Siesta Key Best Beach in United States

SIESTA KEY, Fla. (AP) — The sand on Siesta Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is as fine as powdered sugar, a pure, sparkling white and soft as a kitten’s fur — all because it’s comprised of 99 percent pure crushed quartz.

For that reason, and many others, it was selected this year as the best beach in America by a professor who’s made a career ranking and studying beaches around the United States.

“The sand is outstanding,” said Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, a professor at Miami’s Florida International University. “Every time I go there, I’ve got to take a bag home with me. It’s almost sacrilegious to walk on it with shoes on.”

Other beaches that made the list this year, in order of ranking, are: Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina; Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida Panhandle; Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod in Massachusetts; Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida; Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii; Coronado Beach in San Diego, California; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, South Carolina.

On a recent workday, Siesta Beach was packed with people, even though it wasn’t particularly sunny. The turquoise water was still gorgeous, the sand still fine. The beach is about 200-300 feet (60-90 meters) wide in some places, which means people can stretch out and not feel crowded. The beach was last year’s runner up and one of three in Florida on this year’s top 10 list.

“It’s nice and clean, that’s what I look for,” said Jamie Gaskin, a 59-year-old retiree from Lakeland, Florida, who was scoping out the beach for a family Memorial Day party. She especially liked the two-story pavilion, which boasts a snack bar and restrooms. It’s only two years old and even offers sweet crepes for breakfast and tapas dishes in the early evening.

“There’s plenty of tables to barbecue and to hang out. And the restrooms were nice and clean. I’d definitely recommend this,” she said.

Siesta Beach is on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, and is located just southwest of downtown Sarasota. The water is placid on most days — Leatherman says you can measure the waves “in inches” — and is shallow and safe for swimming, with no sharp drop-offs. Added bonuses include lots of parking, a trolley service to and from the island’s adorable downtown area and plenty of lifeguards. The beach also has natural dunes, which is a bit rare for Florida, and the fine sand is excellent for building sand castles.

“I look for kind of a balance between nature and a developed environment,” said Leatherman, who lives on the other side of the state, closer to Miami Beach. “Fourteen million people go to Miami Beach every year. There’s just too many people there. I think a lot of people are looking for more of a getaway.”

Leatherman, who is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, uses about 50 criteria to assess and rank beaches across the country. In recent years, he has given extra points to beaches that prohibit smoking, saying cigarette butts are not only environmentally damaging, but can ruin the experience for beach-goers. Safety and environmental management are other major factors, he said.

He’s rated beaches since 1991.

The Maui beach that came in at No. 2 on the list, Kapalua Bay Beach, is smaller than Siesta Beach. It’s crescent-shaped and flanked by palm trees. Unlike lots of Hawaii beaches, there aren’t many waves at Kapalua, he said, making it perfect for safe swimming.

“The coral reefs almost go right to the beach. There are tropical fish swimming all around.”

The third beach on the list, Ocracoke, is unique in both history and location. Leatherman points out that it was once the pirate Blackbeard’s old haunt. And it’s only accessible by a state ferry.

“The only negative I have, it seems like too many cars,” he said. “I wish they would turn car ferries to pedestrian ferries.”

Leatherman says he tries to select locations that are a bit off the beaten path, yet immensely rewarding once visitors arrive. Siesta Beach, he points out, is an outstanding place to watch the sun dip below the Gulf horizon — one more reason why it made the top of this year’s list.

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Top Beaches are in Florida

Siesta Beach in Sarasota boasts that it has the finest and whitest sand in the world, and I cannot argue with this claim,” Leatherman said in 2011. “The beautiful blue-colored water is clean and clear, making it so inviting to bathers and swimmers.”

The other Florida beaches making the TripAdvisor list are St. Pete Beach at No. 3, last year’s top beach Clearwater Beach dropping to No. 4, the beach in Panama City Beach at No. 5, Hollywood Beach at No. 6, Pensacola Beach at No. 7, St. Augustine Beach at No. 8,  Fort Lauderdale Beach at No. 11, South Beach at No. 12 and Henderson Beach State Park in Destin at No. 17.

Overall, Florida rated the most beaches in the U.S. top 25 with 10 followed by Hawaii with seven, California with three and one each from Maine, Maryland, Massachuestts, Georgia and Virginia.

Siesta Beach ranked No. 5 in the site’s world rankings, the only U.S. beach in the top 25. The No. 1 beach in the world is Baia do Sancho in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil.

This is the fifth year of the TripAdvisor awards, and the third year in a row a Florida beach has topped the U.S. list. Siesta Beach has always been in the top 3.

As far as 2017 goes, here is TripAdvisor’s rankings for the U.S. top 25:

1. Siesta Beach on Siesta Key near Sarasota, Florida

2. Ka’anapali Beach Lahaina, Hawaii

3. St. Pete Beach, Florida

4. Clearwater Beach Clearwater, Florida

5. Beach at Panama City Panama City Beach, Florida

6. Hollywood Beach, Hollywood, Florida

7. Pensacola Beach, Pensacola Beach, Florida

8. St. Augustine Beach Saint Augustine Beach, Florida

9. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Honolulu, Hawaii

10. Ocean City Beach Ocean City, Maryland

11. Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

12. South Beach Miami Beach, Florida

13. Wai’anapanapa State Park Hana, Hawaii

14. Ogunquit Beach Ogunquit, Maine

15. Wailea Beach, Wailea, Hawaii

16. Lanikai Beach, Kailua, Hawaii

17. Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Florida

18. Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, Georgia

19. Virginia Beach, Virginia Beach, Virginia

20. Santa Monica Beach, Santa Monica, California

21. La Jolla Shores Park, La Jolla, California

22. Hapuna Beach, Waimea, Hawaii

23. Race Point Beach, Provincetown, Massachusetts

24. Carlsbad State Beach, Carlsbad, California

25. Poipu Beach Park, Poipu, Hawaii