1. Laguna Beach, CA
A shoreline stroll
Why I love it: A flower- and tree-lined path through Heisler Park winds along the beaches. Main Beach is the most popular, but Picnic Beach and many others are just as nice.
Take my advice: For dinner, try the Beach House ($$$; 949/494-9707), where the food is excellent and you eat by candlelight right above the tides.
INFO: Metered parking –Rachel Fluhrer, Kaysville, UT
2. 'Aliomanu, Kauai, HI
Where the tourists never find me
Why I love it: This beach on Kauai's northeast shore isn't on any tourist map. In the snorkeling pool on the north end, you might see a rare sleeping monk seal.
Take my advice: Walk south across a long stretch of sand to reach a rocky area that has wonderful tidal shelves. From here, you can watch the fishermen work their nets and poles.
INFO: Free; no contact info. To reach the beach, go north on State 56 from Lihu'e, turn right on the second 'Aliomanu Rd. (near milepost 15), and go left on Kalalea View Dr. Take the second right toward the ocean (look for the beach access sign); at the dead end, the parking lot is on the right. –Suzanne Menor, Kapa'a, Kauai, HI
3. Anchor Bay Beach, Anchor Bay, CA
My quiet spot
Why I love it: Redwood forest meets ocean at this remote beach an hour south of Mendocino. A beautiful trail leads through a campground and the redwoods to the beach, where there's often not another soul around. It has the relaxed vibe of Santa Cruz, but it feels private and pristine by comparison. You can often hear barking seals, which have a colony nearby.
Take my advice: Walk the beach at night. There's no light pollution, so the sky is bright with stars.
INFO: $3 per vehicle at Anchor Bay Campground; parks.ca.gov –Carolyn Weinhold, San Francisco
4. Cape Blanco State Park, OR
A wild wander
Why I love it: Storms deposit huge piles of driftwood at the base of the cliffs at this point near Port Orford, making it a great place for beachcombing.
Take my advice: If you want to stay, there's a campground ($12) with big sites sheltered from the wind.
INFO $3 per vehicle –Sandra Frost, Phoenix
5. Carmel River State Beach, CA
Where the river ends
Why I love it: There's a bird sanctuary in Carmel where the Carmel River meets the beach before flowing over the sand and into the ocean. Because swimming isn't safe here, it gets much less crowded than other beaches in the area.
Take my advice: I like to walk along Scenic Road and gaze out from the bend to the wide-open ocean.
INFO: Free –Brad Perkins, San Jose
Next: 5 more top beaches