The sand on Siesta Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast is as fine as icing sugar, a pure, sparkling white and soft as a kitten’s fur — all, because it consists of 99 percent pure crushed quartz.
For that reason, and many others, it is chosen this year as the best beach in America by a professor who is a career ranking, and the study of the beaches around the United States.
“The sand is excellent,” said Stephen leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, a professor in Miami, Florida International University. “Every time I go there, I have to take a bag home with me. It is almost sacrilegious to walk with shoes on.”
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Other beaches that the list of this year, in order of ranking, are: Kapalua Bay Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach on the Outer Banks of N. C.; Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida Panhandle; Coopers Beach in Southampton, new york; Coast Guard Beach on Cape Cod, Mass.; Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida.; Hapuna Beach State Park, Big Island, Hawaii, Coronado Beach in San Diego, Calif.; and Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island, S. C.
On a recent day, Siesta Beach was full with people, even though it was not particularly sunny. The turquoise water was still beautiful, the sand is still fine. The beach is about 200-300 feet (60-90 metres wide and in some places, which means that people can relax and not press. The beach was last year’s runner-up, and one of three in Florida this year is the top 10 list.
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The Kapalua coastline in Maui, Hawaii, is flanked by palm trees.
(Tor Johnson/Hawaii Tourism Authority via AP)
“It is nice and clean, that’s what I’m looking for,” said Jamie Gaskin, a 59-year-old retired from Lakeland, Florida, who was scoping out the beach for a family Memorial Day party. They especially liked the two-story pavilion, which features a snack bar and toilets. It is only two years old, and even sweet pancakes for breakfast and tapas in the early evening.
“There is plenty of tables for barbecue and to hang out. And the toilets were nice and clean. I would definitely recommend this,” she said.
Siesta Beach is located on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, is located just southwest of the center of Sarasota. The water is calm on most days — leatherman says you can measure the waves “in inches” — and it is shallow and safe for swimming, with no sharp drop-offs. Added bonuses include plenty of parking, a shuttle service to and from the island is cute downtown and plenty of lifeguards. The beach has natural dunes, which is a bit rare for Florida, and the fine sand is excellent for building sand castles.
“I’m looking for a kind of balance between nature and a developed area,” said leatherman, who lives on the other side of the state, closer to Miami Beach. “Fourteen million people go to Miami Beach every year. There’s just too many people there. I think a lot of people are looking for more of a getaway.”
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Ocracoke beach on the Outer Banks of N. C. was once Blackbeard’s old haunt.
(Bill Russ/NC Department of Commerce via AP)
Leatherman, who is director of the Laboratory for coastal research at Florida International University, uses about 50 criteria to rate and rank beaches all over the country. In recent years, he has extra points to beaches that prohibit smoking, saying that cigarettes are not only environmentally damaging, but can ruin the experience for beach users. Safety and environmental protection are other important factors, he said.
He rated beaches since 1991.
The Maui beach that came in at Number 2 on the list, Kapalua Bay Beach is smaller than Siesta Beach. It is crescent-shaped and is flanked by palm trees. In contrast to many of the beaches of Hawaii, there are not a lot of waves in Kapalua, ” he said, making it perfect for safe swimming.
“The coral reefs almost directly on the beach. There are tropical fish swimming all around.”
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The third beach is on the list, Ocracoke, is unique in both the history and the location. Leatherman points out that it was once the pirate Blackbeard’s old haunt. And it is only accessible by a state ferry.
“The only negative that I have, it seems to be a lot of cars,” he said. “I wish they would make the car ferries of pedestrian ferries.”
Leatherman says he is trying to select locations that are a little off the beaten path, but rewarding when visitors arrive. Siesta Beach, he says, is an excellent place to watch the sun dip below the Gulf horizon — one more reason why it is in the top of this year.