Maui’s Ka­palua Bay Beach Tops Dr. Beach’s 2018 Best Beach List


A cres­cent-shaped beach on the Hawai­ian is­land of Maui got the top slot Thurs­day on the list of best beaches is­sued an­nu­ally by a Florida pro­fes­sor known as Dr. Beach.

Ka­palua Bay Beach topped the list re­leased by Stephen Leather­man, a coastal science pro­fes­sor at Florida In­ter­na­tional Uni­ver­sity in Mi­ami.

And don’t worry about that lava-spew­ing vol­cano im­pact­ing vis­its to the Ka­palua beach. The Ki­lauea vol­cano is on a dif­fer­ent Hawai­ian is­land, the Big Is­land.

Leather­man’s list even has a sec­ond Hawai­ian beach on the same is­land as the vol­cano, Ha­puna Beach State Park, com­ing in eighth on the list. But Ha­puna is on the op­po­site side of the Big Is­land.

The other beaches on the top 10 list are Ocra­coke Life­guarded Beach on North Car­olina’s Outer Banks, com­ing in sec­ond, fol­lowed by Gray­ton Beach State Park in the Florida pan­han­dle; Coop­ers Beach, Southamp­ton, New York; Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mas­sachusetts; Light­house Beach, Bux­ton, Outer Banks, North Car­olina; Caladesi Is­land State Park, Dunedin-Clear­wa­ter, Florida; then Ha­puna on the Big Is­land, with Coron­ado Beach, San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, in ninth place and Ki­awah Beach­walker Park, Ki­awah Is­land, South Car­olina, com­ing in 10th.


Leather­man told The As­so­ci­ated Press that Ka­palua is one of his “fa­vorite beaches. It’s just an idyl­lic place to visit. What’s in­ter­est­ing is a lot of beaches are beau­ti­ful but can be dan­ger­ous be­cause of big waves. This beach has two arms of (hard­ened) lava flows, an­cient lava flows, which pro­tect it. So it’s a re­ally calm wa­ter­way. You don’t go there for surf­ing. You go there for swim­ming. The wa­ter is warm year-round.”

Ka­palua is also lined with palm trees, has white coral sand and col­or­ful trop­i­cal fish, and is per­fect for snor­kel­ing. Leather­man says it’s easy to reach from the main road by driv­ing through a golf course, but park­ing is limited.

One small caveat on whether vis­i­tors to other parts of Hawaii will no­tice any ill ef­fects from the vol­cano: De­pend­ing on wind con­di­tions, other ar­eas of the Big Is­land and the other Hawai­ian is­lands could ex­pe­ri­ence vol­canic smog, known as vog. Right now winds are blow­ing most of it off­shore. Vog is not a new is­sue, by the way: The en­tire state has ex­pe­ri­enced vog on and off since 2008.


Leather­man has been com­pil­ing his an­nual list of top 10 beaches ev­ery year since 1991. He uses 50 cri­te­ria to eval­u­ate beaches, with the most im­por­tant cat­e­gories be­ing wa­ter clean­li­ness, safety (mean­ing no rip cur­rents or drown­ings) and man­age­ment of the beach en­vi­ron­ment and its fa­cil­i­ties. He also looks for fine, soft sand, and gives ex­tra points for beaches that pro­hibit smok­ing. He doesn’t col­lect wa­ter from ev­ery beach in test tubes him­self, by the way, but he does use data from the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to grade the beaches on wa­ter qual­ity.

Leather­man’s list has its ori­gins in a class he taught at the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land. A stu­dent was writ­ing an ar­ti­cle for a travel mag­a­zine and asked him to come up with a list of the 10 best beaches based on his ex­per­tise as a coastal sci­en­tist. He be­gan pro­duc­ing his of­fi­cial an­nual list in 1991 us­ing his 50 cri­te­ria and his vast knowl­edge of U.S. ocean beaches. “I had vis­ited ev­ery (ocean) beach in the U.S. for a De­part­ment of In­te­rior study ... so that gave me the back­ground data set to work from,” he said.

His goal in pro­duc­ing the list each year, he says, “is to re­ward those beaches which main­tain the high qual­ity and the safety ar­eas but also to en­cour­age other beaches to do the same.” He looks for beaches that “bal­ance na­ture with the built en­vi­ron­ment.”

But how come so many states with beloved beaches — in places like Maine, the Del­Marva Penin­sula, the Jersey shore, the Pa­cific North­west and other coastal ar­eas — never make the list, while the same names keep turn­ing up year af­ter year?

Ka­palua Bay Beach rated as best beach in the world for 2018.

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