America’s most beautiful beaches photographed from above

With around 95,000 (125,000km) of coastline, the US has plenty of incredible beaches to explore. From bustling tourist hot spots in major cities and towns to more secluded stretches of sand and hidden coves, here we explore some of the most breathtaking beaches in the US from a bird’s-eye view, offering a whole new perspective.

Dubbed “America’s Original Seaside Resort”, Cape May’s glittering blue water framed by golden sand feels more like a Caribbean escape than New Jersey. Clean, family-friendly and dotted with plenty of restaurants, bars and attractions, Cape May’s beaches are some of the best in the country.

With its clear shallow waters and powder-white sands, we can see why Florida’s Clearwater Beach draws visitors all year long. Often regarded as one of the best beaches in the US, Clearwater offers miles upon miles of sugary sand, inviting waters and an array of nearby attractions, including the famous Pier 60, making it a popular vacation destination for families.

Hidden away by a steep staircase and studded with dramatic sea stacks, El Matador Beach is a spectacular sight. On California’s coast near Malibu, the beach is dotted with arches and caves littered with tidal pools buzzing with sea life. Home to some of the coast’s most stunning rock formations, El Matador forms part of the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach area alongside the beaches of El Pescador and La Piedra.

Sitting in the heart of South Carolina’s Grand Strand coast, this seaside resort is home to some of the state’s most picturesque beaches. Myrtle Beach is the crown jewel of the coast, flanked by an award-winning boardwalk which, at 1.2 miles (1.9km) long, is perfect for taking in the picturesque shoreline and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.

 

Stunning and secluded, Honopu Beach lies in a pretty cove on Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast in Hawaii. The beach is named ‘Honopu; which means conch shell in Hawaiian because of the conch-shell-like sound the 90 foot (27m) natural arch which towers over it makes when northern winds blow into the valley. Backed by soaring 1,200 foot (365m) high sea cliffs, Honopu Beach is often considered one of the most beautiful beaches on Earth.

Also known as SoBe, South Beach is a trendy neighborhood in Miami famed for its stunning beaches, incredible entertainment and aquamarine waters. Bordered by pastel-hued Art Deco buildings and swaying palm streets, its yellow stretch of sand is decorated with bold umbrellas, colorful lifeguard towers and beachgoers soaking up the sun.

 

This beach in Oregon is home to one of the most recognizable landmarks in the state. Jutting off Cannon Beach, Haystack Rock rises 235 feet (72m) from the edge of the shoreline and has featured in movies including The Goonies and Kindergarten Cop. Alongside the famous sea stack, at low tide marine life is known to peek above the waters while waterfalls cascade onto the sand at Hug Point nearby.

Situated in northwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, just 12 miles (19.3km) long, Navarre Beach may be small but it makes up for it in its natural beauty. Its emerald waters set against pristine sugar-white sand which borders a state park give the beach a tranquil feel away from the crowds of Pensacola. Aside from its pretty appearance, Navarre Beach is popular for kayaking, canoeing and small boats.

Nicknamed Turtle Beach after the green sea turtles that feed on the seaweed which grows on the reef nearby, Papaoneone Beach is a hidden gem on Oahu’s west shore. Concealed from the roads and tucked behind several vacation condos, its white sands beautifully contrast with its eye-popping blue waters. The tiny beach is a great snorkeling and surfing spot while the occasional sea turtle can be spotted offshore in the early hours of the morning.

 

In the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast, Oak Street Beach is easily one of the best beaches in the city. Dating back to the late 1800s, the beach became one of the most popular bathing locations at the turn of the century. Today, framed by the Windy City’s famous skyscrapers providing picturesque views across Lake Michigan, Oak Street Beach offers a tranquil spot in the middle of bustling Chicago. Its beach walk, which trails past the sand, is frequented by cyclists, walkers and rollerbladers.

With its quartz-crystal powdery sand overlooking sapphire blue waters, Siesta Key Beach on Florida’s west coast is often ranked one of the nation’s prettiest stretches of sand. Lying on the Gulf Coast, the sugary sand beach serves as a beautiful gateway between the lively city of Sarasota and the glittering Gulf of Mexico. Roughly eight miles (12.9km) long, the barrier island is dotted with shops, restaurants and cafés, while tidal pools decorate the waters nearby.

Lying just east of Wilmington on North Carolina’s coastline, Wrightsville Beach is a peaceful seaside town framed by a pretty beach. Its miles of pristine sand and perfect waves is regarded as the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina and one of the top surfing destinations in the world. Beyond its busy activity-filled waters, the beach is hailed for its stunning sunrises and sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Located west of downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica State Beach is a sparkling example of southern California’s famous beaches. Stretching three-and-a-half miles (5.5km) long, its white sands are flanked by a series of bridges, walkways and stairs providing access from the city. In its heart is the beach’s main attraction, the Santa Monica Pier which extends out towards the glittering waters. The pier is a world-famous landmark, home to an amusement park, shops, restaurants, an aquarium and more.

Easily Oahu’s most famous beach, Waikiki attracts visitors from around the world with its heavenly appearance. A two-mile (3.2km) stretch of white sand and calm waters, the beach was once frequented by Hawaiian royalty who enjoyed surfing here on longboards in the 19th century. Today, fringed by towering high rises and boutique hotels, Waikiki Beach is Hawaii’s premier accommodation hot spot, known for its luxury.

 

Characterized by its soft sand and emerald green waters just off the coast of St Petersburg in Florida, we can see why St Pete Beach was voted Trip Advisor’s number one beach in the US in 2021. Its warm Gulf waters nestled against sparkling sands are known for typically being uncrowded, drawing vacationers who fancy a peaceful escape from the cities nearby.

Considered one of America’s most romantic beaches, this dramatic beach on the north end of Jekyll Island gets its name from the ancient driftwoods that are dotted across the waterfront. Left behind by years of erosion, the eerily beautiful gnarled and weathered trees make Driftwood Beach look like another world. With its unusual appearance especially at sunset, the beach provides an enchanting backdrop for weddings and photographs.

With its three miles (4.8km) of white sand and crystal clear waters, you can’t get more heavenly than Ka’anapali Beach. Located in Hawaii’s first planned resort area which opened in the 1960s, the hotels and condos that overlook the beach became a model for resorts around the globe. Aside from its luxury hotels, the beach is also famous for the traditional cliff diving ceremony that takes place each evening off a rock formation known as Black Rock. A cliff diver lights torches along the rock before jumping off, reenacting a feat by Maui’s revered King Kahekili.

Where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach’s stretch of sand is the city’s biggest draw. Situated in the Coastal Virginia region, the city has several golden sandy beaches to enjoy. The Oceanfront boardwalk, which trails three miles (4.8km) across the sand, is a bustling hub of activity and the main attraction. Lined with restaurants, bars and hotels, the boardwalk features several stages for hosting live events and also has a separate bike path for cycling and skating.

Shrouded among the rugged Big Sur coastline, Pfeiffer Beach is like a little slice of paradise. Famed for its violet-hued sand and stunning sea stacks, the beach is hidden away by steep cliffs giving it an isolated feel. Its defining feature is Keyhole Arch, an incredible rock formation carved out by crashing waves that formed a hole. For just a few weeks in winter, as the sun sets, it lines up with the arch and is a phenomenal sight – visitors flock from across the country to capture it.

 

Guarded by the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton Beach lies on a string of islands known as the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Towering 208 feet (63.4m) high, Cape Hatteras is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world and its distinct black and white candy-striped façade makes it one of the most recognizable ones too. Around 175,000 visitors flock to the beach each year to climb the lighthouse’s 257 steps and are rewarded with blissful views across the coast. With its strong winds, Buxton Beach provides perfect conditions for surfing.

 Coney Island Beach, New York

New York City’s famed pleasure ground, Coney Island was at the forefront of America’s seaside amusements for over a hundred years. Located on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn, the three-mile (4.8km) beach was the nation’s top summer retreat for decades, drawing millions of visitors each year before its decline in the early 20th century. Today, the nostalgic summer destination is still one of the city’s top attractions, home to restaurants, shops and amusement rides including the Ferris Wheel and the modern Thunderbolt roller coaster.

 La Jolla Cove, California

Nicknamed “the jewel of San Diego”, with its incredible views, natural beauty and warm weather, the La Jolla coastline is unlike anywhere else in the US. Flanked by scenic sea caves, La Jolla Cove is a small deep water bay sitting just below a grassy park. Although the beach is small, its clear and calm waters are popular with swimmers and snorkelers hoping to catch a glimpse of the native marine life including the bright-orange garibaldi fish frolicking in its watery depths.

 

With three miles (4.8km) of sparkling white sand and vibrant blue waters, Waimanalo Beach is the epitome of bliss. Situated on the southeastern corner of Oahu, it is the longest uninterrupted white sand beach on the Hawaiian island. Backed by ironwood trees providing plenty of shade, the pristine beach is perfect for taking a stroll or lazing around.

This thin silver sliver of sand may be small, but Coligny Beach makes up for it in charm. Stretching across five miles (8km) on the Atlantic coastline, it is the best-known beach on Hilton Head Island. With plenty of amenities nearby including hotels, shops and restaurants as well as showers, gazebos and benches near the sand, the beach is the ideal family-friendly destination. Its calm waves are perfect for swimming and pods of dolphins are known to play and feed in the water nearby.

 

Renowned for its golden sands and blue-green waters, Alabama’s Gulf Shores is the ultimate beach lover’s destination. Its amazing waters are warmed up by the Gulf of Mexico while its lovely white sand is thought to be some of the softest in the world. Orange Beach is one of the most picturesque stretches of sand, renowned for being a water sports hot spot, with fishing, parasailing and surfing all common activities here.

Occupying a scenic spot on California’s coastline, Laguna Beach is filled with picturesque swathes of sand but this small inlet is a real treasure. Impeccably clean, Treasure Island Beach has incredibly clear waters, making it ideal for snorkeling. Swimmers can enjoy its warm waters or venture further across the rocks to Middle Man’s Cave, a little hidden gem.

With its white sloping sands, turquoise water and soft waves, Napili Bay is one of Maui’s most-visited destinations. Pretty reefs protect the waters from most of the swell, causing gentle waves and providing the perfect swimming conditions. An abundance of colorful and vibrant fish can be found in the nearby waters, making Napili Bay Beach great for snorkeling.

 

Nestled between the rugged mountains and rocky shores of Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park, this little beach is one of Maine’s best-kept secrets. Just 870 feet (265m) long, the beach is mostly made up of unique sand from shell fragments created by the pounding surf over thousands of years. With its pinkish sand and blue waters fringed by pine trees, the cove-style beach is one of the park’s most beautiful natural wonders.

Sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and Florida coastline, the barrier island of Anna Maria is lined with a seven-mile (11.3km) strip of white sandy beaches. The clear waters that border the island are a hot spot for sea turtles, which are known to nest on the beaches between May and October.

One of the best-known destinations on Oahu, this gorgeous wine glass shaped bay feels a world away from the buzz of Hawaii’s capital. Surrounded by the lush greenery of the Koko Crater, Hanauma Bay was formed by a violent volcanic eruption over a thousand years ago, creating its near-perfect crescent-moon shape visible today. It’s not just its beauty that makes it so special, around 400 species of fish are said to flock to the bay’s reefs every day, alongside green sea turtles, making it a stunning spot for snorkeling.

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