Grab & Go: 10 Iconic Beaches in America

USA,
Laura Lopuch

Nudging the dark brown spiked tail with a toe, I backed off a few steps and watched. No responding movement.

Tiptoeing back up, I squatted down and poked the hard tail with a finger.

Still no movement. Shooting a relieved look at my brother who was crouching on the other side of the horseshoe crab, I smiled; it was safe. He flipped the dead crab onto its back — shiny tank-like shell scattering sand.

Welcome to late summer of my childhood on the Jersey Shore. Where we spent long hours collecting seashells, footprints wandering in and out of the surf like drunken monkeys. Chasing sandpipers. Brief minutes spent creating a sketch of a sandcastle before growing bored.

Now I spend my beach days people-watching over the top of my book because people-watching at the beach can’t be beat.

Memorial Day — the unofficial start of summer — has just passed. Sun, sand, and fun are calling. Grab your stuff to hit the beach, so you can toss over horseshoe crabs and check out their inner workings underneath.

Beach Day Packing List Basics

What staples should your beach bag always contain? No matter which beach you’re hitting up, some things in your bag always remain the same. Then, depending on where you’re exploring, just add in a few extra items to make your bag destination-specific.

The Basics:


Sunset Bay State Park — Coos Bay, Oregon

Four hours south of weird Portland, Oregon, in a little inlet on the coast, is Coos Bay. Only 15,000 people live there, but this idyllic town is rich in natural beauty. Tear yourself away to visit Sunset Bay State Park (20 minute drive from Coos Bay), if just to see its stunning sunsets book-ended by cliffs. In the summer, daytime highs don’t crest 70 degrees. Pack accordingly.

Extras to Pack:

Check Out:

North Avenue Beach — Chicago, Illinois

Bet you didn’t think “beach” and “Chicago” existed in the same sentence. Me neither. There are plenty of beaches in Chicago — thank you, Great Lake Michigan — North Avenue Beach is the creme de la creme.

Located next to Lincoln Park Zoo and a few blocks north of Magnificent Mile, this local favorite is super popular. So, if you’re planning to go, get there early for a prime spot. If you can’t sit still longer than 15 minutes, let off steam in volleyball tournaments, swimming, or take a walk along the jogging path.

Extras to Pack

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Barton Springs Pool — Austin, Texas

Fed from an underground spring, this three acre pool in Zilker Park has year-round constant water temperature of 68-70 F degrees. When Robert Redford was five years old, he learned how to swim here. Yeah, now you definitely want to visit this beach, don’t you?

Extras to Pack

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Glass Beach — Mendocino Coast, California

Instead of sand, this beach is covered in the world’s highest concentration of beach glass. After a huge earthquake in 1906 that leveled many of local town Fort Bragg’s buildings, the town dumped the debris into the ocean. They thought it’d wash away. It didn’t.

Rather, the ocean methodically returned the debris to the beach as Mermaid’s Tears or beach glass. Keep your eyes peeled for the rare “sapphire” and “rubies” (blue and red glass rubbed smooth by the ocean).

Extras to Pack

Check Out:

Cumberland Island — Georgia

Georgia’s largest barrier island boasts a history dating back to Spanish missions in the 16th century. What’s that? Tell you about the beaches here? My pleasure. Long, deserted stretches of sand unspoiled by high rises or crowds. Occasionally a horse trots by. You hear the world breathing.

Extras to Pack

Check Out:

Windsor Beach, Lake Havasu — Arizona

Sand. Palm trees. Arizona. Yes, those three things do go together at Lake Havasu.

Summer gets hots here — July’s average high is 109 F degrees — but the water is so, so cool. Lounge on white-sand beach, occasionally checking out the mountains in the distance over the top of your book.

Extras to Pack

Check Out:

Medano Creek, Colorado

Frolic on a beach with white-capped mountains back-dropping your swimsuit selfies. Yeah, Colorado has it all: mountains, great beer, and beaches. 3.5 hours south of Denver is Medano Creek which follows Colorado’s sand dunes, creating a perfect landlocked beach.

Extras to Pack

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Assateague Island, Maryland

Ever read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry? Any takers? … Anyone? Okay, fine, it’s a children’s book about centuries-old bands of wild ponies that live on Chincoteague Island.

Assateague Island is a twin of that island, complete with wild ponies galloping over unspoiled beach. Camping on the beaches in this national park — with bathrooms, showers, running water — gets you up close and personal with those wild beasts. This is a great beach to take kids to.

Extras to Pack

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Ocean Beach — San Diego, California

Walk out along the long wooden pier and gaze at the darkly rippling water at night. This beach has its own weird flavor and the locals are proud of it, too. You might find drum circles, or nightly sunset gatherings, or incredible sand statutes, like I did one night.

Extras to Pack

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Gulf Islands National Seashore — Pensacola, Florida

I saved the best for last. This beach has a whopping perfect 5 stars on Yelp. You never get 700+ people to agree on one thing unless it’s that good. This beach is that good.

Emerald water, white sandy beaches, stunning sunsets, shells to collect, untouched beauty. Reviews gushed far and wide about this beach, sounding like a high school girl over a movie star crush. The pictures back it all up.

Extras to Pack

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TL;DR

Beaches — like beach bodies — come in all shapes, sizes and locations. Whatever your beach flavor is (rocky, white sands, barrier island), you’ll find your paradise water-side somewhere across America.

Image credits: Oregon State Parks, Menaker, Austin Texas, Wunderground,  Mapio, Yelp, Mountain Photography, National Geographiccoloradoguy10best, Header:
alexandre Perotto, Unsplash