The best beaches in America

By Men's Journal

With a shoreline roughly four times as long as the equator, America has more than its fair share of beautiful beaches. There are so many excellent seaside strands that standing out from the sandy crowd requires a degree of specialization. That's why our list of the best beaches in the U.S. is not all about towel lounging. These beauty queens offer adventure, wildlife, and great food – because it's not enough to be beautiful if you don't nail the talent portion.

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best beaches

Best for Lobster:
Lobster Cove, Maine

To savor a local delicacy in peace, hop a ferry from a mid-coast port to Monhegan, a square-mile hunk of rock, timber, and artist studios 10 miles off of mainland Maine. Stop at Fish House Seafood Market for a roll on your bike through the tiny village (cars aren't allowed on eco-friendly Monhegan) to Lobster Cove, on the southern tip; when you spot the rusty ribs of the old shipwreck, pick a big flat rock with a majestic view of crashing surf and dive-bombing seabirds. Sure, the undertow is deadly and the water frigid even in August, but that just means you won't have to share the scenery.

(Photo: Lobster: Amy Toensing / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Oysters:
Cahoon Hollow, Massachusetts

Wellfleet's five ocean beaches boast constant breezes ideal for high-flying kitesurfing. But when the sun sets, an eclectic crowd of locals ("Fleetians") and tourists ("lizards") descends the steep dunes to the Beachcomber, a landmark bar at Cahoon Hollow Beach, for world-class oysters and a nightly party that goes into the early morning hours, with live music and signature rum-and-more-rum Goombay Smash cocktails.

(Photo: Jeffrey Coolidge / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Learning to Swim:
Crescent Beach, Rhode Island

At the southern end of Block Island's Crescent Beach, a stretch of sand suits young families so well that the locals call it Baby Beach. Here toddlers wade in shallow tide pools, discovering mussels, crabs, and sand dollars while their parents recover on thecrowdless sands. As a bonus, you don't have to worry about traffic: At the ferry, bike rentals with optional trailers or child seats are available for the short ride to Baby Beach, only three quarters of a mile away.

(Photo: Nicholas Monu / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Dog-Walking:
Higbee Beach, New Jersey

Cape May, a historic resort town of sprawling Victorians at the southern tip of New Jersey, is home to a serious fleet of luxury charter boats and some of the highest paying offshore sport fishing tournaments on the East Coast. Captains running 50 to 100 miles out keep clients battling dream fish all summer. Back on shore, the sandy stretches team with New Yorkers and deeply-tanned locals. The only quiet stretch is Higbee Beach, a thin, dune-fringed strand that disappears at high tide.

(Photo: Bob Coyle / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Sports:
Jockey's Ridge State Park, North Carolina


Steady ocean breezes power Jockey's Ridge to top jock in the Outer Banks. The highest sand dune on the East Coast (down the road from where the Wright Brothers flew) offers an ideal launch for hang gliders and kite fliers with slopes that beckons andboarders when the crowds thin. Kitty Hawk Kites teaches beginning gliders in three-hour lessons that get you airborne above the dunes for up to 100 yards, 80 feet higher than the Wrights' first attempt.

(Photo: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Family:
Hunting Island, South Carolina


Home to the state's only accessible lighthouse, this quiet semi-tropical island is perfect for kids, with loggerhead turtles, dolphins, and deer. In the summer, families can fish off the nearby pier, which juts 1,120 feet into Fripp Inlet, then cook their catch while camping near the lighthouse.

(Photo: Rachid Dahnoun / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Seclusion:
Long Point, Georgia

Solitude abounds on Cumberland Island, a barrier island four miles longer than Manhattan that only allows 300 daily visitors. Those who trek to the northern end of the 17-mile beach will be rewarded with centuries-old oak trees draped with Spanish moss, former Carnegie mansions (one now the stunning Greyfield Inn) and 50-foot dunes. A recent visit offered wild horses, loggerhead turtles, raccoons cracking lunch on oyster beds, even a gator using its body as a surfboard in the waves – but not a single human soul.

(Photo: Stephanie Zell / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Pre-Gaming:
Bahia Honda State Park, Florida

Downtown Key West, where locals, tourists, and expats gather each day as the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico for the island's Sunset Celebration, is only a short drive from Marathon Key, but no one drinking a beer while watching the sun go down on the island's largest bay cares. Smart locals hang out here, bathing in the warm water and solitude, before heading over the the party on Duval Street.

(Photo: Danita Delimont / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Shell Hunting:
Sanibel Island, Florida


Linked by a causeway to Fort Myers, this sedate, scimitar-shaped barrier island is anchored on the east by Lighthouse Beach, a long stretch of creamy sand backed by a park and its historic 1884 beacon. The water here is warm, calm, and shallow, making it ideal for kids; the beach is perfect for sandcastles and is loaded with shells, especially when low tide exposes its offshore sandbars. A national wildlife refuge protects a substantial share of Sanibel, guaranteeing a constant air show by squadrons of brown pelicans; the daily aquacade by pods of bottlenose dolphins is an unexpected bonus.

(Photo: Nicholas Reuss / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Learning to Surf:
Grand Isle State Park, Louisiana

Known as the Cajun Bahamas, the beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana (110 miles south of New Orleans), offer killer fishing and kayaking and, when the winds are blowing, surprisingly good surf breaks. Though Grand Isle was belted by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, its beaches have been restored, and nearby salt marshes still produce prize 20-pound redfish. Captain Danny Wray specializes in kayak fishing, offers long-range motor-assisted "mothership" charters and surf lessons, and runs the island's best fish camp.

(Photo: Andrew Kornylak / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Birders:
South Padre Island, Texas

The wide sandy beach that launched a million spring break keggers sits just a few hundred yards from the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, an important habitat for many Gulf Coast bird species. By all means, avoid the college kids, but come here during the offseason if you want to see some beautiful chicks. When you're ready to put down the binoculars, hire a deep-sea charter to chase marlin and tarpon – and be back in time for sunset and live music at shoes-optional watering holes such as Boomerang Billy's and the Wanna Wanna.

(Photo: Zach Dischner / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for 4x4s:
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that goes double for Padre Island. With 90 miles of pristine beachfront, Padre is the planet's longest undeveloped barrier island – beloved by windsurfers and beachcombers alike. Past the cluster of resorts at either end, you'll find a paradise of sandy beaches, wind-carved dunes, and lonely grasslands. The best access requires four-wheel drive; tread carefully in July, when endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles lay their eggs.

(Photo: Joe M. O'Connell / Getty Images)Best for Body Boarding:
Coronado, California

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Body Boarding:
Coronado, California

Families are drawn to this 18-mile sand-fringed peninsula (and the National Landmark 125-year-old Hotel del Coronado) between San Diego and the Pacific Ocean for its humidity-free climate and reliable-yet-not-intimidating surf, ideal for junior body boarders. Other activities include surf lessons from Coronado Surfing Academy (from $50 per person), beach volleyball, and bike rides along the coast.

(Photo: Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Families:
Cannon Beach, Oregon

The frigid water is honestly never swimmer-friendly here, some 80 miles northwest of Portland, but the kids don't care. There's plenty to do on land, including combing for sand dollars at low tide and watching comical puffins nesting in a sea stack just offshore. Try Ecola State Park a mile north of town for a walk among the sitka spruce and hemlock forests to tide pools. After sunset, bonfires break out up and down the Cannon Beach dunes, sites of mellow marshmallow roasts and stargazing sessions.

(Photo: Chen Su / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

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The 20 best beaches in America

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The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Snorkeling:
Hulopoe Beach, Hawaii


While the rest of Hawaii was building luxury resorts, Lanai was the world's largest pineapple plantation. The island boasts a hidden paradise in Hulopoe Beach. A steep shoreline, a network of tidal pools, and cobalt-blue waters teeming with tropical fish make this bay one of the best snorkeling spots in the world. For the resort-weary, Hulopoe also allows camping, complete with picnic tables, BBQ pits, and showers.

(Photo: Karl Lehmann / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Luaus:
Kaanapali Beach, Hawaii

Downtown Key West, where locals, tourists, and expats gather each day as the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico for the island's Sunset Celebration, is only a short drive from Marathon Key, but no one drinking a beer while watching the sun go down on the island's largest bay cares. Smart locals hang out here, bathing in the warm water and solitude, before heading over the the party on Duval Street.

(Photo: Tami Dawson / Getty Images)

The 20 best beaches in America

Best for Big Breaks:
Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

Big-wavers may favor Pipeline, but for the rest of us, the windward Lanikai ("heavenly sea") is best for all water sports. A reef-sheltered crystalline bay makes this the best swim in the state, and two small islands lure kayakers, surfers, and windsurfers by thewaveful. The undeveloped mile of sand is postcard-perfect, but there are no facilities, so bring your own gear.

(Photo: Greg Vaughn / Getty Images)