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6 of the Best Secret Beaches in the U.S.

If you're craving the warm sand beneath your toes and picture-perfect sunsets without hordes of other tourists by your side, visit one of these under-the-radar beach destinations, found everywhere from Virginia to Hawaii.
08/24/2015 12:21pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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The U.S. is home to some truly spectacular beaches boasting swaying palms, azure waters and, during the summer months, swarms of tourists. The crowded stretches of sand that comprise many of America's coastal hot spots paint more of a painful vacation picture than a pleasant one, especially for families who get just one getaway a year. If you're craving the warm sand beneath your toes and picture-perfect sunsets without hordes of other tourists by your side, visit one of these under-the-radar beach destinations, found everywhere from Virginia to Hawaii.

Dana Point
California

When most people think of California beaches, the swollen seashores of Santa Monica and Laguna Beach inevitably come to mind. However, there are more relaxed hideaways to enjoy the surf and sand -- like Dana Point. Located just south of Monarch Beach in Orange County, this town was put on the map in the 1950s for its epic surf, and it's still the place to go to catch gnarly waves. More than just surf, the rocky beach attracts hundreds of sea lions and sunbathers alike. After wave crashing, visit the harbor, eat at one of the many locally-owned restaurants serving freshly caught seafood, or stroll through town and shop the 30-plus boutiques.

Kauapea Beach
Kauai, Hawaii

Aptly referred to by the locals as the "Secret Beach," Kauapea Beach is hidden on the north shore of Kauai. The beach is full of scenic contrasts like lush white sand speckled with rugged black lava rocks. Although the views of the beach itself are quite majestic, the sights of the towering Kilauea Lighthouse and nearby waterfall are equally impressive. What keeps this beach so secret is that it's rather hard to find (no public road leads to it) and it takes 10 to 15 minutes of hiking through brush and down cliffs to reach. Take a dive into the waters for a cooling swim during the summer months, picnic along the lava rocks, or surf or lounge in the tidal lagoons on the west end.

Dry Tortugas National Park
Key West, Florida

Located about 70 miles from the hustle and bustle of downtown Key West sits Dry Tortugas National Park. Accessible only by seaplane or boat, this cluster of seven islands is home to miles of picturesque shoreline, a sprawling coral reef and a menagerie of tropical fish. Plus, it's also the site of historic Fort Jefferson, a 19th-century fort with a rather dark maritime history (it was once a prison for Union deserters). To see the marine wildlife up close, grab your snorkel gear and explore outside of the moat wall or around the pilings of the south coaling dock.

Manzanita Beach
Manzanita, Oregon

If you're traveling to the Oregon coast, drive past Cannon Beach and head straight for the little beach town of Manzanita. Peppered with tufts of bright green grass, abundant forests, the rugged Neahkanie Mountain and miles of uninterrupted coastline, Manzanita offers unbeatable views without the swarm of weekending Portlanders. Since it's home to only 500 full-time residents and a main street complete with quaint coffee shops, restaurants, inns and windsurfing shops, it's a great place to stroll without much of an agenda. If you're feeling adventurous, head to Nehalem Bay to windsurf or go for a hike up Neahkanie Mountain.

Sandbridge Beach
Virginia

Most East Coasters know to avoid the overpopulated sands of Virginia Beach from May to September, especially on big holidays. Instead, many flock to its tiny (and equally beautiful) neighbor Sandbridge Beach. Despite being just 15 miles south of the resort area, Sandbridge feels like its thousands of miles away with its secluded shoreline, quiet boardwalks, and numerous hiking, biking and kayaking trails. Plus, it offers a little something for everyone: beachgoers can retreat to 5 miles of sand dunes, while outdoor enthusiasts find adventure at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park.

Grand Haven
Michigan

From spectacular sunsets over the iconic Grand Haven South Pierhead to a stunning 1 ½-mile stretch of harbor-front boardwalk, there's so much to love about Grand Haven. You won't find palm trees here, instead you'll see stark sand dunes (like Rosy Mound) flanking the shores of two public beaches. Enjoy the freshwater lake with a swim, kayak, canoe or boat ride, or simply take in the views on the soft sand.

Claire Volkman is a social media journalist with a passion for food and travel. She's spent time in more than 30 countries and hundreds of cities writing, photographing and immersing herself in all things food, wine and culture. You can find her favorite recipes on her blog, The Realistic Nutritionist. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ to keep up with her adventures.

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Sunset Beach, Oahu, Hawaii, United States
Best for: SUP and surfing Cheapflights.com begins its quest for top non beach bum beaches in Hawaii. Sunset Beach is a good one for those of us who would rather skip the beach altogether than spend time lying on one. If you’re not averse to being on the water (versus just close to it), this beach on Oahu‘s North Shore offers good opportunities for SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) as well as surfing. In the winter the beach attracts surfers, but during the summer the calmer waters are perfect for paddle boarding. In fact, on particularly calm days you can paddle all the way to Waimea Bay from Sunset Beach, which is a nearly four-mile ride. Image: Peggy2012CREATIVELENZ, Stand up paddle surfing at Sunset Beachvia Flickr CC BY 2.0
El Castillo, Tulum, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Best for: Culture and history buffs Even if you aren’t a huge beach fan, it’s tough not to appreciate the postcard-perfect combo of white sand and turquoise water set against cliffs that you get at El Castillo in Tulum. But fear not – there’s much more to do here than sit on the sand. This beach is directly below the Mayan ruins of Tulum, meaning you can combine some cultural exploration with a bit of beach hopping. El Castillo is the largest structure among the Mayan site and can be seen directly from the beach. Image: Dennis Jarvis, The Mayan Swim Team via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
90 Mile Beach, Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
Best for: Long walks on the beach It might be a cliché but “long walks on the beach” are actually pretty great. And while some people like to sit in the sand, others would prefer to keep moving. If you fall into the latter camp you will love 90 Mile Beach – named because it’s actually 90 miles long, making it one of the longest beaches in the world. Once you’ve walked as much as you can walk the beach is also ideal for swimming, beach fishing and watersports. Image: Madeleine Deaton, 90 mile beach from the airvia Flickr CC BY 2.0
Kite Beach, Cabarete, Dominican Republic
Best for: Kiteboarding Cabarete is a small village in the northern part of the Dominican Republic that’s within walking distance to Kite Beach, an aptly named mecca for kiteboarders. So if your speed of beach-going leans more toward, well, speed then this is the beach for you. Kite Beach gets constant trade winds and warm waters, which is why it’s so popular among kiteboarders. If you’re interested in trying the sport there are several places where you can book a lesson like GoKite Cabarete Kiteboarding School. They also rent equipment. Image: Brent, Kite Boardsvia Flickr CC BY 2.0
Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Best for: Surfing and turtle spotting If surfing or learning to surf is your ideal day at the beach, Playa Grande in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica is a good spot to check out. Known as one of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica, the area attracts surfers from around the world. The breaks at Playa Grande are moderate and constant meaning it’s a suitable surf spot for both experienced and new surfers. Bonus: If you’re in the area between October and May you might be lucky enough to spot a female leatherback turtle coming ashore to lay eggs. Image: Richard Kelland, Surf Field Trip via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Maho Beach, St. Martin
Best for: Aviation fans If you like watching planes coming in for a landing, then Maho Beach was made for you. The popular stretch of sand in St. Martin is located at the western end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport and it’s known around the world for the ultra-close encounters with planes you can have there. How close? Close enough to reach out and touch a wheel. Image: Richie Diesterheft, Plane Looming Over Maho Beach via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Jurassic Coast, Dorset and East Devon, England
Best for: Fossil hunters and history buffs Looking like something out of a space movie rather than any conventional beach, Jurassic Coast is pretty amazing in that the 95-mile stretch displays 185-million years of the earth’s history. This means the beach is home to tons of fossils. So if you’re interested in what was happening on the earth millions and millions of years ago, the Jurassic Coast, England’s first natural World Heritage Site, is a must. The beach at Charmouth is known as one of the best spots to look for fossils. Image: Phil Dolby, Jurassic Doorwayvia Flickr CC BY 2.0
Bahia Gardner Espanola Island, Galapagos
Best for: Wildlife viewing and snorkeling Espanola Island is part of the Galapagos Islands and Bahia Gardner, or Gardner Bay, is one of the ultimate spots for wildlife viewing. The white sand beach is home to herds of sea lions who enjoy basking in the sun and napping on the sand, as well as many different bird species, including the fearless Espanola Mockingbird. (Watch out as one might just land on your head looking for food.) Gardner Bay is also a good snorkeling spot thanks to calm, clear water. If you’re snorkeling between January and March you might spot a green sea turtle. Image:Vince Smith, Galapagos Sea Lions via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Best for: Snorkeling Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is actually six and half miles. This white sand beach at the western end of Grand Cayman is constantly ranked as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. But that doesn’t mean you need to get stuck sitting in the sand. Seven Mile Beach is known as a great beach for snorkelling right off the beach – no need to pay for a day trip, just don a mask and fins and wade right in. The best snorkeling can be found at either end of the beach. Image: Pete Markham, Incredible Caribbean Water via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0
Long Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Best for: Kayaking, surfing and nature-lovers Long Beach, as the name would suggest, is long. This stretch of sand located in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve between Tofino and Ucluelet, clocks in at a little more than four miles. That’s a lot of scenic real estate for the beachgoer looking for an active day. Options include surfing (or learning how to surf), kayaking and jogging. And since it’s in a national park, nature-lovers will be happy, too. Image: Kenny Louie, Calling it a day via Flickr CC BY 2.0