McLean, VA (written by Laura Bly/USA Today) -- If you believe the hotly anticipated annual rankings compiled by Florida International University professor and coastal expert Stephen P. Leatherman - a.k.a. "Dr. Beach" - it's San Diego's Coronado Beach. The 300-yard-wide, 1.5-mile-long stretch of silvery sand fronts the red-roofed Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark where Marilyn Monroe cavorted in the 1959 classic Some Like it Hot.
Coronado was runner up to Florida's Siesta Key last year, and represents the first California beach to win in the 22 years that Leatherman has been crafting his top-10 list of major public recreational beaches along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts.
Contenders are ranked based on 50 detailed criteria, from public safety and noise to water quality and sand softness. Landing the top spot typically brings a 15% to 20% boost in visitors, the Associated Press notes. But once a beach wins, it is retired from further competition - a fact that has earned the doc some criticism, even from Hawaii, the state with the most winners.
Two reasons for the absence of winning Golden State beaches in previous years: cold water and pollution. But while California swimmers can't do much (other than don a wetsuit) about Pacific water temperatures in the 60s, pollution is another matter, says Leatherman.
"There are still some problems, especially where rivers and streams meet the ocean," he says. "But California has really cranked it up the last 10 or 15 years to turn around the water quality."
Rounding out this year's top 10:
2: Kahanamoku Beach, near Waikiki's Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, Hawaii
3: Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.
4: St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
5: Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
6: Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.
7: Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
8: Cape Florida State Park, near Miami
9: Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.
10: Cape Hatteras, N.C.