Lonely Planet Writer

Dr Beach has declared this Hawaiian stretch the greatest beach in America

A stretch of Hawaiian paradise has come out at number one on the annual list of top American beaches released by Dr Stephen Leatherman.

Best beach in America, Hanauma Bay.
Best beach in America, Hanauma Bay. Image by Mighty Travels / CC BY 2.0

Last week, the Florida International University coastal expert released his 26th annual Top Ten of American beaches and Oahu’s Hanauma Bay was at the top. The self-styled ‘Dr Beach’ is Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. He’s authored and edited 16 books and hundreds of articles on storm impacts, coastal erosion and beach health. And, for each of the past 26 years, he’s assessed America’s beaches using a list of 50 criteria.

The criteria Leatherman uses include the obvious factors, such as water and sand quality, environmental management and beach safety. But some of the criteria reveal an attention to detail few can match. For example, Leatherman will factor the number of a beach’s waves and the width of the breaker zone. As of this year, the list places special emphasis on the banning of smoking on beaches. In this respect, the island of Oahu is leading the way, having banned smoking on all of its beaches.

Hanauma Bay, Hawaii
Hanauma Bay, Hawaii Image by Lonely Planet

At the top of the list in 2016 is Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a lifeguard-protected, crescent-shaped beach at the eastern end of Oahu. Leatherman describes it as a “stunning white sand coral beach enclosed in a breached volcano.” Not only is there no smoking at this beach, it was in fact the first no-smoking beach in Hawaii “because of the necessity to protect the thousands of beautifully-colored tropical fish which span the rainbow.” He says Hanauma Bay has the best accessible snorkeling in Hawaii and even closes on Tuesdays “to give the fish a chance to rest.”