Seeking out sun, surf, and sand is an easy enough task, but is it possible to stir seclusion into the mix, too? Our editors say “shore”! We’ve dug deep into our arsenal of secret sands to present our top picks for secluded U.S. beaches, where quiet coasts invite in-the-know sunbathers to savor their relative solitude. Sure, some of these destinations are fairly remote (some even require off-the-path travel to offshore islets), but some of the most isolated shores are right under beachgoers’ noses, in popular stateside spots like Florida, California, and Hawaii. You’ll just have to plan a visit soon – while these semi-private sands remain undiscovered for the moment, the cat’s officially out of the bag.
Enderts Beach, California
Living as long as 2,000 years and growing as high as 35 stories, the imposing old-growth redwoods that make up Northern California’s Redwoods National Park tend to overshadow the region’s sublimely secluded U.S. beaches and coastline, which are separated from the lush forest by wide swaths of sand and marsh. That doesn’t bother the birds and occasional sunbathers at Enderts Beach, an idyllic stretch surrounded by wildflower-carpeted bluffs. The half-mile walk from the parking lot, about 500 feet above sea level, down to the driftwood-strewn beach is rewarded with bracing breezes and dramatic views of the Pacific and its denizens (migrating whales can be spotted in March and April), with nary a human in sight. Once you hit the sand, send the kids off on a ranger-guided tide pool walk or pitch a tent at the Nickel Creek campground and spend the night in this land of giants.
Bowman's Beach, Florida
The secret's out about the beauty of Sanibel Island’s linen-white sand beaches – situated about 25 miles southwest of Fort Myers, Florida – so you won’t be alone in searching for a stretch of a secluded U.S. beach to call your own. But that’s just what you’ll get when you leave your car and make the quarter-mile walk to Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel’s most peaceful place. The island is well-known as one of the best shelling spots in the country, but you’ll find little competition here. There’s minimal development and ditto on amenities – though Bowman’s does have one perk not found on any other beach on Sanibel: barbecue grills.
Editors' Note: As of press time, the Sanibel Island and Captiva Island Chamber of Commerce note that none of the islands’ beaches have been affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Find the latest updates on the chamber’s website.
Carova Beach, North Carolina
This barrier beach covers the upper stretches of the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and is the most undeveloped of an already spartan beach chain. Part of what keeps the region mellow is the lack of paved roads, with Highway 12 stopping north of Corolla. Four-wheel drive is a must, as the only route to these secluded U.S. beaches is a ride on the sand or a primitive system of dirt roads connecting vacation homes in the wooded interior. Drive slowly to see the wild horses (some are descendants of shipwrecked Spanish mustangs) that roam the protected dunes.
Cumberland Island, Georgia
This protected National Seashore in Georgia (it's also designated a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve) has been an in-demand getaway and secluded U.S. beach since the late 19th century, when the Carnegies used it as a family retreat. In the 1970s, the civic-minded family fought to protect the powder-smooth sand from high-rise developments, making it possible for beachcombers to enjoy the wild horses, armadillos, and sea turtles that call the island home. These days, the National Park Service limits the number of day visitors and campers to just 300 per day, but if you stay at the luxurious Greyfield Inn – built in 1900 by the Carnegies, and the island's only hotel – you’ll get unlimited access to a 1,000-foot-wide band of sand that stretches for miles.
Dry Tortugas, Florida
Accessible only via boat, Florida’s Dry Tortugas are a seven-island cluster in the Gulf of Mexico with excellent reef snorkeling, swimming, and bird and marine life spotting opportunities. The isolated national park will take some planning to get to – a couple of catamaran operators make the 5-hour round-trip journey from Key West, a worthwhile splurge that includes a tour of Fort Jefferson (an unfinished 1846 fortress that encompasses half a mile and has 50-foot walls), snorkeling gear, breakfast, and buffet lunch. To enjoy crowd-free time on one of the top secluded U.S. beaches, reserve one of the limited overnight camping spots; it requires packing all essentials, though, including drinking water.
Editors' Note: The National Park Service determined that a recent incidence of tar balls appearing on the Dry Tortugas was unrelated to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and as of press time the islands’ beaches are completely clear. For the latest updates, see the park’s website.
A hard-to-find location, dangerous surf, and a treacherous cliff-hugging path down to the shore make Kaihalulu, also known as Red Sand Beach, one of the top secluded U.S. beaches indeed – and off limits to all but the most adventurous. South of Maui's Hana Bay on the far side of Ka'uiki Hill, this reddish Hawaiian cove – the product of an eroded volcanic cinder cone – is surrounded by tall black cliffs and lined with green ironwood trees. While the strong Pacific currents are somewhat tamed, thanks to a rocky lava seawall that acts as a natural barrier against the surf, swimming is still risky as the jagged rock wall can be as dangerous as it is protective. All the same, the striking sight of the stretch of red-and-black sand set against the turquoise blue lagoon, and guarded by the black rock barrage, make the trip here worth it. Come early in the morning for the utmost isolation.
Orient Beach State Park, New York
Long Island's (in New York) amazing beaches are no secret, but there are still a few places for those seeking secluded U.S. beaches to get away from the crowds and spread out their blankets in the sand. Delightfully desolate Orient Beach State Park, on the tip of the island’s North Fork, has a 300-foot sandy stretch and plenty of amenities like a playground, picnic area, and barbecue grills. Head out for a family-friendly guided hike of the thick forest and marshes that border the beach and keep an eye out for the resident ospreys. Bike and kayak rentals are also available to help you explore on your own.
Point Bennett, California
Pods of bottlenose dolphins vault through the air as your boat approaches San Miguel in the Channel Islands National Park, better known as North America’s Galapagos. Point Bennett, at the westernmost tip, is one of the Channel Islands' most secluded U.S. beaches and as far from Southern California freeway culture as you can get. In addition to seasonally pupped pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), the islands are home to some 2,000 species of plants and animals, 145 of which are found nowhere else on the planet. Ferries run from Ventura, a quintessential California coastal town teeming with trendy eateries and lounges (don't miss the bustling roof deck and fresh California fare at the Watermark on Main), antique shops, and quirky bed-and-breakfasts around its revitalized Main Street; its scenic harbor is also the site of the Channel Islands' Visitor Center.
Roque Bluffs, Maine
Getting to Roque Bluffs is half the fun. From Route 1 in Machias, Maine, follow Roque Bluff Road for 6 miles, past lobster-trap-scattered blueberry barrens, dense stands of boreal fir trees, and finally through a thicket of fragrant beach roses, where you’ll access one of the state's hidden gems (and one of the most secluded U.S. beaches). The park consists of a freshwater kettle pond and an ocean-facing pebble beach, both of which provide pristine but chilly swimming (thanks to the Labrador Current). Facilities include picnic tables, grills, changing rooms, and bathrooms, but the real draw is the solitude of the beach and the pure cobalt waters on Englishman’s Bay.
Sandbridge Beach, Virginia
Only 15 miles south of the busy Virginia Beach resort area, Sandbridge Beach seems a world away, offering a peaceful haven of golden Atlantic-fronted sands in an area dubbed the “Outer Banks of Virginia.” Stretch out on 5 miles of secluded U.S. beaches, marked by pristine sand dunes and surf-worthy waves (surfing instruction can be arranged). Nearby, opt to rent a kayak for exploration of the adjacent Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which consists of beaches, woodlands, and marshlands occupying 9,000 acres, or cast a rod at the fisherman’s paradise that is False Cape, a gorgeous, mile-wide barrier straddling Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.