Millions of Americans will hit the beach this summer, but only a lucky few will enjoy the best beaches in the country.
That's because all 10 of America's best beaches rated by a Maryland geography professor are in out-of-the way parts of Florida and Hawaii.The top-ranked beach is Hapuna on the northwestern coast of Hawaii's Big Island, and No. 2 is Bahia Honda State Recreation Area in the Florida Keys. Both states placed four other beaches on the Top 10 list.
The "best beaches list" was invented in 1990 by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Beaches are rated this year in 40 categories, including the temperature and quality of the water, softness of the sand, degree of crowding, scenic views and the presence of mosquitos or other pests.
Florida and Hawaii dominate the ratings because they have "very warm water, very clear water, many months of warm weather, and nice sand," Leatherman said.
This year's survey gave added weight to beachside amenities such as showers, restrooms and restaurants, Leatherman said.
Leatherman also rated five beaches as the worst in the country. At the bottom of the list was Border Field State Park in San Diego County, Calif., where the water and sand is polluted with raw sewage from Tijuana, Mexico.
While Southeastern residents can take pride in Florida beaches now, Leatherman said, they should be aware of looming threats.
In recent years, he said, the population of jellyfish larvae known as "sea lice" has exploded in South Florida waters during the summer months.
The tiny creatures get under swimsuits and bore into the skin, causing painful welts that can last for weeks, he said.
A more serious threat to the quality of Southern beaches is that too many people are attracted to them.
"If you look at development pressure, it's coming along the Southeast Atlantic and Gulf coasts," Leatherman said. "Everything else is locked up. The hordes are coming. Watch out."
People should understand what makes these beaches so desirable, Leatherman said, and take steps to help preserve them.
"If you overdevelop a beach you're going to have the same thing that everybody else has," he said.
Here's expert's rating of the best and the worst
The following are researcher Stephen Leatherman's picks for best and worst beaches:
Best in the United States
1. Hapuna (Big Island, Hawaii)
2. Bahia Honda (Florida)
3. Kailua (Oahu)
4. Kapalua (Maui)
5. Kaunaba (Big Island, Hawaii)
6. Grayton Beach (Florida)
7. St. George Island (Florida)
8. Caladesi Island (Florida)
9. Crandon Park (Florida)
10. Ulua (Maui)
Worst in the United States
1. Border Field (California)
2. Great Kills (New York)
3. Coney Island (New York)
4. Sea Bright (New Jersey)
5. Holly Beach (Louisiana)
Best on the Gulf Coast
1. Perdido Key (Alabama)
2. Malaquite (Texas)
3. Mustang Island (Texas)
4. South Padre Island (Texas)
5. Pine (Alabama)
Best on the East Coast
1. East Hampton (New York)
2. Hammocks (North Carolina)
3. Assateague Island (Maryland)
4. Ocracoke Island (N.C.)
5. Coast Guard (Massachusetts)
Best in the Pacific Northwest
and Northern California
1. Sunset Bay. (Oregon)
2. Manchester (California)
3. Short Sands (Oregon)
4. Beverly (Oregon)
5. Capitola (California)
Best in Southern California
1. Santa Barbara
3. Newport Beach
4. LaJolla Shores
Source: Stephen Leatherman, director of the University of Maryland's Laboratory for Coastal Research; Conde' Nast Traveler magazine.