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Outdoors

6 of America’s Coolest Secret Beaches

By Fiona Mokry
Read time: 5 minutes

The U.S. claims a whopping 95,471 miles of shoreline. That means there are an extraordinary number of beaches, bays, coves, and sounds for travelers to discover, from Alaska and Hawaii to the West Coast, Great Lakes, and New England. While it’s no secret that coastal states like California and Florida are famous for their beaches, there are many other secluded stretches of sand that fly under the radar. Discover six of America’s coolest secret beaches.

Wildcat Beach – California

High bluffs towering above Wildcat Beach in California
Credit: Michael A Damanski/ iStock via Getty Images 

Visiting Wildcat Beach requires an 11-mile round-trip hike, but the reward is a stunning, sparsely populated coast backed by towering bluffs. Wildcat Beach is part of the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin Country, just north of San Francisco. Multiple trails provide access to the beach through the Phillip Burton Wilderness, but no matter which one you choose, make sure to plan your trek at low tide — at high tide the beach is almost entirely covered with water. 

Once you reach the beach, the only safe access point is through Wildcat Camp (which is also the only place to spend the night). Be sure to walk to the south end of the beach to check out Alamere Falls, a waterfall that spills out of the cliffs and directly onto the sands. Adhering to the theme of unspoiled nature, there are no bathrooms, cafes, lifeguards, or other amenities at Wildcat Beach, so plan accordingly. 

Hole in the Wall Beach – Washington

View through natural rock arch at Hole in the Wall Beach in Washington state
Credit: Danita Delimont/ Shutterstock 

Located in Olympic National Park, Hole in the Wall Beach is a small part of Washington’s breathtaking 3,000-mile coastline. The name is less of a reference to the beach’s size and more a literal nod to one of its standout physical features: a natural rock formation on the sand, with a large ocean-carved archway in its center that allows visitors to pass through and explore the other side of the beach. 

The “hole” is what put this beach on the map, but still, it’s hardly crowded. That’s because accessing the beach requires a 3.3-mile out-and-back hike from the parking lot of Rialto Beach. If you decide to make the trek,  you’ll notice plenty of other examples of how water, waves, and erosion have shaped this stunning stretch of shoreline. It’s best to visit at low tide to discover more of the beach; checking the tide charts and planning when you’ll start your trek is recommended.

Sandbridge Beach – Virginia

Footprints in sand at Sandbridge Beach in Virginia
Credit: Joe_Potato/ iStock via Getty Images

If you don’t fancy a hike or a hard-to-reach beach, then Sandbridge Beach in Virginia Beach is the beach for you. The small coastal community of Sandbridge, located 15 miles south of the ever-popular Oceanfront District of Virginia Beach, beckons those who want to leave the crowds behind in favor of more secluded sandy shores. A simple restaurant and bathrooms complete the scarce amenities on the beach, which may be a contributing factor to its lack of visitors. Since Sandbridge Beach is connected to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to the south, you could easily combine a visit with kayaking, hiking, biking, wildlife observation, and fishing.

Boneyard Beach – Florida

Bare, twisted tree trunks poking out of waters off Boneyard Beach in Florida at sunset
Credit: Wirestock/ iStock via Getty Images 

Don’t let the name deter you — Boneyard Beach is a beautiful stretch of rugged Atlantic shoreline located roughly 40 minutes northeast of Jacksonville. Part of Big Talbot Island State Park, this 3-mile-long beach is named after the copious amount of driftwood that protrudes like skeletons from the sand. 

The “bones” are a result of water movement and waves that create shifts in the sand beneath the island, toppling the trees closest to the water. The felled trees are washed and tumbled by the waves, before ultimately being washed back up onto the shore. The cycle continues as these pieces of driftwood serve as a protective barrier to the remaining trees and land, by subduing the force of wind and water that threaten to erode the coast. The wild and unique landscape of Boneyard Beach draws naturalists to its shore to photograph the unusual sight, but it’s sparsely populated with sunbathers.  

Sleeping Bear Dunes Beach – Michigan

Sand dunes over Sleeping Bear Dunes Beach in Michigan
Credit: Alex Paul Photo/ Shutterstock 

Empire, Michigan, may be a tiny village of fewer than 400 people, but it’s home to the spectacular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and several beautiful beaches. Perhaps the most striking of them is Sleeping Bear Dunes Beach, a serene shoreline that rises to 450 feet in a massive sand dune that towers over Lake Michigan. 

At the bottom of the dune, visitors can enjoy a sandy beach sandwiched between vibrant vegetation and lapping blue waves, and, from the top, panoramic views of the lake and surrounding forests. While this beach may no longer be the best-kept secret, if it’s solitude you’re after, consider visiting in the shoulder season, as the park is open year-round. The beach is reachable by several hiking trails, including Empire Bluff Trail, or Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. 

Lanikai Beach – Hawaii

Aqua blue waters off Lanikai Beach in Hawaii
Credit: PB57photos/ iStock via Getty Images

With millions of visitors flocking to the island state every year, Hawaii is far from a secret beach destination. Despite tourists packing these small tropical islands to the brim, it’s still possible to find secluded beaches if you stray off the well-beaten path. Lanikai Beach is one of those rare finds. 

Tucked into an exclusive residential neighborhood on Oahu’s southeast shores, Lanikai is a welcome retreat from bustling (and world-famous) Waikiki Beach. The limited access to the sand and the noticeable absence of resorts and hotels built on the beach ensure Lanikai stays peaceful, clean, and relatively uncrowded. You won’t find bathrooms or restaurants here, but you can enjoy uninterrupted views of palms and lush jungle behind you, powdery white sand at your feet, and clear turquoise waters that stretch to the Mokulua Islands and far beyond. 

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