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Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Sea Oats

Source: Zach Frailey / Getty

Two North Carolina beaches made a prestigious list of top beaches in the United States this week.

Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor of coastal research at Florida International University, is known as one of the world’s foremost beach experts and goes by the name Dr. Beach. Every year, he compiles a list of the top beaches with a very specific set of criteria ranging from water temperature to number of sunny days in the area and appearance of the water.

The two Outer Banks coastal areas to make the list were Ocracoke Beach at No. 3 and Lighthouse Beach at No. 5, respectively.

“Ocracoke, once the home of Blackbeard the pirate, is still a special place—it is my favorite getaway beach,” Leatherman wrote. “Here you will find some of the wildest beaches in the country. Big surf dominates in late summer so families with children may want to come earlier in the year. Don’t expect to play golf or stay at the Ritz; the main pursuits are swimming and beachcombing.”

As for the Lighthouse Beach near Buxton, Dr. Beach noted the mystique of how the area is laid out.

“Lighthouse Beach is where the old spiral-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse once stood until it was moved landward in 1999 because of beach erosion, Said Leatherman. “This lifeguarded beach is the number one surfing spot on the U. S. Atlantic Coast as the large offshore sand banks, known as Diamond Shoals, cause wave refraction focusing wave energy on this beach. It is fun to stroll down to the Cape Point where a long sand spit often exists, making one feel somewhat like Moses because the waves are coming from both directions as you walk along this narrow string of sand in the ocean.”

Only one beach from South Carolina made the list with Beachwalkers Park on Kiawah Island coming at ninth overall.

The top beach destination for Leatherman doesn’t even fall in the continental U.S., but is an amazing sight for tourists traveling to the Aloha State. Hapuna Beach State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii was No. 1 as the “perfect place to swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the crystal clear and clean waters, but big waves during the winter can generate powerful rip currents.”

Overall, the top beaches are found in seven different states with two in some unlikely places the Northern U.S., but still have graceful surroundings. Check out the complete list of the top coastal destinations at drbeach.org.