If you make like a hermit crab at the shore, we’ve got nine spots from coast to coast where you'll have the sand almost entirely to yourself. We pleaded with locals, timed the tides, clambered over driftwood, and bartered with armadillos to find beaches that are truly best-kept secrets. Now please don’t blab about them!
Tucked behind the Barnegat Lighthouse, you'd never know that this lollipop-shaped stretch of sand is on Long Beach Island, one of the most popular Jersey shores. But watch the water—when the tide comes in, you'll likely be stranded.
Get There: Take Long Beach Blvd. north into the town of Barnegat Light and turn left on 20th St., a.k.a. Auburn Road. Go a third of a mile, then bear right at the Y-shaped intersection onto Sunset Blvd. Take it to the end. You'll see a footpath to the beach.
To be honest, you'll hardly be alone here. Caladesi Island State Park is home to armadillos, gopher tortoises, and hundreds of species of birds nesting among the sunflower-flecked dunes. On the other hand, there's not a parking space in sight.
Get There: The park, off the west coast, is accessible only by private boat or ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. $12 adults, $6 kids.
Rugged yet serene, Ruby Beach feels almost mythical, especially at low tide and in the fog. The rock outcroppings are eerie, but the tidal pools can be stunning, too.
Get There: There's a sign seven miles north of Kalaloch on Hwy. 101. From the parking lot, follow the path through the trees, down a decline, then toward the water. You'll have to clamber over driftwood at the end, but it's worth the effort.
The rock formations are gorgeous. In some places, the sand is a light shade of purple. Sure, it can get windy, but that's a small price to pay for paradise.
Get There: The turnoff is actually just past the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park entrance, at Sycamore Canyon Rd. Drive two miles to the beach, then walk 10 minutes north to Deer Canyon. There's no sign, but you'll know it when you see it.
South Haven is home to several celebrated (and crowded) spots on Lake Michigan. This section is the uncelebrated but equally lovely area just north. You won't find any lifeguards here, but civilization is just a short walk away (if you must).
Get There From the center of South Haven take Broadway north about two blocks, then west onto Dyckman Ave. over the drawbridge to North Shore Dr. Turn right and Packard Park Beach is about one block on the left.
The mountains are to your back, the ocean is in front, and in between is sand made for napping. In other words, your average, amazing Kauai beach, this one in Polihale State Park.
Get There: Take Hwy. 50 past the Pacific Missile Range Facility and look for a sign, then a dirt road to Polihale on the left. Go 3.3 miles to where the road curves near a large monkeypod tree. Take the left fork and park. Walk north. Spread your blanket.
We won't recommend swimming—even on a hot day Lake Superior is cold enough to freeze your @#! off. But the sandstone cliffs and pristine woods enveloping this 1.5-mile pocket of beach make for a lovely hideaway.
Get There: Located on Madeline Island, the beach is accessible only by ferry ($12 adults, $6 kids 6-11) from Bayfield, off Hwy. 13. Follow the signs to Big Bay State Park.
At the tip of Long Island's North Fork, Orient is well-known to locals but few others. After just a stroll down the pebbly beach, you'll be alone with views of the Long Beach Bar Lighthouse, Shelter Island, and awesome sunsets.
Get There: Take the L.I. Expressway to the east end, where it becomes Rte. 25. Follow the signs to Orient Beach State Park.
Chatham is on the elbow of Cape Cod, which means that just about every beach view is drop-dead gorgeous—if you can see around all the people. Cow Yard is one rare spot where you'll be able to ditch those crowds. This is also one of the better places on the Cape to launch a kayak, if that's the kind of thing that floats your boat.
Get There: Take Rte. 28/Main St. to Old Harbor Rd. Go 1.1 miles; turn right on Cow Yard Lane. Get there early. Parking is limited.
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