'Dr. Beach' loves Hanalei


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

HANALEI, Hawaii » If life is a beach, Hanalei Bay must be heaven.

This remote, 2-mile, crescent-shaped beach on Kauai, where the emerald mountains meet the sparkling sea, was selected No. 1 on “;Dr. Beach”; Stephen P. Leatherman's 2009 list of top 10 U.S. beaches.





        Here is the list of top 10 beaches for 2009 from Stephen P. Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research, also known as “;Dr. Beach.”;

1. Hanalei Bay, Kauai


2. Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Fla.


3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, N.Y.


4. Coronado Beach, San Diego


5. Hamoa Beach, Maui


6. Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.


7. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks, N.C.


8. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Fla.


9. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.


10. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.




“;It's just gorgeous,”; said Annie Meredith, who regularly surfs in the bay. “;You've got green mountains, white sand, blue ocean - that's kind of hard to beat.”;

Hanalei beat out other shores stretching from San Diego to Cape Cod, Mass. Hamoa Beach on Maui was fifth on Leatherman's list.

“;The sheer beauty of Hanalei Bay is breathtaking,”; said Leatherman, director of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research. “;It's really an idyllic setting.”;

Leatherman based his selections on 50 criteria, including water quality and temperature, cleanliness, weather, sand, safety and facilities. And Hanalei is his personal favorite “;getaway beach”; in Hawaii.

“;If I want to get away from it all and forget about the rest of the world, Hanalei is about the best place to go, as far as I know,”; he said.

The big attraction here is that it's not a big attraction. Unlike in the high-rise jungle of Waikiki, where thousands of tourists sprawl across the sand, there's plenty of breathing room in secluded Hanalei.

Newlyweds Dirk and Courtney McNealy of Gainesville, Fla., noticed that there were only about 50 people along the entire two miles of beach on a recent weekday.

“;Back in Florida it seems there's 50 people in a 10-foot stretch,”; Courtney McNealy said.

The McNealys chose the Garden Island for their honeymoon because they wanted a peaceful retreat.

“;Oahu to me feels like Chicago, a huge city on the edge of the water,”; said Duane Kutsch, of Richland, Wash. “;This still has a hometown feel to it.”;

Hanalei first gained fame when the hit musical “;South Pacific”; was filmed here five decades ago, and it hasn't changed much. The sailors sang “;There Is Nothin' Like a Dame”; at the bay, while neighboring Lumahai Beach is where Mitzi Gaynor made famous “;I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair.”;

More recently, Kauai's North Shore served as the backdrop in films from “;Raiders of the Lost Ark”; to “;Tropic Thunder,”; which starred part-time local resident Ben Stiller, one of many celebrities who vacation or live here.

Hanalei and surrounding areas have several top surf breaks. This is where three-time surfing world champion Andy Irons lives and honed his skills.

But even when the surf is up, parts of the bay are protected by an outer reef, so people can still swim safely.

Ranked No. 2 in 2008, Hanalei will now be retired from Dr. Beach's list. Its selection returns the top spot to Hawaii, which has won 12 times since Leatherman started the list in 1991.