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So much sand, so little time. Summer vacation comes around only once a year, so we’ve scoured the country’s coastline to determine which spots deserve a place on your beach-season bucket list. We’re staking our umbrellas in the sand and declaring that these are America’s best beaches!

RELATED: The best landlocked beaches in every state

Alabama

Orange Beach on Alabama's Gulf Coast

Aerial views and seascapes of Orange Beach on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Squished between Mississippi and Florida, the state is dwarfed by its Southern rivals, but is nevertheless blessed with fine, white sand beaches akin to what you’d find in the nearby Florida panhandle. There’s family-friendly Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, plus artsy Fairhope to choose from, but grab your own slice of beach bliss by heading to Fort Morgan (also a national historic landmark) for true beach bliss.

Alaska   

Alaska’s Homer Spit. PhotGlenda Gilreath Gallery/Flickr.

Swimsuit season isn’t much of a thing in the Last Frontier, but there’s still plenty to see at the Homer Spit, a sliver of land jutting 4 ½ miles into Kachemak Bay. Nature lovers flock to this slice of coastline to take in the scenery, browse the shops and indulge in seafood ecstasy. If you wanna get physical, take a guided kayaking trip or charter a fishing boat to catch salmon and halibut.

California

malibu, california, beach

Between SoCal’s sandy playgrounds, the rugged awesomeness of the Central Coast and the Far North’s numerous moody and fogged-in gems, choosing just one beach is a near impossible task. But El Matador State Beach Beach in Malibu really is a special place. Not only does Malibu still feel like a genuine escape from the LA hustle, but El Matador’s craggy rock formations offer PCH wildness, a stone’s throw from Hollywood. The beach is a photo lover’s dream so expect everyone from selfie-wielding tourists to brides and grooms angling for the perfect sunset pic. Want it all to yourself? Try visiting on a weekday or on a nice afternoon off season.

ALSO: Get more beach for your buck with Orbitz Rewards—it’s free to join!

Connecticut

Some beaches are appealing because they’re quiet places to relax. Some are appealing because there are so many things to do, you could pass an entire fun-filled day there. Ocean Park Beach in New London is the latter, featuring a smooth white-sand strand on Long Island Sound, complemented by lighthouses and nature trails. Families will especially love this one, thanks to the beach’s Olympic-sized pool, mini-golf, game room, playground, waterslide, amusements rides and more. And when your crew gets hungry from all that action, swing by waterfront favorite Fred’s Shanty, serving kid favorites like burgers and hot dogs.

Delaware

Lifeguard at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Lifeguard at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

With barely 30 miles of beach coastline to choose from (Chicago by comparison boasts 22), picking a winner is a no brainer in our not-so-humble opinions. Lovely Rehoboth Beach is the coastal charmer of our dreams. It’s not that it’s the prettiest stretch of sand in the state, but rather it’s the infectious energy we find irresistible. In season, tourists amble along the kitschy and cheerful boardwalk while sun worshippers wake and bake along the sizzling sand as the occasional pod of dolphins dance offshore.

Florida   

Clearwater, Florida, Beach

With more than 600 miles of beaches, the Sunshine State is an embarrassment of riches. But for families, Clearwater Beach is a solid choice. Anchored by Pier 60 on the Gulf of Mexico with sand is so soft that there’s an annual festival devoted to it, this beach is chock full of family-friendly perks. The playground, street performers, movies on the lawn and nightly sunset celebration will keep the entire brood entertained. There are also plenty of restaurants within walking distance of Pier 60, so you’re not stuck noshing on concession stand fare.

Georgia

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Where else on earth can you hang out with loggerhead turtles, wild horses, armadillos and alligators all in the same place? Cumberland Island, the Peachtree State‘s largest and southernmost barrier island is everything we love about a remote getaway—remote and unspoiled. Beyond the wildlife, there’s the remains of a Carnegie mansion, hikeable wilderness and miles of sandy beaches—not the kind that scream spring break, mind you, but the kind you’ll want to stroll hand-in-hand at sunset with your significant other.

Hawaii

hawaii, black sand beach

Choosing any one beach in the Aloha State invites fierce debate we realize, but somebody’s got to do it. While we love energetic Waikiki, Big and Little Beaches on Maui and so many others, we’re throwing our heft behind the captivating black sand beaches on the Big Island. They’re a ubiquitous sight on the windward side of the island (where the volcanoes are!) and enchanting Punalu’u Beach is not only intensely lush and ringed by palm trees, but it’s also an important nesting ground for hawksbill and green turtles; be prepared to share the beautiful black sand with them!

Louisiana

Grand Isle, about 100 miles south of New Orleans, is a far cry from the clamor of NOLA. Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, this wildlife refuge on the Gulf of Mexico attracts birdwatchers, deep-sea fishers, sunbathers and seafood lovers seeking a moment of zen.

Maine   

Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Photo credit: littlelionkat/Flickr.

When you think about the Maine seashore, you probably don’t imagine a waterfront carnival. But that’s exactly the vibe along the 7-mile stretch of shoreline outside Portland known as Old Orchard Beach. The centerpiece of activity is the historic pier, which extends 500 feet into the Atlantic Ocean with rides, carnival games, nightlife and more. Spoil your dinner with a box of Pier French Fries sprinkled with vinegar—the only sour part of this beach getaway.

Maryland

Wild horses running through the waves in Assateague Island National Seashore.

Wild horses running through the waves in Assateague Island National Seashore

Wild horses couldn’t drag us away from Maryland‘s picturesque Assateague Island National Seashore. In fact, it’s the wild horses that draw us here in the first place (they’re best seen via an organized boat tour or by kayak). We’re also keen on the turtles, whales and dolphins that call these nearly-50,000 uninhabited acres home. In summer, be sure to try your hand at they very Maryland-ish pastimes of fishing, crabbing and clamming.

Massachusetts 

Houghton’s Pond in Massachusetts. Photo credit: Robert Gray/Flickr.

You can’t go wrong with Cape Cod, Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. But if you’re traveling with kids, skip the ocean and think smaller. Houghton’s Pond in Milton, 15 miles south of Boston, is perfect for the littlest beachgoers. This family-friendly swimming hole has lifeguards, ample free parking, changing areas and a snack bar that offers kids’ meals. There’s even a roped-off shallow area for non-swimmers.

Mississippi

Ship Island Beach

Canon at historic Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island in Mississippi.

The good times (and the dice) roll in coastal Mississippi, a laid-back part of the state famous for both its casinos and its lovely beaches. But the region is hardly free of revelers. Escape the crowds via a one-hour ferry to Ship Island, a barrier island accessible via both Gulfport and Biloxi. There’s little shade, few amenities and the sand in summer is HOT, but if you trek away from the crowds pure beach bliss awaits.

New Hampshire

If you’re looking for a secluded, romantic beach—go elsewhere! But if you’re looking for the stuff summer memories are made of, Hampton Beach is the place. There’s loads of family fun here: Think impressive international sand castle competitions, regular fireworks shows, concerts and an annual children’s fest, plus boardwalk classics like fried-dough stands, clam shacks, fortune tellers, arcade games and saltwater taffy shops. Not bad for a state with only 18 miles of coastline!

New Jersey

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Beach life in the Garden State is nothing if not distinct. There’s idyllic Sandy Hook with its Manhattan skyline views, Cape May and its surrounding Victorian mansions and the beaches of Atlantic City which claim the most famous boardwalk on earth as their backdrop. But it’s Asbury Park which has come roaring back in recent years and is now a beachfront mecca for food, art and music.

New York

Iconic Coney Island offers a riot of people watching and boardwalk kitsch while the manicured Hamptons boast beautiful beachfront aplenty. But nothing makes us happier than Fire Island National Seashore, a spindly 31-mile barrier island and weekend respite for New Yorkers. The wide and sandy beaches offer elbow room for all and at day’s end it’s never more than a short walk from the beach to to your vacation rental in one of the island’s charming hamlets.

North Carolina

Overshadowed by Florida’s sunshine and California’s surf culture, the Tar Heel State‘s 322 miles of ocean coastline doesn’t get enough credit and that’s a shame. Between family-friendly Nag’s Head, historic Kitty Hawk and remote Bald Head Island, there’s truly something for everyone. For us, though, there’s Topsail Island (pronounced Topsle), a 26-mile barrier island including a trio of low-key communities, sea turtles and only two bridges connecting it to the mainland. As for the beaches, they’re superb; think shelling, sunbathing and unforgettable sunsets.

Oregon

Oregon's Cannon Beach at sunset and in between storms. People can be seen strolling on the beach.

We know it’s an obvious choice, but we’ve also driven the entire Beaver State coastline starting at the California-Oregon border and we can tell you that reaching iconic Cannon Beach feels like a milestone. Not only will visitors have the requisite Goonies flashbacks, but admiring Haystack Rock (where puffins hang out!) and surrounding rock formations, tide pooling and snapping one selfie after another on the expansive beach feels like heaven. On a sunny day, nothing beats it.

Rhode Island

For having only 40 miles of coastline, the Ocean State offers a lot of choice when it comes to great beaches. While surfers will want to head to Newport or Naragansett, Watch Hill Beach in Westerly is our top pick for the general beachgoing public. Expect gentle surf, classic New England lighthouses and—perhaps its most charming feature—the Flying Horses Carousel, America’s oldest surviving amusement of its kind. Be on the lookout, too, for pop star Taylor Swift—the singer owns a beachfront home here.

South Carolina 

Kiawah Island, Beach, South Carolina

Kiawah Island is known as a golfer’s paradise. But non-golfers shouldn’t let that drive a wedge between them and this barrier island 26 miles south of Charleston. Ten miles of unspoiled beaches against a backdrop of dunes, marshes and woodlands will refresh your soul better than sweet tea on a hot afternoon.

Texas

Pier at Rockport Beach, Texas

Pier at Rockport Beach, Texas

While the Texas beach scene might be overlooked by the rest of the country, Lone Star denizens are quietly sitting on nearly 400 miles of beautiful coastline. One of the best beaches is Rockport, wedged between Copano and Aransas bays; it was quickly rebuilt with even better facilities after being heavily damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The beach boasts kid-friendly shallows, great crabbing, shade-giving palapas, picnic areas and official Blue Wave certification, which means it’s one of the cleanest around. Be sure to book a waterfront room at the Lighthouse Inn at Aransas Bay for some gorgeous sunrise views.

Virginia

Not quite part of the famed Outer Banks, laid-back Sand Bridge, situated on the Currituck Banks Peninsula, is the coastal community we want to visit right now. Separated from the oceanfront high rises and tourist kitsch of crowded Virginia Beach by military training center Dam Neck, there’s little to do other than explore the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and catch rays along Sand Bridge’s five miles of sandy coastline.

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Tagged: Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, New England, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Uncategorized, Virginia

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Orbitz Editors & Dalia Colon

Orbitz Editors & Dalia Colon

Orbitz Editors & Dalia Colon

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