1. Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii
May 22, 2009
--The white-sand, crescent-shaped beach of Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii, (above, a woman dips her feet in the surf) has earned the title of best American beach in 2009, a coastal expert announced today.
Stephen Leatherman, better known as Dr. Beach, has compiled his annual list of the top ten U.S. beaches for the past 19 years, rating coastlines on 50 criteria that include the presence of native plants, water quality, and overcrowding.
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The 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) strand of Hanalei Bay--lined with palm trees and set against a backdrop of waterfalls and 4,000-foot (1,219-meter) mountain peaks--"is one of those places that people say is one of the most beautiful areas in Hawaii," said Leatherman, of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research.
Well off the beaten path, Hanalei Bay gets more rain than other Hawaiian islands and has "spectacular" plant and animal life, Leatherman added. Hanalei Bay moved up from second place in Dr. Beach's 2008 top ten ranking.
Photograph by Charles Kogod/National Geographic Image Collection