Just for summer: 51 great American beaches

ByABC News
May 27, 2012, 10:47 AM

— -- The fantasy is universal: Endless sun and sand, swimmming and surfing, boating and beachcombing.

To kick off the unofficial start of summer, USA TODAY asked local experts to select one great beach in each state and the District of Columbia. Here are their picks:


Stretching from the Gulf of Mexico inland to Lake Shelby and Middle Lake, the Gulf State Park near Gulf Shores is a lovely (and low cost) beach getaway. You can build a sandcastle on snow-white beaches, fish or just take it easy on the porch of a lakeside cabin. The restaurants, shops, and family-friendly attractions of Gulf Shores are nearby. 800-252-7275; alapark.com/gulfstate

— Recommended by Stephanie Granada, travel editor, Southern Living magazine


With more than 40,000 miles of shoreline and thousands of lakes, Alaska has many scenic beaches. Homer Spit, a narrow gravel bar more than 4 miles long jutting out into Kachemak Bay, stands out. People walk on it, camp on it, fly kites, ride bikes, go fishing, picnic, launch boats, catch ferries, shop, eat and drink — and do all of that while enjoying a spectacular view of the glaciated Kenai Mountains. 907-235-7740; homeralaska.org

— Recommended by the editors of Alaska's The MILEPOST travel guide


Lake Havasu, aka "Arizona's West Coast," has more than 400 miles of shoreline, sun and sand, but lacks riptides, biting insects and sharp-toothed fish. Boats and other equipment are for rent in Lake Havasu City, home of the relocated London Bridge. Some of the finest beach areas are in Lake Havasu State Park, or cruise the river until you spot a private beach that suits. golakehavasu.com

— Recommended by Janet Webb, Farnsworth, Arizona-based freelance writer


DeGray Lake Resort State Park's Caddo Bend Day Use Area appeals to all ages. You can lounge in chairs, play in the water or just stretch out in the sand. Beach diversions are among an array of activities available at the park, including horseback riding, cycling, boating, camping and relaxing in the spa. degray.com

— Richard W. Davies, executive director, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism


Orange County's Crystal Cove State Park isn't just about the beach — gracefully curved coves with reliable waves for surfing and bodysurfing. On the inland side of Pacific Coast Highway, park trails climb foothills for killer views of the ocean you just swam in. If swimming and hiking make you hungry, grab a cheeseburger and a rich milkshake at Ruby's Shake Shack. crystalcovestatepark.com

— Recommended by Peter Fish, editor at large, Sunset magazine


Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa is the state's unique contribution to the beach scene. Fed by snowmelt from the surrounding Sangre de Cristo Mountains, its ephemeral flow lasts only from about April to mid-June. It offers a cool respite from the sun-soaked, 7,500-foot-high sand dunes set at 8,000 feet in altitude, the highest in North America. The shallow creek flows swiftly (it's great for tubing) and even has tides. And it's surrounded by 30 square miles of "beach." nps.gov/grsa/medano-creek.htm

— Recommended by Linda DuVal, Colorado Springs-based freelance writer