its protection within the Cape Cod National Seashore. This is the quintessential Cape Cod beach. It's on the ocean side of the Upper Cape, so you get bigger waves and cooler breezes than you'll find on the more tranquil bay (inside the curve of the Cape's bent arm). “The water is a bit nippy,” says Leatherman, “so it’s very refreshing.” 

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  • Couple bicycling along a path between Cabrillo Boulevard and East Beach, Santa Barbara, California
    Blaine Harrington III / Alamy Stock Photo

    3. East Beach

    Santa Barbara, Calif. It bills itself as "the American Riviera," but Leatherman calls Santa Barbara “the quintessential Southern California town,” known for its red-tile roofs. It has an exceptionally stunning beach, he says: “You look west and see the ocean, then look east and see palm trees and the Santa Ynez mountains.” The 1.6-mile-long beach attracts fitness fans: people jogging, practicing yoga or playing volleyball; and cyclists cruising the oceanside Cabrillo Bike Path (you can rent bikes from shops near the beach). The historic Cabrillo Pavilion Bathhouse, with changing areas and restrooms, is being fully renovated. It is expected to reopen sometime in 2019. Once you’ve had enough sand, you can check out the delicious seafood restaurants and do some tasting of Santa Barbara County's fine wines. 

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  • Nighttime view of Duck Beach, NC
    Jeff Greenberg / Contributor

    4. Duck Beach

    Duck, N.C. The beach in Duck is one of the best spots along the Outer Banks, says Leatherman. That’s thanks in part to the small town of Duck, which has a low-key charm but plenty to offer, including wonderful seafood restaurants, locally owned shops and art galleries. There are no big hotels and the beach is private, but visitors renting homes here can access it. During the height of summer you’ll find lots of windsurfers, sunbathers, dog walkers (unleashed dogs are allowed year round) and sandcastle builders. Also, says Leatherman: It’s windy in these parts, so “it’s a great place to fly a kite.”

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  •  Golden beach and palm tree's at Hulopo'e Beach Park, Lanai Island, Hawaii
    Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo

    5. Hulopoe Beach

    Lanai, Hawaii
    This is one of those postcard-perfect beaches with white sand and turquoise waters ideal for snorkeling and swimming. It's located on the southern side of Hawaii’s smallest populated island, in front of the luxurious Four Seasons Lanai Resort and adjacent to the public Hulopoe Beach Park, where you can use picnic tables, showers and restrooms. There are no traffic lights on the island, which often has been called a hidden gem, attracting golfers (there are three golf courses on Lanai) and tourists looking for a quieter escape. You can get here by ferry from Maui or by plane from Honolulu or Maui. 

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  • World's largest frying pan and giant razor clam on display in Long Beach, Washington
    Images by Morgana / Alamy Stock Photo

    6. Long Beach

    Long Beach Peninsula, Wash. This beach, Leatherman says, is “a big, wonderful surprise” for being “a really long, white sandy beach in an area where most beaches are small, pocket beaches.” Jutting northward into the Pacific above where the Columbia River divides Oregon from Washington, the 28-mile-long peninsula is popular for kite flying, clam digging, fishing, hiking and horseback riding. You'll want to walk the half-mile boardwalk that winds quietly through the grassy dunes and is ideal for sunset strolls. 

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  • Boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Sussex County, Delaware
    Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

    7. Rehoboth Beach

    Rehoboth Beach, Del. Leatherman likes this spot for its pleasant combination of beach and town. The town includes lots of rental homes near the ocean, some tasty eats within easy walking distance of the beach, and a classic boardwalk where the liveliness generally stops short of tacky despite its frozen custard shops, taffy stores and arcades. It’s a big destination for families, who are drawn by its relatively low-key vibe compared with the mid-Atlantic’s busier beach towns. From the beach you can walk just south to the smaller, quieter Dewey Beach, or head a few miles north to Cape Henlopen State Park, which has a three-mile paved walking trail, good spots for fishing and another six miles of lovely beach.

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  • Boardwalk on a Sand Dune Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan
    wildnerdpix / Alamy Stock Photo

    8. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    Empire, Mich. These 65 miles of protected lakeshore are rarely uncomfortably hot even in midsummer, as cool winds blow across Lake Michigan. Many visitors like Platte Point Beach, where the Platte River flows into the lake. The water there is shallow, safer (the lake is big enough to have rip currents), warmer and often full of couples and families tubing and kayaking. The Dune Climb is a big attraction — and a big workout for the many who attempt to tackle it. You also can bike the 22-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail or fish for salmon or trout (you'll need a license). And nearby you have Traverse City, a cool little town that foodies flock to for its many excellent restaurants. If you visit when the cherries are ripe, often around the end of July, you can sample the area's favorite fruit at its finest.

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  • Boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Sussex County, Delaware
    Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
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