The people of Coronado, Calif., should order extra champagne for Memorial Day 2012, while the public relations office at Hilton Hawaiian Village likely has two more years to prepare its big party.
The planning can start now because it's almost a lock that next May, Coronado will be named the Best Beach in the U.S. Then in 2013, the title will be handed to Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki on Oahu.
Each Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, an oceanography professor at Florida International University, Stephen Leatherman, announces "the best beach in America." The media gobbles up the list put out by the self-named "Dr. Beach." Stats show the title is usually worth a 10 to 20 percent bump in tourism for the locals.
Leatherman says he uses 50 measurements to grade the beaches, including water quality, warmth, sand color, amenities and effects of crowds.
The best beach for 2011 is Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Fla.
The only problem is the "best beach" really isn't that at all, even by Leatherman's measure. It's really about the 21st best beach. Leatherman retires a beach after it wins. This list has been coming out since 1991, so that is a lot of sand out of the running.
The list has become a major media event. The Associated Press released the list to newspapers and TV stations with an embargo, like a presidential speech (and as with a speech, many broke t he promise not to publish early).
The "no repeats" rule means 12 beaches in Hawaii have had their moment in the media sun, but the state has all but disappeared from the list in recent years. Same with a lot of the top beaches in Florida, Leatherman's home state. Leatherman does release the list of past annual winners, but if you go to his website at drbeach.org, you'll find the link to a list of past winners in fine print in the upper right corner. It rarely gets much play.
I've sparred, in a good-natured way, with the list for many years. The rankings feed America's addiction to best-of lists. In the end, it is a good cause. The roundup promotes the National Healthy Beaches Campaign, championed by Leatherman.
California beaches rarely make the list — no Laguna, Malibu-Surfrider, Zuma, San Onofre, Windansea and other Southern California beaches made legend by the likes of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. Dr. Beach has said that under his criteria, California beaches are too cold and too polluted. Anyone who has put up with health warnings at Doheny State Beach or Santa Monica knows the latter is too true.
But the march of time has finally brought California to the top. It's a rare year when the beach bridesmaid on the list doesn't get the top spot the following year. Every now and then, Leatherman will throw a curve and jump a beach a notch.
So that means that the No. 2 beach this year, Coronado near San Diego, is a heavy favorite to be the best beach next summer. In the No. 3 slot is Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki. It will probably get the nod in 2013.
I am sure the next two beaches will get even heavier promotion. Most of Dr. Beach's picks over the years have been state parks or remote sand strands. But Coronado is in front of the Hotel del Coronado and adjacent to the eighth largest city in the U.S. Kahanamoku is the beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. That's the kind of publicity that makes a marketing department salivate — the "only hotel on the best beach in America."
If you want to vacation at the "best beach," make your reservations now. If you'd rather visit one of the true best beaches in the country, check out the all-time list here. If you are a true beach aficionado, I would start 21 years ago and work my way up.
2010: Coopers Beach, Long Island (Southampton, N.Y.)
2009: Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii 2008: Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Fla. 2007: Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, Outer Banks, N.C. 2006: Fleming Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii 2005: Fort DeSoto Park — North Beach, St. Petersburg, Fla. 2004: Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
2003: Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii 2002: St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, Fla. 2001: Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii 2000: Kauna'oa Beach, Big Island, Hawaii 1999: Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii 1998: Kailua Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii 1997: Hulopoe Beach, Lanai, Hawaii 1996: Lanikai Beach, Oahu, Hawaii 1995: St. Andrews State Recreation Area, Fla. 1994: Grayton Beach SRA, Fla. 1993: Hapuna Beach, Big Island, Hawaii 1992: Bahia Honda SRA, Fla. 1991: Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii