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Memorial Day weekend: California tops new ranking of U.S. beaches

May 25, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Sorry, Florida! But this Memorial Day, your beach expert says that the best sand and surf can be found clear across the country -- in California.

Tiny Coronado Beach, a 1.5-mile long sliver of sunshine in San Diego County, has been named the No. 1 beach in the United States  -- just as millions of Americans plan to head to the beach this Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kickoff to summer. Part of Coronado's appeal is a highly unusual trait: The fine sand that lines the Coronado shore is laced with mica, a naturally occurring mineral. 

"The sand glistens in the light when the sun hits it, and it's really something to see, especially when the sun goes down," professor Stephen P. Leatherman told the Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOS: Check out the competition across the nation

Leatherman is director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research. But he's better known as Dr. Beach for his annual survey of beaches in the U.S.; the resulting "best  beaches" list arrives on the eve of Memorial Day, just as summer swimsuit weather hits full swing.

Rounding out the top 10 beaches this year, starting with the second best beach in the U.S., is: Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Hawaii; Main Beach in East Hampton, N.Y.; St. George Island State Park in Florida; Hamoa Beach in Maui, Hawaii; Coast Guard Beach in Cape Cod, Mass.; Waimanalo Bay Beach Park in Oahu, Hawaii; Cape Florida State Park near Miami; Beachwalker Park on Kiawah Island in South Carolina, and Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.

Beaches are ranked in 50 categories, and not just those involving looks. Water quality, safety and crowds are also among the criteria. (You can read his full report at his Dr. Beach website.) A top score is 250 -- a score that, so far, no beach has reached in Leatherman's 22 years of surveys. Once a beach scores No. 1 in Leatherman's survey, it's retired with honors from the competition.

"I haven't found the perfect beach, but Coronado is one of those great ones," he said. "Coronado scored in the 230s, because I had to take a few points off because your water out there is a bit nippy."

Other factors working in Coronado's favor include access to free parking, and more: "The beach is hundreds of yards wide, so that's nice.... It's a very flat beach, which means it's great for walking on." He said the beach's architecture also means a slow gradual decline in the water as well. "There are no sharp drop offs, no deep holes, so that makes it very safe for kids and families."

Coronado is also lined by majestic mansions and the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Known as Hotel Del, the National Historic Landmark with its peaked red roof was built in 1888 and is the last of California's Victorian seaside resorts, according to the Associated Press. It was also seen in Marilyn Monroe's 1958 film "Some Like It Hot."

So, Dr. Beach, how will Floridians feel when they find out about today's seeming snub?

"They're not going to be too happy about it," he said. "They might run me out of the state. Do you have a place for me out there?"

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Join Rene Lynch on Google+, Facebook or Twitter. Email: rene.lynch@latimes.com


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