The winner of the annual "best beach" listing for 2011 is in Florida, but the Sunshine State will have a long way to go to reach the top ranking.
Hawaii has won the contest 12 times in 21 years. It hasn't taken the top spot very often recently because it's running out of spectacular beaches to laud. The annual list put out by a Florida oceanographer doesn't allow for repeats.
I've been lucky enough to visit every one of Hawaii's 12 winning beaches. Here's a quick look at each of them, with the year it won the Dr. Beach award:
Hanalei Bay, Kauai, 2010. I've spent more time on this beach than any other on the list. The wide crescent on the wet, lush north shore of Kauai is placid in summer, and the great beach town of Hanalei is a short stroll away.
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D.T. Fleming Beach Park, Maui, 2006. Near Kapalua, the original "best beach," D.T. Fleming is on the less-visited northwest shore of Maui. It's small but there are lifeguards. It's a favorite with body surfers.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu, 2004. The classic Hawaii snorkeling spot is a short drive from Waikiki. It's often overrun by midmorning and there's a traffic jam of snorkels weaving through the waves. But sometimes the beaten path is worn for a reason. An underwater park since 1967, it combines a spectacular reef with nearby deep waters, bringing schools of fish together in one compact space.
Kaanapali, Maui, 2003. It's a packed resort strip fronted by a string of chain hotels and a boardwalk. But nothing can take away from the wide beach with usually gentle surf and the views out toward Lanai. Check out the crazies jumping off Black Rock at the north end of the beach.
Poipu Beach, Kauai, 2001. One of the best beaches for children on this list, especially during the popular winter vacation season. A rocky ledge — not as big as it once was, due to storms — cuts the wave action into a tranquil bay-like setting. Those wanting more action can head across the park to body surf at Brennecke's Beach.
Kaunaoa Beach, Big Island, 2000. Millionaire developer Laurance Rockefeller had his pick of sites in the early 1960s to build his Mauna Kea resort. He chose Kaunaoa, which often is called b y the name of the hotel. It's a soft sand crescent — rare on the rocky, volcanic west coast of the Big Island.
Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii, 1999. Wider and hotter than Kaanapali to the north, Wailea is also fronted by luxury hotels and rocks at the south end. The view here is out toward the Molokini dive spot and the island of Kahoolawe, once used for Navy target practice.
Kailua Beach Park, Oahu, 1998. A lot of visitors don't bother to leave Waikiki to check out this great white-sand beach with crystalline blue water on the south end of the Windward Shore. After a swim or sun, go to Buzz's for steaks and cocktails.
Hulopoe, Lanai, 1997. The best beach in the islands that barely anyone gets to. It's next to the Four Seasons Manele Bay on the former pineapple plantation island. There are trees for shade , picnic tables for get-togethers and a nice mix of tourists and locals.
Lanikai Beach, Oahu, 1996. Erosion has taken away some of the beauty of this Windward Coast strip that is featured on many Hawaii travel guide covers. Its aquamarine waters stay shallow well out, and the Mokulua Islands in the distance give it the perfect Pacific paradise look.
Hapuna, Big Island, 1993. A short drive from the Mauna Kea is its sister resort, the Hapuna Prince. The resort sits on the shoulder of the great sandy stretch on the rocky west coast of the Big Island. It's a great beach for children, with a gradual drop-off, and restrooms and a snack shack nearby.
Kapalua, Maui, 1991. The first "best beach" is still one of the islands' best, though the development of hotel and condo units on the hill over the palm-fringed beach has stolen a large measure of its beautiful setting. Unfortunately, few humans are willing to pass on the ability to possess something rather than share it.
There are still a few beaches in Hawaii for Dr. Beach to honor. Hamoa Beach, near Hana on Maui, is a good place to start.