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Hanalei Is America’s Best Beach: Really?

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

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.

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