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Trip Ideas

8 Best Beaches from Coast to Coast

With 12,383 miles of coastline in the United States, finding the best beach escape is no small task. Andrew Skwarek picks eight great sandy spots from coast to coast

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Best Beach for Kids

Coronado Central Beach, San Diego
A quick drive from downtown San Diego, Coronado Central Beach caters to families with its gently lapping waves and strict ban on alcohol and smoking. Claim your slice of sand during low tide, when the receding ocean leaves small pools of water that are perfect for little ones to make a splash. If the kids need to satisfy their sweet tooth, the landmark Hotel Del Coronado provides all the essentials you need to make s’mores at the beachfront fire pits. And when you want a break from the sand, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo are just 15 minutes away.

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Best Beach to Spark Romance

Ladies Beach, Nantucket
Fronting the Atlantic Ocean on the southwest edge of Nantucket not too far from Bartlett’s Farm, Ladies Beach is a secluded, go-to spot for locals who want to escape the influx of vacationers each summer. There are no facilities or lifeguards on duty, but that’s what makes it all the more private and romantic. Pack a blanket, some sandwiches and a bottle of bubbly and settle in for an enchanting evening with your better half.

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Best Beach to Strut Your Stuff

South Beach, Miami
South Beach doubles as a year-round runway for lathered up bronzed babes and toned guys with chiseled abs. Make heads turn on this famous stretch of sand by donning your best, sexy suit while laying out. Or, show off that toned bod during a game of beach volleyball. As the sun sets, SoBe's nightlife is just heating up: Work it out at hot spots like Fontainebleau’s LIV club or Hyde Beach at the SLS South Beach hotel.

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Best Beach to Hang Ten

Manhattan Beach, California
At the southern end of Santa Monica Bay, the exclusive community of Manhattan Beach is a premier surf spot just 19 miles from Los Angeles. The swells here are pretty consistent, so bring your longboard and carve some gnarly waves. Newbie? No problem – there are a host of surf shops in the area that offer lessons. And if you'd rather sit back and watch the action, that’s fine, too: The 52nd International Surf Festival kicks off on the south side of the Manhattan Beach pier from July 31 until August 4.

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Best Beach for Lake Lovers

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Northern Michigan might sound like an unlikely beach destination, but Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has 35 miles of shoreline and gin-clear waters to rival the Caribbean. If you can brave Lake Michigan’s icy temperatures, make your way to Esch Beach or Glen Haven Beach for a dip. Or, tackle the 3.5-mile round-trip hike (note: it’s pretty strenuous) to the top of the park’s namesake dunes – which are 400 feet above the lake – for unbroken views of the shoreline.

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Best Beach to Watch a Sunset

Polihale State Park, Hawaii
On the southwest side of Kauai, Polihale State Park may not be the most accessible beach (you have to veer off HI-50 and drive down a rutted dirt road for five miles), but it’s well worth the trip. Make a pit stop at Ishihara Market (9890 Kahakai Road) in Waimea to pick up a few brews (we recommend Longboard Island Lager) and snacks and watch the sun cast an amber glow on the water and dramatic Na Pali Coast as it disappears below the horizon.

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Best Beach for Scuba Fans

Cannon Beach, Key Largo
Named for the 17th-century cannons that adorn it, Key Largo’s Cannon Beach is part of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and offers outstanding snorkeling and scuba diving conditions. Best of all, you don’t have to go far to see this underwater city: Just swim offshore about 100 feet to the Spanish shipwreck that’s home to marine life such as parrotfish, damselfish, barracuda, brain coral, sea fans and more.

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Best Beach to Spend the Night

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
Assateague Island National Seashore is a 37-mile barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, and over 300 wild Chincoteague ponies have the run of this sliver of land. Pitch your tent oceanside in Maryland (camping is not allowed in the Virginia portion) and wake up early for a gorgeous sunrise. Every facility has chemical toilets, cold-water showers and drinking water, so you don’t have to worry about completely roughing it. Be sure to plan ahead: You're not allowed to bring firewood from out of state, but it can be purchased locally.