Gulf Islands National Seashore Wins Best East Coast Beach!


Hunting Island State Park, Ocracoke Island Beach, Folly Beach and Myrtle Beach also top finishers

From Maine all the way down to Florida, America's eastern shores are home to a diverse collection of beautiful beaches perfect for your next summer vacation. We asked our panel of Beach and East Coast Local Experts to pick their top Atlantic and Gulf beaches, and then 10Best readers voted for their favorites.

  • Bowman's Beach
    Sanibel, Fla.

    Sanibel is a beachy haven to be sure, and Bowman’s offers up some of the best shelling this island is legendary for – as well as some of the most isolated and beautiful space on which to the seashore. There are no high-rise hotels to mar the natural vistas here, only a secluded white stretch of coastline that rewards those willing to take a quarter-mile bridge walk from the parking area.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Coligny Beach Park
    Hilton Head, S.C.

    Let’s start with one of the most unbelievable things about this beautiful public beach and park situated in the heart of downtown Hilton Head: free parking! Yes, really. Beyond this attractive feature, its charms are many. Roaring surf, broad stretches of sand, picnic tables, a playground and walk-to access to Hilton Head’s many drinking, dining and shopping establishments are just a handful of what awaits. Benches and swings make for divine pit stops as visitors enjoy the serenity and solace of the South Carolina coast.
    Photo courtesy of Ron Cogswell / Flickr

  • The Cove
    Cape May, N.J.

    Locals are likely waiting for steampunk hipsters to show up here in full Victorian swimming costumes, as it wouldn’t be stretch. Cove Beach has been a popular vacation spot since the era when such clothing was seeing its debut as fashion-forward style. Since then, modern beachgoers have capitalized on the pretty strand’s evolving pursuits, such as surfing, kayaking and even surf fishing. A gently sloping coast makes the broad beach a family-friendly option on the Jersey Shore.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Virginia Beach
    Virginia Beach, Va.

    A three-mile oceanfront boardwalk is one of this famed coastline’s signature draws, ideal for strolling, jogging, rollerblading and more and rife with people-watching. South of the resort area, nature lovers and will find Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park while those simply looking for more seaside solace might give peaceful Sandbridge a look.
    Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB)

  • Cape Hatteras
    Outer Banks, N.C.

    Ocean waves, coastal flora and fauna and a picturesque lighthouse are among the attractions here on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where visitors enjoy activities as varied as kiteboarding and crabbing and nightfall brings the promise of a magical experience oft verboten on public strands: beach fires! Those interested in walking off the s’mores may do so with ease; the seashore here stretches along the Atlantic for some 70 miles.
    Photo courtesy of betancourt / Flickr

  • Myrtle Beach
    Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    Welcome to the Grand Strand, a 60-mile necklace of South Carolina beaches in which Myrtle Beach is the crown jewel. This town is well known for its world-class golf, but its beaches are just as impressive. Iconic structures – the towering SkyWheel and Apache Pier (the East Coast’s longest wooden one!) – are great stops in between one’s enjoyment of the oceanfront sunrises, lively Atlantic surf and the unparalleled Lowcountry seafood.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Folly Beach
    Charleston, S.C.

    Explore the six-plus miles of this expansive and beautiful beach any way you want – recommended ideas include walking or cycling, as the latter are easily acquired and tool visitors around town with ease. Of course, the view of the beach is just as enticing from the water, so much so that Folly is frequented by surfers. Those with little or no experience need not fret, myriad outfitters are happy to step in with expert tutelage.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Ocracoke Island Beach
    Outer Banks, N.C.

    Here’s another veteran of Dr. Beach’s No. 1 picks, this one a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Ocracoke is rife with natural beauty; minimal development has allowed much of its native flora and fauna to flourish – it’s wetlands are a haven for birds, turtles and other beautiful, diverse residents. Its beaches? Well, they’re a haven for human visitors, who come in droves eager for active and staid relaxation that could come as easily in the form of sandcastle-building as boogie boarding.
    Photo courtesy of Ole Bendik Kvisberg / Flickr

  • Hunting Island State Park
    Beaufort, S.C.

    There are many reasons more than one million people clamor to Hunting Island State Park each year. Shall we list them? Let’s start with pier fishing, follow it up with beach-access camping and throw in nature trails, and South Carolina’s only public-accessible lighthouse (which makes for gorgeous vacation photos to boot). Still not sold? Shell collecting – or swimming, or lounging, on its three miles of natural, beautiful beach is nothing less than cleansing for the soul.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Gulf Islands National Seashore
    Pensacola, Fla.

    Ready for some squeaky beaches? Some of these strands are so laden with powdery crystal, the sand literally speaks as visitors enjoy a barefoot amble across the shoreline. Aside from its gorgeous and even USAT/10Best.com Readers’ Choice-winning beaches, there’s history afoot. Fort Pickens, for example, in nearby Pensacola Beach attracts thousands for visits and camping each year.

The top 10 winners in the category Best East Coast Beach are as follows:

  1. Gulf Islands National Seashore - Pensacola, Fla.
  2. Hunting Island State Park - Beaufort, S.C.
  3. Ocracoke Island Beach - Outer Banks, N.C.
  4. Folly Beach - Charleston, S.C.
  5. Myrtle Beach - Myrtle Beach, S.C.
  6. Cape Hatteras - Outer Banks, N.C.
  7. Virginia Beach - Virginia Beach, Va.
  8. The Cove - Cape May, N.J.
  9. Coligny Beach Park - Hilton Head, S.C.
  10. Bowman's Beach - Sanibel, Fla.

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Walter McLeod (Clean Beaches Coalition), Clare Sweeney, A.D. Thompson and Chelle Koster Walton were chosen based on their extensive beach knowledge and experience.

Additional nominees for Best East Coast Beach included Clearwater Beach, Coopers Beach, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, East Hampton Main Beach, Kiawah Beachwalker Park, Martha's Vineyard Beaches, Nauset Light Beach, Siesta Key Beach and South Beach.

Congratulations to all our winning East Coast beaches!

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Alert The Experts

Walter McLeod

Clare Sweeney

A.D. Thompson

Chelle Koster Walton