‘Dr. Beach’ reveals top 10 best beaches in the U.S.

Caleb Jones
Associated Press
In this May 15, 2019, photo, people stand near the ocean at Kailua Beach Park in Kailua, Hawaii.

Kailua, Hawaii – In Kailua, the sand is soft and white, the water is clear and calm, and the view is exactly what you would expect from a beach in the Hawaiian Islands.

Those are among the reasons Oahu’s Kailua Beach Park has been selected as the best stretch of sand for an annual list of top U.S. beaches.

Stephen Leatherman, a coastal scientist and professor at Florida International University, has been drafting the list under the alias “Dr. Beach” since 1991.

In this Sept. 16, 2015, file photo, beachgoers keep an eye on the seals swimming at Coast Guard Beach in North Eastham, Mass.

Leatherman uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, with the most important categories being water cleanliness, safety and management of the beach environment and its facilities. Leatherman uses data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grade the beaches on water quality and has been to all the beaches on his list.

Beaches in Hawaii are consistently ranked high, sometimes at the top of his list.

In this June 8, 2007, file photo, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka "Dr. Beach," poses on the beach at Ocracoke, N.C., as Mara Chemerinsky, 8, a visitor from Durham, N.C., plays in the sand.

“I love Waikiki Beach. No question about that – a world-famous beach – but Kailua is a lot smaller and quieter,” Leatherman said. “It’s so much more peaceful. … You don’t have big high-rises and all that. Kailua is on the other side of the mountains. It’s like a different world.”

In recent years Leatherman has been giving extra credit to beaches that prohibit smoking, which all Oahu beaches do. He thinks other beaches around the state and country should follow suit.

Leatherman also looks for powdery soft white sand, something Kailua Beach Park has in abundance.

In this April 5, 2018, file photo, paddleboarders watch a dolphin swim by near Grayton Beach State Park in Florida

Vari Singh and her family were visiting Oahu from Los Angeles and spent a day in Kailua.

“The color of the sea is something like we’ve never seen before. The sand is super soft and fun to play with, it makes good sandcastles,” she said as her daughter wiped sand from her face. “And the scenery is beautiful, you just come over the hill and it’s just this majestic scene of green ocean.”

Leatherman acknowledged that not everyone appreciates the publicity his lists give to top beaches.

“I get a lot of people who are very happy about it. They like to know where to go,” Leatherman said. But “I always get some pushback. Oh yes, people say, ‘Oh no, we already have too many people coming here. What are you doing?’ It’s almost like they think it’s a secret beach or something. (Kailua) is not quite a secret beach. It is a real gem though.”

Hapuna State Beach Park on Hawaii’s Big Island also made the list, based on water quality and other traits.

Braden Marquez, 18, who grew up in Kailua, says he is worried about overcrowding but also hopeful about the future of his hometown.

“This beach is pretty special to me just because my family has been coming here for years and years,” he said, noting the area has changed a lot since his childhood.

“(My) biggest concern would be losing the locals because of the influx of people,” he said during a recent visit to the beach. “But other than that I’m pretty excited about all the new things to come.”

For the first 25 years of ranking, any beach that won the top spot on Leatherman’s list was ineligible for inclusion in subsequent years. But in 2015, Dr. Beach cleared the slate to allow any beach in the nation to once again be eligible, resetting the clock – and perhaps the relevance– involving his annual contest.

This May 21, 2014, file photo shows Duke Kahanamoku Beach in the Honolulu tourist neighborhood of Waikiki in Hawaii.

Kailua was named the best beach in 1998, making it a two-time winner.

Leatherman is again retiring new winners and posting them on his website .

Leatherman’s goal in producing the list each year, he says, is to reward high-quality, safe beaches that balance nature with accessibility and amenities. He hopes beaches that haven’t made his list will make changes for a better experience and a healthier coastal ecosystem.

FILE - This May 13, 2010, file photo shows Coopers Beach in Southampton, N.Y. Stephen Leatherman, a coastal scientist and professor at Florida International University, has been drafting a list of the best beaches in the U.S. under alias "Dr. Beach" since 1991. This year he has named Coopers Beach the fourth-best in the country. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

Other best beaches:

2nd place: Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks

3rd place: Grayton Beach State Park in the Florida panhandle

4th place: Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York

5th place: Duke Kahanamoku Beach on Oahu

6th place: Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

7th place: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin-Clearwater, Florida

8th place: Hapuna State Beach Park on Hawaii’s Big Island

9th place: Coronado Beach, San Diego, California

10th place: Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina.