SARASOTA — After years as a head-turning bridesmaid in the best-beach rankings, Sarasota's Siesta Beach is finally the bride.
The wide slice of brilliant white sand and warm, emerald water on Florida's southwest gulf coast was named the best beach in the United States on Friday in an annual survey by Florida International University professor Steven Leatherman, also known as "Dr. Beach."
Siesta Beach, 40 acres of almost pure quartz crystal sand on the Siesta Key barrier island, was runnerup in Leatherman's rankings the past two years and was third in 2008.
"The sand is like sugar," said Leatherman, director of FIU's Laboratory for Coastal Research. "Some people can't believe it. You have to bring sunglasses because it's so bright. It's super soft, super fine. They claim to have the finest, whitest sand in the world, and I can't argue with that."
San Diego's Coronado Beach was runnerup. Rounding out the top 10 were No. 3, Kahanamoku Beach in Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii; No. 4, Main Beach, East Hampton, N.Y.; No. 5, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina; No. 6, St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle; No. 7, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, S.C.; No. 8, Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Mass.; No. 9, Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii, and No. 10, Cape Florida State Park near Miami.
Leatherman ranks beaches on 50 criteria, including the look and feel of the sand, water quality, weather, facilities and crowds. A top score is 250. Siesta Beach came in the 230s, losing minor points because the vista is heavy on condos to the north and south of the county park. Once a beach reaches the pinnacle of Leatherman's list, it is retired from consideration for future rankings.
A No. 1 spot typically brings a 15 to 20 percent boost in visitors.
Praise for Siesta Beach is no surprise to Leonard and Linda Rush, who vacationed at the beach annually for 20 years when both were teaching in Ohio, then retired and moved to within a half hour's drive of the place
"It's pretty pristine," Leonard Rush said as he and his wife relaxed in folding chairs gazing out at the Gulf of Mexico one recent morning. "They keep it in pretty good shape. It's got the best sand of any beach."