America’s eight best beaches, from California to Chicago – New Zealand Herald

Lighthouses and lobster shacks, Rockport is at the meeting of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

It’s hard to imagine America without its beaches.

Without sea or sand, there would be no surfing. No beach, no Beach Boys. Without a bay to watch, Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhof would still be bit-part actors. From sea to shining sea, salt water is in the veins of the US of A and the “beach day” is part of the culture. But where are the best beaches to spend your US vacation?

Not wishing to wade into the middle of the East Coast-West Coast debate, it’s simple to say Americans are passionate about their beaches.

From the placid shores of the Big Sur to the Art Deco pleasure temples of Miami Beach, there’s something to suit all tastes.

Though 27 of the 50 States are technically landlocked, there are even a few secret “lake beaches” from the Inland Empire that make our list.

Here’s where to get around, ‘round, ‘round, go get around on a tour of the States’ top beaches.

End of the Road: Los Angeles' Santa Monica Beach is at the end of Route 66. Photo / Brand USA
End of the Road: Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Beach is at the end of Route 66. Photo / Brand USA

Santa Monica State Beach – California

Where the boulevard and Route 66 run out of road, is arguably Hollywood’s favourite stretch of sand. The Ferris wheel of Santa Monica Pier and Pacific Park makes it instantly recognisable, though it’s now solar-powered. From Venice to the Palisades there’s plenty of boardwalk and beachfront for roller skating and walking along.

Miami Nice: Florida's decadent Art Deco beach. Photo / Brand USA
Miami Nice: Florida’s decadent Art Deco beach. Photo / Brand USA

Miami Beach – Florida

Florida’s white sand shorefront has a reputation as a party beach. Since the 1930s, the pastel-coloured Art Deco buildings of South Beach have been ageing disgracefully. The lime-green Marlin Hotel has plenty of stories to tell. Now sanitised and pedestrianised, the shore is a far cry from the 1980s Miami Vice-era, but has lost none of its flamboyance.

There’s a Cuban influence in cuisine and culture of Little Havana to remind you of the Caribbean’s proximity.

Aroha, Aloha: Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu. Photo / Brand USA
Aroha, Aloha: Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu. Photo / Brand USA

Waimea Beach – Hawaii

In the middle of the Pacific, the Hawaiian islands are closer to New Zealand than they are to New York – both physically and culturally. As a fellow set of islands pulled from the sea by the mythological Maui, there’s a lot to bond over.

On Oahu, Waikiki’s golden crescent is world famous, with a highrise waterfront perfect for sundowner cocktails. However, Kiwis may find greater affinity with some of the quieter, less developed areas such as Waimea Bay Beach Park on the other side of the island.

Provincetown Beach, Cape Cod, Massechusetts. Photo / Brand USA
Provincetown Beach, Cape Cod, Massechusetts. Photo / Brand USA

Cape Cod – Massachusetts

So, it’s not a beach as such but the region’s many coves, towns and sandbars make it an East Coast summer favourite. Cape Cod is full of twee, Disney-esque seaside towns and celebrity summer houses, from the Kennedys to Taylor Swift.

A little way offshore, Martha’s Vineyard is the filmic stand-in for Amity Island, the setting of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Don’t worry. From fictional great whites to tales of great white whales, you’ll also find Nantucket and the opening pages of Moby Dick. There’s plenty of beachside holiday reading to be found here.

Inland Empire: Chicago is home to some of America's most epic city beaches. Photo / Brand USA, Morgan Phillips
Inland Empire: Chicago is home to some of America’s most epic city beaches. Photo / Brand USA, Morgan Phillips

Oak Street Beach – Illinois

Beach culture isn’t the first thing you associate with Chicago. But despite being in landlocked Illinois, the city on the Great Lakes is home to some of America’s most epic urban beaches.

Chicago’s Gold Coast stretches from North Avenue beach to Ohio Street “Oily” beach; however it’s Oak Street that takes the crown of the city’s best strand, with surprisingly white sand right under the famous skyscraper-filled skyline.

17 Mile Drive along Monterey Bay, California. Photo / Brand USA
17 Mile Drive along Monterey Bay, California. Photo / Brand USA

Monterey Bay – California

With more than a dozen beaches from Santa Cruz down to Pacific Grove, “Monterey Bay” sounds like a bit of a cop-out. Not so! As the gateway to Big Sur along Highway 1, this dramatic bit of Pacific coastway is meant to be explored by car. With gnarly cliffs and characterful Monterey cypress and Redwoods lining the shore, there’s a calmingly wild side to this stretch of Central California. No wonder it was beatnik Jack Kerouac’s favourite stretch of sand.

The lobster-red boathouse of Rockport, Massachusetts. Photo / Brand USA
The lobster-red boathouse of Rockport, Massachusetts. Photo / Brand USA

Rockport Front Beach – Massachusetts

With its bright red boatshed, the fishing port of Rockport might be the star of America’s lobster country. Crustaceans are so abundant in this part of New England, you can order a lobster roll from McDonald’s. Don’t fill up on fast food. The Roy Moore Lobster Company is a 100-year-old fishery that provides lobster meat, fresh, boiled or in a bun.

The Front Beach is a busy stretch of sand hemmed in between granite boulders and the old shorefront town. The best view of the beach might be from the Shalin Liu Performance Centre. The glass-backed chamber concert hall is one of the US’ most scenic concert halls, with evening concerts to a backdrop of sails and New England sunsets.

Truffle shuffle to Oregon's Cannon Beach - the setting for The Goonies. Photo / Brand USA
Truffle shuffle to Oregon’s Cannon Beach – the setting for The Goonies. Photo / Brand USA

Cannon Beach – Oregon

Up in the Pacific Northwest the rugged windswept stacks of Haystack rock and the Ecola State Park are just over an hour from Portland. Film fans may recognise it as the Goonies beach from the 1985 adventure film, but there’s plenty more cultural treasures to be found in the bays, both high and low. From May to November there’s a constant calendar of events including the Stormy Weather Arts festival.