Hanalei Is America’s Best Beach: Really?

Travel Blog  •  Pam Mandel  •  05.28.09 | 11:02 AM ET

Photo by Fire Horse Leo via Flickr (Creative Commons)

OK, it’s a beautiful crescent of golden sand. It’s wide and clean and almost aggressively picturesque. There’s no denying that it’s an archetype of what a perfect beach should be. And it was recently selected as the “Number One Beach in the US” by Dr. Beach, a self-declared beach expert. He seems to have gained quite the cred; my Google alerts are crowded with mentions of Hanalei Beach’s new “honor.”

But I’ll take this diagnosis with a grain of salt—or maybe sand would be more appropriate? Here’s why: I think that selecting a “best beach” is dependent on what you want to do when you’re on that beach. For watching the pounding surf, sprawling in the sun, strolling at sunset hand in hand with the object of your affections, generally wallowing in a state of tropical lethargy, Hanalei is indeed fantastic.

But my favorite beach happens to be right here in Washington. It’s the always breathtaking Ruby Beach, on the Olympic Peninsula. It doesn’t matter what the weather is, I’m always blown away—sometimes literally, if the wind is up—by the unreal rugged landscape, the sea life exposed at low tide, the staggering power of the gray Pacific. I also have a very soft spot in my heart for the beach in Santa Cruz, California, for the kitschy boardwalk, the rattle of the rare wooden roller coaster, the smell of the sea mixed with popcorn and tanning oil and corn dogs. And I’m sure there are vicious advocates for the Jersey Shore or the Gulf Coast.

Is Hanalei America’s “best” beach? It might be the best tropical beach but for me, there’s an emotional undercurrent that solidifies a beach in my affections. That’s not as measurable as water temperature or wave size, but it’s just as critical.

Pam Mandel is a freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in a variety of print, radio, and web publications and she's contributed to two guidebooks, one on British Columbia and one on Hawaii. She plays the ukulele, has an internal beacon that is surprisingly capable of locating the best baked goods in town, almost any town, and speaks German with a Styrian accent. Learn more on her personal blog at Nerd's Eye View.

9 Comments for Hanalei Is America’s Best Beach: Really?

patriciaj 05.28.09 | 1:39 PM ET

Agree completely, a beach for all seasons and all moods is impossible to select.  Love them all. Really, I do.

Kelsey 05.28.09 | 2:49 PM ET

Look, poor Dr. Beach has to name a new “Best Beach” every year or the poor fella would be out of work.  If he came up with a list and said, “These are the best beaches. This is the only list you’ll ever need.  Now stop bothering me!” he would probably lose his beach PhD.

pam 05.28.09 | 3:02 PM ET

@Kelsey: Publish or perish, right? :)

Chris 05.28.09 | 3:57 PM ET

I wonder if Dr. Beach needs a research assistant?

prasetio 05.28.09 | 7:18 PM ET

I think that is nice place to visit. I never go there. But it sound interesting.

Jo Ann 05.28.09 | 7:35 PM ET

I’m on the same page or should I say beach!
I still don’t have a top 10 list of the best Florida beaches on my site. Because everytime I start to work on the list, I think of the lyrics to an old song…“love the one your with”! Or, to put it another way I never met a beach I didn’t love!
I too have an emotional link to some of my favorite beaches, like Ft.Lauderdale Beach…where I had my first date with my husband ,or Ft.Myers Beach/Sanibel Island… where we vacationed with the kids for years.
Thanks Dr. Beach, for choosing 2 more Florida beaches!

Jo Ann 05.28.09 | 7:37 PM ET

“Grab Your flip-flops”

Beach Vacations 06.01.09 | 1:45 PM ET

Hanalei Dolphin, I’ve been there recently,
I guess you’ve been there before, and I don’t need to tell you, but I have to say that Kauai is my favourite island. It’s nice and quiet, but not completely isolated. Snorkelling and scuba diving is really good there. People are nice, too.

Carolina 07.23.09 | 1:25 AM ET

I have a soft spot for Santa Cruz Boardwalk beach too…nothing like a caramel apple from Marianne’s with a view of the sunset and my son spinning around on his ride. You’re right, a beach is made perfect by more than the quality of sand. I love Hanalei Beach, but that’s not the one I’ll remember when I’m an old lady sitting on my rocking chair.

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