School is out for summer, and it’s time for Atlantans to pack their bags and head to the beach. But where do you go for your fill of sun, sand and surf? An array of beautiful beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf are within easy reach for Georgians. Many other shores are just a short flight away.
Every year around this time, Stephen P. Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach, releases his list of America’s Best Beaches to help narrow down the best destinations. Leatherman, the Director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research, evaluates water and sand quality, well as safety, facilities, environmental management and dozens of other criteria to hone his list.
Hawaiian beaches tend to reign supreme on Dr. Beach’s annual lists. This year is no different, as the Hanalei Beach on Kauai is ranked number one in the U.S. for 2009.
But Southern beaches typically favor well with Leatherman too. The Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke Island, NC garnered the coveted top spot in 2007, and Florida beaches from the panhandle down to Key West have earned the best beach title six times since the first list in 1991.
Look below the top spot, and Southeastern beaches often make up large chunks of Leatherman’s top ten rankings. This year, Siesta Beach in Sarasota, FL comes in at number two; Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s Outer Banks ranks seventh; Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, FL is number eight; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, SC rounds out the list at number ten.
For years, I wanted to take a vacation to Ocracoke Island, having heard how beautiful, natural and quiet it was. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I found out the beach there earned the 2007 top ranking right after I plonked down money for our summer house rental last winter. I was concerned that the beach would be overwhelmed with Dr. Beach followers flocking to the country’s best beach. I didn’t need to worry. The island was by no means deserted, but it still retained the charm that I had heard about.
I don’t know how other, more accessible beaches that top Leatherman’s’ lists fare after they earn the number one ranking. The Outer Banks are an out-of-the-way destination, and Ocracoke Island’s ferry-only access (2.5 hours on the boat if you’re coming from the south) makes it even more so. I would be interested to hear from travelers who have checked out those Florida beaches after they earned the Dr. Beach stamp of approval.
So tell us…What’s your favorite beach? Have you been to any of Dr. Beach’s top 10 in the U.S. for 2009? Have you visited any of his past top recommendations? Did you find that his recommendation causes a surge in visitors or a decline in beach experience?
Do you like to try new beaches, or do you prefer to go back to the same place every year? What’s the best “new” beach you’ve tried? Where is your old favorite?