Unique Beaches in the US

“Are you a dog or cat person” “Prefer coffee or tea,” and a perennial favorite “Do you like going to the beach or the mountains?” are often questions you hear around the Sunday barbecue.

For those drawn to the beach, to frolic in the cooling water, catch a wave for a heart-pumping surf, work on the summer skin tone, take in the fresh sea air, or admire the breathtaking panoramic view, the US has plenty to offer.

Straddled between two of nature’s great oceanic wonders, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans have an abundance of quirky beaches from which to choose.

Both beautiful and unusual, here is a shortlist of some of the most remarkable and unique beaches in the US.

1. Bowling Ball Beach California

Located in Schooner Gulch State Beach in Mendocino County, California, this beach is known for its sizeable spherical sandstone boulders. The round rocks result from concretion, a phenomenon that binds sand, stones, and minerals, causing these sedimentary rocks to form.

Bowling Ball Beach takes its name from these bizarre rock formations protruding during low tide, resembling abandoned bowling balls scattered around and which offer a wonderfully romantic scenic perch from which to gaze the sunset reflecting off the water’s surface.

Activities and Amenities

Located near Point Arena State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Point Arena State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), which are marine protected areas, the Bowling Ball Beach rocks are valued and protected by the State of California parks authority.

Swimming, kayaking, diving, trail hiking are allowed.  There is a  small parking area with two trailheads on the west side of the nearby highway. The one trail leads to Schooner Gulch Beach, the other to Bowling Ball Beach. Fishing is prohibited in the nearby Point Area SMR.

Habitat and Wildlife

Point Arena is a major upwelling zone where deep cold water rises sharply to the surface and facilitates a wonderful source of nutrients for fish and wildlife. Red Abalone lurks in the Kelp forests and rocky reefs. Underwater caves at Arena Rock are home to diverse fish species, including vermillion rockfish, lingcod, yelloweye, and the giant Pacific octopus.

Directions

Around 50 miles or an hour’s drive northwest of Santa Rosa on the Pacific State Highway 1, the beach is three miles south of Point Arena, where Schooner Gulch Road intersects the highway.

Best Times to Visit

The Bowling Balls are the most striking feature here, so the best times to visit are low tide when the rocks are visible.

Trivia

Bowling Ball Beach is on the list of most frequently photographed beaches in California.

2. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California

Glass Beach, adjacent to MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg, California, has a rather ominous origin. Also named “The Dumps,” it comes from a time in the early to mid 20th century when it was common for locals to toss their trash along the coastline as if it was a dumping site.

Over time, these remnants of glass bottles, batteries, and even old cars have been churned and smoothed over by the rolling waves into a psychedelic assortment of colored gems that abundantly cover the beach surface.

Activities and Amenities

Not an ideal beach for swimming, surfing, or fishing, it is a great place to walk or hike. The paved trail is level making it an easy walk or for renting a bicycle. The ocean views and the sea stacks are amazing. Tens of thousands of people visit the area annually.

Habitat and Wildlife

The area around Glass Beach is relatively barren. However, several endangered and protected native plants occur at Glass Beach, including the Menzies’ wallflower.

Directions

Located near MacKerricher State Park within the Fort Bragg area, it is easily accessible from State Highway 1. There are many hotels, restaurants, and parking is plentiful.

Best Times to Visit

The best times to search for sea glass are right after high tide or during a full moon in the spring or fall. New beach glass usually washes up after storms, but what remains in the beach coves are tiny glass pieces, and most of the colored ones have disappeared.

Trivia

Although dumping trash in public spaces is considered unlawful, California State Law now protects these glass fragments, and collecting or removing them is illegal.

3. Papakolea Beach — Big Island, Hawaii

Considered one of only two “green” beaches in the US, out of the four in the entire world, Papakolea “Green Sand” beach is a sight to behold. This beach resembles a nuclear wasteland. The sand gets its green color mainly from the green crystals (olivines) and lava rocks deposited by the Mauna Loa volcano.

Activities and Amenities

Although the surf is quite rough, swimming is not recommended but is allowed. There are, however, no lifeguards on the beach. There are also no restaurants or food stalls, so ensure you have enough food or snacks and drinking water for your visit.

There is no cover or beach umbrellas for hire. You will need to bring your own if you are concerned about sunburn.

Habitat and Wildlife

Papakolea is a contraction of Papa, meaning ‘flats,’ and the Hawaiian word kōlea is the name for the Pacific golden plover. These birds are commonly found in the area during winter and are also called “Plover flats.”

Directions

The trip to Papakolea Beach requires both a drive and a hike. You have to drive to South Point on Highway 11, situated between Volcano Village and Kona. Drop off your car in the parking lot and head left on foot along the road for about 2.5 miles. You will eventually reach the cliffs above Green Sand Beach. You then have to descend carefully along the cliff face on the bay’s western side. It is not a very challenging hike, but it can get uncomfortably hot, so take plenty of water along.

The ecosystem between the parking lot and the beach is fragile and is home to many culturally significant places. Driving by car over the dirt road to the beach damages the road and the landscape. The landowner does not allow regular public vehicular access to the beach.

Car rental companies on the Big Island will remind you that taking your rental car on the road to Green Sand Beach is prohibited. Anybody offering you a ride is breaking the law.

Best Times to Visit

Arrive as early as possible. It gets sweltering around lunchtime, so for a more pleasant hike, arrive preferably before noon. Green Sand Beach is a popular tourist destination these days, so try a weekday to avoid crowds.

Trivia

Did you know that this beach has three names? The official name in the Hawaiian language is “Papakōlea beach” (after the kōlea bird). It is also known as “Mahana beach” (after the cinder cone, which gives the sand its green hue). The third name is the commercially used “Green Sand Beach. “

4. Shark Tooth Beach -Caspersen Beach, Venice, Florida

It is a relatively well-documented fact that Florida has some of the highest populations of sharks in the world. One needs only to Google places like “Volusia County” or “New Smyrna Beach.” But did you know there are beaches in Florida where you can hunt for shark teeth without having to put a foot into the water?

Caspersen Beach is one such place, stretching over 1.5 miles and located within the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, Venice Island, Florida. Caspersen Beach is a quiet secluded beach with at least two-thirds preserved in its natural state. Depending on what season you visit, you are pretty likely to enjoy its tranquil serenity while going about your business collecting fossilized shark teeth, coral, or shells along the shoreline or in the adjacent marshes and mangroves.

Activities and Amenities

Caspersen Beach has a diverse range of activities aimed at families and kids of all ages – sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling, paddling, building sandcastles, or picnicking. Of course, the main attraction is shark tooth collecting, and there are even dive charters that can take you out for an underwater shark tooth hunt.

There are also wonderful unpaved and hammocked trails through the mangroves. The beach leads south all the way to Manasota Key, four miles away.

There’s plenty of parking. There are restrooms, showers, picnic spots, and even a kid’s playground or outdoor fitness facility.

Habitat and Wildlife

Casperson Beach has a myriad of crabs, egrets, herons, and other wildlife.  The area covers 177 acres of cabbage palms, sea grapes, and sea oats. Fishermen will find a variety of fish, including sturgeon, drum, redfish, snook, spotted sea trout, gar and flounder here.

Directions

About midway between Sarasota and Manasota Key, Casperson Beach is easily accessible from a network of roads, including the I75. There is plenty of public parking available.

Public transport is good, and there are bus lines and routes with stops nearby. Additionally, some shuttles service the area from the hotels, including the Hyatt Regency and Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.

Best Times to Visit

You can shark tooth hunt at any time of the year! If you prefer diving, note that the water can be murky in the summer, reducing visibility. Water murkiness also occurs in the stormy spring season.

On the upside, a storm in the early morning is the most opportune time because the strong waves and swell will churn up the fossils. There will also generally be fewer people early in the day, increasing your chances of finding the good ones.

Trivia

The Gulf of Mexico waters were once home to giant sharks such as Carcharodon megalodons. Their fossilized teeth are large and triangular. If you think you have found one, a good test is to try to break it – if it crumbles, it’s not a shark’s tooth as they are very hard.

5. Cannon Beach Oregon

Oregon has some of the most scenic coastlines and a few unusual ones too. Cannon Beach is one such beach. Named after a naval cannon that washed up after a shipwreck in the 1840s, it has been officially recognized as the best beach in Oregon. Cannon Beach was also voted one of the “21 Best Beaches in the World” by National Geographic.

This beach stretches for several sandy miles punctuated by dramatic rock formations, including the prominent Haystack Rocks and its surrounding jutting stone “needles.” The surrounding tidepools are filled with marine life worth exploring, while puffins can be seen nesting on Haystack Rock in the months between April and July.

Activities and Amenities

Although a little chilly, swimming is allowed. Explore the tidal waves at low tide and discover the colorful marine life. There are usually volunteers present to guide and advise. Or wander into town and browse the many art galleries in town, all a comfortable walking distance.

There is an abundance of boutique shops, coffee shops, and restaurants to sample and explore. If bronze sculptures are your thing, check out the eclectic Bronze Coast Gallery, located in The Landing at 224 North Hemlock Street.

Habitat and Wildlife

In the tidal pools, you’ll find delights such as starfish, sea anemone or urchins, barnacles, and crabs.  Haystack Rock is home to pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, common murres, and the Western gull.

Tufted puffins nestle from April to August, and you can watch them divebomb the ocean to catch fish.

A short distance from here, the Ecola State Park is also a birdwatcher’s paradise.

Directions

Cannon Beach is located adjacent to the town, with easy access and plentiful parking. It is 80 miles or 1,5 hours drive along the US-26W from Portland. There are plenty of hotels and Airbnb’s, or you can take along your RV. There is also a reliable bus service from Portland.

Best Times to Visit

Oregon, situated in the north of the US, is a cooler state. September and October usually provide the best weather along this part of the coast. Locals fondly dub it the “Second Summer” with characteristically sunny and mild windless days.

The best visiting time of day is low tide, especially if your mission is to do some tidal pool exploring.

Trivia

On May 29, 1891,  James P. Austin established the first post office at Arch Cape and named the place “Cannon Beach,” hoping to find the missing cannon.

Several years after Austin’s death in 1898, mailman George Luce stumbled across the cannon in the waters off Arch Cape Creek.

Conclusion

Dozens of other beaches could easily qualify to make this list, and the criteria that make a beach unique or unusual are equally open-ended.

The US is blessed with a plethora of naturally beautiful land and seascapes that would satisfy any beach explorer’s fantasies.

References

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