Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, known for its half-mile of white sand and gorgeous blue waters, topped Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches list for 2021.
The South Kohala beach was named the best beach in America on Thursday by Stephen Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, a professor at Miami’s Florida International University. He’s produced the list since 1991 using 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, including water and sand quality as well as safety and management.
“This white coral sand beach resides in a landscape dominated by black lava flows. During the summer months, Hapuna is a perfect place to swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the crystal clear and clean waters, but big waves during the winter can generate powerful rip currents. Fortunately, there are well-trained lifeguards at this state park,” Beach wrote.
Leatherman, a coastal scientist and professor at Florida International University, hopes his 31st annual list will encourage people to get out and leave the past year of pandemic struggles in the rearview mirror.
He acknowledged that people will have to pay extra to get tested for COVID-19 before coming to the islands. “Hawaii is a really special place, and so I think it’s worth it,” he said.
Last year, Leatherman chose a beach outside of Hawaii because, he said, island lockdowns and quarantine rules made it nearly impossible for people to visit.
“I know a lot of people have been vaccinated,” he said. “And so I think this year it’s fine for Hawaii to be on the list. And I encourage people to go there.”
“You can really social distance on the Big Island,” Dr. Beach added.
Open from 7 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. daily, this 62-acre state park off Queen Kaahumanu Highway also features camping, which requires an online reservation. It’s also along the Ala Kahakai National Historical Trail. All nonresidents using the site are required to pay a parking fee.
“It is always an honor for one of our State Parks to receive recognition of this caliber. It reflects both the scenic and natural resource value of Hapuna, as well as the quality of recent upgrades at this popular park,” said Curt Cottrell, administrator for the DLNR Division of State Parks.
Other beaches that made the list this year, in order of ranking, are: Coopers Beach in Southampton, New York; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina; St. George Island State Park in Florida; Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina; Duke Kahanamoku Beach in Oahu’s Waikiki, Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin and Clearwater, Florida; Coronado Beach in San Diego, California; Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, South Carolina; and Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.