Leave your flip flops and towels behind and head off to visit some of America’s striking scenic beaches.
Vacations at the beach are usually synonymous with sandcastles, swimming in the surf and feeling the sand between one’s toes, but groups will find an equal amount of adventure and recreation at these unique coastal destinations. These must-see beaches showcase an unexpected natural beauty and charming nearby communities for groups to explore.
Fort Bragg, California
Visitors to a certain California shoreline will find nature has a way of turning trash into treasure. Once a dumping ground for the community’s garbage, Glass Beach in Fort Bragg has been transformed by water, sand and time. People ceased using the site as a dump in the 1960s. Today, thanks to community efforts, the beach is free of trash, save for the sparkling glass, tumbled by the surf into smooth, multicolored pebbles that cover the beach and give it an iridescent shine.
Tourists flock to the beach to see the sparkling yellow, green, white and red pieces of glittering glass that give it its name.
“For years and years we’ve had people come to Fort Bragg specifically to see the beach,” said Travis Scott, executive director of Visit Mendocino County.
While beachgoers may be tempted to collect the sea glass, they should be careful to keep this beach’s unique beauty intact by leaving all the glass they find at the beach. Instead, for a souvenir, groups can visit the Sea Glass Museum, a small nearby museum that details the history of the beach and sells jewelry handmade from the beach’s glass. Following a visit to these Mendocino County favorites, groups can visit the adjoining MacKerricher State Park, where they can picnic or hike a scenic trail along the bluffs overlooking the ocean.
Door County, Wisconsin
Located on the northern coast of Washington Island, Schoolhouse Beach is one of just five smooth rock beaches in the world, making this Door County favorite a rarity. The beach is known for its smooth limestone rocks, rounded from centuries of contact with melting glaciers, and its clear, turquoise waters. Named for a wooden schoolhouse that once stood nearby, this beach is one of the island community’s most treasured sites and is protected as such, with strict rules in place against taking rocks home. The community takes pride in the beach and aims to keep its beauty and its most unique features there for future generations to enjoy.
“The island has worked really hard to really protect the beach and make sure the people who visit understand the unique environmental structure of it,” said Laura Bradley, director of marketing and sales and Destination Door County.
If the weather’s right, groups are welcome to swim, fish and play in the water. It’s also a popular spot to picnic. Or, they can simply take in the view. However, Washington Island has plenty of other nearby treasures for groups to explore. During July and August on the island, groups will find one of the Midwest’s largest lavender fields is in bloom. They can hike or bike trails through the serene wilderness of the island’s natural parks or visit some of its local landmarks, such as the Stavkirke, a replica medieval Norwegian church in the woods.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Big Island, Hawaii
The black sands of Punalu’u Black Sand Beach are a stark contrast to the typical white sands of other Hawaii beaches. These shining sands, formed by the rapid cooling of basaltic lava when it meets the ocean, cover only a small number of beaches in the world and are a testament to the island’s geological youth. On Punalu’u Beach, groups can take in the beauty of the sand, the blue waters and the palm trees, but they may also get the chance to see another rare sight: Hawaiian green sea turtles, known as honu. Islanders say these protected turtles are symbols of wisdom and good luck, and they can frequently be found sunbathing on the beach.
Not far from this stunning beach, groups can find the beautiful Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which covers 523 square miles of the island. Two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, can be found in this remarkable park. Here, groups can explore the terrain surrounding the volcanoes by taking drives or hikes around the crater rim, lava fields, ash deserts and rainforests. Groups can also visit the nearby Punalu’u Bake Shop to try some of its famous Punalu’u sweet bread, have lunch in the gardens or check out its gift shop.
The beaches on Oregon’s coast are known for interesting geological features and beautiful sunsets. One that’s often overlooked but home to many natural wonders is Bandon Beach. Located in the small seaside town of Bandon, this beach features noteworthy rock formations and tide pools that make it a source of fascination and wonder for visitors.
Rising high above the beaches, some of the most impressive sea stacks for visitors to see include the Wizard’s Hat, Face Rock and Table Rock, but there are plenty of unnamed towering rocks and archways as well. These striking structures were left standing after resisting wind and water erosion of the coast around them for thousands of years and are a huge part of what makes the Oregon coast so photogenic, particularly against the sunset. But perhaps the best feature of these beaches is how readily available they are to be enjoyed.
“All of our beaches that we’re so famous for are totally accessible,” said Margaret Pounder, president of the Bandon Chamber of Commerce. “You can just walk right down to a beach.”
The abundant wildlife of the area only adds to its beauty. The tide pools found on the beaches at low tide are equally worthy of exploring and are home to colorful marine life, such as anemones and starfish. At certain times of the year, migrating whales can be spotted off the Bandon coast. The charming town also has several marshes, which are excellent for birding, photography and light hiking.
To see the dramatic and distinct beauty of the Florida beach that’s said to resemble an elephant graveyard, groups can head to Boneyard Beach in Jacksonville. Hundreds of fallen trees, bleached by the sun and wind, cover the beach.
The rapid shifting of the channels on Big Talbot Island State Park is what causes the shorelines to retreat and the massive trees to fall. However, these driftwood giants still serve the important purpose of protecting the barrier island from further rising sea levels and erosion, hence the beach’s protected status in the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. Groups can climb on the trees, picnic on the beach and enjoy plenty of photo opportunities at this beautiful ecological rarity.
“It’s a great place to go to relax and get away from the hustle of the city,” said Andrea Mestdagh, senior marketing communications manager at Visit Jacksonville.
Nearby, groups will find plenty of outdoor attractions to supplement their experience at Boneyard Beach. The rest of Big Talbot Island State Park is home to salt marshes, beaches and trails for the island’s visitors to explore. Groups can enjoy the many species of birds and other wildlife on the island and popular activities such as hiking, kayaking and photography. Other attractions await outdoor enthusiasts nearby, such as the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens.