If you don't get to hit up at least one beach, did summer really happen? For us, the answer is no. Some of the best memories of the season usually take place by the water, whether you prefer extreme water sports or sipping daiquiris under a hula umbrella.
While we wouldn't mind soaking up some sun on an exotic faraway island, our wallets (and vacation days) aren't as flexible as our bikini straps. Luckily, you don't need to rush a renewal on your passport or suffer a five-hour layover just to have a tropical escape. Beaches right here in the U.S. have plenty to offer, from exotic sands (think olive-colored) to clear waters to towering cliffs. We've put together 21 of the best domestic locales to hit up this summer. Basic beaches, these are not.
Photo: Getty Images.
Homer Spit, Homer, Alaska Unlike the many beaches on this list, Homer Spit isn't for lounging in your bikini. Extending 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay, it's a beach surrounded by gorgeous glaciers. The chillier climate makes it an ideal place to build a beach bonfire while you soak up the view. Here, you're more likely to see eagles than seagulls, and you can even try your hand at fishing, since Homer is the Halibut capital of the world.
Photo: Ken Brown/Getty Images.
Chimney Beach, Lake Tahoe Chimney Beach gets its name from a free-standing chimney left behind from a long-since-gone cottage. Getting here can be a little tricky, because the lake is a short hike away from the road, and it gets just steep enough to keep away the crowds. But when the downhill trail to the water opens up to reveal stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains, you'll see why it's worth the trip. Despite the surrounding pine trees, the mix of rocks and incredibly light, clear water gives the area an almost Caribbean vibe. Plus, the beach faces west, making it the perfect spot to catch a sunset.
Photo: Marco Simoni/REX Shutterstock.
Dry Tortugas Beaches, Florida It's easy to mistake this island in the Florida Keys for a tropical paradise in the Maldives. The pristine white sand, which forms an arresting gradient with the cerulean water, looks almost too ethereal to exist in the U.S. Teeming with marine life, this beach is made for underwater adventures: The kaleidoscopic coral reefs and fleets of sea turtles will capture the heart of any snorkeler.
Kiawah Island Beachwalker Park, South Carolina Most people default to Myrtle Beach when they look for a seaside escape in the Palmetto State, but this little-known public beach on Kiawah Island offers an equally gorgeous vista without all the crowds. Just 25 minutes outside of Charleston, it's a hidden gem with an array of activities, from golfing to tennis to cycling.
Photo: Dennis MacDonald/Alamy.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan Dubbed " the Hidden Riviera of America," the cluster of beaches along Lake Michigan's shoreline offer golden sands and sapphire waters, minus the costly international airfare. Stunning panoramas make climbing the sky-high dunes — shaped like a sleeping bear — totally worthwhile. The varying water temperatures of the beaches cater to every type of visitor, from laid-back soakers to hardcore swimmers.
Photo: Niels van Kampenhout/Alamy.
Papakolea Beach, South Kau Big Island, Hawaii There's no shortage of picturesque beaches on the islands of Aloha, but Papakolea stands out among the crystalline waters and coconut tree-lined locales. The olive-hued sand got its pigment from millions of semiprecious lava stones, and stands in breathtaking contrast to the deep blue waves. The strong winds along the coast are ideal for surfers.
Photo: RelaxImages/REX Shutterstock.
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California With postcard-perfect landscapes, this Central California beach is a little piece of heaven on Earth. The sands are mainly composed of garnet rocks that shimmer in a violet hue under sunlight — just imagine, purple sand castles! The unique rock arch allows light beams to shine through the middle opening, creating spectacular sunrises and sunsets that are the stuff of Instagram dreams.
Photo: Len Holsborg/Alamy.
Ditch Plains Beach, Montauk, New York The easternmost point on Long Island has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past couple of years, and though Ditch Plains can be crowded on weekends, you can always find a spot if you walk away from the main entrance in either direction. Parking permits are required for non-residents, but the accessibility, surfer-friendly tides, and gorgeous cliffs make it worth a visit. And with establishments like Duryea's Lobster Deck, the Red Hook Lobster Pound, and Clam Bar just a few minutes away, there's simply no excuse to not eat seafood at every meal.
Moshup Beach, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts The waves at Moshup are lovely on their own, but it's the colored earth that makes this beach worth seeing. The vibrant green, red, and yellow tints are a result of the sedimentary clay in the cliffs. But you can only feast your eyes on this gorgeous mosaic of colors: It's illegal to climb the cliffs or remove the clay.
Photo: Connection/REX Shutterstock.
Coronado Central Beach, Coronado, California If you enjoy long walks on the beach, skip San Diego's busy Mission Beach and head to Coronado Island, the "Crown City" tucked in the Bay. The main beach boasts 1.5 miles of flat, glittery sand, and owes it metallic sheen to the presence of mica, a silvery mineral. There's plenty of architectural wonder to take in on your stroll: Dozens of Victorian mansions line the coast, and the crimson-roofed Hotel del Coronado is a notable highlight.
Photo: Dennis Cox/Alamy.
Gulf State Park, Orange Beach, Alabama Seafood lovers: This is your jam. The sun-kissed shores of Alabama have some of the best freshwater and saltwater fishing in the country. The extensive pier offers a whopping 2,448 feet of surface area for fishing, with catches ranging from king mackerel to white trout. Quaint neary cabins and cottages are also available for rent, if you're craving the authentic fisherman's experience.
Photo: Paul Nichol/Alamy.
Rockport Beach, Rockport, Texas The affordable parking and proximity to hotels make this sandy escape the ultimate chill-out spot. Get your feet wet in the calm, shallow waters or kick back with a book under the cute tiki umbrellas. What you won't find is any trash: Rockport is the only beach in the state of Texas that's certified by the Clean Beaches Coalition.
Photo: John Barger/Alamy.
Meyers Beach, Bayfield, Wisconsin The hike to Meyers Beach can be quite exhausting, but the beautiful sunsets and frisky waves are worth breaking a sweat. There's so much more nature to explore here than at your average beach: Kayaking through the dozens of dark, spacious caves along Lake Superior and touching the moss with your bare hands are experiences you'll never forget.
Photo: Ian Dagnall/Alamy.
Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida The beaches of Sanibel are a beachcomber's dream come true: The east-west layout of the island allows for an abundance of seashells from the Caribbean Sea to wash ashore. Live shelling is prohibited, but you'll be busy enough trying to collect all the goodies accumulated on the sand. DIY shell necklaces, anyone?
Photo: Russ Bishop/Alamy.
Scorpion Bay, Santa Cruz Island, California The remote Santa Cruz Island is known for its campsites and native wildlife (the first successful bald eagle hatching in 50 years happened here). The beaches are quiet and unpolluted, since the isle is only accessible by park concessionaire boats or private planes. Outdoorsy types can busy themselves with the kayaking and snorkeling tours on-site. If you don't feel like getting active, you'll be equally content with tossing multi-colored pebbles into the water while contemplating life's meaning. Maybe you'll even spot our national bird in the process. What could be more patriotic than that?
Photo: All Canada Photos/Alamy.
Island Beach State Park, Seaside Park, New Jersey This clean, tranquil beach is the antithesis of what you might expect in a Jersey Shore beach. Just two hours outside of NYC, this shoreline offers convenient access to unspoiled natural beauty, which may include dolphin sightings and encounters with red foxes, if you're lucky. The popular walkway was recently reopened after years of repair after Hurricane Sandy.
Photo: Visit Clearwater.
Sand Key Park, Clearwater, Florida Stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Tampa Bay, this beach offers plenty of activity options: There's a dog park, cabanas, beach umbrellas, and loungers. It's also conveniently located next to the Clearwater Pass, should you feeling taking a boat ride along the Gulf. What makes this beach truly special is its animal inhabitants: You'll be able to observe rare birds and endangered sea turtles in action.
Photo: Discover The Palm Beaches.
Dubois Park, Florida This scenic beach wouldn't look out of place as a tropical paradise in Southeast Asia, and is one of the most stunning places in the country to go snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. Make sure you get photos of the Jupiter Lighthouse.
Dauphin Island, Alabama With a lovely nickname like "Sunset Island", you can pretty much expect a spectacular golden hour on this 14-mile barrier island. There's a lot to do besides sunning yourself on the sand: The island is home to a bird sanctuary and an expansive aquarium where you can touch stingrays.
Duck Beach, North Carolina With abundant sands, clean waters, and magnificent dunes, this beach is prime location for relaxation and taking in the sunset. Do take note of red "no swimming" flags — these warnings are hoisted when the rip currents are deemed too strong for ocean swimming.
Virginia Beach, Virginia There's something for everyone at this expansive beach: The water temperature makes it an ideal spot for surfing and fishing, while the smooth, white sands are perfect for beach bums. When you're bored of frolicking with waves, the three-mile boardwalk provides ample space for biking and rollerblading.