Outer Banks of North Carolina has a pair of the nation’s top beaches for 2021

The nation’s tallest brick lighthouse stands just over the dunes at Cape Hatteras, N.C.. [Sam Walker photo]

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is again the only place in the United States to have two of the top five best beaches in the United States according to renowned coastal expert Dr. Beach.

Stephen Leatherman, professor at Florida International University, released his 30th annual ratings of the ten best beaches in the United States on Thursday.

The Charlotte, N.C.-native has been releasing his top 10 list since 1991 and uses 50 criteria in the evaluation process of swimable beaches. Factors include beach width at low tide, sand softness and color, wildlife, pests including mosquitoes, available amenities and public safety.

Dr. Beach heaped additional praise on the Lifeguard Beach on Ocracoke and the beach adjacent to the former site of the Cape Hatteras Light Station in this year’s ratings.

“Bonus points are awarded for prohibition of smoking on beaches, and Cape Hatteras National Seashore is leading the way by keeping their beaches clear of cigarette butts—putting two beaches in North Carolina in the top five,” Leatherman said.

Ranked second for two straight years, Ocracoke is third in 2021, after topping Dr. Beach’s list in 2007. But it can’t be rated number one again under Leatherman’s rules to give others a chance, and is the only North Carolina beach to ever top his list.

Ocracoke Island [Kari Pugh photo]

“Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place — it is my favorite getaway beach. Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.”

After dropping out of the top ten in 2019, Buxton jumped back to number five in 2020 and is rated there again this year. Buxton’s highest ever ranking was fourth back in 2010.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach at sunset. [Sam Walker photo]

“Lighthouse Beach is where the old spiral-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse once stood until it was moved landward in 1999 because of beach erosion. This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U. S. Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sand banks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach. I enjoy strolling down to the Cape Point where a long sand spit often exists, making me feel somewhat like Moses because the waves are coming from both directions as you walk along this narrow string of sand in the ocean.”

1. Hapuna Beach State Park, Hawaii Island, Hawaii
2. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
3. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach
4. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
5. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton
6. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
7. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
8. Coronado Beach, San Diego, California
9. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts