After two years stuck at No. 2, a stretch of sand on Florida's Gulf Coast near Sarasota has finally been named the best beach in America.
Dr. Beach, aka Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research, releases his Top 10 Beach List before Memorial Day each year. Siesta Beach, on Siesta Key, a barrier island southwest of Sarasota, has been playing bridesmaid for two years now, but earned top honors in this, the 21st year of Dr. Beach's rankings.
"Siesta Beach in Sarasota boasts that it has the finest and whitest sand in the world, and I cannot argue with this claim," Leatherman said of this year's winner. "The powdery sand is nearly pure quartz crystal. The beatiful blue-colored water is clean and clear, making it so inviting to bathers and swimmers."
The beach is in the shape of a crescent because of onshore rocks to the north and underwater formation of coral rock and caves, which Leatherman says is great for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Leatherman ranks beaches using 50 different criteria from quality of sand to safety. Siesta Beach has been in the top 10 of his annual list for years. He praises the width of the beach as being hundreds of yards wide, attracting volleyball players and beachcombers. The waves are small and the beach slope is gentle. He also gives praise to its status as a nonsmoking beach. While he says the beach parking fills up on summer weekends, he cites the amenities including the bathrooms, snack bars, grills, picnic tables and shade trees as part of the reason why Siesta Beach is America's top beach.
"My favorite time to visit is after Labor Day when things have calmed down, and the water is still warm enough for swimming until November," Leatherman said.
Florida is well represented on this year's list, with three beaches including Siesta Beach. Coming in at No. 6 and debuting on the list is St. George Island State Park near Apalachicola. Returning to the No. 10 spot for the second year is Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne.
It's the first time a Florida beach has been named the best since 2008, when Caladesi Island State Park north of Tampa took the honors.
Former winners are not eligible to be included on the list. In addition to Caladesi, former Florida winners include Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg in 2005, St. Joseph Peninsula in Port St. Joe in 2002, St. Andrews State Park in Panama City in 1995, Grayton Beach State Park in Santa Rosa Beach in 1994 and Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key in 1992.
Other Florida beaches that have made the Top 10 in the past five years, but not on this year's list include Barefoot Beach Park in Bonita Springs and Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet south of Daytona Beach.
The No. 2 beach in the U.S. this year is Coronado Beach in San Diego. The rest of the top 10 are Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii at No. 3, Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y. at No. 4, Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks in North Carolina at No. 5, The Panhandle's St. George Island State Park at No. 6, Beachwalker Park in Kiawah Island, S.C. at No. 7, Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass. At No. 8, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii at No. 9 and Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne rounding out the pack.
With the reigning top beach, Coopers Beach on Long Island, N.Y., not eligible for the list, the 2011 list saw not just one, but two new beaches -- St. George Island State Park and Waimanalo Bay Beach Park. Dropping out of the Top 10 was last year's No. 9 beach, Hamoa Beach in Maui.
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