The Bucket List Of American Beaches

June 18, 2012

To kick off the summer, USA TODAY recently asked local experts to select one great beach in each state. Their recommendations provide a veritable bucket list of beaches to enjoy across the nation. Here's to checking a few off the list this summer! Alabama: The Gulf State Park (shown at right) near Gulf Shores is a lovely (and low cost) beach getaway. You can build a sandcastle on snow-white beaches, fish or just take it easy on the porch of a lakeside cabin. The restaurants, shops, and family-friendly attractions of Gulf Shores are nearby. Alaska: Homer Spit , a narrow gravel bar more than 4 miles long jutting out into Kachemak Bay, stands out among Alaska's many scenic beaches. People walk on it, camp on it, fly kites, ride bikes, go fishing, picnic, launch boats, catch ferries, shop, eat and drink — all while enjoying a spectacular view of the glaciated Kenai Mountains. Arizona: Lake Havasu has more than 400 miles of shoreline, sun and sand. Boats and other equipment are for rent in Lake Havasu City, home of the relocated London Bridge. Some of the finest beach areas are in Lake Havasu State Park, or cruise the river until you spot a private beach that suits. Arkansas: DeGray Lake Resort State Park's Caddo Bend Day Use Area appeals to all ages. You can lounge in chairs, play in the water or just stretch out in the sand. Beach diversions are among an array of activities available, including horseback riding, cycling, boating, camping and relaxing in the spa. California: Orange County's Crystal Cove State Park isn't just about the beach — gracefully curved coves with reliable waves for surfing and bodysurfing. On the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, park trails climb foothills for killer views of the ocean you just swam in. If swimming and hiking make you hungry, grab a cheeseburger and a rich milkshake at Ruby's Shake Shack. Colorado: Medano Creek, (shown at right), at the Great Sand Dunes National Park is fed by snowmelt from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Its flow lasts only from about April to mid-June, offering a cool respite from the sun-soaked, 7,500-ft.-high sand dunes set at 8,000 feet in altitude, the highest in North America. The shallow creek flows swiftly (great for tubing), and it's surrounded by 30 square miles of "beach." Connecticut: Sherwood Island, offers athlete-perfect fields, a shaded grove for picnickers, even paved runways for pilots of radio-controlled model planes. The beach itself stretches about a mile and a half. By the food pavilion, it can be a party, but follow the shoreline west and you will find yourself alone on the dunes. Delaware: Backed by extensive sand dunes, the long swimming and sunbathing beaches of Delaware Seashore State Park are quieter than those in the beach towns. The farther you walk from the entrances, the more peaceful they are. Designated areas for surfing, sailboarding and surf-fishing. District of Columbia:  Yards Park, just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol, has a kid-friendly fountain and wading pool, open spaces and an old-fashioned boardwalk. Festivals and Friday night concerts bring crowds out in force. Early mornings are perfect for strolling on the quiet waterfront, watching rowers on the river or relaxing in wooden chaise-lounge chairs. Florida: Siesta Beach, (pictured at right) just 15 minutes from downtown Sarasota, was chosen the nation's best beach in 2011 by Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach). Follow the gently sloping beach to the calm, warm Gulf waters and dig your toes into the powdery white-quartz sand. Lifeguards and free parking make it safe and easy for everyone to enjoy. Georgia: St. Simons Island glitters with sandy beaches, upscale restaurants and charming boutiques. Preppy though it may be, the island still manages to transport visitors to a simpler time, thanks to its canopy of live oaks and abundance of bicyclists. The hard-packed sand on the island's East Beach makes it easy to jog or cycle along the Atlantic. Hawaii: The 45-minute drive along the Kohala Coast to Hapuna Beach — the largest on the island — is worth it. The beach is spacious enough to spread out, and there's clear water where you can snorkel and swim in calm conditions and body-board in the surf. Idaho: Crystal-clear Lake Coeur d'Alene is more than 24 miles long and includes a waterfront preserve with sandy beaches and hidden coves. You'll be treated to scenic views of the Bitterroot Mountains, the "floating green" on the local golf course, and osprey and bald eagles fishing near the shoreline. You can relax on a lake cruise, parasail or rent watercraft. Illinois: Lake Michigan sparkles to the east, the Chicago skyline rises to the south, and the Lincoln Park Zoo lies to the west. The wide, sandy expanse of Chicago's North Avenue Beach provides great people-watching, sand volleyball games, lifeguards and a beachhouse with bar and bike rentals. Indiana: You'll find just over 3 miles of broad, sand beach, and freshwater swimming, along Lake Michigan's southern shore. Behind it lies Indiana Dunes State Park 's scattered hills of shifting sand. Tough going up Devil's Slide dune, but thrilling to skid down! After visiting the Nature Center, enjoy a hike through forest and around the 1,530-acre Dunes Nature Preserve. Trail 8 climbs up-over-and-down four massive sand hills — with great lakeshore views. Iowa: Clear Lake is an iconic getaway town where a city beach and a state park beach lie near the downtown's cute shops and restaurants. A new bike path winds along both beaches and loops around the lake. The city park, complete with a band shell, hosts lots of summer festivals. Kansas: Scott State Park , north of Scott City, is hidden in a wooded canyon of craggy cliffs. The park's spring-fed lake has a pleasant swimming beach with a playground and concession stand offering food, fishing supplies, canoes and paddleboats. The 1,020-acre state park also has camping, hunting, nature trails and historic sites. Kentucky: Buckhorn Lake in the rugged mountains of eastern Kentucky, was created in 1961 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Kentucky River, the lake offers swimming and water skiing plus rental cabins, a park lodge and nearby boat-in campsites. Louisiana: The khaki sand beach at Grand Isle , on the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans, stretches flat and shallow for 7 miles. There's plenty of room to swim, wade, kayak or surf-fish, and the close-knit community's family vibe and string of mom-and-pop motels, cabins, campgrounds and a state park, is welcoming. Maine: Ogunquit Beach 's 3.5-mile stretch of sand has long made this small southern Maine town a summer mecca for beachgoers. The wide, scenic beach also sports a magnificent mile-long cliff walk. Stroll along Marginal Way for a grand view of beach and rock-strewn sea, all in one sweeping glance. Maryland: Assateague Island National Seashore, (shown at right) a 37-mile-long barrier island, offers sandy shores for kayaking and canoeing and lifeguard-protected beaches. Some beach areas are open to over-sand vehicles. For an unforgettable photo op, scan the shore for wild horses in their natural environment. Massachusetts: Crane Beach , part of the 2,100-acre Crane Estate in Ipswich, is a gorgeous property. Miles of white-sand shoreline and pristine water beckon swimmers and sunbathers, while 5 miles of trails through dunes, a wildlife refuge and the showpiece Great House are a delight to explore. Even in summer, the beach is never overcrowded because parking is strictly controlled. Michigan: Ludington's Stearns Park Beach is just one of a string of lovely Ludington beaches that stretch for miles along Lake Michigan. The broad, white-sand swath is family-friendly, with a new skate park, easy access to town and a walkable pier out to North Breakwater Light. Minnesota: Minnesota's best beach lies on 6-mile-long Park Point. Though the water is rarely warm enough for swimming without a wetsuit, the beach is a great spot to watch incoming waves, giant saltwater freighters and Great Lakes ore carriers passing under Duluth's signature Aerial Lift Bridge, and to spot birds that rest on the point during spring and fall migrations. The Park Point Nature Trail follows the beach and occasionally passes old-growth pine and tamarack. Mississippi: You can get to Ship Island , off the Mississippi coast, only by boat. Undeveloped except for the century-old Fort Massachusetts, this remote beach destination is perfect for a languid day spent shelling and swimming in tranquil waters. Keep an eye out for bottle-nosed dolphins on your sunset cruise back to Gulfport. Missouri: Table Rock Lake, in southwest Missouri, features more than 745 miles of shoreline. Private development is kept clear of the shoreline to ensure a natural look, with a buffer of open land for trees, wildflowers and wildlife. Marinas, campgrounds and resorts offer access to the lake, which is one of the largest and cleanest in the USA. Montana: Whitefish Lake is a sparkling jewel in an eponymous town of 6,300. The 6-by-1-mile lake sports three public access areas, including City Beach, a sandy expanse with picnic shelters, barbecue grills, playground, dock and concession stand. Plus, you get spectacular views of the Whitefish Mountain Range. Nebraska: Calamus Reservoir gets its sandy beaches courtesy of the Sand Hills, a unique ecosystem of prairie grass and rolling sand dunes. Calamus has very little development along its shoreline. Among the activities available: sailboating, windsurfing, water skiing and bird-watching for such varied species as prairie chickens, pelicans and cormorants. Nevada: The pine-cone-flecked golden sand, towering evergreen forests and deep cobalt waters of Zephyr Cove make this beach a standout, but the frosty Rum Runner cocktails and abundance of beautiful young beachgoers make this landlocked beach the best in Nevada. The adjacent Zephyr Cove Resort features beachside relaxation in historic cabins and aboard the M.S. Dixie II paddlewheeler, which offers scenic tours and sunset dinner cruises across the breathtakingly beautiful mountain lake. New Hampshire: Newly renovated Hampton Beach State Park offers swimming, fishing, surfing, picnicking and RV camping (with full hookups) along 2 miles of Atlantic beachfront. There's a sand sculpture competition in June and a seafood festival in September. New Jersey: New Jersey's southernmost resort town, Cape May , boasts clean and wide ocean beaches and cozy, secluded bay beaches. Cape May also is renowned for perfectly preserved Victorian B&Bs and has gussied-up waterfront hotels and motels. New Mexico: The Blue Hole, aka "Nature's Jewel," in Santa Rosa, is a spring-fed pool with an inflow of 3,000 gallons per minute of crystal-clear 64-degree water. About 80 feet in diameter and 130 feet deep, it's a popular swimming and diving spot that dates to prehistoric times. The '30s brought Route 66, and the spot gained fame as one of the most refreshing stops along the Mother Road. It still is. New York: At just over 30 miles long and under a mile wide, car-free Fire Island (shown at right) near New York City consists of national seashore, private property and vast expanses of golden-sand beaches. Visitors spend the summer swimming, taking lazy hikes, or getting around by rented bikes and little red wagons. Rent a cottage or head to Ocean Beach for a hotel, restaurants and nightlife. North Carolina: Oak Island, south of Wilmington, has a nice blend of basic amenities and miles of open, mellow beach. There's great kayaking on the sound side, a transportation system friendly to bikes, and small-town atmosphere. North Dakota: North Dakota has beautiful beaches, such as the hidden gem in Icelandic State Park. The beach along the shore of Lake Renwick is simply known as "the swimming area," and its wide swath of soft sand invites digging in toes, building sandcastles and relaxing after a dip. Ohio: Cedar Point Beach was acclaimed by a local newspaper in 1867 for its white sand and prime location along the north-central shore of Lake Erie. The beach boasts a mile stretch of pristine sand, a world-famous amusement park, parasailing, volleyball tournaments, and a unique list of famous guests and events throughout its history. Oklahoma: Nestled in eastern Oklahoma, McGee Creek State Park includes the small but serene Buster Hight Beach Area. The 3,350-acre McGee Creek reservoir draws a mix of swimmers, anglers and boat enthusiasts, and is rarely crowded. The beach is a perfect vantage point to watch each evening's blazing sunset before heading to a cabin or campsite. Oregon: Come summer, uncrowded Bandon Beach on the southern Oregon coast, is a favorite for strolling, splashing and horseback riding. Nearby oceanfront Bandon Dunes Golf Course, a classic Scottish-style links course, has been compared to Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. Pennsylvania: Pymatuning Reservoir is an all-ages escape, offering sheltered beaches along 70 miles of wooded shoreline, family cabins and campgrounds, and a low-horsepower rule that keeps pontoon boats purring. Instead of using a boardwalk, families stroll the Linesville Spillway. So many ducks cluster at this fish hatchery that they literally walk on the fish. Rhode Island: East Matunuck State Beach has waves perfect for boogie-boarding, a huge curve of fine sand to stroll, and a busy breachway at one end where you can watch everything from the Block Island ferry to working fishing boats come and go. A new pavilion and concession stand will open this summer, but if you'd like a casual sit-down lunch or dinner, walk a block or two to Jim's Dock in the adjacent village of Jerusalem. South Carolina: Backed by undulating dunes, Kiawah Island 's (shown at right) swath of sparkling sand stretches uninterrupted for 10 miles along the Atlantic Ocean. The spectacular beach on this private island is a serene spot to soak in the sun and surf. Just outside the Kiawah Resort gates, Beachwalker County Park offers the only public access to the island's beach. South Dakota: Crowds will enjoy Lewis and Clark Lake this summer, but there will still be secluded spots on the shoreline. Sunbathers and swimmers take in views of sailboats and eagles on a big blue body of water bordered by yellow chalkstone bluffs. Hiking trails, a marina, bars, music and more make Lewis and Clark a popular prairie respite. Tennessee: Nashville Shores water park on Percy Priest Lake has a new Kowabunga Beach, complete with four-story treehouse and "sprayground." Customers also can brave the waves in Breaker Bay wave pool, ride the Big Scream water slide and float down Castaway Creek, Tennessee's widest lazy river. Texas: Only a 15-minute drive from Corpus Christi's tourist-packed beach is Padre Island National Seashore , a 70-mile stretch of clean white sand and clear blue water. This relatively uncrowded and serene area is a great place for families and nature lovers. You can swim, fish, camp, boat and barbecue. And it's OK to park right on the sand. Just watch for nesting turtles and that pesky high tide. Utah: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, folks pack the expansive beach and nearby campground at Bear Lake Rendezvous Beach in northern Utah, to enjoy boating, sandcastle building, volleyball and picnics. The water temperatures may be on the cool side, but the area provides a respite from the heat in the valley. Campers can enjoy shade provided by cottonwood, willow and birch trees. Boat and cabin rentals also are available. Vermont: Carved by glaciers and hugged by Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah, 5-mile-long Lake Willoughby in Westmore boasts crystal-clear, usually chilly waters that reach more than 300 feet deep. The North Beach is frequented by families and lots of Canadian vacationers; the South Beach is accessed by a short trail and is clothing-optional. Cabins and camps line the east coast. Virginia: Sandwiched between the high-rises of Virginia Beach and the vacation towns of the Outer Banks is a 10-mile-long expanse of beach unknown even to most Virginians. False Cape State Park and adjacent Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge occupy a narrow barrier spit — the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Back Bay to the west. Both offer a wild beach experience that is rare on the East Coast. Washington: Reaching Olympic National Park's Second Beach, requires less than a mile walk along a worn cedar path before emerging onto driftwood-strewn sands facing dramatic sea stacks. First Beach can get crowded, Third Beach requires a more arduous 1.2-mile hike, but Second Beach is just right, especially when the sun's "golden locks" descend below the Pacific. West Virginia: Located in central West Virginia, Summersville Lake — with five dozen miles of shoreline — is known for natural beauty, Civil War history and outdoor adventures. You can fish, swim, boat, scuba-dive and sunbathe. Wisconsin: At Racine's North Beach, (shown at right) everyone from beach bums to pro volleyball players share a 50-acre stretch of well-groomed sand along Lake Michigan. The beach also is home to the fort-like Kids Cove, a large outdoor playground.  Other bonuses: weekend music concerts, lifeguards, free parking. Wyoming: Horseshoe Bend in Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area has a large swimming area. There are grass and trees above the beach for picnicking, and a marina offers rentals and refreshments. Guided boat trips weave under canyon cliffs past Native American cliff-dwelling ruins. DJ

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