After years as being a runner up in the best-beach rankings, Sarasota's Siesta Beach is finally number one.
The wide slice of brilliant white sand and warm, emerald water on Florida's southwest Gulf coast was named the best beach in the United States Friday in an annual survey by Florida International University.
Siesta Beach, 40 acres of almost pure quartz crystal sand on the Siesta Key barrier island, was runner-up in rankings the past two years and was third in 2008.
The sand is often compared to sugar because it is so soft and super fine. This beach claims to have the finest, whitest sand in the world.
San Diego's Coronado Beach was runner-up. Rounding out the top 10 were:
• No. 3, Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii
• No. 4, Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
• No. 5, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina
• No. 6, St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
• No. 7, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.
• No. 8, Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
• No. 9, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
• No. 10, Cape Florida State Park near Miami
The beaches are ranked on 50 criteria, including the look and feel of the sand, water quality, weather, facilities and crowds. A top score is 250. Siesta Beach came in the 230s, losing minor points because the vista is heavy on condos to the north and south of the county park. Once a beach reaches the pinnacle of the list, it is retired from consideration for future rankings.
A number 1 spot on the popular list annual typically brings a 15 to 20 percent boost in visitors for the beach destinations.
Siesta Beach got big points for shallow water and gentle currents. Most days you measure waves over there in inches, not feet.
Repeat visitors are not surprised by the beach’s ranking. Many enjoy the powdered sugar sand, calm waters, cleanliness and nearby bathrooms. One visitor commented that the beach is pretty pristine and praised that it is kept in pretty good shape. Another commented that is has got the best sand of any beach and it can be crowded and not seem like it's crowded just because it is so wide and long.
Parking at the public beach is free, but regulars say that by late morning it can be challenging to find a spot in the 800-space lot.
The report touted Gulf Coast destinations Siesta Beach and St. George Island State Park despite last year's BP oil spill, which soiled parts of the western Florida Panhandle coastline. Siesta Beach and other strands on the state's west coast remained untouched by crude, but BP crews are still scouring places that were affected for scattered tar balls, even though the vast majority of damage has by now been cleaned up. St. George Island, in the eastern part of the Panhandle southwest of Tallahassee, didn't get any oil, but it was off last year's list because it was in the line of fire before the gusher was capped.
Even then, when the oil spill occurred, researches said oil was not going to get to the Sarasota beaches and southwest Florida. A big loop current trapped the oil 100 miles offshore, and the oil just spun and spun in the Gulf. And, in fact, right now one can hardly find any of it, even in the areas which did have oil and tar on the beaches in the Panhandle.
Separate from the top 10 list, which is in its 21st year, Florida International University leadership has a project called the National Healthy Beaches Campaign. Campaign member beaches pay $800 a year to be evaluated monthly on 60 self-reported criteria and receive advice on maintaining environmental quality through proactive management. It is emphasized that beaches do not pay to be evaluated for the top 10 best beaches list, and that all top 10 candidates are visited incognito to collect sand and water samples for study.
Eliminating each year's national winner from consideration in future surveys hasn't diluted the quality of the annual rankings. Researchers insist that the United States has hundreds of beautiful beaches in which to choose from for their rankings.